Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Best and Favorites of the Year Part 1

This year there seem to have been too many great films. I've seen so many great films that I feel like I've been saying this is the best too often...but looking at my notes I still feel that way. These films, performances ect are the best of the year.

Because there are so many films I'm splitting the list into two. Today a list of films that would under any circumstances be the best of the year. Tomorrow is the few that are the Best of the best

MISS ZOMBIE- Sabu reinvents the zombie genre and makes a deeply moving film. I freaking love this film

BOY AND WORLD-Intellectually this is one of the best animated films ever made. It works for kids (who ate it up at NYICFF) but its something way way more for patient adults who'll be smacked hard by the denouncement. Why isn't it on the tip top of the list? Its a touch too cold for me.

FOOSBALL- audience award winner at NYICFF was apparently destroyed when it was dubbed into English from the Spanish original. On the other hand in its original form its as wonderful as animated films for kids as you can get.

UNLOCKING THE TRUTH-documentary on a pair of kids who play heavy metal. They're so good that they now have a huge recording contract.

LOVE SPORT FENCING-a fencing match goes weird-and I laugh every time I see it.

VOICE THIEF-working from his father's story Adan Jodorowsky makes a wonderfully wild short that is just movie magic.

NICOLAS PROVOST'S FILMS- I have a new favorite director and his name is Nicolas Provost.

ZERO THEOREM-Possibly the best film Terry Gilliam ever made even if the ending is a mess (the result of budget problems and a rewrite from something worse)

BORN TO FLY-documentary on Elizabeth Streb and her dance company  is just pure OH WOW

EJECTA-Julian Richings gives an amazing performance in film that is a damn near perfect alien invasion film/political look at torture.

WOOD JOB-glorious film about a screw up who finds his place in the forest caring for the trees.

ZONE PRO SITE-food porn. Glorious food porn. I don't remember the plot I remember the food and the need to go eat.

KANO-The true story of a baseball team from occupied Taiwan that exceeded expectations by making it to the finals of the Imperial Japanese baseball tournament. Its deeply moving.

SCHEHERAZADE'S DIARY- Wonderful look at the power of theater to help women in priosn

ZOMBEAVERS-zombie beavers-you have a problem with that?

HONEYMOON- A relationship goes wrong on the honeymoon at the family cabin-a creepy as all hell look at a relationship in trouble that will not only scare you because of the horror but make you think about your relationship.

VENUS IN FURS-A theater piece becomes a glorious motion picture. Polanski perfection

FUKUCHAN OF FUKU FUKU FLATS-The joys of being yourself. It will make you feel good and then some. I have yet to meet anyone who has seen it that hasn't loved it.

GHOSTWATCH (1992)-I heard people thought this was real when it originally aired. I knew it wasn't and it still scared the crap out of me.

NON FICTION DIARY- fantastic look at Korean society through the things that have gone sideways since the military relaxed its grip

SILVERED WATER SYRIA SELF PORTRAIT- the brutality of the situation in Syria using actual video from all sides. Its deeply affecting and I never want to see it again

HORNS-how do I love you- let me count the ways. As good an adult fable as you'll ever see and the best use of the song Personal Jesus I've run across

WHIPLASH-just missed the best of the best-but still as gripping a film as there was all year. I will never see JK SImmons the same way again

AUTOMATA-revisit of the I AM ROBOT idea takes the old story and makes it into something cool

DEAD SNOW 2- sequel outshines the original in a blood soaked comedy about nazi zombies fighting the living. Don't think just go with it.

WHY DON'T YOU PLAY IN HELL-possibly the greatest exploitation film ever made.

SHE'S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE'S ANGRY- amazing documentary on the Women's Movement that started in the 1960's. this should be shown to every little girl....and everyone who thinks things can't change because as this shows it can be done.

JODOROWSKY'S DUNE- The wickedly cool story how one man changed film and popular culture forever by not making a movie. Somehow I suspect that had the film been made it would not have been as influential.

Tomorrow the best continues with the Best of the Best

Burmese Harp (1956)

One of the first films I wanted to right up for Unseen was Kon Ichikawa‘s Harp of Burma or The Burmese Harp. Despite numerous efforts to do so I never have. The problem for me is that the film is so powerful and so moving to me that I can’t find the words. To me the humanity in the film is so powerful that it obliterates any of the flaws of the film (it’s a tad too mannered at times).

The film is set at the close of the Second World War in the Pacific. As the Japanese rally and try to make sense of what is going on one of their number will keep their spirits up by playing the harp. When the hostilities finally end, the men are placed into a camp by the Allies. However word of the end of the war hasn’t reached all the Japanese positions so they ask the prisoners if one would go into one of the strongholds and try to talk the men into surrendering. A man named Mizushima goes.The meeting doesn’t go well, he isn’t believed and the men think he is a traitor and they elect to fight to the last man. The end comes sooner then they think when the shelling resumes everyone is is killed. Everyone that is except Mizushima, who staggers out into the jungle. Not sure of what to do or where to go he wanders the countryside horrified that the bodies of his fellow comrades have been left to rot and decay where they were killed. Deciding he cannot allow this to be he decides to bury all of the dead where ever he finds them.

Almost five years on at Unseen I still don’t have the words. This film floors me each and every time I see it. And every time I see it I try to explain why it moves me so but I can’t find the words. What I always stumble on is how the film is a near perfect antiwar film, and how it is a touching memorial for those who died. It’s not just Japanese who died but anyone who died. We will remember. We will return you to a place of dignity despite the indignities of war and of your death. This is the return of humanity after the inhumanity of war.

I am beyond words. This film places me to somewhere that is all emotion and nothing else.

I don’t know what to say beyond just see it other than to say this is on my list of the greatest films ever made.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Film Finds

Third one down is my quote about one of the Film Finds of the the year
Every year there are some films, performances and moments that may not belong on the best of the year list but which are too good or too memorable to forget. These are my film finds. These are films which, in a more than a couple of cases almost made the best of the year list but had me hesitate at the last minute. In other cases they just made me go "oh wow".

LEAVING GRACEFULLY-when a woman is diagnosed with a rare brain disease she and her husband decide to walk around Taiwan with him pushing her in a wheelchair. Its a true story that is truly magical.

FAT SHAKER-really really weird WTF film that is an experience. It drove the audience from the theater but is ultimately a unique experience.

BLOOD GLACIER- weird glacier mutates animals in an environmental version of THE  THING. Its old school popcorn horror film and a blast.

STALINGRAD-soapy 3D Russian war film about the title battle is pure spectacle. What the bookends are doing in the film is beyond me, but I loved it.

STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODIES TEARS-form over substance gaillo update is way too much and implodes toward the end but god damn its a cinema treat until then

HOUSE OF MAGIC- Wonderful 3D thrill ride that got dumped by a US distributor who didn't release it in 3D despite it being one of the best films in the process I've seen.

SLIGHT OF HAND- a trippy film about an animator....

NEW SPECIES- fantastic short about kids who find a bone and imagine....

INTRAMURALS- genuinely funny film about an intramural football team that plays with every convention. I didn't expect to like it and threw off my Tribeca schedule seeing it to the end. I don't know anyone who saw it who didn't love it. This is a film that shows why you must let go of your expectations before seeing any film-the filmmakers have told me that the film is to get a release in 2015 so get ready to laugh your ass off.

BORROWED LIGHT- beautiful gem of a film about needing to see things differently

LIVE BAIT- a fish talks his way out of being eaten

RABBIT AND DEER- two friends cross the dimensional barrier. Its okay until one glorious moment where it all springs to life

SUPERMAN WITH A GOPRO- A review (with a link to the short) is coming in a day or so as part of our month of shorts but all I can say is  this is wickedly cool.

CARPARK-a man messes with a dog in the car next to him

WIND-on a plain where the wind forever blows some cool things happen

WOMAN IN GRAY-I've wanted to see this silent serial for decades and itwas a blast.

WINTER IN THE BLOOD-damn close to making the best of the year list- it's still one of the finest adaptions of a novel ever made.

WE ARE MARI PEPI-the life of some kids is more cinema verite than fiction and we are better for it

SMORTLY BACKS- wild heard of animals run across a weird landscape. You will smile.

KUNG FU ELLIOT- another near best of the year film is a WTF look at a film director which will have you talking to no one in particular (This may end up a favorite down the road)

DEALER-cinematic calling card runs at full speed for 75 minutes. Holy shit its way cool and almost one of the all time greats

MAN IN THE ORANGE JACKET-I hate slasher movies unless they are something great- this is great and trippy and WOW.

DANCING KARATE KID- Shitty title for a truly truly wonderful heart warming film. This is why I do Unseen Films so you know stuff like this exists

PATCH TOWN-Christmas musical fantasy is sheer genius. Think Rocky Horror and Phantom of the Paradise but its own creation.

APOLITICAL ROMANCE- my faith in director Chun-Yi Hsieh is fulfilled and he makes a wonderful feature debut. 

ETERNAL ZERO- I know many people hated this but I was moved by it's look at the waste of human life that were the Kamikaze and a damn good explanation of why they did what they did. I was moved to tears.

BLIND MASSAGE-off beat look at blind masseuse.

THE AGE OF REASON-small gem of a movie that seems by brief synopsis like every other two kids on the cusp of adulthood film, but its in reality way more. This is one of those films that is the reason Unseen exists. You have to keep this on your list of films to find.

SEAHORSES- Two great performances in a film that impressed the hell out of me, The intrusion of one character into the mix keeps it off the best of the year list.

QUIET IN ODESSA- on the scene reporting about a city and the people there is a gem. Lets hope there is a sequel

RIGOR MORTIS- one of the great horror movies of the year is 99% great, only the final seconds wreck it- or almost wreck it.

WHISPERS BEHIND THE WALLS-thriller about obsession and a warning not to find out whats going on on the other side of the wall

CAPTAIN AMERICA-WINTER SOLDIER- They got it right again. Rarely has any comic film felt so right.

DIOR AND I-Wait I liked a film about a designer? No I loved a film about a designer

TRAITOR- off beat film about a girl who does something she shouldn't to get money to make a record

SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER-I debated where to put this-I loved it both times I saw it at Tribeca but when it came time to slot it I hesitated.

DEMON WITHIN- Killer crime film that gets better the more I see it.

IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE- The title says it all. Fantastic thriller.

MISUNDERSTOOD- the most audacious film at NYFF. Asia Argento is a treasure.

MIPSO IN JAPAN- great look at a bluegrass band in Japan is much too short

QUEEN AND COUNTRY- John Boorman's sequel to his HOPE AND GLORY is everything why I love movies one film 

IRON MINISTRY- a great look at trains in China filmed as one long train ride.

Kristen Stewart shines in CAMP X RAY and CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA. 

St├ęphane Blanquet's nightmare CORNEA freaked the New York International Children's Film Festival audience out. I mean the kids were noticeably disturbed. I know there are warnings and it's supposed to be for older kids but the crowd still wasn't prepared for it. And talk about how they would be getting nightmares as a result of the images continued well into the next film. Way to go NYICFF, you've made the HEEBIE JEEBIE collection a must see for me from here on out.

NOAH belongs on some sort of year end list but I don’t know where. Darren Aronofsky’s ballsy rethink of the Noah legend pissed off many who were looking for a conventional retelling . It enthralled others (like me) who loved the way it grabbed you by the throat and gave you something to think about. Where it belongs- best of or finds list – is ultimately irrelevant simply because it’s a film you’ll be thinking about and discussing when other "better" films have faded

X is a film that shouldn’t work. Its 11 directors writing and directing short films that link up to for the story of a film director. Its bumpy and uneven and a glorious achievement in filmmaking-it's too many cooks so in theory it simply shouldn’t work but does. This just missed my end of year list -it’s a tad too uneven even if it has one segment that is one of the greatest romances I’ve ever seen. I very well may revise my opinion on a second viewing but for now it’s a film that must be seen by anyone who loves the movies .

Fires on the Plain (1959)

Spiritual opposite of director Kon Ichikawa‘s Burmese Harp, (see the review tomorrow)this is a slice of hell and man’s ultimate inhumanity. A black as night existential comedy/social commentary/horror film this is going to disturb many.

Set in the final days of the war the Japanese soldiers left on Leyte are truly on their own. There is no food, no ammo, nothing. They are left to march through the jungle toward some regrouping point that they never seem to reach. The men have been pushed past their limits and are now so broken as to be ghost of their former themselves. They will do anything to survive even if it means cannibalism.

Bleak doesn’t begin to describe it.

I read somewhere, maybe it was in the Criterion notes that the film is based on a Christian novel of hope and redemption, which had all the hope, redemption and Christian notions removed. This is mankind at his most animal…and worse.

And yet for all the horror the film is funny. The situations are of course dire, but the sheer ridiculousness of it all manages to produce some groaning laughter. You feel bad, but at the same time you still laugh.

I still haven’t worked out what it all means or if the film is supposed to be a dire warning as to where we’re going or if we’re just fucked. I’ll have to find the strength to see this film a few more times. Though to be perfectly honest this is a film that is intellectually a killer, but is so emotionally black you really can’t like it only admire it.

If you want to see what war will reduce us all to see this film.

(After I had programmed this I discovered for this spot that Fire on the Plains is screening on January 19 at Lincoln center as part of the New York Jewish Film Festival’s side bar called The War Against War. I highlyy recommend seeing this film and pretty much all the films at NYJFF  For more information on the screening and tickets go here.)

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 The Worst of the Year

Noah Baumbach (left) and the cast of WHILE WE'RE YOUNG not long before Baumbach commits the worst moment by I filmmaker that I've seen at a film festival
As with every year I see hundreds of films I never write about. No I'm serious I see way more movies than is healthy, a lot of the new,a lot of them old favorites. Most of them you never hear about. Most of the good stuff I throw your way- and occasionally I toss you some crap. Its intentional during the Thanksgiving Turkey series but there are other times, when I'm doing festival coverage it's unavoidable. Most of the turds I turn off a good way in and forget- some I have to suffer through to the end.

The list below are the turd balls that seared their crappiness into my brain. These are the ones I have to kick one more time before I'm done. You can find the original reviews if you search Unseen, but these brief words to the wise should be enough.

UNIDENTIFIED- Unfunny found footage comedy about guys going to Vegas and getting into trouble. It really sucks during the first say 65 minutes -before it turns into a alien invasion horror film in the final fifteen minutes. In fairness the horror part is pretty good, but its too brief to mean much and has no place at the end of the film.

STORY OF MY DEATH- Long, dull pretentious film that's first half hour is about Casanova's bowel movements. Its gets worse from there as Dracula is brought into the the mess. Between the poo and the blood sucker I'm limited in what I can say about the badness lest I seem like a punny guy.

A SPELL TO WARD OFF DARKNESS- Triptych of long disjointed takes that doesn't even work if you read on what its not showing you. The film in the directors head is better than whats on the screen.

AUNT HILDA Crappy environmental animated film throws out the plot in favor of a message and is too preachy to be enjoyed as a result. (Actually this probably isn't the worst but from the producer/director of the similarly themed MIA AND THE MAGOO  as well as several other better films this is a huge let down)

the worst animated film of the year was the horrible FAT CAT which was a minute long,but so bad its a minute I never want to relive again

BUZZARD- A dick of a main character gets away with stupid things because the non-characters around him allow him to otherwise there'd be no film. Ultimately the film proves that if hate the main character you'll never like the film

The 3D in AMAZONIA-Was nonexistent and made me wonder why did they bother use it?

DYS- - A been there and one that horror film allegory about the death of a relationship through horrific means. Haven't we been there before?

SLEDGE-  is an all talk horror film that resulted in me getting hate mail after the review ran. Apparently the people involved didn't like my saying bad things about their bad film. Well guess what I'm saying it again.

CYBERNATURAL- supposedly a new step forward in POV/found foorage- is an "oh god I hope not" film that's about as exciting as watching the guy next to you surf the web

AIM HIGH IN CREATION- Hey everybody-lets make a film to end fracing using North Korean propaganda techniques. Are you serious? A waste of a chance to look seriously at NorthKorean propaganda films and to seriously stand up for the enviorment. Can you say lose lose?

MONSTERZ- unnecessary Japanese remake of the Korean HAUNTERS that makes even less sense than the first version. I and most people I know were never that high on the original so why remake it and do it badly?

NE ME QUITTA PAS-two drunk guys wander around in a supposed documentary. It looks staged to me.

BENEATH THE HARVEST SKY-on the list purely on the basis of the final ten minutes which has one character die in a sudden thunder storm that is over one house which it destroys thus rendering the ability to have a poetic and completely out of place ending.

XY- some sort of relationship film concerning an obnoxious couple doing stupid things. I had been warned but I went anyway.

YOUNG BODIES HEAL QUICKLY-two juvenile deliquents are sent off on a road trip by their mom when one shoots a girl. Where they are going is never explained-until the end credits. It might have worked if something had been explained somewhere along the way- but nope. It just lays there.

MAPS OF THE STARS-David Cronenberg film is funny for all the wrong reasons. The cast and a few bits hint that this might have made sense in another reiteration but whats there is truly laughably awful

GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE- Godard needs to be euthanized as does anyone who seriously thought this home movie is anything other than a hideous joke on the intelligentsia. As for it's 3D anyone who says its revolutionizes the medium needs to see more 3D movies or more likely needs to be blinded. I'm sorry my hatred for this film and its supporters knows no bounds

THE HAUNTERS (Documentary) weakest doc I've seen on people doing a commercial haunted house. Its jagged and a mess.

And my vote for the worst filmmaker moment- Noah Baumbach failing to comprehend his film

When asked by an audience member why plot lines were thrown out and characters did things that had been against their nature previously in the film he said that we were never supposed to notice and that wasn't what the film was about about so they didn't matter.

Noah Baumbach’s defense of the abandoning of all of the plot threads in WHILE WE’RE YOUNG is unconscionable. I’ve seen directors talk about things not in their films, I’ve seen then them explain what things really mean when it didn’t fit the film as shown, but having a director of Baumbach’s stature tell his audience that all of things the Ben Stiller character did were just there to give him something to do to until the end of the film and the complete 180 degree change in Charles Grodin’s view of truth in documentary films in a two minute period didn’t matter because that’s not what the film was about is as bogus a statement as you can get. His insistence that the only thing that matters is the tacked on out of left field ending where Stiller and Naomi Watts adopt is as wrong-headed as I’ve ever seen. Why did he tell the story he tells is none of it mattered? Why raise all of the issues he did? At the NYFF screening he said the point of the film was the end- which would be fine except it's an ending that belongs in another film with different characters that worked toward the adoption not have it magically pulled out of the directors butt..

This isn’t quirky, this is lazy. This isn’t a director arguing things from an earlier draft of the film, no,this is a director saying that we weren’t supposed to notice the plot of the film and what the characters were doing, and that we were supposed to know what he really meant- its bogus and bullshit. I’m so happy that someone called him on his shit and that he really couldn’t answer. Is he really that out of touch with what he was doing?


Thankfully from here on out its all up hill.

On Further Review: Do the Right Thing (1989)

A day in the life of a neighborhood in Bed Stuy New York on one of the hottest days of the year, focused around a pizza parlor, its Italian owner, his sons, and the African Americans that live in the neighborhood and work in the restaurant.

This film has always vexed me. I love say 90% of the film. Up until the riot the film is a glorious calling card for Spike Lee and what he can do cinematically. Its full of all the Spike Lee-isms that have actually entered into our cultural consciousness. Things like his gliding shots are regularly riffed on by other filmmakers and made fun of by Saturday Night Live. It has great dialog, great characters and a wonderful sense of life. It’s an on target examination of relationships within a depressed neighborhood.

The problem for me is that there is a point late in the film, where a fed up Mookie (played by Spike Lee) walks over to the Pizza place , picks up a trash can and throws it through the front window. Intellectually the moment makes sense, it’s Mookie’s breaking point for all the BS his bosses have put him through, but at the same time emotionally its fake. I’ve seen the film any number of times and that single act cuts the legs out from under the film for me. The problem is that the act, within the context of the film, makes no sense. What triggers it really? Seriously give me an answer emotionally why it’s right. I don’t know if you can. I’ve had numerous people try to argue for it to make sense , but I’m not convinced. The problem is Mookie is an outsider and observer for so much of the film, that when he finally does something it just doesn’t feel right. For me it’s as if Lee needed it to happen, and it should happen, but Lee couldn’t get an emotional correct "reason" for doing it and then just did it anyway.

Of course the film ends on a totally BS note with Mookie and his boss making up. Really? I can’t see that happening since who would have their life’s work and livelihood destroyed and then turn to the person who did it and say it’s okay. I’m a forgiving guy but I’d at the very least call the cops on him, and at the worst put a pipe to the side of his head.

It doesn’t ring true.

As I said the film is 90% perfect. It only punks out in the end.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014: The Year in Festivals

My favorite picture from any film festival is this one from outside the NYFF screening of the Gone Girl poster with Broadway reflected in the glass covering it
Festivals have become the life blood of Unseen Films. We provided some sort of coverage/mention something or other to over 40 this year. In some cases it was a mention that the festival was happening, more often it was reviews of a handful of film and in the case of out favorites we provided coverage of most of a festivals titles.

At this time I take a look back at some of the high points of festival going and this year is no exception.

I have to begin by saying that after a largely unhappy time at NEW YORK COMIC CON in 2013, this year they got it right. This year they restored my faith in the con. Aside from taking an hour plus to get in on the first day, I had a blast. So much so that I just wandered the floor, talked to people and hung out. I had a blast and I'm looking forward to next year.

Let me start with the big festivals of the year---

The NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S FILM FESTIVAL is one of my favorite things every year. I can't say enough good things. If you've never gone you should. Even if you're an adult you should go because the films are simply that good. Eric Beckman and his crew are amazing in ways that I can't explain.

The real joy this year was I got to know Joe Bendel. I had talked to Joe at screenings over the last five years but this year the fact our interest in NYICFF matched up allowed us to spend a fair amount of time talking and hanging out this past March. He's become a good friend and the fact that we got to talk is proof that festival going is a social event.

TRIBECA may be my favorite festival of the year. It may not give me across the board great films but every year but it gives be great conversation and experiences that can't be beat. I will treasure being picked on by the photographer corps on the red carpet for  Kevin Spacey's NOW. Everyone knew I didn't belong there but somehow it was okay, more so because I didn't take it seriously. I also got to meet Mark Breland and just talk with him...because I didn't know who he was to start so I didn't get nervous.

I had a blast at the NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL this year,but I'm left wondering if it's gotten too big. I mean its in multiple locations now and for one weekend its going in three locations at the same time.  Its too much now to ever hope to see it all. (and the fact they now do the Old School series and have now taken over the New York Korean Film Festival makes me wonder if they may end up fragmenting themselves) Still it's a blast and I'm ready to go again.

FANTASIA- Bliss bliss and heaven.  A glorious selection of genre films. Someday I'll physically get there. Thank you Ted for letting me join the madness.

THE NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL was a blast. If I hadn't gotten sick this would have been my biggest and baddest NYFF ever. Say what you will this is the festival that means the world to me, its been one I've been going to for decades. My only complaints with the festival is it needs to be more audacious  with some of its selections and it needs to get more world premieres-I mean this is the New York Film Festival.

DOC NYC amazingly continues to have no truly bad films. Yea there are some I don't like, yea there are problems with some but none are truly bad.

The SOUTH ASIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL is now officially one of my favorites. How can it not be? Its small but perfectly programmed. If I'm becoming a fan of South Asian Films, this festival is the reason. I also have to add that my interaction with the filmmakers at the festival has been a blast.

As for the smaller festivals-

BAM Kids Fest needs a new presenter. I went 3 years between visits because the woman in charge of the festival and who introduces the films is so damn condescending to the audience.  This year she got laughed at at the screening I attended.  The films are great, the presenters need to be changed.

FILM COMMENT SELECTS is a hidden gem. This year it was full of films that months later had revealed any number of big films way before anyone knew about them.  Dare I call this now one of the most important film series of any year? I spent all year trying to catch WE ARE THE BEST because word out of FCS was so strong.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH this year may not have been as good as last year, but it maybe the best place to catch the films that will move you deeply.

This year's JAPAN CUTS may have been the best I've attended. How many great films  (WOOD JOB, GREAT PASSAGE and WHY DON'T YOU PLAY IN HELL) can you run in one 10 day period?

KINO's show case of German films was a delight with BANK LADY and WEST leading another strong line up of amazing films. I can't wait for next year.

NEW DIRECTORS NEW FILMS once again showed an eclectic group of films with some great ones and some less than watchable ones-this year especially- but either way its a great deal of fun waiting to see how each film falls into the categories.

Lastly the really cool thing about film festivals in 2014 was I got to see Carroll Spinney and Oscar the Grouch several times and was turned into a little kid each and every time.

And that's it for this year- but already we're looking ahead to 2015-I'm 25 films into the New York Jewish Film Festival (look for it on this list next year), I think I've arranged some Sundance coverage and I'm already credentialed for Tribeca so expect lots of reports from lots of festivals.

Trying to make sense of Che (2008)

My anecdotal story concerning Che is from the New York Film Festival. The year it played was the year that it wasn’t at Alice Tully Hall and all of the screenings were at the Ziegfeld. My friend Lou and I were chomping at the bit to go see the film but by the time we were ordering tickets we found that the only seats available were in the front row all the way to the left. Not wanting to sit up close and to the left for over four hours we passed…only to go home and find the film was playing on VOD on cable. Curling up the couch we plopped down and watched it.

I know the reaction to Che was largely mixed. Some people loved it, some people hated it. The only thing that anyone agreed on was that Benecito Del Toro deserved at least an Oscar nomination. The film barely played theaters (as two separate films) and made no money becoming something of a legendary flop. The flopping didn’t stop Criterion from putting out a huge deluxe set which is really cool and which I still haven’t gone all the way through.

The film, or is it films?, is something daunting. A four hour and five minute look at Che Guevara at two points in time. The first probably at the height of his celebrity and the other is at the end of his life when he is once more in the bush and being hunted. The two parts can be seen as two separate films (as I said they were released as two separate films) since the aspect ratio and cinematic style for both films is completely different. However you really can’t see just one film and really get the whole story. Actually I don’t think you get a complete story even from the two parts but I’ll come back to that. The two films kind of act as an echo to each other with themes and ideas crossing back and forth between the two parts.

How exactly they fit together isn’t exactly clear or easily explained, and I think this is what has kept the film in the fringes. Yes the film has a big name director in Steven Soderbergh and a big star in Del Toro, but the film isn’t easy- it tells not so much the life of Che, but it simply illustrates two key moments in his life. And on top of everything else this is a four plus hour film from an American director that’s in Spanish. American audiences may be willing to watch foreign films in another language but they are prejudiced against an American film being that way.

I’ve seen Che more than a couple of times and to be honest I’m not sure what I make of it. It’s a frequently gripping film that for all its flaws haunts me. What is exactly that Soderbergh wants me to feel.? Yes I know I could listen to his commentary but at the same time films must stand on their own. We shouldn’t have to have them explained to us. We shouldn’t need cheat sheets.

On the other hand if you just watch the films in close proximity they get your brain going. You begin to think about them and how they fit together and you become more engaged than if you just sit and watch the films and had it all explained to.  If you feel tht a great film engages you you on a bigger level than just having it wash over you then this is a film for you.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Nightcap 12/27/14- The year ends exhaustion sets in, whats not on the year end lists plus Randi's links

Sidera Opening- from the movie "Lou ! Journal Infime" from Catfish Deluxe on Vimeo.

The final Nightcap for 2014 is a day early because starting tomorrow night we have five nights of our year end wrap up.
(This piece is based on a piece I wrote back in June. The details have changed but the sentiment is the same)

This year Unseen Films has kicked my ass.

Sometime in May I was having a discussion with Joe Bendel after a press screening of Korengal about what it takes to really do a film website. What does it take to try and cover as much as you can? It takes a great deal. Joe writes for several outlets and he's constantly in motion. I just write for one and on some level I feel like it never stops. There is simply too much to cover. The more we do the more people are throwing at us.

In the middle of this year, just as we were hitting  peak festival season I found too much being offered. I had to say no,. Our coverage of the Brooklyn Film Festival was extremely limited simple because I couldn’t get there to cover it. (We love you guys but your location is a long haul via mass transit). Overlapping that was Lincoln Center's Open Roads Italian Festival where we reviewed of about half the films, which ran right into the excellent Kino German Film Festival (which thankfully I split with Mondo) which overlapped the Human Rights Watch Film Festival at the same time. All of that lead into the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts which meant more heavy coverage. And from there we went right into Fantasia.

This year it was all too much. To be perfectly honest as much as I love doing this, there are times when I feel I'm close to done. Part of me wants to fold up the tent and go home. Its not that I don't like doing what I'm doing, its more the administrating on top of the reviewing is killing me. I know part of it has been due to my attempt to get Unseen to a different place. You may not have noticed but I've been trying to get us to a more noticeable place and it kind of skidded off the road. Things didn't break but I'm a bit banged up. I've also had a couple of large scale pieces not work after throwing a great deal of effort at them. They are parked in the garage and I'll get back to them, but I'm just disappointed that they didn't come together the way I wanted them (for example the plan for a whole month of giant monster movies went sideways).

In a perfect world I'd take a vacation and then come back, but right now, going into the New York Jewish Film Festival and some January/February festivals I find I can't. What has been thrown my way is really good, or at least really intriguing, I kind of have to push on despite being exhausted because there are things crossing my desk you need to know about.

As things stand now the plan is to get to the our fifth anniversary and then....something. This is a less planned out something in years past, I figure if I plan less we may get more.. Right now I have things scheduled into March-well May really since I have Tribeca credentials and plans for covering a couple of other festivals which will push my scheduled films around. I’m really not sure what’s going to happen.

The problem right now is not the film a day format that Unseen its more all the additional stuff. I could do a film a day probably until doomsday, but keeping things current is where it's tough because you can't always be sure what you'll have what day. Trying to cover some the new releases is hard because of embargoes, covering the festivals with reviews of lots of films is harder because of the short turn around time. I could cut back but I want to give you more than curtain raisers and capsules when it comes to festival coverage. Personally I hate reading a piece on a big festival that only has a few lines on a couple of films. If you're going to cover fests cover the damn things talk about the movies and the screenings don't short change it unless you have to. (An aside- part of my frustration with the site has been an attitude from a couple of festivals who restricted coverage this year. I'm not getting into it but this year we were asked to provide coverage of some festivals only to be told what we could actually report on. The long and short of it is that I'm refusing to mention several festivals because they wanted to tell me what to write)

Hopefully between now and February 20th I'll have calmed down and regrouped and we'll go into our sixth year  refreshed, and we’ll regroup...and if not Unseen's fifth birthday will bring changes.
When the Year End lists begin to hit tomorrow there are going to be some weird omissions. On the other hand the lists this year a tad weird to begin with- I mean I have an two Best of the Year lists that are almost Orwellian in structure-both are best of the year but some are better than others.

Of interest to probably almost no one is the fact that this is the first year in probably 15 or 16 years where I haven't raced through the films I missed at year end to get a true sense of films of the year. I still may get some in but largely I'm not chasing down all the big films from the last six months. I mention this because if there is an absence of big films its probably because I haven't seen them-then again I may have and just didn't care.

Looking at the Best of the Year lists I'm trying to figure whats stopping me from putting HUMAN CAPITAL on it. Easily the best of the Oscar Foreign Film submissions that I've seen, I just can't put it on the best of the year list-either of them.

Also curiously absent is SNOWPIERCER which is a truly great film but just missed the cut. I suspect that some of the WTF moments in the second half which made it more a film of the head then the heart.

My attitude toward the worst of the year is intriguing in that I saw a lot of really crappy films but most are nowhere to be found. I think pieces of crap like SUMMER OF BLOOD are just best forgotten rather then even kicking them one last time.

I should tell you that I'm breaking my unbreakable rule of films go on to the lists for the year they were seen and not in the year of "release" with a few films from next years New York Jewish Film Festival- THE ZIONIST IDEA, KING OF NERAC  and DELI MAN should all be on the Best of 2014 list but since I really can't post the reviews now- they need to run closer to the festival- I'm carrying them over to 2015. (additionally I need to say that NYJFF for 2015 kicks ass and you need to get tickets to something-I've seen 25 or 26 films and can recommend all but one)
And now the final collection of Randi's links for 2014

Disney Holiday cards through the years
The Toy Guy
The Christmas Truce
Chopin's Heart
The zombie natvity

This week is split-we finish out our month of Criterion and start whats become an abbreviated and split month of short films.

Five Easy Pieces (1970)

Five Easy Pieces is one of the few classics of the late 60’s and early 70’s that lived up to all the hype I had heard about it. Growing up, the film was always held out to be not only a great film but also the moment where Nicholson became Nicholson the great actor something that was cemented with Carnal Knowledge the next year. I saw Carnal Knowledge early into my obsession with film, and several times since then, but its never amount to much for me. Perhaps you had to live through what it was showing. Five Easy Pieces on the other hand was like watching lightning flash around in a bottle.

The plot of the film has Jack Nicholson working in the oil fields. When he gets word that his father is ill he returns home to his wealthy family with his girlfriend in tow. Sparks fly as the two worlds collide.

While Nicholson is a revelation, the film would never have worked if the script by Carole Eastman (Adrien Joyce) and based on a story by her and director Bob Rafaelson wasn't so good. Say what you will there doesn't seem to be any false note or anything artificial any of the dialog or in the trajectory of the plot. I mention the plot because many small films at the time would take a sudden and unexpected tragic turn as if out of left field. Here the tragedy  and discomfort is earned and almost to be expected from the first.

The big scene that everyone always talks about is the one in the diner where Nicholson simply wants toast and the waitress gives him hell about it since it's not on the menu. To be certain it's a big showy sequence but at the same time it doesn't do justice to any of the other moments in the film. Yea it's Jack being Jack, but it wouldn't play as well if all the other scenes weren't so real and so carefully modulated, Without the rest of the film the explosion of rage would never have worked in context.

I like Five Easy Pieces a great deal. To me it's the best of the mini golden age of American film that ran from say Bonnie and Clyde to The Godfather. This Golden Age was the flowering of a number of great filmmakers, Rafaelson, Mike Nichols, Coppola, Hopper, Altman and others. These guys and girls changed movies in the 70's and 80's. The problem is that as shattering as many of their films at the time were, many don't hold up quite as well any more. Four star  films are now three star ones. Probably the worst of the bunch now is Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider which has dated. Five Easy Pieces hasn't dated. Yes, the film is very much of the time it was made, but the underlying family and personal discord is still very real. This crap is still happening and people are still doing the same things now.

If you've never seen Five Easy Pieces you should. Forget who's in it forget that it's 40 plus years old and just see it because it's a damn good film.

Friday, December 26, 2014


A dream of Dark and disturbing things

David Lynch says that no one has ever said that they see Eraserhead as he says it. That surprised many people but its been said for years that where people went to films like Rocky Horror to be with likeminded people, people went to see Eraserhead to be alone with their own private hell.

I don’t pretend to know what the film means. I’m not going to even guess, not because I’ll be wrong, more that I’ll be as right as anyone else. Eraserhead is a movie that is whatever you say it is.

I’m sure we all agree it’s dark and disturbing but I don’t know beyond that. I remember going to see it At the East Meadow Multiplex in the early 1980’s. I dropped by brother and his friends at a different theater showing Rocky Horror and I went down the road to see Lynch’s nightmare. The theater was a third to half full, most people sitting alone. The film was like watching someone eles nightmare. And it left me kind of staring into space. I went only once, all future viewings were on home video, once with my mom and dad.

To be honest the best way to see the film is as big as possible in a room as dark as possible. The dark world that Lynch creates needs to bleed off the screen to the world around you. This is a world just in the shadows… it needs to be connected to them. Also try and keep the comments to a minimum- you have to react to the film and not the comments of friends and family. If you’ve never seen the film big and in the dark, you’ve never seen it nor experienced it’s raw power

As for those of you who have never seen it…why the hell not? This is as influencial a film as they come. It’s a film that is a real cinematic experience- it forces you to react, to ponder and engage in ways that 99% of other filmsnever do.

Is it a good film? No idea but it’s a cinematic trip that everyone should experience at least once.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Peeping Tom (1960)

The argument between many film people is which is the better film Hitchcock’s Psycho or Michael Powell's Peeping Tom? Both films came out in the same year and both films altered the way the people who saw them see horror/thrillers. Clearly Psycho is the more seen of the two films but Peeping Tom has it’s champions

Full disclosure I am not a fan of Peeping Tom’s director Micael Powell. I don’t like the feel of pretty much every one of his films. I will go so far as to add that I hate The Red Shoes. Frankly I don’t get Powell’s films. I keep returning to them and keep being underwhelmed.

I am probably most mixed about Peeping Tom. The story of a twisted individual warped by his childhood and an now killing women so he can film their terror as an experiment is messed up. Carl Boehm‘s Mark Lewis is a severely disturbed individual, in many ways worse than Norman Bates. I love that the film puts you into his warped headspace, but at the same time it’s so out there that the reaction is to retreat and instantly turn away from it. Unless you want to be messed up or doing an academic paper you generally don’t watch Peeping Tom a second time.

I don’t watch Peeping Tom except when intrigued by a piece I read on it. I don’t want to go there.

It’s a feeling that’s shared by many people. Including the studio who produced it who kind of shuttled it away from sight and walked away from Powell since they couldn’t believe such a nice man made such a sick film.

Taking a hard look at the film I’m left to ponder if the film didn’t fall out of favor, if it didn’t become a minor cause celeb in some quarters and if it wasn’t hard to see (I know it was difficult to see for years because few TV stations ever ran it, nor did many revival theaters) would the film have garnered the acclaim?

I don’t know. I do think it is a good film, I do think on some level the disease the film creates in the viewed as a sign of greatness, but I don’t know if its all great. The psychology seems a bit pat. Sure I’m looking back after 54 years, but Mark Lewis really isn’t that far removed from most cinematic nut jobs.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Rossellini Historical Films

The historical films of Roberto Rossellini are an acquired taste, you are going to be either enraptured or driven mad by them. Criterion released THE TAKING OF POWER BY LOUIS XIV as a stand-alone feature and then released three more AGE OF MEDICI, CARTISEUS and BLAISE PASCAL,as an Eclipse box set (and there are several more in the series).

The short version of the story behind the films was that Rossellini, the great neo realist, decided that we should be making films to educate people and that the best way to do this was to make realistic films about the great minds and great events of history. He then went on to make a series of films on various people and subjects. Interest was lukewarm at best. He tried to spice things up by making AGE OF THE MEDICI in English with the hope that the subject matter and his name would interest PBS, but they passed on the film, which was then dubbed into Italian

This is one of those times where I’m not sure why I’m writing the film up. I mean it’s not a new release of part of festival coverage so I don’t have to post this, but at the same time it is a Criterion release and it is our month of Criterion. Also I’ve read some rapturous reviews of some of the films.

Personally I’m non-plused about the films. Its not the films are bad, they’re not, its just that they are so realistic, so slice of life that they are kind of dull. While I give Rossellini credit for trusting his audience to figure out who some people are, you have to kind of take away a few points when we are left a drift with no context. Who exactly are these people? Watching TAKING OF POWER... I was kind of enjoying the courtly discussions until I realized I had no idea who anyone was. It’s the same feeling I got with some of the other films in the Eclipse set, who are these people and why are they important. I’m willing to meet you half way, but this requires a bit of effort to really get out of it what Rossellini wants you to get out of it.

Actually the series of films kind of reminds me of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia plays which form a 9 hour epic drama involving Russian Philosophers in the mid-19th century. The problem is that unless you know who the actors are playing and what they are “famous” for the plays mean nothing Characters aren’t often addressed by their names so you have to use your Playbill and even then unless you know who the obscure people are you'll be going WTF. It’s a lot of people wandering around an Russian country house for 9 hours talking about petty stuff just like life. Critics were enraptured, the audiences were confused. I was annoyed

The Rosellini films are like that to various degrees. Some are clear as to whats going on, others you have to hunt around to find something.

Is it worth it? Beats the snot out of me. It’s a “you’re on your own” call.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Armageddon (1998)

An asteroid is coming to earth and no one except Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck can stop it.

Michael Bay’s blockbuster strangely got the Criterion treatment (as did his film the Rock) which confused the hell out of cineastes everywhere. God love Criterion for their weird turns.

Armageddon, the more upbeat of the end of the world films that filled the summer of 1998 is a lot of fun. The other film, Deep Impact, might be dramatically better but was depressing as all hell since it ends with the world ending. No one I know wanted to see it for that reason, and those that did didn’t want to see it a second time. That wasn’t the case with Bay’s film which follows the tropes and cliches of the disaster movie genre with wild abandon. It was completely engineered to be please and it does.

I hear you groaning. I hear a lot of you groaning about this film. First it was that it existed and then it was because it was put out by Criterion. Now its that I’m bringing it up again.

Oh yea groan all you want this clunky collection of stock characters out to save the world is a great deal of fun. Is it high art? Oh hell no. its just manly men going into pace while real women wait on earth for the manly men to come home. It big and loud and pure turn your brain off spectacle. On that level it’s a great deal of fun.

You’ll notice my saying it’s a fun a lot because that’s what it is. That’s where it begins and ends. If you don’t like it lump it and go watch some pained Bergman film again.

On the other hand if you want a popcorn movie you can both enjoy for itself and make fun of Armageddon fits the bill.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Le Million (1931)

Rene Clair's groundbreaking musical. If you want to see where songs first drove a story this is the place. This is the story of a starving young artist who finds he's won the lottery just as his creditors come calling. Unfortunately his ticket is in his coat, which is in his girlfriends apartment and has been given to an on the run convict who then... oh but that would be telling.

This is a light and frothy story where much of the dialog is sung (most people think this didn't happen until Oklahoma or Andrew Lloyd Webber). Its the sort of movie that they don't make any more, and rarely did when they did. Its sound a film from the early days that plays like a movie from five or six years later. Clair moves his camera around in ways that not even Busby Berkeley was doing (though to be honest comparing the two film makers is unfair since Berkeley was doing essentially stage bound dance numbers and Clair was moving the camera through "the real world"). Its an amazing little movie. and its a charming movie that will just make you smile. Its just a fluffy piece of enjoyment.

I'm sorry I can't say more. Its just a nice little movie and thats really all you need to know.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Nightcap 12/21/14; Thoughts on the end of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth Trip, The Interview Debacle plus Randi's links

Peter Jackson’s tour of Middle Earth is complete. After 3 Lord of the Rings films the three Hobbit films are done. All that is left to do is for him to release the cash grab extended version of Battle of the Five Armies and maybe one day cut the films into one cut that removes all of the extra crap he added in so we’d have three films.

All that’s left is to take stock of what we’ve seen and then wait for the next thing to come along.

I’m not going to discuss the LOTR films. Taken together they are one of the greatest cinematic achievements ever. They are amazing.

The Hobbit films on the other hand are another story. For better or worse they are way too bloated to amount to much- though in their final hour they reveal what the films could have been (and might be if someone dared take some scissors to the films)

There are two major and one almost insurmountable problems with the Hobbit as a whole.

The first major one is the over length of the films. Peter Jackson added way too much into the films. Building new pieces from references in the appendices and elsewhere we get the appearances of various characters (Galadriel, Legolas, Elrond ect) that don’t appear in the Hobbit. These digressions tie the film to the LOTR films but at the same time the digressions are just that digressions. They add nothing to the story of Bilbo and his travels. They should never have been put in there. If you need proof watch BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES and realize that when the film (the entire Hobbit saga) finally springs to life is when all of the extra bullshit is thrown out and the film settles down to tell the story that’s in the book (more or less) and focus squarely on the characters. Once we get back to Bilbo and Thorin and even Tuariel, the film snaps to life.

Additionally  the over length of several sequences drags things out -particularly in the DESOLATION OF SMAUG where we get thrill rides (the escape via barrels) instead of plot movement. Jackson and company blew the sequences up to fill time and it shows as the films grind to a halt despite the seeming forward motion.

The second major problem is the that  much of the film looks exactly what it is, namely  computer generated. Look at the compositing with the background- people are real the backgrounds aren’t. They look like Alan Lee paintings because they are works of art. Many of the monsters look to be not real but CGI game creations. Worse much of the make-up looks fake or at the very least wildly uneven with some of the dwarves looking down right bad.

Actually the biggest thing wrong with the entire Hobbit and the one thing that pretty much kills the trilogy is that the films are never about anything until the second half of the second film or maybe even the third film. What I mean by this is that while half the trilogy is about getting to the mountains there are no characters or events that mean anything other than the travel. Nothing about what happens means anything. We are simply traveling from point A to point B. It isn’t until we get to Laketown and we meet Bard and his family and everyone interacts we don’t really have anything other than motion. Finally in the town, soon to be destroyed by the dragon, do we get anything we can care about or hook onto. Here at last there are character and not cut outs.  Its here that all of the character interactions start to come together. Frankly until the dragon leaves none of the characters especially the dwarves don’t have much to differentiate them from each other. Finally when Thorin begins to go mad does the film begin to click.

Once Thorin goes mad and the film becomes about greed and lost honor and everything else. Until the final hour the film is about nothing. There is no theme. There are no undercurrents there is only motion. That’s fine for a 90 minute action film but not an 8 hour 3 part story. Until that happens there is no reason to connect to the characters or their stories.

To be fair I could argue that had this say been either a 5 hour film or a five hour two part film you could pull all the themes together in the last hour but not over 8 hours and especially not over three films (and three years). It just can’t sustain it so there is a point about half way in when you have to ask whats the point of this and why am I watching it? As the films stand now it’s never clear until the very end.

I like FIVE ARMIES. I think the film shows the promise of what the films could have been (The second half is on my best of the year list). But the fact that the film is so good, especially in the final half makes the flaws of the first two films all the more glaring. Seeing the compact nature of this film you realize how wrong Peter Jackson went.  The series is a major let down compared to the LOTR.  While it's nowhere near as bad as the Star Wars prequels (they killed all my feeling for every feeling for all of  Star Wars inside me) the films are less a companion to the original series, rather they are more a footnote.

Maybe some day I'll go back and try the trilogy again, but for now, for me, I've been to Middle Earth, I don't need to go back and if I do want to go I'll hitch a ride with Frodo on the road to Mordor.
THE INTERVIEW has sadly become a cause, Sony caved in to terrorists because they were hacked, though more recently it became clear it was because theater owners caved because they didn't want problems.  Which makes me think George Clooney is right, put the film out on VOD. (Though some have intimated that the release of film would result in more emails Sony and Hollywood really don't want released)

I don't have much to say other than I'm extremely cynical about the whole fiasco,not for a rights reason, rather I see it as an effort to make money. The film is a big deal now and has more publicity then it would have otherwise. I know we'll see the film soon. Outside of the DAY THE CLOWN CRIED buried films rarely stay buried and show up somewhere. I don't in my heart of hearts think this is real threat to anything other than Sony's wallet and if there was going to be trouble it would have been because a lone nut job did something.

Many people are now unhappy with the incident in part because it seems to mean a lessening of freedoms but more because its the wrong film to be fighting for. I know that some times you have to take the small fights to make the big fights winnable, but in the eyes of some they bemoan that we're defending what is being called by the reviewers who saw it a bad low brow comedy.

For me the freedom has to be stood up for where ever its threatened- basically a lot of times you can't pick your battles (especially with a Hollywood hype machine behind it pushing things to be bigger so that they can get extra PR so they'll make a mint on the first weekend of release when it hits theaters or VOD).  They should have just released the film.

Weighing in on the issue with better turns of phrase are Unseen family members Alec and Hubert.

Alec weighs in at his regular base Flixist.
Hubert's editorial is up at Ruby Hornet
And now Randi's links
Help Get a documentary on Early animation made
Is Gone With the Wind America's strangest film?
DC Comics covers in the style of movie posters
How PES made Submarine Sandwich
The perils of an all digital movie future
Films buried by their studios
On Turkish cinema
Why are cartoon mothers frequently dead?
Movie in Jokes 2014

Our month of Criterion titles continues this week. Next week there may or may not be a nightcap-however look for the start of out five part year end wrap up with a look at the festivals we covered. Worst of the year, film finds and a two part best of the year list fill follow.

X From Outer Space (1967)

I would wonder what X FROM OUTER SPACE is doing coming from Criterion, but its not really Criterion, instead it’s from their Eclipse line and their When Horror Came to Shochiku set.

The plot of the film has aliens from space coming to earth in the form of spores and running amuck in Japan when they start to grow exponentially. A means has to be found to stop them.

I grew up on this film as a kid, watching it on the 430 movie and the various monster programs that played in the New York area. I never really remembered much about the film other than the weird looking monsters with the odd antennae.

Looking back at the film for the first time in a long time I find its an okay film. While not the best Giant Monster film, it’s not the worst either. The highlights clearly are the destructions scenes which are nicely not the same old same old that you got from Toho and the Godzilla films.

As middle of the road as I am about the film I have several friends who love this film. They love that it’s a standalone and that there is nothing else like it…or was a standalone until about in 2008 a belated and intentional comedic sequel came out that had the X creature taking on the G8 conference that film from MONSTER X STRIKES BACK didn’t work for me and despite a great cast that included Takashi Kitano, it just fell flat

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Long Good Friday

The Long Good Friday is notable for being the place where the world first noticed Bob Hoskins. This was the place where Hoskins stepped out of the shadows and stepped front and center in to the spot light on the world stage. Yea, Hoskins had been around for years prior to this but was the point where he stopped being that guy and became himself.

The film has Hoskins as a mob boss trying to gain respectability by brokering a real estate deal with some rich Americans. Just as the deal is starting to be finalized some of his men are killed and someone blows up his mother in her car. Hoskins wants revenge, but he has no idea who is behind the acts. However as Hoskins goes through his search for answers he finds his grip on the situation spinning away from him. Things are not what they seem, reasons are not what he expected and his methods end up doing more harm than good.

My overriding memory of the film was seeing it when the film came out during one of the then occasional extended family movie nights and having everyone complaining about the difficulty of understanding the accents. This was a British film where everyone really spoke with their regional accents. I had no real problems, except with Robbie Coltrane, who’s dialog still eludes me)

Beyond the discussion of accents the film stands out for a couple of reasons, first as I said it was the moment where I noticed Hoskins. But it was also the moment, coupled with Excalibur where I noticed Helen Mirren. It was here that I was smitten and she became an object of lust.

The film also stands out as the point where I began to notice the gritty British crime films of the 70’s and the 80’s. There was something about these neatly dressed guys running around the run down England of Thatcher that stuck with me. Of course the film is a kind of allegory on English politics at the time but it wasn’t until later that I noticed the commentary.

Ultimately though this is a damn good thriller. It stands out because what is going on isn’t what you expect people aren’t doing the same old things, there is much more going on- and world beyond the gangsters that comes to bite them on the ass. Whe you see The Long Good Friday, which you should, you’re in no danger of seeing the same old thing.

I like this film a great deal and while I haven’t seen it in ages, It still holds a warm place in my heart.

If yo want something that isn’t your typical crime film see this film.

Friday, December 19, 2014


Seconds unnerves me.

I should probably end the review there because that’s all I really can say about the film, but it doesn’t do the film justice.

Seconds truly unnerves me is probably a better statement. Actually I should add that I never ever want to see it again.

I first heard about John Frankenhiemer’s back in my video store days. We had one customer who was constantly looking for the most obscure, most off the wall films from around the world you ever heard of. He was looking for lost , misplaced and unknown films from around the world. The video store I worked at had eight or so stores and the stock was exchanged between stores so Mr Chapas had us bringing 12 to 15 films a week from other stores, he also had us making calls to see if we could find the films he wanted on VHS tape from our distributors. . If you want to know where by desire to find films came from its from Mr Chapas, who every weekend would take home stacks of films and devour them. Once started waxing poetic about the films I started to take home whatever he had brought to our store.

One of the films that Chapas waxed poetic about was Seconds. The film he assured me was so disturbing that not only did it bomb at the box office, despite starring Rock Hudson, it ended up buried by the studio who refused to ever rerelease it. I never really expected to see it, but one day the film showed up late at night on some out of town cable station. Needless to say I taped it, as did everyone else who had heard the stories about this weird little film.

The plot of the film has John Randolph becoming bored with his life. He desperately wants to get out but doesn’t know how. He’s put in touch with the Seconds corporation. For a fee they will give him a new life with a new look, all he has to do is follow a few simple rules…Randolph jumps at the chance and after a brief procedure he wakes up looking like Rock Hudson. Despite things be great for a while Hudson begins to regret his new life and begins to ponder making another change…but that isn’t allowed.

I hate to say this but I, who loves horror films and disturbing stories, really doesn’t like this film. Its not because it’s bad, rather because the film creates a head space so dark I don’t want to do there. I mean that I don’t want to be there and I’ve only sporadically seen the film again after that first viewing simply to see if the film doesn’t give me the screaming yags. I don’t know what it is that disturbs me, I suppose it’s being set in a world a half step off from our own that does it. I can so see this happening…

I hate the way this film makes me feel which is why it’s a must see for anyone who wants their mind and emotions played with. It’s a truly great film and I never want to see it again Criterion edition or no.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Island of Lost Souls (193-)

What can you say that the film was banned in England for about 40 years doesn’t? If that isn’t a ringing endorsement I don’t know what is.

The dark brooding Island of Lost Souls has been twisting minds for generations. Its also one of the best horror films of the 10.. of to hell with it, its one of the best horror films ever.

Based on HG Wells The Island of Dr Moreau, Lost Souls has a shipwreck survivor arriving on Moreau’s island and encountering the weird beasts that the good doctor has been making in his lab. Of course it all goes wrong soon after. Yea you know the story, its been ripped off and riffed any number of times (there are at least 2 official big screen remakes and probably two hundred unofficial ones) but this is the grand daddy, this is the one that kicks you in the ass and hangs with you.

The film works for any number reasons, the great cast (Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi), the intelligent script and of course the dark brooding cinematography. Say what you want about the films many pleasures chief amongst them is the dark look of the film. It looks more like a half remembered dream or a nightmare partly revealed in the edges of the darkness. The look seems to be something that we should not be seeing. It warms its way back into the psyche and sits there an pollutes your thoughts for days.

The film is so disturbing it was the last straw for the British authorities who banned the film and then effectively banned horror films by the creation of the horror certificate. They were not going to have those sort of nightmares inflicted on its populous. The result was horror film production around the world, and particularly the US was curtailed since there simply was no market for horror.

Od course time marched on the real world horrors out paced cinemas with the result horror films came back in vogue-though Lost Souls remainded banned at least in England.

I love this movie. Its creepy as all hell and is a must see, especially in Criterions remaster.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


This is more an announcement of a longer piece that is coming- but I've seen BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES.

From the start of the battle to Bilbo and Gandalf parting its as good as the original LOTR series. Finally the film has focus on the plot and characters and not just spectacle. That last bit is as good a bit of filmmaking as I've seen (Its on my best of the year list).

The rest is okay, very messy with much that belongs elsewhere.

The whole series should have been two pared down films

Yes its worth seeing...but realize its not stand alone.

I have much to say once I get through some other life things

On Further Review:The Red Circle (1970)

The Red Circle eludes me.

Several years ago I had been told about this great film The Red Circle about several crooks involved in a heist and the cops who pursued them. It was in the opinion of many one of, if not the best crime film ever made. It was a must see film. The trouble was it was damn near impossible to see in the US, it was like several of its directors films neglected in the US.

In the days before the internet finding a film from overseas could be a real struggle. You’d have to luck into finding it, or scour magazines for collectors who might have an ad or try and talk someone into putting you in contact with a friend of a friend…. It was a hassle and a half. Occasionally you’d luck onto a place like the now defunct Video Search of Miami which had movies from all over the globe. When you’d find a place like that it would open up your horizons wider than you ever thought possible.

It was through Video Search that I obtained a copy of The Red Circle. They came up with a copy a couple of months before the film hit theaters in a restored rerelease. I ordered the copy and as I am prone to do, I sat on the copy for a while. I then pulled the film out one day and started watching it. An hour in I was loving the film so much I stopped it. I knew I was going to be interrupted before the end and I didn’t want to do that so I stopped it, figuring I would go back to it in a day or so with a big box of popcorn and no chance of being interrupted.

Months passed. The theatrical release came…and went. Criterion announced it’s release, and somewhere close to when Criterion putting out it’s special edition came out I grabbed my Video Search DVD, got some popcorn and soda, popped the disc into the DVD player and settled into the film.

A glorious hour passed and I was in heaven…

…and then it all went wrong. This wonderfully crafted crime film of police and criminal cat and mouse devolved into a weird macho tale where characters started to do things because they were men and that’s what men do. It ceased in my eyes to make a great deal of sense. Why did they go through with everything when they knew it was going to end badly? It made no sense to me.  Somewhere in the final hour the film was lost to me.

How could people call this a great film when the plot kind of goes off the rails ? I don't know.

The question of why people regard the film as great has eluded me on the three or four screenings I've had of the film. Yes it looks great, yes it wonderfully acted, but the plot makes no real sense, people don't do the things they do here except in things with literary pretensions.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not a bad film, it’s just not the greatest crime film.

Is it worth seeing? Absolutely, if nothing else the first half of this film is as close to a perfect crime film as you can find. Its just that the second half isn't what it should be. Perhaps if the first half wasn't as good as it is i would have liked it more.

Worth trying, just keep the expectations reined in

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Walker (1987)

If anyone ever wants to derail their career all they need do is take a page out of Alex Cox’s playbook and follow up a cult classic (Repoman) with a head scratcher in your face political film. While that may go over well in some film communities, it’s the kiss of death in the US, more so when you attack the sitting grand poobah. Cox’s Walker confused the hell out of everyone and despite a great deal of talk before it was released in many corners of the film community it sank like a mafia informer with cement shoes.

The film tells the story of William Walker (Ed Harris) who in the middle of the 19th century wandered into Nicaragua, at the behest of several American robber Barons, and took over the country. All was fine for a while until the natives got restless, the support dried up and Walker was left to fend for himself.

Made at a time when the Reagan White House was farting around in Central America, and Nicaragua in particular, Cox went to great lengths to hammer home the parallels between the original American mis-adventure and the then current one. People read Time Magazine with cover stories on Reagan’s incursion, BMW’s drive down the road past horse drawn carriages and modern items and references abound. It makes for jarring viewing that on the first time through can be rather distracting. Yea it’s a bold political move, the cinematic equivalent of speaking in Reagan’s eye, but at the same time the film never connects with the heart and remains a purely intellectual exercise.

Seeing the film back in the day I was amused by the references but pondered why Cox bothered since the Walker story is without the prodding a cautionary tale, more so if you had even the smallest knowledge of the then current events. Seeing the film recently again for the first time in a 5 or so years I was struck by a couple of things. First the political rhetoric is quaint now. Frankly it was quaint when it was made but now, almost 30 years on, it really is quaint. It’s so quaint that you kind of can’t believe adults many years past film school would do. Didn’t they realize it wasn’t going to age well? Yea I know Cox was too pissed to care, but still seriously, the film is dated because of it.

The other thing that is weirdly refreshing is that the film, divorced of the political BS, the film is pretty good. No it’s not perfect but the tory of Walker’s take over a country is pretty good on its own terms.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Song of the Sea (2014)

Lets get to the heart of the matter at the to SONG OF THE SEA is one of the best films of 2014.

Yea it that good.

The big stuff is out of the way so now I can talk about the joys of this great film.

Where to start?

SONG OF THE SEA tells the story of Ben. He's the son of a lighthouse keeper. On the night his sister Saoirse is born his mother disappears. Six years later there is a tension between brother and sister, made worse by her inability to talk and their father refusing to get over the "death" of his wife. A series of events transpire that take Ben and Saoirse far from the sea, thus imperiling not only their lives but the lives of all of the fairies and magical beings in the world since Saoirse is a selkie and until she can sing her song no one will be able to go home again.

Where to begin?

Just like Tomm Moore's first film BOOK OF KELLS, SONG OF THE SEA has it's own unique look. The designs are heavily influenced by Celtic designs but it's also infused with Moore and his teams own style. Think of it as UPA Celtic or some other melding of old and classic (animation) to become something new. I love the playfulness of many of the character designs. Chu the old English Sheep dog is magical as are most of the fairy folk.

At times the images will move you to tears. Never mind that the bittersweet story will break your heart and then heal it, the images alone will have your mouth hanging open as you watch some of the most beautiful images that have ever been put on screen. When Saoirse puts on her coat and goes swimming that first time I had tears streaming down my face- the simple childlike beauty of the selkie and the seals overwhelmed me with emotion.

I love that there is a complexity not only to the art but also to the story. For example there are various motifs through out the film such as circles that repeat  through out the film. There is a twinning of many characters as most really people have a mystical equivalent- the grandmother is the owl witch, the kids father is a grieving giant, the ferry driver is a hairy man where each strand of hair is a story. This is not just a simple quest story there is a great deal  going on.

Moore needs to get a medal for not dumbing things down or not removing the darkness from his films. When I saw BOOK OF KELLS several children screamed at the advancing hordes, He defended the fright to some parents by saying that it wasn't that scary and besides life is like that. Here there isn't quite the blackness, but there is darkness. Grief hangs over the film. The loss of Ben and Saoirse's mother is an open wound. Their father drinks to forget. He does somethings so that history won't repeat- and which have dire consequences. Their grandmother is a bitch on wheels because she sees how the pain has affected the family and thinks she is helping by being stern and taking charge.

Indeed the theme of pain and loss and how we cope and seek to remove it is a thematic thread that runs through the film in ways that no recent American animated film has even dared to hint at. Equally out there is the question of what are we without emotion?

That's heady stuff in an adult film, never mind for one that is going to be sold for kids. That is not a knock only a statement of fact. Its a fact that I applaud since it makes Tomm Moore one of the rare animators in the world who trusts his audience, at what ever age, to be able to engage with what he's doing and not get upset.(Is it any wonder that GKids is releasing it in the US since they are the only company releasing animation I know not to dumb down and trust kids with big issues)

And while I'm at it Tomm Moore is a genius and he needs to stay away from Hollywood because his unique vision should never be corrupted. If he should ever have a film that fails I would rather it be because he misstepped rather than because the corporate bigwigs made changes- I'm sure it would still be ten times more interesting than a Hollywood success. If anyone wants to do the world a favor just give him as much money as he needs and get get the hell out of his way.

While in fairness I have to say that the film isn't perfect, there is one small blip that I won't get into,  I have to add that it's truly one of the best films of 2014. I completely understand why the film is being called the spoiler/wild card regarding the Oscar race for Best Animated Feature by anyone who has seen it because it is that good.

The film begins it's US release December 19 and should be high on everyone's must see list.