Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The New York Film Festival 2014 Premiere of THE LOOK OF SILENCE

Introducing the film
I curse everyone of you in New York who wasn't at the NYC premiere of THE LOOK OF SILENCE. How dare you leave about half of the theater empty. Yes, I know you feared the kick in the chest Joshua Oppenheimer's film gives you but it's a great film and a must see....

...and Gavin Smith did a fantastic Q&A.

I'm not going to do a review. Both Hubert and Mondocurry have a great deal to say about the film, all I'm going to do is tell you about the screening tonight.

I attended with Mondocurry and we were in Row Q for the intro and the film, but moved down to the third row for the Q&A.

The night began when Film Comment editor Gavin Smith introduced Joshua Oppenheimer. He walked out on stage to the first of three standing ovations. His words were brief, largely thanking us for coming and saying he would talk later.

The film played to largely dead silence. Yes people laughed in the right places, several uncomfortable moments and when Adi's young daughter jokes about  selling glasses like her dad, and when she farts as her dad reads a story she wrote. They are wonderful slices of life.The audience also groaned audibly during some of the darker parts.The woman to my right moaned "Oh God" several times.
Joshua Oppenheimer in the filmmakers box at the end of the film

As the end credits rolled there was no responses. Finally when the light illuminated Oppenheimer standing in the traditional filmmakers box in Alice Tully, did applause start and become a brief standing ovation...which resumed when Oppenheimer and Gavin Smith took the stage for the Q&A.

The Q&A was great. Gavin Smith knows his stuff and asked the right questions, all of which let Oppenheimer talk about making the film, of how the film grew out of the filming of the ACT OF KILLING, of how Adi, the focus of the film, wanted to confront the killers of his brother after seeing all of the raw footage,of the planning that went into the making of the film (it had to be done fast and in a certain order so that it wasn't stopped)

The audience continued asking the right questions beginning with is Adi safe. He is but there are plans in place to get him and his family out of the country if it goes south. With other questions Oppenheimer went into further detail about how things were filmed and the state of the country in the face of a new President who has running mate who is one of the baddies in the first film.

Mondo filmed most of the talk and if you're lucky he'll post it.

It was a great evening at the movies, full of good friends, deep emotions and big ideas.

THE LOOK OF SILENCE has one more screening tomorrow (October 1) and is a must see (Tickets here). It will open next summer in the US via Draft House Films. I will keep you posted if more screenings occur before then.

Seriously put this high on your must see list.

(Watch for reviews from Mondocurry and Hubert which will be coming over the next couple of days. And for more pictures from the screening go to our Tumblr page.)

Saint Laurent (2014) New York 2014

Director Bertrand Bonello is interviewed at the NYFF press conference
Bertrand Bonello's film on Yves Saint Laurent vexes me. Its a two and a half hour film that seems to have no point.

The film largely covers the years from 1967 to 1976. Bonello at the press conference for the film says the film is not the making of the man but what it took to be the man. The cliff notes version it took tons of drugs and lots and lots of gay sex of various flavors. Occasionally he would design or dance but mostly he got stoned and got laid.

That's the film.

Well not really in the final hour (aka the third act according to Bonello) the film flashes forward so that we see an elderly Saint Laurent going through his life. Perhaps it's all the old man's memory which gets fragmented as the film goes on. I don't know I just know the film goes off the rails as things just get confused.

I have no idea what to make of the film. I really don't.

While the overlong running time was never really boring, it never seemed to have a purpose. I never could deduce what the point of the film was or is. It just rambled on and on.

I have no idea what critical reaction to the film will be, some people at the press conference professed a love of the film, however many more groaned audibly when the film seemed to be tacking on another year of Saint Laurent's film.. I laughed at the possibility of the film never ending,..

Your're on you're own with this one. While it doesn't seem to have a point, it never felt long. I don't want to see it again, but I was never sure I wanted to see it to start. I'm not a fashion guy, but then again this is really not about fashion-I don't know what this is.

You're on your own.

The film plays tonight (in a hour) and again on October 2nd (tickets here). If you want to wait for it to hit regular theaters, SOny Classics is releasing it,tentatively, in May of 2015.

8 short films from the Projections series at the New York Film Festival 2014

The View from the Avant Garde section of the New York Film Festival has become Projections. Its basically the same thing with a slightly wider latitude, there are several feature documentaries that could run in the documentary section or the Main Slate with no trouble.

Whatever you call the section the series is always full of short films, many times collected by a director or a subject. The Festival usually screens a section or two for the press giving us a sense of how things will run. This year the festival ran 8 shorts from 7 collections in 2 groups. This was a good thing and a bad thing. Its good because it allowed us to see a wide variety of the types of films screening but it's bad because the differing nature of the films was very jarring and worked against one film in particular.

I'm going to give you some thoughts on all the films we saw and leave it to you to see if you want to see more or not.

This will actually be the last film screened in the series. Its a silent film that starts as black and white shots of church somewhere. The camera moves, pans. Thereis a shift and suddenly we're watching the film projected on a screen. The camera moves and dances and becomes color.  I thought it was unremarkable.

Razzle Dazzle
Rapidly cut together shots of material up close so we can see the texture. I know several writers came to see this five minutes film specifically. Personally I could have stayed in bed.

Divided into five parts (four seasons and another section I didn't catch) this is a collection of found footage, pictures and sound bites. Its interesting in bits and pieces, like the part where the squirrel gets pissed off at a fake one of its kind and attacks it. Its a kind of one stop history of Avant Garde film history.

Probably the best of the 8 films screened this is a history of the two men who in the 1790's did the measurements that became the Metric System. What's interesting here is that it was made by two directors in a manner that mirrored the the seven year struggle of their subjects.

A wonderful little film that suffered by being shown with the above three films with which it shares nothing in common. The result of this was that after the screening several people in the audience remarked that they were halfway into the film before they connected with it since they were expecting something similar to the first three films screened.

I expect this film to have a long life after the festival.

A man shows us numerous photos with holes in them. We watch a man with a white plastic bag over his head talk about creating. We see a white background with dots in the same position as the pictures had holes. Your guess is as good as mine. (a word of warning there are a couple of sexually graphic shots in the film)

Occidental Hotel
Slightly overlong but cool kind of animated film that has comic strip people interacting across a series of photographs. It all becomes a kind of surreal soap opera with the cut out people creating a weird sense of space. As I said it's cool.

Detour Deforce
Footage of Ted Serios a man who claimed to be able to put thought pictures on film. Without getting into the Serios story, this is wildly too long at 29 minutes. Why is this so long? Its just Ted making pictures or not.

O Persecuted
Footage of an archival film on Israel is projected on a wall as someone paints the white wall black---except we watch it in reverse before we cut to young Israelis partying in night clubs and pools. Visually interesting to a point  but the industrial score gave me a headache.

A few words on Letters to Max (2014) New York Film Festival 2014

Max who lived in the shadowy country of Abkahazia (it was carved out of Soviet Georgia and is barely recognized by anyone) gets a series of letters from Eric. The letters which run from the brief "are you there" to more detailed missives are used as a springboard for an examination of life, Abkahazia and the nature of the world.

Intriguing film that fits into the genre of landscape films, which are namely narration matched up with images of people and landscapes to create something more. For me it's a genre that either works or fails to the point of boredom. Things like the Patrick Keiller Robinson films, or some of the early Peter Greenaway films are masterpieces that transcend the medium to become something profound. Others, whose names I've mercifully forgotten, are so boring you want to give up on the genre, if not film forever.

Letters to Max is somewhere in the middle. While never quite transcendent, the film is also never boring managing, for the most part to hold our attention for most of it's running time. I say most of the running time simply because the film runs out of steam somewhere during the last half hour or forty minutes.  As interesting as some of the pondering is, I simply got to a point where I was kind of done and wanted to move on to something else, at least for a while.

The film is never bad, it's simply a bit too long, with the result that I would kind of be hesitant to recommend this to someone coming on this type of film for the first time. On the other hand, as I said its not bad, just too much of one thing.

Definitely worth a shot.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Today at the New York Film Festival- SAINT LAURENT, THE BLUE ROOM and THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT

NYFF head Kent Jones introduces The 50 Year Argument
Three films today, two press screenings and a public. The first two films will be getting longer reviews in a day or so.

SAINT LAURENT is an unauthorized biography of Yves Saint Laurent focusing, in the director's words, what it took to be Saint Laurent. Actually the film focuses on the sex and drugs in the designers life from 1966 to 1976.  There are some design moments but mostly its just the sex and drugs (including an ODing dog). I didn't get it, especially at two and a half hours.

THE BLUE ROOM is a killer crime drama with a man arrested for killing his wife and his lover's husband. I'll have a lot to say in a review which will come soon, but the  short version is the film is a super modern noir. A must see. It hots theaters and VOD Friday.

THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT played on HBO tonight. Had I known that before I bought the ticket I would have waited.

Truthfully Marty Scorsese direction or no, this film is for fans of the New York Review of Books only. A hagiographic circle jerk of self congratulation the film is the editors and the contributors explaining why they are so wonderful. If you don't know the Review or its contributors it means little.

Made up of talking heads largely reading excerpts from the Review this gets old really fast. Yes we learn that the Review is pro social change and truthful reporting but at the same time the arrangement of material is so scatter-shot as to be meaningless. Worse the film is 20 to 30 minutes too long at 100 minutes, though if you could get it to an hour you might have something great.

I can't believe I paid to see this...nay I can't believe I wasted my time.

The Supreme Price opens Friday

The Supreme Price opens Friday in theaters in New York (at the Quad Cinemas) and Los Angeles before it begins its platformed release around the country. The film is the story of Hafsat Abiola who took her father’s place in Nigerian politics after he was assassinated. It’s a very good film.

I saw the film back in the spring at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and this is what I had to say:

If you've ever wanted to know and understand the history of Nigeria and to some degree politics in the region around that country see The Supreme Price. I say this because not only is it one hell of a story but it's also a wonderful explanation of the history of Nigeria and it's social structure.

Stealing part of the synopsis from the Human Rights Watch website the film tells the story of Hafsat Abiola, daughter of human rights heroine Kudirat Abiola, and Nigeria's President-elect M.K.O. Abiola, who won a historic vote in 1993 that promised to end years of military dictatorship. Shortly after the election, M.K.O. Abiola's victory was annulled and he was arrested. While he was imprisoned, his wife Kudirat took over leadership of the pro-democracy movement. And when Kudirat was assassinated Hafsat took over as the face of the democracy movement.

This is a perfect marriage of social, national and family history. This is a film that works on a variety of levels. Its a documentary that is very real and very alive as Hafsat and her brothers and sisters and her family spin out the the story of a family and a country in a way that is both informative and entertaining. Its the sort of thing you'll want to watch a second or third time simply because its telling you one hell of a story; the sort that would be an edge of your seat serial on network TV.

This is a great film. And yes, I know I should be going on about how important the film is in getting the message out and all of that- but you know what if I can get your butt into the theater to see this film because you'll enjoy it on a movie level, you'll still get the message. If you like the film because it entertains you you may very well do something faster then if you walk out feeling obligated.

Go see this film. 

Gone Girl (2014) New York Film Festival 2014

Gone Girl is bendy and twisty in the best of ways, a movie that maintains its hold through the art of surprise. The film starts one way where the conclusion seems foregone. Nick (Ben Affleck) returns home on his wedding anniversary and finds that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing. There's evidence of a kidnapping, but it doesn't look quite right. From the beginning David Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (adapting her own novel) put the onus on Nick. His opening narration suggests a desire to harm Amy, or is it merely a gory metaphor for his inability to read his own wife? His body language, the things he says, the way he's presenting himself to law enforcement and his neighbors suggests some sort of guilt or knowledge. He's withholding something, that's obvious. Whatever he and Amy had was a facade, and as the plot progresses, we learn just what sort of people they were and what they've become.

I found myself parsing every word in Affleck's performance from the outset, reading motives into Nick's every move, even the insignificant ones. And that's precisely what Fincher and Flynn want from this carefully calibrated, performed, and constructed machine whose purpose is to swerve. Just when Gone Girl seems to be going toward a familiar conclusion--think Laci Petersen--it moves in an unexpected and more compelling direction, altering the perception of everything that's come before. And it does this briskly, deftly, and multiple times until the final shot and final lines of the film. Fincher has made a tabloid Hitchcock movie punctuated by pitch black comedy, all the while commenting on the stories we tell ourselves and each other in contemporary American life.

In Gone Girl, the narratives we construct are who we'd like to be, but these ideals are different than who we really are. When these narratives aren't outright lies, they're just facets of a person, and people can become obsessed by the lies and the facets rather than the whole or what's really there. Amy's parents have a famous children's book series that features a character named Amazing Amy, a more perfect version of their daughter. During a flashback to a book launch event, Amy laments to Nick that the fictional version of herself always seemed one step ahead of her in the game of life. (As an aside, when Nick and Amy first meet, they delight in describing other people, writing the sub-standard narratives of those strangers' lives broadly, and simply from outward appearances and mannerisms. It's as if they're using stories to suggest superiority--flirtation through a combination of belittling and oblique self-aggrandizement.)

There's also the way we tell stories to others, whether they're written down or expressed through interviews, and inevitably the way that these stories change. Tyler Perry plays high-powered defense attorney Tanner Bolt, a man adept at the optics of innocence. He's as much a lawyer as a PR person, and Perry is so confident as the character. He plays the role not a sleaze like the cliché would go, but instead someone cool, collected, in-control, and seasoned in the game of public perception. Perry winds up being just another unexpected delight in the movie. He coaches his clients carefully, helping them choose words, choose facial expressions, choose wardrobe. Even if you're innocent, the performance of innocence is more important to the public than the fact of innocence. Nick keeps insisting that the truth will be his defense, but it's really the story he tells and the way it's told.

One of the colorful flourishes at the periphery of Gone Girl's mystery is Ellen Abbott played by Missi Pyle. She's a Nancy Grace analog, expressing her highly rehearsed brand of outrage and disgust through sneering, insincere emotional appeals. She's something of a ringmaster in the massive media circus that surrounds Amy's disappearance, siccing her viewers on Nick with every bad PR move or stumbling line. Gone Girl's machinery would not be capable without these kinds of media figures in the real world, because they are integral shapers of crime narratives and crime cliches. Thanks to their brand of reportage as outrage, we think we know the whole story--or we rush to assume the whole story--before it's finished. Rather than relay and interpret the facts, they pre-digest the misery and reshape it for the benefit of our lurid fascination--a mama bird feeding her twittering brood.

Atop all this may be the narrative of the American Dream and how impossible it is to sustain this kind of story. Nick and Amy are both victims of the recession, and in a lot of ways it's something their relationship never recovers from. Unable to sustain this narrative of prosperity and sexual adventure, other narratives they've built break down. Nick is no longer the Prince Charming he was when they first met, and Amy is also unable to play along with the dark road their marriage is moving toward. There may be a black hole at Amy's center, which Pike communicates through certain looks she gives other characters. Something in Amy's essence is harmed when the narrative she wants disappears. What then? There was a line in Neil Gaiman's Sandman about the inevitable sadness of stories that seem to have happy endings--that if you keep stories going long enough, they always end in death.

If there's a moral center to the movie, it's not Detective Rhonda Boney played by Kim Dickens, who's a hardcore proceduralist, but rather Nick's sister Margo played by Carrie Coon. She's hapless and clueless about what her brother and her sister-in-law have been up to, and yet she's someone with a deep reserve of empathy. She tells Nick she's with him since they're blood, no matter what. Deep down, I wondered if she would break in some way, like if the public perception of Nick's guilt would affect her ability to support her brother. This concern probably speaks to the power of Coon's performance as well as Flynn's rendering of the character; all of the main players, really, are built and layered.

I'm avoiding spoilers since so much of the pleasure of Gone Girl is how it negotiates its twists and turns. One scene that marks the start of the film's final act made me whisper "Oh my f**k!" as I was watching it happen. With that in mind, though, I wondered about the think pieces that will inevitably be written following the film's release. The familiar narrative of movie think pieces will play out, and we should get a slew of writing about Gone Girl's use of gender tropes, the film's perceptions of gender and gender roles, and, ultimately, whether or not the movie is misogynist. I'd say the movie is not misogynist but instead cynical. Perhaps it's more misanthropic than anything else, but I look forward to the larger conversation about Gone Girl and going back to the think pieces about the book to see what kind of conversation about gender emerged from it.

And there are complications to all of this, of course. If Flynn were a man, the accusations of misogyny would be more rampant and less nuanced, but since Flynn is a woman and her interest is in, among other things, women's psyches, what we're seeing may not be misogyny but maybe a pervasive misanthropy or doubt in the way we package ourselves or, in a roundabout way, an examination of the effects of the patriarchy and existing narratives of gender expectation on women's psyches. Pike during the post-screening Q & A mentioned that Amy and what her character only works if she is a woman, that gender swapping the character would not work. This is true since so much of the Nick and Amy story is about the narrative of these kinds of cases and the roles that men and women play (or are expected to play) in these stories of marital crime.

But that's a conversation that needs to take place later and elsewhere, and only after you watch Gone Girl and judge for yourself.

Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947) New York Film Festival 2014

The original film version of The Ghost and Mrs Muir is not the TV show that I used to watch regularly in reruns as a kid growing up. Less sitcom and instead more dramatic romance the film stars Rex Harrison as the ghost and Jean Tierney as Mrs Muir. Its moving little film that rightly holds a place in many people’s hearts.

The plot of the film has Mrs Muir moving into Gull Cottage with her daughter. The house is haunted by Captain Gregg. At first Gregg wants the house to return to the quiet of years past, however there is something about Mrs Muir that stirs him and they become friends. Eventually knowing that Mrs Muir could use some money he dictates his memoirs to her, however this brings Muir into contact with a seemingly nice manwho may or may not have Mrs Muir’s interests at heart.

I really like the film and while I have it on DVD, I don’t really watch it all that much of my own choice, instead preferring to catch it whenever I come across it on TV. There is something about seeing this film late at night that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

An old fashion romance of the sort they really don’t do any more the Ghost and Mrs Muir is the perfect film for those looking for a great romance to curl up on the couch. However since the film is playing at the New York Film Festival, it’s the perfect film to see on a big screen if you want to get away from all of today’s troubles. Filled with a sense of nostalgia event’s own day (the film is set in 1900) this really is a trip back in time to a quieter and simpler place.

The New York Film Festival has David Cronenberg bomb and a Surprise Screening that Surprises (MAPS TO THE STARS and WHILE WE'RE YOUNG)

A mixed day in the public seats was full of ups and downs

The downs came early with the new David Cronenberg film MAPS TO THE STARS. I'm going to rip the film apart and spill the beans so if you don't want to know skip down to where I talk about WHILE WE'RE YOUNG

Cronenberg's new film is close to a complete unfun, unfunny disaster. Its sole saving grace is Julianne Moore who should get an Oscar nom for her portrayal of tormented actress. The other performances might have amounted to something had their been a script, but there isn't one so it all falls flat. Worse the film tries to be transgressive but it never is. Its like a prim and proper child trying to swear..oh wait kids swear in this and talk about twisted sex..then again they do it badly.

The plot has the schizophrenic and fire scarred sister of a spoiled rich kid actor returning to Hollywood after her time in the mental hospital. She wants to make amends her parents want her to go away, they don't want the past dug up since it's laced with incest and mental defects. She lands a job thanks to Carrie Fisher working for messed up Julianne Moore who says her cult actress mother molested her. Throw in Robert Pattinson as a wannabe writer/actor and you have a mess of a film or as I like to say "Its a glorious Technicolor wannabe cornucopia of incest and fucked up behavior"

I don't blame the actors I blame either the script or the editing. Somewhere characters disappear and reason with it. Who are these people and why did they agree to play them? Cronenberg alone isn't the reason, something happened along the way. Something or lots of things beyond the over "nasties" had to have been here but got lost along the way.

Not to put too fine a point on it this film sucks. Jokes are told and there are no laughs, lurid things happen and we feel nothing. There is lots of shocking things said but they fail to shock.

How bad is it, most of my row of seats walked out before the end.

How bad? The biggest laugh came when a chunk the audience cheered when a character is bludgeoned to death. The rest of the audience just roared with laughter at the response.

How bad? One character burns alive in horrible CGI flames and the audience snickered and groaned.

I wanted to walk out but I stayed hoping it would turn around, It kind of did but at the same time I largely stayed, as did several others in the crowd, simply to see how far off the rails the film would go- somewhere the other side of Kansas I reckon.

The film is a cinematic disaster that is too stupidly bad to ever be revived as fun or camp (it should have been made as a camp film). I already fear the Cronenberg fans who'll find something in it to crow about-and I'm looking to see if I can find something really heavy to hit them with.

This is a perfect example of why the New York Film Festival has to stop taking films from directors who've been here before- sometimes they turn out shit.

Avoid it.

Noah Baumbach's WHILE WE'RE YOUNG surprised most people in the audience who thought the surprise film would be Clint Eastwood's AMERICAN SNIPER. We were all wrong.

Baumbach's film concerns a couple in their forties who are finding little in common with their baby having friends. They connect with a younger couple who revive their lives but also put them at odds with their old friends.

On that most basic of levels the film is quite good with Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts making a lovely couple.

The problem is, and its a BIG problem, is that Baumbach complicates the story by making Stiller a documentary filmmaker, and making the young couple as nice, but ultimately users. The film raises all sorts of issues about creativity, art and what is morally right in creating a documentary. The film also raises lots of questions about technology and the constant filming of everything by everyone. The film juggles these issues until the final fifteen minutes where it not only throws them out but rewrites several characters in the name of getting to the directors chosen end point.  Its horrible because its the point where a great film collapses to being okay.

When the film ended Hubert and I had a brief discussion about the collapse before the Q&A started and I really wanted to ask Baumbach what he was thinking when he changed the rules and the characters, but I was in the balcony.

Strangely the last question was from a woman who wanted to know what Baumbach was thinking. His answer pissed me off to no end. Basically all of that extra stuff doesn't matter since that's not the story. He only put it there for shading and we we're not suppose to care about it. When pushed to say what he at least thought about some of the issues he raised Baumbach paused for a long time before answering that the answer would require a discussion he couldn't have now and here. To me it sounded like Baumbach got called on his shit and didn't know how to answer. It sounds like he doesn't know his work as well as he thinks, nor does he really care about what he's doing in half his film. Certainly he had no clue as to how it was going to play with an audience.

I lost a great deal of respect for Baumbach.

Ultimately its not a bad movie, its just going to piss you off on any level beyond the superficial since despite it looking like a deep film,there is nothing there and characters end up betraying themselves. Baumbach has made a film best suited for the mindless multiplex and not the New York Film Festival.

And now bed for me- I have three films and my  brother by osmosis's birthday tomorrow,

Pictures from the WHILE WE'RE YOUNG screening are up at Tumblr and can be found here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Nightcap 9/28/14 Film writers are full of it, WE DON'T WANT TO MAKE YOU DANCE screens around the world, Reel is funded plus Randi's links

My quote used in the trailer for MAGICAL UNIVERSE
I wrote the piece below even before I was quoted in the MAGICAL UNIVERSE trailer. I haven't changed anything in wake of some one taking what I say seriously.

I recently had someone comment to me that my pieces were very personal. They were not merely a statement of facts but they talked about me and where I was coming from. I replied that was the only way I could write, I can't write about how I feel about something without explaining where those feelings were coming from. I added that I always liked that in reviews because it give me a handle on where the person writing it is coming from.

Unseen Films is not typical film writing, then again I'm not trying to be a real critic rather I'm just trying to tell you what I thought and felt about a film.

Of course that doesn't mean that I and many of my fellow film writers aren't full of shit. I say this because after watching the reaction of some of my colleagues after several screenings at NYFF (the Godard film in particular) I was horrified at the thought that people actually take what we say seriously.

Please stop that. Don't take us seriously.

No offense but the way people will discuss the deeper meaning of anything is ridiculous. Movies are what they are, just as works of literature, and any meaning or resonances you find there are because of the connections you make to them and what they may or may not be saying. There is no deeper meaning unless you put it there

I have had several conversations about the deeper meaning of a couple of NYFF films and to be honest the people telling me why watching a tiger wander around an apartment for an hour is an orgasmically intellectual experience had me biting my lip so as not to laugh in their faces. Its a tiger wandering around a room for an hour while some one reads bad poetry...its pretentious twaddle. It means nothing.

I freely admit that I am full of it a lot of times, but I hope that I, and the other guys and gals at Unseen will always explain to why a film hits us a certain way. We try to clue you in to out own personal biases which make it less an intellectual pronouncement that something is great rather a personal experience as to why we feel so strongly about a film.

We film writers are not gods or trained experts we're just a bunch of film nuts who just started writing and never stopped. Many of us, myself included, have no lives, we just have films, which means we don't really know from real life, we only know film life.(And having met several "important critics" you too would suddenly stop taking us seriously)

If you really do listen to us don't take our strict ratings as the be all and end all and instead read what we are saying and look at the words beyond the its good or bad. I say that because the true value of what we write is there and not in the thumbs up or down its in the expression of what we say and how we say it. Read a lot of reviews by a particular author and get a feel for how they write and what they really mean. Sometimes a phrase taken at face value will mean something else if you know an author. You have to get to the point where you know what a writer is saying like you know how some of your friends explain a movie.

We don't know anything more than you do.

Ultimately take what we say on advisement. Let it help steer you but don't let it be the deciding factor, after all we know are our tastes, you on the other hand are a perfect judge of your own.
We Don't Want to Make You Dance has some screening coming up in the next couple of weeks.  This is the great documentary on the band Miller Miller Miller and Sloane that I saw at DOC NYC last year (Here's my review).

If you're in London, Barcelona or St Louis you should make an effort to go see it.

For information on the screenings go here.
Just a word to say that Alec's film REEL was successfully funded at Kickstarter. Look for coverage as production starts up.
And now Randi's links
Ken's Relaxed Atmosphere is back in action
Total Films 50 Amazing Films You Probably haven't seen-yea but we have seen a lot of them
South Park's Washington DC only Season 18 promo
Disney Haunted Mansion upgrades
Secret Radioactive towns
The Easy Rider Motorcycle is up for sale
Friends Central perk is open in NYC
Frightening technologies
The restored Loews Kings
John Waters at Lincoln Center
Twisted sex implied by the Harry Potter books
Sport celebration fails
Colorized photos
History buff photo porn (no its not dirty)
Jack the ripper was....

There was a Crooked Man....(1970) New York Film festival 2014

Made at a time of great cynicism and when both Kirk Douglas and especially Henry Fonda were trying to get out of the boxes that Hollywood put them in, There Was A Crooked Man is a darkly comic western with a bittersweet taste to it.

The film has conniving robber Kirk Douglas stealing and hiding away a half million dollars. He’s pretty sure he’ll be able to keep the money, even after he’s arrested by upright lawman Henry Fonda since people will do anything for money. Thrown into prison Douglas plots his escape only to run into trouble when Fonda ends up the new warden.

Filled with great characters, and great performances Crooked Man is a very good movie, but to be honest I never need see it again. A very cynical film it’s almost too dark for me. Ultimately there are no good guys, everyone is corrupt and anything can be bought. Worse there is no honor amongst anyone. It’s the sort of thing that is so bleak that I don’t know why I’m watching it. Life sucks and people are terrible, what’s your point?

While the film is very much a product of its time. the late 1960’s in the days after the Summer of Love melted down into Tet, assassination and disillusion before Nixon’s nonsense pushed everyone over the edge, it frequently comes off as too much. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great film, just who needs to be in that dark place?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A report from the ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA screening at The New York Film Festival 2014

introducing the film
Today's the sort of day that explains why coverage of a film festival needs to be done from the public screenings; It explains why press screening and screeners don't cut it; It explains why film viewing is still a communal activity; And why the New York Film Festival can still surprise the hell out of me.

The day started with hooking up with Alec for some lunch and talk. We then walked over to the Walter Reade and got in line in such a way as to stay out of the sun. While on line we watched as James Woods and Treat Williams went in...and a short time later Ethan Hawke come out. Hawke was there with SEYMOUR AN INTRODUCTION. Points to Mr Hawke who talked to fans and posed for pictures.

When we got into the theater there was a lot of questions about how long it was going to run. We knew there was to be an intro, and they were advertising a Q&A. There was also talk of an hour intermission which made everyone curious.

The introduction had Scott Tiller (who played young Noodles), James Woods, William Forsythe, Treat Williams and Robert DeNiro intro duce the film, Actually only DeNiro and Woods spoke. Afterward DeNiro left and the other actors took up seats in the theater.

I talked about the film earlier this week and what I said still holds true (the piece is here), the film is a masterpiece. The new material is a mixed bag with most of it adding a bit of shading. There is one piece where DeNiro speaks to Elizabeth McGovern's chauffeur that doesn't add much. The other bits add details and hints at other missing material.

At intermission we were told the break would only be a half an hour and that there was food and drink in the Furman Gallery for everyone. What a delight no only was there sandwiches and deserts and snacks and wine and drinks, but there was also great conversation as the crowd chatted among itself. Scott Tiller was there talking to people and even the other actors briefly appeared.

After the film there was a standing ovation with a great deal of love shown to the performers. Because things went long all day the Q&A was officially canceled, but the audience surrounded the actors and started taking pictures and asking questions. Because they weren't miced the fringes fell away but most people stayed. They stayed even when the theater manager asked everyone to leave.

Eventually the actors left and they continued talking to the crowd and each other in the lobby. James Woods could be heard bemoaning how the studio refused to put the film up for any Oscar nominations in 1983 which broke Sergio Leone's heart. The crowd and actors moved outside with William Forsythe getting mobbed outside the theater by fans asking questions and looking for autographs.

Alec and I faded into the night heading home- passing Alice Tully Hall where the red carpet arrivals for MAP OF STARS the New David Cronenberg was going on.

The whole experience was magical, from the company of a good friend, to a good movie, to big stars really interacting with their fans, it was wonderful from top to bottom and a great example as to why magical things happen at the New York Film Festival and why I'll keep going to public screenings.

I've posted pictures from today, Ethan Hawke, the intro, the impromptu Q&A and the leaving over at the Unseen Tumblr page which can be found here.

Hopefully they'll get you to try and see something at the festival....

Last Hijack(2014)

The one image you'll remember from this film
That's the life of a pirate, no plan just desire

Running as part of this years Convergence at New York Film Festival, the Last Hijack is getting two "screenings". One is of the interactive elements where the online audience can choose to go deeper into the story in a manner of speaking available on line  the film's website and the other is the film in it's theatrical form. (the film opens in theaters Friday).

Framed around the preparations for one last pirate run this film is a  look at the life of Somali pirates as told by the pirates, their families and the people that are affected by them.

An very good look the real life of the Somali pirates that varies differently then what we see in American movies or the news. Yes, these are not ultimately nice guys, since they make their living off the pain and suffering of others, but at the same time you come to understand why they did what they did, and why they kept doing it. You also kind of feel bad for them now that the party is over and the days of easy money is gone. (though some reports suggest that a new cycle of hijacking maybe coming as ship owners are becoming lax with security once more)

To be perfectly honest this is a film I admire more than I like. Don't get me wrong it's a very good film but at the same time it seems a bit too leisurely in the telling even at 83 minutes. My interest drifted occasionally, usually during some of the more reflective scenes (and I was told by several people that the white noise of the ocean that is heard through out the film put several writers to sleep). While I do like the use of the animation to illustrate the things that couldn't be shown, past events such as hijacks and war, I'm not too sure I really like the illustrations of our protagonist's psyche, more in that with this being a non-fiction film the psyche bits come off as pushing credibility a bit too much.

My reservations aside, this is definitely worth seeing, if not at the festival then down the road either theatrically or on one of the VOD platforms.

The interactive material runs tomorrow afternoon while the feature version runs tomorrow night. For details go here. If you can't make those the film opens in select theaters October 3, 2014 available exclusively on iTunes October 7, 2014 &VOD platforms October 14, 2014

GONE GIRL poster from outside Alice Tully Hall last night

This is the poster for GONE GIRL from outside Alice Tully Hall. The cityscape reflection is the result of the buildings on Broadway reflecting in the glass of the poster case. Personally I think it's a wonderful addition to the image

Ranting on Sergei Paranjanov and Color of Pomegranetes NYFF 2014

I honestly don’t know what to make of the films of Sergei Parajanov I have several DVDs that Kino put out several years ago and I reviewed Paranjanov:A Requiem the film about him that is on one of the discs but to be perfectly honest outside of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors I just stare at the screen and go it’s nice.

This year the New York Film Festival is running a restored version of Parajanov‘s The Color of Pomegranates and my attitude is –Good for them.

Yes I’m being snide.

The story of Color is the story of the poet Syat Nova (the film's original title). Its the story of his life as told via his songs, his history and the directors invention. It's very much like watching a strange performance piece or an living painting.

Don't get me wrongParanjanov is a wonderful filmmaker, he is a true artist and I admire that he was able to get his artistic vision on the big screen, but at the same time his films leave me cold. Watching the films again to write this piece I got through a film and a half and I gave up. His films, which are very Avant-garde are almost too artistic. Often they are static tableaux. I’ve had discussions with fans of his over the years and mostly we end up agreeing to disagree.

I’m not sure if people really like his films or they like the idea of him. I’m serious about that since most of the discussions I’ve had about him tend to talk about his battles with Soviet authorities and his struggle for artistic freedom. I’ve never not had his struggle not come up in a discussion. Are you supporting the man or the art? I'm never sure. I'm equally not sure if people are responding to his films in a positive manner because they so don't get them that they think that the films are beyond them because they don't understand them or have had them explained to them so that they do make sense.

First rule of Unseen Films Fight Club- if you have to explain the film the film fails. films must stand on their own and not have to be explained. If you don't like a film until it's explained to you the film is a failure. Most people do not have their hand held for them or have films explained there for no explanations.

With Paranjanov's films, and Color in particular I've had the film explained to me. Yes it made the film more interesting, but as I said to the person who explained it to me- how the hell was I suppose to know that if I wasn't from Soviet Georgia with a similar set of interests as the director. Its sort of like reading an Alan Moore comic book and not getting it until you read the annotated versions that are out there...Yes Mr Moore your League of Extraordinary Gentleman is wonderful, and yes you are clearly much more clever than the rest of us, but until you tell us how clever you are we're never going to notice it.

But I digress- sort of - Going back and looking at Color and whatever the other film I saw was, it was clear that unless I got out my ouiji board and have the director explain them I was never going to understand his films (except Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors) nor do I think most other people are either.

Opening Night at the New York Film Festival 2014....and a report will have to wait

Its a crazy busy day with WHIPLASH in the morning and GONE GIRL at night.

There are stories to tell (Ben Affleck being addressed as Bruce Wayne by a member of the press, his co-star being thrilled about being able to shower with Batman...) and I'll tell them when I don't have to get up early for a movie.

I have posted pictures at our Tumblr page from both press conferences.

Know that WHIPLASH is really good and sure to get JK Simmons an Oscar nom. A review will follow, maybe several actually since Mondocurry is seeing it Sunday Night and Chocko is wading in Monday. Its a really good drama/psychological thriller that moved some people to tears.

I like GONE GIRL, but I don't love it. Hubert is taking the lead on this one. I think the film runs out of steam at a certain point. Not sure what the Oscars hold for it, though I will say learn as little as possible about the film - don't read reviews (or watch the press conference which had the actors discussing the end in detail). Definitely worth your time when it hit theaters Friday.

As for me- time for bed- I have ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA tomorrow and its an all day affair

Friday, September 26, 2014

Goodbye to Language (2014) New York Film Festival 2014

"I've never gotten anything out of [Jean-Luc Godard's] movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a f**king bore. He's made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin féminin: 15 faits précis (1966), was shot here in Sweden. It was mind-numbingly boring."
-- Ingmar Bergman

If there's one thing that can be said about Godard's 3D art film Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage), I didn't find it boring. It's frustrating, sure, and it's pretentious, it's ragged, it's non-narrative and non-linear; it namedrops like an insecure literature student, it's self-indulgent to the extreme, and it's at times too self-congratulatory about being self-aware, but it was never boring for me. In some ways Goodbye to Language is the kind of movie that I like thinking about more than I liked watching it, because even if it doesn't say anything directly or overtly, there's something about trying to figure out what was trying to be said that can be fascinating.

The film is made up entirely of loosely connected fragments, with some trace of narrative attached to a pair of aloof French lovers who make observations out of ennui, with the man occasionally farting on the toilet. (I'd joked to a few people that Goodbye to Language was the perfect cinematic recreation of the act of gawking at naked French women while audibly taking a s**t... IN 3D!) There's also a dog who ponders philosophical ideas while walking along a riverbank. Is this a reference to pre-Socratics like Diogenes and Heraclitus, or does Godard just love his dog? (Is this even an important question?) There's also some crime of some sort, though it's hard to piece it all together. Any time a sense of narrative progression or a kind of hint at a logical syllogism is made in the film, Godard cuts away. He interrupts it with grainy footage of fire and crowds, or to a car driving down the road, or to another shot of the same scene with degraded image quality. Even a recurring piece of music is interrupted and then the excerpt repeated from the beginning, as if resetting the progress to start again continually.

Sometimes the film looks as if it was shot with iPhones or cheap digital camcorders, and other times it looks like it was shot with high-end digital cameras to capture sumptuous and evocative images, like Héloise Godet behind bars in front of the sea, or hands beside fallen leaves on the water. This leap back and forth between ugliness and beauty, and momentum and stoppage creates such an intense feeling of discontinuity that it can be disorienting in the extreme. Goodbye to Language is alienating and even seems like its alternate title should be F**k-Off to the Audience (i.e., the film as a punk or noise rock album), and that hasn't even gotten to what Godard does with 3D.

"Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film."
-- Werner Herzog

The 3D in Goodbye to Language is more novel and more fascinating than the 3D seen in most blockbusters (in which the 3D is generally superfluous), and yet it serves a form of discontinuity from what's expected from the conventions of stereoscopic 3D.

In a few scenes of the Goodbye to Language, Godard splits the image on screen to expose the layers of stereoscopic viewing, with a completely different image in the left eye from what is seen in the right eye. Moments that are happening simultaneously in the space of the film are now shared on screen but split between the eyes. I found myself winking to isolate images, which became a fascinating way to engage with discontinuity and the viewing experience. The same sort of winking-to-watch occurred in some of the random shots of windshield wipers. The droplets in the foreground were split given their relative position to the cameras since the main focus of these shots was in the middle distance and beyond, and yet isolating the overlay in each eye made the shots less of a headache and more of an object to be considered in terms of my ideas about stereoscopic 3D images in general (i.e., this does not function like I'm used to it functioning, so what does this say about the object, in this case viewing a film?)

In a way, I think Goodbye to Language is less about the whole and how it coheres overtly and more about these individual moments that stuck out in the fragments. They become like the moves or fight sequences in a kung fu movie, and they become these discrete areas of appreciation even in a messy whole. While there are clumsy moves made along the way (e.g., a character in the film comments on how much she detests characters in films while watching a film--ugh, how obvious), there are individual moves that are moments that can be grasped and considered closely even if just for their novelty, oddness, or beauty.

It could be asked what these moves that Godard is making are meant for, or if there is an intended end. If the film is a kind of farewell to language, the moves of the film and the intent of the film may be a kind of transgressive act against the grammar of cinema and language of narrative filmmaking. Those constant interruptions and resets of momentum are a means of letting individual sections exist as their own as discrete meditations on this cinematic language, which then, strung together, form this discontinuous series of propositions or comments on cinematic language and the act of communication through this form of language. Rather than thinking of Goodbye to Language as a united throughout, like propositions in a syllogism, maybe the film is more like fragments of syllogisms that center around a hole that is all about the larger discourse we have through cinematic language.

"[Godard's] gifts as a director are enormous. I just can't take him very seriously as a thinker--and that's where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin. But what's so admirable about him is his marvelous contempt for the machinery of movies and even movies themselves--a kind of anarchistic, nihilistic contempt for the medium--which, when he's at his best and most vigorous, is very exciting."
-- Orson Welles

There's a major philosophical difficulty here when it comes to figuring out the exact sort of discourse that Godard may be engaging in. There are little hints of what you probably need to be into to get what Godard is getting at provided throughout the movie. Godard even (a bit smugly) includes a number of dead intellectuals and dead philosophers in the cast of the movie during the end credits like the endnotes of a cultural studies midterm.

I think the philosophical difficulty here is the result of multiple factors. One could be a kind of intellectual broadness rather than intellectual depth or intellectual clarity. There are ideas explored in snippets and pieces, but because Goodbye to Language doesn't allow for the logical or rhetorical throughline, the ideas are simply tossed out there to delineate a sort of intellectual-who-knows-what that's more about sounding philosophical rather than doing philosophy. In this case, the issue would be throwing ideas out there without engaging the ideas in a meaningful way.

There's also a kind of limitation of cinematic language, which is unable to express complicated and abstract ideas. Film tends to be best at expressing the visual, the visceral, and the emotional through sound and images. Abstract ideas or large ideas themselves tend to be easier to delineate through written language or spoken language, which are their own kinds of discourses with their own kinds of conventions. Using cinematic language, Godard may be pointing out the limitations of cinematic language to express its own inability to explore things as written or spoken language could, and yet showing that odd ability for cinematic language to express something visually that may be evoked through written or spoken language. Like stereoscopic 3D, cinematic language can only wink at the larger and more complicated philosophical images, and it can only make sense of a portion of this abstract palimpsest.

It's the breaking of these conventions in unpalatable ways and a sense of absolute contempt for the audience that makes Goodbye to Language a weird little mutant animal of a thing. I wonder what my response would be if I saw it in an art gallery, or if it was the work of some outsider artist. Similarly, I wonder what I would have thought about Goodbye to Language if it were made by someone else--am I trying to engage with the film as an art object because of Godard's reputation from the 60s and 70s, or is there something in there that speaks of a cinematic bravura in the form of F**k-Off to the Audience independent of any goodwill I have for Godard as an important figure in the New Wave? That may be part of the conversation around this film, like language delineating a hole that is either full of something or totally empty.

And yet while I'm trying to engage Godard's latest with as much intellectual rigor as I can muster, I know a lot of people will watch Goodbye to Language and find it masturbatory, self-indulgent, bankrupt of ideas, and even, as Bergman said, boring. It can be in spots. At times Godard seems to be making this odd work of philosophical 3D outsider art, and at other times he seems to be making the Platonic form of a bad European art film.

But stereoscopic 3D seems like an ideal metaphor for these divergent kinds of opinions about Goodbye to Language.

In one eye, it looks one way, and in another eye it looks another way. With both eyes open, it's a mess on the screen, visual noise we're trying to make some sense of or to appreciate in its own way. The cacophony of opinions is just another layer of language atop Language, and maybe we just have to keep winking. Watching the movie, I'd rather the constant shifting between eyes than having not seen the film.

The New York Film Festival: Shorts Collection 1 makes me wonder why they were picked

These films are kind of lifeless Jim
I usually look forward to the shorts at The New York Film Festival  To be certain the selections tend to swing in the gamut from great to weak but I always know why the films were picked...

...until this year.  I saw most of Collection 1 and to be completely honest I have no idea why any of them were picked. (For the record two films were not screened for the press).

Of the 5 films they screened three  of the films seemed to be the start of a longer film.

In August has a young girl going for a joy ride with her dad right before he separates from his wife to live else where. Its a great little piece, but that's what it is, a little piece.

Ophelia has Hannah Schygulla as an elderly woman wandering through her life remembering her past and trying to get through today. Its not bad, and it has a great central performance, but it doesn't add up to much with much that the festival saying is in the film only appearing in the notes.

The Girl and the Dogs as three girls heading to a party. They stop for a moment then one of the girl tells a creation myth after they find two dead dogs and then they head off to the party. 

Turtle has a woman pick up a man selling a turtle so she can photograph him and...that's about it.

Humor is the odd film out it's a surreal look at various people who feign screaming. Its just weird.

I was left wondering why any of them were picked since all of them start some where and then just kind of stop. They aren't bad, they just sort of are.. Worse they all end before they amount to anything thing.

Non-Fiction Diary (2014) New York Film Festival 2014

You know why I think Non-Fiction Diary is one of the best films at the New York Film Festival and very probably the year? Simply because twenty minutes in I knew I had to see it again. The film was telling me too much, it was explaining more than I could handle and the farther I was going into the film the more I wanted to go back so that I could see how what I was learning was affected what went before.

It’s a film that is very much alive and I loved it.

Non-Fiction Diary nominally tells the story of South Korea from the economic boom that surrounded the 1988 Olympics onward focusing on the Jijon Clan case which involved a group of poor young men who came up with the idea that they could kill their way to having a fortune. Their motivation was in large part political, they felt marginalized by society and wanted to get back at “the haves”. The problem was that they weren’t taking out the rich but people marginally better off than themselves. However the film doesn’t just deal with the Jijon case, it casts its net wider looking at the whole of Korean society taking in, amongst other things, the corruption that lead to a bridge collapse that killed dozens, the negligence that resulted in a mall collapse and the societal attitudes that lead to massacres during the Korean War and other inequalities in Korean society that allowed people who killed more to get away with a slap on the wrist.  And there's more, much much more there was so much that I could only take in so much during my one viewing of the film.

I love this film a great deal. Actually I would be hard pressed not to say that it's one of the best films of 2014.

Even now, several weeks after I saw it It has my head spinning. I've been pushing this film as one of the must sees for this years New York Film Festival to anyone who'd listen and quite a few who wouldn't

Sitting down to write this piece I looked at my copious notes and realized that there was no way I could use them. I had essentially written out a long synopsis of the film, listing details and events it covered. Looking at it I realized that I could tell you about it all, which would almost defeat the purpose of you going to the film- I mean you need to hear the stories for yourself like how the cops almost didn't go after the bad guys not so much because the victim who showed up on their doorstep spun too fantastic a tale, but rather because it was just before a holiday and the traffic was going to be bad. Of course  more that will make you stare in disbelief at how things happened in South Korea, but you have to hear this stuff for yourself.

On the other hand I think it would be better if I just said you need to see this because it will cause you to stare at the screen, ponder existence and wonder a great deal about the human race. Is this what happens when a country strives to become modern?

This film is a mind blower and one of the best films of this year.

I can't wait to see it again.

The film plays Tuesday and Wednesday and is a must see. For tickets go to the film's festival page..

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The New York Film Festival Starts Tomorrow

Its finally here, in other words the New York Film Festival starts tomorrow.


While we have been heavily attending the press screenings up to this point that will all change tomorrow as we begin to go heavy into both press and public screenings with ten films over the next four days including Gone Girl, the restored Once Upon a Time in America, the new David Cronenberg and the secret screening. Expect reports from all of them over the next few weeks.

That of course doesn’t include screening reports from Hubert, John, Mondo, Chocko and Mr C who have all have a stack of films to see themselves.

At this point reviews are going to be coming with an increasing frequency. As we see more films at the festival we’ll be throwing things up. I have at least a post a day set until the end of the fest- but that doesn’t include all of the reports from the road which at this point is now a highway, and on the weekends will be super highways. We’re going to have multiple reports from now until mid-October every day.

And keep in mind if you want real festival coverage- I mean from the festival seats and not just reviews of the films Unseen is the place to be with our butts being in the public seats for at least 20 screenings…

Keep the us or the tag nyff2014 bookmarked and check back a couple times a day from here on in because multiple reports will be coming

As for me I’m off to bed because I’ve got two of the big films tomorrow- Whiplash and Gone Girl.

71 (2014) New York Film Festival 2014

This was one of my must sees at this year's New York Film Festival. When I was making up my list of films I had to see this was on it, so much so that I bought a ticket before I knew I had press credentials because I had to see the film.

I'm happy to report this is a great thriller.

Set in the titled year in Belfast the film follows a British soldier sent with his regiment to the embattled city to try and keep the peace. Things go wrong from the outset as a security detail covering some cops goes wrong from the start, I won't say what happens but the  soldier finds himself alone and on the run from IRA hitmen.

A great looking, great feeling film, this is the closest film I've ever seen that looks and feels like the news reports and documentary footage I've seen of Northern Ireland in the 1970's.  In a weird way this film feels as if it was made in the 70's with the gritty realism that was rampant in the movies.

Ultimately none of that matters much since this is just a great thriller. By the time events set our hero on the run we're locked and loaded and sitting on the edge of our seats wondering if anyone will get out of it alive. The feeling is reinforced when something horrible happens about half way into the film. Its a "whoa" moment that sets the film on its course to the end.

And I apologize for not being specific as to part details, but I really want you to be surprised when you see the film. And you'll want to see the film because it kicks serious ass.

If the film has any flaw it's that the film is a bit too insistent to make sure that we know about all of the games the British government played in Northern Ireland. The film stops to momentarily a couple of times to have discussions that put an exclamation point on what we've already seen and sussed out for ourselves.  Its far from fatal, its more annoying since the film otherwise treats his audience like adults.

Flaws or no this is one of the most enjoyable films at this years NYFF and a must see.

The film plays Saturday and Monday at the Festival and is getting a released from Road Show Attractions later in the fall.

On ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA at the New York FIlm Fesrtival

Every year the New York Film Festival unveils some big epic restoration. In the past its been Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia and this year its Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America.

Leone’s final film is an epic gangster tale set in New York. The original plan was to make an epic film running over six hours (he had by some accounts as much as 10 hours of material). The producers balked at a film running so long, so Leone suggested that he cut the film into two three hour parts. The producers balked again since Bernardo Bertolluci’s 1900 had bombed when it was released in exactly the same manner. Leone then cut it down to just under four hours and hoped one day to get his full version seen.

Of course Leone didn’t count on Hollywood freaking out at his time shifting memory structure and demanding it be completely recut to just over two hours and put into chronological order (they also wanted material cut that would garner the film an NC17/X rating). The short version bombed because as those of us who saw it will tell you it was a mess. Too much was cut out and even allowing for the removal of 90 minutes the chronological structure creates all sorts of problems because it begs you to know about events that were not required by the original memory play structure.

Thankfully the short version is a memory and with the advent of home video the “full” version was the one everyone sees today—or until the appearance of the new five hour plus restoration which gets us closer to Leone’s intended version.

The film follows Robert DeNiro’s Noodles who is long on the run. Sparked by a letter saying that the cemetery where his friends are buried is to be sold off and that the bodies will have to be moved, he begins to flash back to earlier days, the days when he was growing up and coming up through the ranks of organized crime. The letter has also frightened him since it indicates that someone know who he really is.

A wonderfully dense crime drama this is exactly the sort of film that you could only get from Europe. It’s a film that you have to give yourself over to as it tells a decade spanning story about friendship, loyalty and honor. I can’t say enough good about the film and in the four hour version it is one of the truly great crime films ever made, even if the film can occasionally be a bumpy ride. If you’ve never seen it you should.

As I write this piece some seven weeks before the restored version of the film’s screening at the New York Film Festival, I haven’t seen what goodies that version contains, however on the basis of the cuts I have seen I would consider this new version one of the must see films of the festival. Yes I know the film is coming out on home video days after the screening but Leone’ s film needs to be seen big. While I only saw the short version on the big screen the visuals of the film have haunted me ever since. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could have seen the whole thing on the big screen- and while I have had a couple of opportunities over the last 30 years the scheduling of the screenings always worked against me. This time I’m going to make it to the Walter Reade and see the film on the big screen.

Seriously if you’ve never seen it you have to go. And if you’ve only seen it on TV it’s also a must. This is one of the truly great films you’ll ever see. And while they supposedly they are working on a cut that will potentially bring the film closer to the full six hour running time, you shouldn’t wait- you should just jump and see this film on a big screen while you can.

(Look for a report from the screening after it plays Saturday )

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A few words on Seymour: An Introduction (2014) New York Film Festival 2014

Director and subject at the NYFF press conference
Ethan Hawke's documentary on Seymour Bernstein, an 87 year old pianist, composer, teacher and Yoda like character is pretty good. I can't say it's better than that.

Sue me, I can't rave about the film, though I know many people in the press screening were enraptured and orgasmic to the point they wouldn't let the poor man leave the press screening, they just had to talk to him.

Me, I liked it but I didn't find it quite special.

The focus of the film is how Bernstein has managed to maintain the passion of his life, music, and have it transfer to other parts of his existence. He suggests that if we can all do this, regardless of what our passion is we'll all be happier. Its a nice philosophy, but I'm not ready to annoit him a Buddha.

The trouble for me was that watching the film I had the sense that as much a character Seymour is, once you get him away from the piano and his students, things are a more than a bit manufactured, particularly his philosophy. While I find what he says extremely valid, and I have no doubt he lives by what he says, watching Bernstein over the course of the film, and at the press conference it all came off as a little too polished. He's not so much expressing his feelings but speaking well rehearsed lines. It was something that really hit home for me when I saw  Bernstein in the flesh and he used whole sentences and phrases from the film in differing contexts. It reminded me of the various self help gurus you see on TV talk shows. People are clearly finding him intriguing because he seems to be a Jewish Yoda saying the things they want to hear.

What also lessened the impact for me was that there is something about this film and it's subject and the film IN NO GREAT HURRY:13 LESSONS IN LIFE WITH SAUL LEITER seem awfully similar. Watching SEYMOUR I kept going I've been here before... What is it about being an older New Yorker that seems to impart great wisdom, or BS that sounds like wisdom?

This isn't to say that the film is bad, it's not, it's just not the be all and end all, nor is Mr Bernstein as wise as he seems, he simply knows the right phrase to turn.

Worth a look see when the film plays Saturday and Monday at the New York Film Festival especially if you want to see a self help film that doesn't seem to be one. Besides Bernstein is supposed to be playing the piano after the screenings (or at least Saturday's)

A non-review of La Sapienza (2014) because it didn't work for me New York Film Festival 2014

I'm going to be keep this brief and to the point because La Sapienza just didn't work for me. It didn't work for me to such an extent that I seriously considered not even mentioning that I saw it. Then the little voice in my head said to record that you saw it, so I'm writing up this mini piece.

The plot of the film has a couple pondering what their lives have led them to. He's an architect who builds modern buildings, who is wondering what his cold an impersonal style as brought about, especially now since his clients don't want him to change to a more human, more natural style. She's a behaviorist focusing on the lower classes who is equally at a dead end.  The encounter a young brother and sister who cause them to look at their lives.

Filmed in a cold and formal style with intellectual exchanges and everything perfectly planned out I never connected. I couldn't never get past the art of director Eugene Green's perfectly designed set ups. Nor could I take any of the dialog seriously when the characters seemed to be lecturing at us instead of speaking to each other.

Its a perfectly constructed film that is completely devoid of life. Its so perfectly made I was completely lost to it by the twenty minute mark as I stopped caring what was being said and done and instead I simply watched how it was all put together.

Its cold and lifeless and everything that is wrong with so called art films.

If you like overly intellectual films that you can pontificate about for hours to friends who would rather see something more alive by all means see it, but if you want something that's alive with real people see something else.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MISUNDERSTOOD (2014) is the most audacious film at the New York Film Festival

on the move again
Saturday at noon the New York Film Festival really gets going with what is probably the festivals most audacious film, Asia Argento's Misunderstood. Say what you will about the film, whether you argue if its good or bad you have to agree it's a singular cinematic vision. Its a film that before the festival made me wonder why it was at the Festival and and afterward left me with the feeling this was probably the only film that really belonged there.

Based on the director's childhood where she was shuttled between her high maintenance parents (her father is horror director Dario Argento), the film follows young Aria as she is shuttled between her crazy parents. Her father is an award  winning actor who is a walking collection of superstitions, while her mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a man crazy pianist. Neither of them can stand the other. Neither really has much love for their daughter, each preferring one of Aria's other sisters. We watch as friends come and go and her parents slowly go nuts.

Structured in a series of episodes the film resulted in several members of the press calling the film Girlhood. I had a similar comment in my notes but I added On acid. This is just a decent into one girls twisted life as she deals with everything in her life and finding solace in a black cat that she effectively stole off the street.

Its a portrait of a young girl that's full of sex drugs and rock and roll, ala 1983. Its frequently funny, occasionally heart rending and sometimes horrifying. It's the sort of thing  that makes you wonder how anyone could survive- and yet Asia Argento did.

I have no idea what to say and I have no idea what I think.

I love the pieces but I'm not sure what I think of the whole other than it's a unique vision. I don't think the audience at the press screening knew what to make of it. When the film ended the audience was dead silent except for the sound of many grabbing their things and leaving. During the screening laughter was sporadic (its frequently funny) but after a while even that trailed off. I don't know if it was because they hated the film or because it just ceased being funny... (reaction  after the screening was all over the map and ran the gamut from loved it to hated it)

After the film I had a long discussion with Hubert. It was enlightening. Since he's going to write up his thoughts I won't say  what he has to say, though I will agree with him in that the film is at least 30 minutes too long.

Should you see it?

If you want to see the least safe most ballsy film at this years New York Film Festival you do. Its a film unlike anything else and love it or hate it we are better for it. Why can't all the films at NYFF let you know you've  seen something truly special?
Its your birthday so party like the big people