Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Extraterrestrial (2014) Tribeca 2014

If you've been reading Unseen for any amount of time you know that I'm a fan of the Vicious Brothers. Their Grave Encounters is one of the best horror films of the last 20 years. Its the first film I ever saw as a member of the press official at Tribeca. I've interviewed them and did several pieces on their follow up to Grave Encounters,  called in no duh fashion Grave Encounters 2. I love what they do with horror, they are masters of visceral scares...

...on the other hand they can't do comedy. They really can't. The humor that opens Grave Encounters 2 wrecks the film and the humor in their latest film Extraterrestrial almost completely sinks the film.

The plot of the film has a couple going with friends up to a family cabin in order to take pictures so it can be sold. While they are having fun, and the couple slides onto the edge of breaking up they see a fireball crash in the woods nearby. Going off to investigate they find a crashed flying saucer and soon are under siege by nasty grey aliens.

Before I get to the problems with the film, I have to say that how you react to this film will depend upon whether you get the references to science fiction horror films from the 80's and 90's. This film is full of riffs and references beginning with an opening title sequence which kind of apes the X-Files. If you don't get some of the reference the film may seem really dumb...

...and it is dumb at times with the couple's friends being loud rude and crude. They aren't so much people but overblown frat boys and sorority sisters who just want to get drunk and stoned. Yea I know many people are like that but few are as so obnoxious about as this group are. And even if you were a drunk frat boy you wouldn't want to see a film about these losers. The jokes that accompany their shenanigans are just not funny. The jokes are low brow and juvenile, which would be fine except that the level of the drama and the horror is diametrically opposed  to it.

On the other hand the horror elements in the film are amazing. The fear we have waiting to see what happens with the greys is physical. You will squirm in your seat during several sequences in the film. There is something truly terrifying as the greys' use their abilities to do nasty things even from a distance (The cop car sequence for example). The Vicious Brothers also have this ability to create sequences that make no logical sense but wreck you inside. Here a late in the game look in a space ship is truly creepy -and obviously riffing on the Travis Walton film Fire in the Sky.  (If you want a prime example of the humor wrecking the mood two words anal probe)

To be honest this review has been kicking around since the start of the festival when I saw the film. When I first saw the film I was full of piss and vinegar wanting to rant and rave about it in great detail, but as the rest of the fest over took me and the film the desire to really do a proper write up has faded.  The film just isn't worth the effort- though I would say give the film a try on Netflix.

On the other hand my desire to smack the Bothers Vicious is still there. Its been fueled by several conversations with horror fans outside of the festival who, like me, bemoan the humor in the second Grave Encounters film. They like, me want to know what they were thinking. When I mentioned that there is humor in this film of a similar nature, though better integrated, their desire waned even as I told them of the strong horror element.

My question is why such masters of horror would use such low humor? And when I say that I suggest they could one day be considered some of the greatest ever working in the genre. Unfortunately their inability to blend the scare with the jokes are going to keep them from attaining the acclaim they deserve. They have to lose the jokes and just go for scares since its clear from Extraterrestrial, when they go for screams there may be no one better working today in the horror field.

Zombeavers (2014) Tribeca 2014

Not to put too fine a point on it but Zombeavers is one of the best films I saw at Tribeca. Its a film that truly knows what it is, and makes the most of it. Its a film that is gloriously without pretensions.  Its gory, and funny and tasteless, it has beautiful women half dressed and studly guys. It has something for everyone- assuming you like clever horror send ups.

The plot of the film has three girls heading to a lake house to help one of their number get over a broken heart. It seems that one of their boyfriends was caught via a Facebook picture getting intimate with another woman. Exactly who that is isn't clear from the photo. Eventually the boyfriends show up, as do a whole huge horde of undead beavers looking for a meal.

I'm guessing a good number of people were wondering what the hell this was doing at Tribeca. I mean even though this is playing in the Midnight section this is a bit sillier than the section usually programs. Actually this would seem to be more like a SYFY original than something that would play at something as prestigious as Tribeca. On the other hand until I saw the whole film I would have thought the same thing.

The best way to describe the film is to take a look at the trailer and realize that whats in the trailer is whats in the film , except that its funnier, gorier and way more intelligent. This is a film that seems to know exactly what the cliches and conventions are for this type of film and then it both plays with them and against them so that even while you're laughing at whats happening, you start to get uneasy because the rules it seemed to be following get tossed out the window. For example who lives and dies does not follow the unwritten rules of when and how characters are to bite it.

The effects are knowingly cheezy. Its clear the filmmakers knew they couldn't afford to give the film the best effects so they used the cheapness to the films advantage. For you to like the film you have to know that the film is ultimately a joke or a goof on some level and if you accept that then the rest of the film falls marvelously into place. The puppets and radio controlled beavers that populate the film suddenly become acceptable and in their own way down right scary.

Sitting in the press screening at Tribeca was one of the more cool events of the festival. Almost everyone seemed to have come from other bigger, more serious movies that more than kind of sucked. Raving about the lousy movies they simply wanted to see something good. Some were there just because it was playing and they had time. On the other hand some of us were there because we knew damn well what we were seeing and we were hoping for some goofy gore. Then the film started and we were in the truck with the two guys who would spark the whole thing and suddenly the theater was filled with laughter. Then the gore started and soon groans of "gross" echoed around the theater. Pay dirt and lots of fun.

For me the film was just fun. It was even more fun when I realized that it was a kind of palate cleanse and antidote to every other film in the festival, every one of which was taking itself way too seriously.

The movie ended and I started texting people.

I love this film.

Something you may want to be aware of- the film itself is really short- its about 70 minutes. I'm not complaining since it's perfectly timed. The remaining 15 minutes of the official running time is made up of some screamingly funny out takes (which lead me to believe much of this may have been ad-libbed), the end credits with a song about zombie beavers sung over them, and a last minute stinger.

Even though its short you do want to see this because in the right frame of mind this film is a blast.

The Body (2013) Tribeca 2014

Paul Davis‘s The Body is a masterpiece.

One of the best films at this year's Tribeca is one of the best horror films I've seen in a while. Its a nasty little confection perfectly blending of humor and horror. It film manages to do what most horror comedies or humorous horror films ever manage to do-that is keep the laughs from killing all the chills and the chills from taking off the edge off the laughs. It’s a smartly done film that looks good, is marvelously acted and just a great deal of fun.

The plot of the film is real simple- after claiming his latest victim a killer,played by Game of Thrones Alfie Allen, goes off to dispose of the body. Since it’s Halloween no one is going to pay attention…unfortunately he ends up bumping into an old friend…who loves his costume (body included) and wants him to come around to a party for a drink.

It’s a simple story but it manages to hit every note perfectly. From the opening post murder sequence where our hero (well he is) shockingly answers the door to the house with a blood covered face (You’ll wonder what he was he thinking- until you realize its Halloween) to the final fade out (which I don’t dare reveal) this film gets every image, sound and emotion perfectly. Even if my life were at stake I couldn't come up with anything I’d change.

How good is the film? Well if you’ve ever managed to attend any sort of press screening or know anyone who writes on film you know they are some of the most neutral film going experiences you can have. Actually neutral isn’t a good word, emotionally dead is a better description. No one wants to tip their hand so they stifle any sort of reaction. Watching the film in a theater filled with critics and filmmakers the laughed, groaned and “oh shit”ed in all the right places. If you can get a reaction from a room full of critics you’re golden.

I have to ask your indulgence with the lack of detail and deep discussion of the film but there is a reason for that. Simply put the film is a short. Running only 19 minutes the film is the perfect length for what it does. Honed to perfection this is a film that tells its story and gets off with nothing extra left hanging nor more importantly nothing left out. Because it’s a compact and tightly wound story I can’t reveal too much lest I give you too many clues as to where it’s going.

I’m also not writing more is that over the week since I saw the film I found that my review was changing and getting too detailed. Since the original capsule went up I've had very nice email conversations both with director Paul Davis and the film’s producer Paul Fischer (who very graciously supplied the pictures) and I’ve been talking to several other people to try to sell the film. With each conversation I found my thoughts for the review changing. I found myself saying too much and changing the draft I was writing. I didn't want to say too much so I cut it back.

All that you need to know is that you have to find this film and see it. This is  truly special film and it heralds a great presence into the field of cinematic horror.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nightcap light- Some Links

I'm starting to drowning in links for the next Nightcap so in order to keep som things timely I'm posting a bunch now. Thanks to Randi, John and brother Joe for the assist.

Ralph Bahski Retrospective at Brooklyn Academy of Music starting May 9
BAM's Punk Rock Girls starts May 7
The Great 1980's Dungeons and Dragons Panic
Shotgun Mathematics 
Do Shakespeare's poisons work?
British Pathe films on You Tube
What movie is good with the sound off?
Michael Sheen and David Lynch
10 Buried movies
Bruce Lee Memorabilia up for sale
Roger Ebert's Statue is unveiled 

Starred Up(2013) tribeca 2014

One of the best films screening at Tribeca this year Starred Up is  a movie that anyone who wants to see a great film should have on their radar.

The film is the story of Eric Love. He’s a 19 year old ball of rage who’s solution to anything is to beat it to a bloody pulp first and ask question later (He beats a man up mistakenly when the man approaches him to give him the lighter he asked for). As the film opens Love has been moved from the juvenile facility to an adult one because he’s starred up, meaning he’s violent and out of control. The twist is that the prison is the same one that his long absent father has been incarcerated in. His father is well connected but at the same time there is only so much he can do to protect his boy. Eric ends up on the radar of an anger management counselor who’s group may hold the key to changing him.

Let’s get it out of the way this film is violent and bloody. The language is rough. This is not your old school prison film. This is probably closer to the way it really is than any other film, especially considering the film was written by someone who works in the prison system. If you can’t handle violence and language stay away.

By any standard this is a gripping drama. This is the story of young man being thrown in the deep and being forced to fend for himself. It’s a film that doesn’t seem to pull any punches. It doesn’t drift into cliché. It doesn’t have a grand transcendent moment it just is a damn fine drama that just feels right.

While the film is all about Eric, the film is also about his dad Nate. Nate is a lifer who hasn’t seen his son in years because he’s been in prison. When Eric shows up he doesn’t know what to do and his prison survival skills get cocked up as he tries to be a good father, which is something he may not be capable of.

You’ve no doubt noticed a complete lack of detail- and that is entirely and completely the fault of the film. To be perfectly honest I had no chance to take any notes because I was too caught up in the film to take any. Seriously I didn’t want to look away to scribble something because I wanted to see what was going to happen next.

This is one of the best films of Tribeca and one of my favorites of the year. Everything in it shines from the performances to the script to the technical end, it all comes together to tell one hell of a story that has one of the more moving final minutes in any film I’ve seen this year.

This film kicks ass and is a must see.

Slaying the Badger (2014) Tribeca 2014

As unlikely as it sound it could be that the best spy thriller of the year is a sports documentary about bicycle racing and the Tour de France. As crazy as that sounds I think an argument could be made to support that position, I know because I’ve heard people rally for that position, and having seen Slaying the Badger I can heartily agree with it as well.

Telling the story of Greg LeMond and his days in professional cycling, the film relates how LeMond discovered cycling and quickly rose to become the best rider in America. The stories of his ability traveled to Europe where he was viewed as the perfect person to take the place of then reigning champion Bernard Hinault aka The Badger. If LeMond would come to Europe he would be groomed by Hinault to become the best in the world and when he retired he would be the heir to his legacy. LeMond jumped at the chance but soon found out things were not as promised.

A wonderfully twisted tale that plays out like the best espionage thrillers with double and triple crosses and everyone out for themselves, this is a story that will keep you riveted to your seat as you try to figure out what’s going to happen next…even if you know what’s going to happen next. That’s the key here, what happened is a matter of record, but like all good stories while we think we know what happened, all we really know is what happened on the surface, and what was happening below it and behind the scenes was something else entirely and absolutely fascinating.

We get filled in on all the behind scenes games by most of the people who lived it. Lemonde and his wife Kathy are interviewed, as is the Badger himself, LeMonde’s dad, the team coach, and several reporters who covered the races. The stories told are so detailed it’s not so much as you are there but you are living it. We’re not watching the races but reliving them. I’ve seen the film twice now even on the second go through the perspective of seeing events from now is obliterated and we go through events as if we are back in 1986. The outcome is always in doubt, and we’re forced to wonder will it turn out the same way this time?

This is the way all documentaries should be- eye opening and gripping even when you know how it all went down.

You must see this film, and if you can do so on a big screen do so where the race footage will suck you in even more. (I was afraid when I saw this the second time that it would play less well because of the loss of scale, but the story is just so compelling it loses almost nothing)

A masterpiece? Absolutely. Also one of the best of Tribeca and one of the best of 2014.

In brief:Tomorrow We Disappear (2014) Tribeca 2014

A look at the Kathputli colony outside of Dehli. The colony started as a tent camp for various street and classical performers (magicians, puppeteers, acrobats ect), many of whom have traveled the world as cultural ambassadors. Over time their tents became permanent structures...which the government now wants gone so they sold the land to developers to build luxury apartments. The performers are now faced with whether or not to accept the promise of free housing to be built elsewhere or fight on.

This is a disappointing film best described as a great opening five minutes, a great closing five minutes and 70 minutes in the middle where people hem and haw and yell at each other a great deal about what they should do. Someone at the press screening I attended described the whole film as "it sucks to be poor in India", and he's kind of right.

There is just pain and sorrow for the films running time. I don't mind pain and sorrow but you really have to give me away in, you have to give me people to care about, you have to explain more of their plight, you have to give me something to hang my hat on just not people moaning and yelling at each other.

I don't see the point. I don't know why I should care, other than they directors telling me this maybe the end of a cultural legacy. Give me something more (if nothing else explain the new ban on street performing that has kept them in poverty).

I wanted to like this. I had hoped to know more about the colony and the arts and see why we should care but there is almost nothing.

A major miss despite a game try.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Next Goal Wins (2014) Tribeca 2014

I was completely blindsided by The Next Goal Wins. My plan was simply to watch the film in the press library and be done with it, but then I realized that if I went to the press screening I could watch part of it in a gap between other “more important” films. I would then watch the end in the library. That was the plan. The reality of the situation was different- as Joe Bendel and the others in the theater all know, once you start Next Goal Wins you stay captivated until the end.

The film is the story of the American Samoan soccer team. Made up amateurs who work day jobs and play the game because they love to, the team was at the bottom of the FIFA ranking and were legendary for losing to Australia 32 to 0 in a World Cup qualifier. With the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup coming the team decide to improve their ranking and contact the American Soccer Federation for help. The Federation send out word that the team is looking for a coach and only one man replies Thomas Rongen a crusty guy from the Netherlands who coached teams on every level imaginable. What happens when Rongen comes to town is the film.

No, what happens when he comes to town is absolute magic. This is a wonderfully glorious film that will make you feel good and carry you along. This isn’t about winning it all, this is just about trying to be better, to simply be able to score a goal on the big stage, to be able to show up and not fall on your face.


That the film works as well as it does is simply because you like the people. These are a group of guys you’d want to hang out with. Over the course of the film they become friends and by the time they head out to play in the qualifying matches for the World Cup they are close friends and you are invested on a personal level with what happens.

As I stated above the plan was to watch about an hour of this film and then wander off and see something else. It was clear about a half an hour in that I wasn’t going anywhere any time soon and instead I was just going to stay to the end. I put my watch in my pocket, put my notebook away and hunkered down to see what happened to my newly found friends.

What happens will have you talking to the screen. Joe Bendel in his review has openly stated that he was talking to the screen, and if I am honest I have to admit that I was too- as were several other people. You shout and cry and groan because you care. And when it’s all done you want to do it again.

What a great film.

And sadly the film seems not to be getting noticed much. Yes, the film was the Saturday Drive in Tribeca, but how many of you realize that the film is now in theaters? It is, it’s playing a limited engagement at Cinema Village in NYC. How can a film this good be so unpublicized? The mind boggles.

Do yourself a favor and go see this film. No seriously you want to go see this. Trust me you do, it a wonderful film that will inspire you and make you feel good. One of the best films from Tribeca and one of the best surprises of the film year.

Hot Docs capsule reviews:Divide in Concord, Love Me, Ai Wei Wei:The Fake Case, Whitey:The United States of America vs James J Bolger and Doc of the Dead

Since we're all been busy with Tribeca I've rounded some troops and we're giving you some capsule reviews of some films playing at this years Hot Docs

Good but nothing special look at Jean Hill a woman who is trying to ban the sale of bottled water in Concord Massachusetts because of what the bottles do to the environment. Her objection is the amount of waste that results. The film frames its as grand debate of rights which maybe pushing things a bit. Not bad but not great. My question is why is this an hour and a half?
The film screens:
Sat, Apr 26 - 9:30PM - Scotiabank 4
Mon, Apr 28 - 1:30PM - Lightbox 2
Sat, May 3 - 11:00AM - Bader

Jonathon Narducci's look at the mail-order bride business, focusing on the people searching for love in far off places. While similar in many ways to other exposes on the subject (why are Russian and Ukrainian women always the focus?) the film scores over many other in being up to date and having some wonderful characters inside it. I expected to feel as though I had been there and done that, instead I was pleasantly surprised and utterly charmed. A must see
The film screens
Fri, Apr 25 - 9:30PM - Scotiabank 3
Sat, Apr 26 - 1:00PM - Scotiabank 4
Fri, May 2 - 7:00PM - Fox

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case
Portrait of a man under pressure. Following Ai Weiwei under house arrest and fighting an ridiculous lawsuit brought by the Chinese government. A great companion piece to Ai Weiwei Never Sorry this is a film that shows the cost of being a dissenter and is a marvelous portrait of the man as human being. A must see.
The Film Screens:
Sat, Apr 26 - 4:30PM - Lightbox 1
Sun, Apr 27 - 1:00PM - Hart House
Fri, May 2 - 6:00PM - Bloor

WHITEY: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
CNN film by Joe Berlinger looks at the relationship of gangster Whitey Bulger to various law enforcement agencies and the corruption that kept him out of prison for decades. beginning with the start of the Bolger trial the film talks to the various participants in the trial who weave the story of Bulger and his crimes.  Good, if a tad slow and flashy, look at  the Bulger story. Not bad as these things go- and one of the better Bolger docs out there.
The film Screens:
Premiere - Sun, Apr 27 - 9:00PM - Bloor
Screening 2 - Mon, Apr 28 - 1:00PM - Lightbox 1
Screening 3 - Sun, May 4 - 9:30PM - Bloor

For this we have a guest reviewer. I saw Doc of the Dead with my brother Joe, a man who has seen the vast majority of zombie films made in the last 50 years. Since he's the expert I thought it best to review the film:
Doc of The Dead is marketed as "The Definitive Zombie Culture Documentary," but it's far too short to be definitive. The film is very good and is a who's who in zombie culture but each part of the film could easily cover an hour and there are some glaring omissions, Romero's "Survival of the Dead" and the Cuban film "Juan of the Dead." I found myself wanting the individual pieces to be longer and more in depth. Still, anyone who is interested in the zombie genre should give this one a look.
Doc of the Dead will have a special 1-week digital release on iTunes 24 hours after it's Hot Docs premiere on Sat, April 26.
Premiere - Sat, Apr 26 - 12:00AM Midnight - Bloor
Screening 2 - Sun, Apr 27 - 9:30PM - Hart House
Screening 3 - Sat, May 3 - 9:45PM - Royal

Hating the stupid ass turns of Beneath the Harvest Sky (2014) Tribeca 2014

Before I start I'm going to discussed the end of the film. If you don't want to know don't read what follows. If you want to know what I think and don't want to know what happens, then know this is a rambling film that goes on way too long and eventually falls off the table.

Okay if you don't want to  know go read something else.

Set in Maine near the Canadian border this is the story of two friends Casper and Dominic. Casper is a wild man always in trouble and his friend Dominic is a wonder boy with a bright future. Over the course of summer vacation the pair deal with life, friends and girls.

Wrongly billed as a coming of age story similar to Stand By Me, this film is really the rambling adventures of a couple of teenagers. One works harvesting potatoes to get money for a car and the other deals with a pregnant girlfriend and a family that deals drugs. There are tons of characters that come and go, and lots of plot lines, some of which are resolved...

...and that's where this films problems begin, there is way too much going on. The film has so much going on that the film never really ends, it just goes on and on and on until it stops in one of the biggest what the fuck was that moments of the year.

Think about the all of the plot threads- over the course of the film we have :

-Casper in trouble with school
-Casper's girlfriend is pregnant (and the girlfriend story line)
- Dominic working to buy a car
-Dominic's Romance (and her going to college)
-the boys hanging out in abandoned house and raising hell together
-Casper's dad dealing drugs
-Casper's uncle getting caught and having to turn on everyone
-we get scenes in a literature class where the teacher tells us whats going on through a discussion of the Outsiders

Its way way too much with the result that the film kind of feels like its never going to end because there is just too much going on... there is so much going on and with all the characters that our interest becomes split and we don't care. And some of the people around me didn't either since they were snoring.

Twenty minutes in I looked at my watch and groaned because I knew that there was another hour and forty minutes of this nonsense.

And about that ending- what the fuck is that? No really what the hell were the directors thinking? I mean really. If you've read enough of my stuff here at Unseen you know that I hate when films turn serious or they kill off someone out of left field so a movie has meaning. You know I hate when things just change because a writer decides to do something meaningful.

I've always been wary of the death at the end trope even before I read Michael O'Donoghue's National Lampoon piece on how any good writer will end by having a character get hit by a truck. O'Donoghue's story was I thought was the height of silliness until I saw the end of this film. With Maine DEA raiding Casper's father's home, the boys suddenly fear the cops will get their car money which is hidden in abandoned house so they race over there....just as a one house wide rain storm hits and the house begins to collapse... not only does it collapse it collapses and kills Dominic. Why? I don't know, I guess so the end of the film can be meaningful...I also suppose its because it makes the film like all the great works of literature the film alludes to.

Talk about WTF. There is no reason for it, there is minimal foreshadowing, a beam being taken out by a potato. Its a moment that made me throw up my hands and want to scream "YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS" in my best John McEnroe voice. Its the moment that pushes the film off the okay table in to the poop pile on the floor. It just killed the film.

What a piece of trash....and that's not even going into the frequently annoying music score....please don't get me started...

ADDENDUM- I am fully aware that I am in the minority concerning this film. I fully understand almost everyone else loves it. So be it.

Kinda like being there: Tribeca (my) Final Day: Storyscapes @ The Bombay House Of Imagination at Dune Studios

A visit to the Bombay Sapphire House of Imagination Storyscapes exhibition Saturday, and not seeing any movies, was a very fitting ending to my stint contributing coverage of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival to Unseen Films. With all of these films vying for space in the my cerebral cortex, it was fun to move around the innovative space, share some movie highlights with other attendees, and take in some thought provoking art installations.
Situated in what from the outside looked like a very ordinary office building on the west side of Soho, the layout inside was very engaging. With 2 floors being used to house the various interactive works on display, as well as two theaters and plenty of bars where the folks from Bombay Sapphire and their colorful concoctions made it very easy to have a drink or two…or three, it was not a place that one wanted to leave anytime soon after arriving.

The virtual reality based exhibitions I tried out, Clouds, Rise, and Use of Force were all impressive in their use of the Oculus Rift, a combination of goggles and headphones that leaves the viewer completely focused on what is presented before them (as well as behind and to the side). The technology, already being developed in tandem with gaming software, presents you with a seamless view of a virtual space that changes as you shift your head in any direction. The seated exhibit, Rise, encourages the viewer to explore this feature. Two futuristic figures appear posed in various positions that can only be seen when one scrunches their neck to gaze up or down, or at times rotate one’s head more than 90 degrees. In Clouds one can choose different content to explore by focusing one’s attention on a question appearing amongst intricate patterns of light. It works very intuitively, though the artist statements at the end of each path were a bit difficult to concentrate on in the crowded space.

Use of Force presents a real life incident and allows one to walk about a somewhat open space to get closer or further from the focal point. Again I was impressed at how tilting one’s head smoothly changed the angle at which you could take in the content. While it is a very brief moment you are taking in, Use of Force, along with the other exhibits suggested fascinating possibilities of how this technology could be applied, perhaps in the not too distant future. I could imagine tutorials where the ease of use could make it possible for learners to access information in what they feel is the most practical way. Virtual museum spaces could offer this feature as distraction-less and thoroughly absorbing experiences.

And yet, my personal highlight of Storyscapes was not as technology based, but still very innovative. Writer, performer Nathan Penlington, in collaboration with commercial director Fernando Guitierrez de Jesus presented a part live monologue (performed by Penlington) and part film celebrating, informing about, and pulling the audience into the world of Choose Your Own Adventure, a popular series of books aimed at elementary – high school aged students. It was a significant part of many childhoods, my own included, which allowed readers to be the main character and decide the course of the story. Penlington’s passion for the books became quickly evident as he gave an account of the series’ history that showed how very thoroughly he knew these books. Upon entering, everyone was given a device with 5 buttons so that they could choose from a set of choices, with the majority vote guiding the way. At first it was used to gauge the audience on things like their favorite fatal ending from amongst 5 highlights Penlington culled from the series. Looking back at these as an adult added a whole new level of appreciation for series creator and author Edward Packard’s dry wit, and I would now add Choose Your Adventure as a primary suspect in influencing my future dark sense of humor.     

Things transitioned seamlessly into the real life adventure, in which we voted on the course Penlington pursued in tracking down the one time owner of a complete set of the books he acquired on Ebay. A personal journal found within prompted him to seek out its author who very possibly lived through a troubled past. This course initially lead to a bit of disappointment on my part. I was ready to play the game, apply my skills of reason and guide one or more characters to the most exciting ending of a fictional story possible, and perhaps more importantly stay alive! The fact of this being real past events would indicate that all parts of this story had happened, meaning things did work out the way they did. Perhaps many of the choices were mere distractions and if some things had gone astray, I would assume, there was a way to lead things back on course. However some very intriguing ideas come about over the course of the production.  While being a very revealing look at Penlington’s personality, it also directly takes on the question of when it is appropriate to pursue a story versus respecting a subject’s privacy. One also begins to look at the results of the audience choices with heightened anticipation and at times, the vote is very close. If the results do not in fact have a massive effect on the journey’s outcome, its manner of unfolding, while a bit long in parts, truly gets the audience to suspend disbelief. I could imagine this being a very engaging small theater production, of particular intrigue with chatter of a Choose Your Own Adventure movie being in the early stages of development.

With the various names and none too obvious location, the House of Imagination feature of Tribeca can be somewhat elusive, escaping my notice in previous years. I would definitely want to make it a part of my Tribeca experience from now on.

Peering into the Oculus Rift

Old age & existential death: Mine and the majority's favorite fatal Choose
Your Own Adventure ending in Choose Your Own Documentary

A user's view of Force, shown to people on the outside

A piano triggers various voices in On A Human Scale

Artifacts of an incident in The Use Of Force

Navigating the virtual space of The Use Of Force

Sunday, April 27, 2014

You think our Tribeca coverage is done? Hell no.

Tribeca is wrapping up as this posts.

Its been 12 crazy days of screening for the public, for those of us in the press its been over a month of crazy screenings. I think I personally saw around 70 feature films, all of us together saw I think over 80. I have no idea how many shorts we saw. Mondo waded in to the Storyscapes...

We saw and did so much that there we've got seven more days of multiple reviews reviews coming up- and that's just what I have scheduled- what I don't have scheduled are more from Mondocurry, more from Chocko (including Sophia Loren), more from John and stuff from Hubert.

In addition to what's already slotted I'm finishing up full reviews on three of the best of fest films, Slaying the Badger, Zombeavers and the short The Body. I have two posts (shorts and features) on what I saw in the on-line press library. I have a long piece on James The Amazing Randi sparked by seeing The Honest Liar a second time. And I also have the interview I did with the director of Gueros.  Chocko has red carpet and film coverage coming. John and Hubert have reviews. And Mondo has a look at Storyscapes and other goodies.

Simply put keep reading because we have enough to keep Tribeca going for another week at least.

The Montclair Film Festival starts tomorrow

This week the Monclair Film Festival starts. I know MrC and Chocko are going to be wading in for coverage over at Planet Chocko. I’m too tired from Tribeca to make the trip. However if you’re thinking of going we at Unseen have seen a bunch of the films and here are some quick word on the films with links to our reviews

Chef-I have not seen this but good friends have and I trust their opinion enough to say see this movie. It also won the audience award at the festival

Beneath a Harvest Sky- Story of two friends during a summer vacation from school. Mondo really liked the film.

Starred Up- One of the best films at Tribeca is hands down one of the best films of 2014. The story of a young man in prison is a kick in the ass with an unexpectedly moving ending

Overnighters- I heard great things about this so I went to see as much of I could. Easily one of the best films at Tribeca.

What is Cinema?- Rambling look at what cinema is. It has great moments but falls down since unless you know what the clips used are you’ll have no idea what the points being made are.

Whitey- A look at the life of gangster Whitey Bolger told via his trial. A solid film from CNN films is a must see in the theater where there will be no bleeps

Venus in Furs- Roman Polanski adaption of the recent Broadway hit is a brilliant melding of theater and cinema. One of the best films of the year

bright days ahead- Solid portrait of a woman heading into retirement and finding direction in an affair with a younger man

men of the cloth- Fantastic portrait of three tailors in New York Pennsylvania and Italy. One of the best films at last year’s DOC NYC

Intramural- a god damn funny send up of every sports cliche and a must see.

Tribeca Day 10: How to spot Bjork from far away (THIS TIME NEXT YEAR and BIOPHILLIA LIVE)

Bjork (on the right) with the directors of Biophillia Live
And I am out of here....

Actually yesterday was my last day of physically going to the Tribeca Film Festival. I still have to find the time to go through three features and about 25 shorts on the online library before midnight tonight when it closes down. (weeeeee!)

The last couple of days have been interesting as you can tell the people who have been doing press screenings for the last month from those who just came in for the festival and a few screening. We long haul reviewers have a shuffling gait and a ten thousand yard stare. We also begin every conversation with "I'm freaking tired". I want anyone who thinks movie reviewing is easy to do Tribeca's month of screenings, cover other films, work other jobs and remain up to date with your writing- as in write up every-or almost every film. You'll be the walking dead too.

Right now I have three pieces to finish on three of the best films of the festival The Body (supplemented with material with the filmmakers), Zombeavers and Slaying the Badger. I also have a wrap up post to do and an essay piece on James Randi that was sparked by a conversation with my friend Nora.

Yesterday was a long killer day. I was out of my house by 730 am I got in after midnight and except for two films, a play and dinner with John I was on my feet or walking for most of it.

The first film of the day was the sparsely attended  THIS TIME NEXT YEAR.  The film is the story of Long Beach Island off the coast of New Jersey following several people and families as they try to put their lives back together following Super Storm Sandy. The film follows them from days after the storm until Christmas last year (2013).

A sort of we can do anything, we're not going, life goes on documentary  the film is essentially a 90 minute statement of standing strong. Thats all well and good but the depth of detail is little more than some of the public service spots that ran after the film. There are moments here but they are kind of lost in the repetition of "this is my home" and a refusal to go deeper into details. When you get a something such as the Thanksgiving breakdown of the man everyone turned to you can't help but be moved,but there should have been much more of that. Its a 90 minute film that at least a half an hour too long for what it is (The Tribeca material lists it as 110 but it wasn't that long at the press screening and had it been that long I would have fled to the street) Well intentioned but nothing special.

After the screening I headed over to Cinema Village to get pictures of Mondo's review of The Girl and Death in the window. A mix of my pictures and Mondo's can be found here.

From there I headed down to the Tribeca Storyscapes sadly only to find that they only opened at 1PM. I and the several other people milling about found this out from one of the volunteers who was waiting to be let in. Apparently despite the heavy promotion for the event elsewhere at the festival unless you checked the website there was no indication of the time it was open. On the plus side I got to meet the charming Louise. On the negative I had to leave before going into see a play.

The play was THE  MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP a revival of the Charles Ludlum two-hander full of penny dreadful spoofing and quick change artistry. When done right its one of the funniest plays I've seen. Here it was done very well and I laughed and had a good time at something other than a movie. I also was happy that friends from the day job who were there also liked it.

After the show a change in plan as dinner was pushed back as John took care of an ailing Randi. After a huge zigzag that had me going from The Lucille Lortel Theater on Christopher Street on the Westside to Union Square Park and then back to 23rd and 9th all on foot and sometimes in the pouring rain, I met John for dinner.  As always the company was good.

Because the the lines for many shows started early we headed over to the SVA theater about 90 minutes before start time and ended up very close to the front of the line. That was cool and unexpected.

Inside we grabbed some seats and hunkered down for the show- which we kind of expected not to include Bjork and the directors since they canceled the red carpet arrivals.

To our surprise Bjork and the directors were there (see photos) and after introducing the film promised to come back for Q&A.

John is going to do a review. He's the Bjork fan. For me the non-fan it was an okay concert film of a difficult concept album (Songs are about molecular combinations and tectonic plates moving). Visually its amazing but made me wonder why with all the layered visuals it wasn't in 3D since in 3D this would have been a must see for everyone instead of largely for Bjork fans.

The Q&A was mixed with one person asking Bjork if she was going to ever finish a cancel South America tour (no answer) and giving her a book she really liked, while another was a discussion of the odd instruments that were used in the concert. We ducked out early, which was good since I got home later than expected.

And with that the last of my on the ground Tribeca reports is done. Now to attack the online and to finish the multiple reviews and interview I have hanging over my head.

Zero Motivation (2014) Tribeca 2014

The easy jape at the film would be to say that I have zero motivation to review the film, but that would be overly cruel. Instead I would say that this is a film that some one should have resulted in someone forcibly grabbing the director and forcing her to pick a tone for the film- any freaking tone.

This the story of two young women, Zorah and Daffi,who are in the army and who return to their base after a weekend away. They are in administration and are essentially slacker paper pushers who want to be anywhere but there. The film follows the girls as their close friendship is rocked by a series of events including Daffi's discovery that Zorah never mailed the letters to help her get off the base and reassigned to Tel Aviv.

Having every tone you can think of this film clearly is the work of someone who was trying to do too much with their first film lest they never get a second chance to direct. Nominally a slacker comedy the film swerves through an expose of sexism in the military, suicide, a haunting/possession, near rape, romance, broad low brow humor,  a buddy flick, and I don't know what else. The film goes from horrifying self mutilation to raucous comedy in seconds. I didn't know what to feel.

Like the tone the plot is all over the place and full of holes- I mean where is the discipline? Is the Israeli army this badly run? Even in American military comedies like STRIPES there is always a sense of discipline somewhere just off screen- here there is none- this seems more like this was supposed to be big business comedy and they simply dressed them in fatigues to be different. Gun shots are fired and no one blinks when seconds before a tryst was interrupted by people nearby. Who has a computer system with no back up?

Logic and reason play no part in this film.

Yes, I laughed. Yes, I was horrified by some of what happened- mostly I wondered how this film was allowed to go all over the place. I ask that as a serious question because the film ends saying that the film came through the Sundance Institute and other filmmaking academies. I can't imagine that anyone would allow a film to bounce around this much.

What a miss of a film.

Even with a belly laugh or two I can't in good conscious recommend you pay to see this when there are other better films at Tribeca.

Mondocurry's review for The Girl and Death is in the window of Cinema VIllage

Mondocurry's review of The Girl and Death has been picked up and is being used to advertise the film. Here's pictures of the review in the window of Cinema Village in Manhattan. The top photo is from Mondo and the other two are mine.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

brief word on LAND HO (2014) Tribeca 2014

Talking to people after the screening at Tribeca I found that people either loved this or just liked it. Feelings ran high. Strangely I fell into the film and I loved it the more it went on.

Colin goes to visit his friend and one time brother in law Mitch at his home. Colin's second wife has dumped him while at the same time Mitch has just "retired" and doesn't know what do do with himself. Instead of spending the time just hanging out Mitch informs Colin that he's booked them a trip across Iceland and without further adieu the pair is off for a grand road adventure.

A rambling road film this film is great to just look at. If Iceland wants a people to go to their country show them this film since odds are most audiences will at least look into going. I know I did. I would love to be able to just pick up go around some place like our two heroes.

How you react to the guys will determine how you ultimately feel about the film. It took me awhile to warm to gruff vulgar Mitch. He's a surgeon more interested in pot and getting laid than anything else and he's very direct in everything he says and does. Why the soft spoken Colin puts up with him is a mystery that will drive some people up the wall. For me the reasoning does reveal itself as we eventually see that Mitch is a really sweet guy, he's just a big kid who never really learned good social graces. Somewhere along the way it all clicked for me.

Actually one of the things that clicked was the use of music, driven my some wonderful songs, including the hit Big Country, this film just pulls your heart strings and makes you feel good. I'm not ruining anything by saying that this film wonderfully doesn't have a sudden dark turn in the final couple of minutes- this is just the guys traveling to the final fade out.

Will there be a sequel? Who knows, but if there is I for one would gladly travel once more with these two grand old guys.

6 Q&A featuring LOUIE PSIHOYOS

left to right: Fisher Stevens, Louie Psihoyos and Geoffrey Gilmore.
the jetlagged activists and filmmaking team of 6

 So, I just saw an amazing documentary last night that made it's premiere at Tribeca Film Festival.  The movie is titled 6 and is directed by Louie Psihoyos, a well known photographer for National Geographic and director of THE COVE.  6, as in the sixth mass extinction is about just that and we're soaking in it.  Animals are being hunted and consumed into extinction, our oceans are acidic due to all the CO2 in the air, the planet is getting overpopulated.  We're doomed!  Maybe, the planet might still have a chance to be saved.  Time is running out so the time to get involved and educate is now. 

6 documents Psihoyos and his crew spreading the word through striking visuals and never before seen video. They put their lives on the line when they go undercover to expose the shark fin trade and the slaughtering of Manta Rays for their gills.  It is a work-in-progress and it was a thrill to see scenes that were shot days ago in Indonesia.  I'll review the movie at a later time.  I just wanted to upload the Q&A from last night which featured director Louie Psihoyos, some exhausted editors, producer Fisher Stevens and people from the movie including cinematographer Shawn Heinrichs and race car driver Leilani Munter. The film will be completed later this summer in New York City using the Empire State Building and other skyscrapers for the world's largest projection of endangered species,  giving them a much needed voice.  It should be mind blowing and get people talking.  Be on the look out for that and check out the 6 website by clicking the link

Human Capital (2014) Tribeca 2014

Pain and suffering across the classes is the name of the game in the film Human Capital, a film version of a novel by Stephen Amidon.

Beginning at the end the film deals with events leading up to the death of a bicyclist who is run off a road (that's not a spoiler since it occurs several minutes into the film) The film then flashes back in time six months to show how events transpire from the point of view of several characters leading up to the crash- beginning with Dino a man who is desperate to crash into the upper class that he mortgages his future to buy into a rich family's hedge fund, despite several factors that should have told him not to do it.

A grand tragedy that lays open the folly of chasing wealth and the certainty that money does not buy happiness Human Capital is a well acted and well made film that is sure to be popping up its head at the end of the year's awards time. This is a sumptuous production that just seems to be firing on all cylinders from the get go.

Tension is ratcheted up early, not so much from the death, since we don't know the dead man, rather from Dino's attempt at fitting in where he doesn't belong. Its uncomfortable and sadly comedic. We know he's going to get it on the back end and we twist waiting for it all to play out.

A controversial film in it's home country of Italy where it was seen as an unfair attack on the rich, the film is much more than than and an intriguing examination of the human psyche and greed. As for it being specifically an attack on one group or country consider that the source novel was set in the exotic land known as Connecticut.

Put this on your radar because odds are this is going to be coming your way soon.

Kinda like being there: Tribeca day ?? Hunters and the Hunted in PRESERVATION

Naveen Chaubal, one of the filmmakers of Tomorrow We Disappear 
The days are becoming a blur with a return to the day job and some quick evening excursions to the festival. There was a break in there somewhere too. I had one film planned, Preservation, a fitting note to end my run of public screenings on as it was among the first films I had my sights set on. I always look to the Midnight Movie selections for initial inspiration, and suspense thrillers are my go-to type of film. The director was not able to attend the screening, nor anyone else involved in the production; too bad because questions came quick and easy about the volatile film. I'll make a point of trying to get some questions and answers going via email or telephone.

On the way out of the screening, I noticed another film had just ended and a lively gathering was taking place between directors, audience members and artists. The presence of beautiful metallically colored prints and chiseled wood dolls made it evident that Tomorrow We Disappear was the film that had played. This documentary was a favorite of mine (I said more about it here), bringing to life an absolutely unique setting like something out of a fairy tale, where traditional artists weave an every day magic. It is an extremely topical and balanced film, showing how this community in India called the Kathputli Colony is on the verge of being eradicated by a new development's construction, and presenting  points of view both for and against. I briefly spoke to cinematographer and coproducer Naveen Chaubal (pictured above) about the how amazingly up to date the production is, which includes footage as recent as a few months ago. More protests (there was a stark image of an impossible march of varied figures along a busy highway) are apparently being organized and bringing attention to the According to Chauba, the film is still in a state of flux, with the possibility of more footage being added to it. As a result, construction of a new development on top of the Kathputli has not yet begun.

PRESERVATION is an impressively abrasive suspense film. A married couple and the husband's brother head to a nature preserve in its off season to hunt. As relationships unravel, the three are caught off guard by a nasty threat that has both protagonists and antagonists taking on the role of hunted and hunter. From the beginning of the film, I was taken with its camera work. As a truck bounces along toward the canp grounds we see the brothers from over their shoulder, giving an uneasy suggestion of them being targets and also obscuring the view of what lies directly ahead.

I did have some problems with the production. At 88 minutes, the proceedings do feel a bit rushed with some dramatic moments not feeling as though they were sufficiently built to. And there are shifts that leave the beginning and end feeling disconnected from one another. However, one can't complain about the film dragging and there are a lot of innovations worth noting. A truly dreadful villain has been conceived of, whose minimalistic presentation creates an unadulterated discomfort. There is also a sense of unease created around those being hunted, whoever it may be, at any given time. Music is also filled with a shimmering spaciousness (an interesting choice of working with electronic Helsinki duo The Gentlemen Losers) at times, while an original score evokes a Reznor-ian tension of suspended builds. More will be written about this Midnight Movie entry soon.

I also had an interest in attending this first time feature of Tribeca, Free For All Friday, where all tickets were free. I wanted to see how attendance would be affected when issues of cost were eliminated, making the intensity of passion about movies perhaps a stronger factor. I was unable to get to the theater on time to take in much of the scene, but can say that the Bowtie Cinemas was bustling with activity considering the late hour of the screening.