Sunday, January 31, 2016

Nightcap 1/31/16: All February we are looking at Tarzan at "MGM "

In picture from the Saturday Evening Post Edgar Rice Burroughs reads Tarzan
The Tarzan films can be divided into five categories-

-The series of silent films that ran from 1918 until the beginning of the sound era

-The series that began with the Johnnie Weissmuller films at MGM that ran all the way into the late 1960’s and the Ron Ely TV series
-The “sanctioned” films that are not in either series (including one by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself)-most were based on rights Burroughs wished he didn’t sell
-The later films from the 1970’s until now
-Lastly there are the rip offs/knock offs and unsanctioned films that the Burroughs estate has tried to hunt down and destroy.

Beginning tomorrow we are going to look at all of the Tarzan films in the MGM sequence of films. The series ran from 1931 until 1968 when it sputtered out. There have been other Tarzan films before and since, and even during the run, but the bulk of the films are the 28 film series that started with TARZAN THE APEMAN and ended with TARZAN AND THE JUGLE BOY.

Why are we doing it? Beyond the obvious answer that I wanted to watch the films? Because no one really talks about the films much. Actually most people talk about the early Weissmuller films, but no one seriously considers the other films in the series. Having gone through all the films I completely understand why that is, some of them are good but aren’t really memorable. The series went on because of the early films made such an impression and the action sequences tended to be fun enough that the mediocre films were tolerated until the next year came and a good one came out. The key thing here is that there are some really good films here that most people are completely ignoring.

To be honest I probably should have aimed to cover the whole history of Tarzan but that’s a lot of films, probably more than you realize since there were a good number of silent films made, a good number of films made since this series ended , plus because Burroughs made some weird deals there are competing pictures. Most of the competing films arose out of film contracts in the silent era that carried over into sound. And then there is the case of the Herman Brix serial/films which were made because Burroughs wanted Tarzan the right way on the big screen so he made the film himself. Basically it was his property so he could do what he wanted. And of course there are the rip off and homages as well...and if you add them up it's probably over a hundred films

The one thing that most people don’t realize is that the Tarzan for most of his years on the screen was not as Burroughs wrote him. Once he got out of the jungle and once he interacted with people he was a well-spoken individual who dressed like people. It wasn’t until TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE in 1959 (28 years into the series) that Tarzan dropped the pigeon English and spoke normally in the movies. If you want to really see what Burroughs was getting at, see GREYSTOKE the Christopher Lambert headed film where he is a goes from ape to man.

Having gone through the whole series I’m kind of amazed that the films kept being made on the schedule they did of roughly one every year. I'm guessing the early RKO produced ones before the first widescreen color ones were produced just to fill double bills. Yes some are good, but some are really bland and cookie cutter like with long sections killing time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself-talking about the films out of context isn’t helpful, which is why I’m going to stop babbling here and turn you ever to 29 days of Tarzan films. Read the reviews and then watch some of the films. I’m planning on writing a piece to close this out so hopefully at the end we can have a discussion.

For the record out of the 28 films in the series that started at MGM there is probably only three bad films, There is probably another three or four truly great films  and the rest fall in between. Pretty much all of them are enjoyable on their own terms.

And an FYI- some of the posts that follow are reposts of reviews of pieces that ran a while ago. It was purely a time saver on my part

Randi's links

Someone made a film of 10 hours of paint drying
A film about Laurel and Hardy is coming
Bad New Yorker cartoon captions
The Oomphalapompatronium
Trash Museum
Stephen Furst said the problem with the Oscars isn't racism but laziness- no one is watching the films
New York Attorney General investigating ticketing fees
Saving cinemas
The Curse of Pooh
Sundance should have been hits
You might have been able to out run a t-rex
People with a local pub are happier
Stalin was interested in peoples excrement
Was THE HAPPENING not a serious film
For the three of you curious about how many films I see in a year the total for January is over 100 features and thirty or so shorts.

Trader Horn (1931)

Starting tomorrow we're going to run through all of the films that were part of the series of Tarzan films that started in 1932 with TARZAN THE APE MAN. However before we start with looking at the MGM Tarzan films and all that it spawned, I'm going to talk about TRADER HORN which begat the Tarzan films.

If you're wondering how a fictionalized film about a real life hunter in Africa spawned a film about a fictional ape man, consider that when MGM decided to send film crews to Africa they decided to shoot additional material that they could use in other films. They shot so much film that MGM felt they had to do something to use the footage. They thrashed about looking for possible projects when the idea of doing their own version of Edgar Rice Burroughs character came to mind.  Negotiating a deal with Burroughs MGM went into production and the rest is history.

TRADER HORN as a big deal when it was made. It was huge Hollywood project that went on location, and then had to be re-shot because of the coming of sound and because of poor sound quality. One crew member was eaten by crocodiles, another was killed by a rhino (a deathwhich ended up in the film). There were floods and locusts and illness. And when it was done it made over a million dollars in profits- which for the time was huge.

It's part travelogue, part adventure film and part romance. It has something for everyone.

The film is  nominally based on the biography of a real person, but the plot is something else entirely. The film has Horn and a young friend on a hunting expedition. When they run across a widowed missionary traveling at night, Horn promises her to continue her quest if something should happen to her with in  the next week. Not long after Horn and his friend find the woman dead near the bottom of a legendary waterfall.  The two men then head off on the appointed quest, which is to try and locate the woman's daughter who had been carried off as an infant. Raised among a remote tribe she is treated as a goddess... complications of course arise.

Grand adventure film is creaky in some ways, and yet in many others it's  truly spectacular and high adventure. This is the sort of film they mean when some says they don't make 'em like that any more. No they don't.

Full of wild animals, great scenic wonders and barbaric violence (way too many animals were killed for the film) This is, in some ways, what life was like 150 years ago. This is a film that really doesn't feel like most other epics and we are better for it.

The film is spectacular. It’s a grand adventure that feels strangely real. Credit the fact that the film was shot on location and seems to have been done in such a way that it doesn’t feel like its Hollywood on the veldt or in the jungle. The images feel very much like the work of the Johnsons, Martin and Osa) and other documentarians of the period who turned out a steady stream of films showing what life was like in Africa and elsewhere. I think the film is truly more exciting because of it, more so than the films that used the footage shot during the production.

How good is the film? It was a film that ended up in the running for the Best Picture Oscar. To be certain the film has aged unevenly, partly the result of Hollywood conventions of the time, but also the result of technical issues of being a film that was shot silent and then reshot as a sound film. The blending of things isn’t always perfect and some of the sound effects can be uneven, but largely it remains serviceable.

In this age of political correctness I find the portrayal of the native people interesting. Yes there is a condescending nature to some of it (Duncan Reynaldo calls them ignorant children) and the portrayal as savages is at times over done, but at the same time the film has these moments where we actually get glimpses of actual tribal life and dress. When you compare it to some of the nonsense that the Tarzan films gave us with ooga booga pigeon English and war paint TRADER HORN actual has moments of nobility.

I really like this film a great deal and I’m a bit confused as to why the film never really seemed to play much on TV when I was growing up or even on Turner Classics. This is a good grand adventure.

Definitely worth a look.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS was the favorite film of a good number of friends growing up. Way back when there were no VCRs, streaming movies, or 10,000 channels, any showing of the film, even late at night resulted in friends canceling plans and making sure they were in front of the tube. I never seemed to catch the film and it wasn’t until I was out of high school that I got a 2am screening off broadcast TV on my VCR.

The film has two astronauts going to Mars and crashing on the planet. One played by Adam West pre-Batman is killed, the other, played by Paul Mantee is stranded. It then becomes a struggle to survive until he runs into an escaped slave who shows him how to get along. Additionally there are appearances from the war ships from War of the Worlds minus the tentacled death ray.

It plays as a kind of early version of the recent Martian, but with a monkey and aliens, RCOM was meant to be a kind of scientific version of what happened. While the film was made by Byron Haskin and Ib Melchior it actually is a spiritual child of the early 50’s George Pal films like DESTINATION MOON or CONQUEST OF SPACE, but with more adventure and a bit less seriousness. (On the other hand director Haskin was involved with Pal's WAR OF THE WORLDS)

While I am not a rabid fan as some I know I do like the film. Watching the Criterion DVD a few months ago I realized that the film was much better than I had given it credit for. It is a grand adventure and it’s a lot of fun. This a film that you put on when you want a headier adventure over some of the similar films being cranked out at the same time. Though in a weird way, its insistence not to go too far afield with the craziness kind of lessens the film for me. I would have loved this to be a bit crazier and a tad less static or scientific.

In a weird way watching the film one can kind of see a through line to 2001. The drive to be scientifically accurate carried over in Hollywood and Kubrick. There weren't that many scientific based films and I know Kubrick studied any he could get his hands on.

For me this is a grand tale of survival. The interesting for me part is seeing how Draper manages to survive on red planet. The aliens that show up do ad excitement, but the space geek in me is more curious about how the film decided to depict how one might survive.  It is in many ways a kind of early version of Ridley Scott's Oscar nominated THE MARTIAN which also has a lone human trying to survive on Mars.

This is decidedly good and mostly mature science fiction film and is perfect for anyone who is tired of blasters and robots and general pulpy silliness.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Unseen Repost:Baader-Mienhof Complex

Mostly straight forward look at the terrorist group known officially known as the Red Army Faction but is best known as the Baader Meinhoff Gang thanks to press coverage. Actually the film follows the story of the group from its founding in the wake of several events in 1967 until the death in prison of the initial group of members during about the period that was known as The German Autumn in 1977(the organization lasted a further 21 years).

A very good very gripping film the film sheds a great deal of light on the group and their activities For me the group was something frequently mentioned in the news but nothing I actually knew anything about until I saw this film. One thing I read on line about the film said that in Germany the film had the effect of deflating the public perception of the group as anti-heroes and revealed them to be misguided slackers (if you think about it, they were slackers since they talked a great deal but didn't do as much as other groups. the leaders spending a great deal of time in prison).

While I don't find it to be a great film it is one I like a great deal. I have to say that I found after I read about the group after seeing the film that I liked it more. The film definitely plays better the more you know about the group and what was going on in Germany at the time they were operating. What I found interesting is that when coupled with the recent miniseries Carlos is that I really got the sense that the life of a terrorist is really kind of pointless. its sitting around talking extreme politics with no practical application followed by stints of getting pissed off because the police are hunting you down for blowing things up. What a bunch of misguided morons.

Definitely worth a look

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pondering if the Big Chill (1983) matters any more

Does the BIG CHILL matter anymore?

I ask the question not to be flippant, but outside of the film being mentioned as sign post in film history where the director and actors all seemed to peak, the film doesn’t seem to be discussed or even mentioned by anyone younger than a certain age. To be certain the fact that Criterion put out a DVD brought it back into focus, but outside of that does the film matter?

When the film was released back in 1983 I remember everyone going crazy for the film. The film managed to perfectly capture the midlife crisis of a generation. Here were a bunch of good looking actors who seemed to look like everyone in that generation felt they looked. They were going through the door to being middle age at exactly the moment as the rest of the 1960’s generation. Here were a bunch of 1960’s college people looking back 15 years on and wondering is that all there is. For the public of the same age it was their lives up on the big screen and they went to it in droves. Now I never hear anyone mention it- ever. Where other big films occasionally pop up in the mix, THE BIG CHILL is almost never mentioned. Actually it is, as the film that Kevin Costner was cut from or that one of the other stars was in.

I’m in a weird place concerning the film. When the film came out I was in my late teens. I could see that the film was good, maybe even great, but I was not in a place to go orgasmic for it. I would think that I was too young and too inexperienced to get all the nuances. However I’ve seen the film the film at least fifty times in the last 33 years and it never sang to me. Yes it always was a good film, but it never mirrored my life. Was I that different or was it something else?

For me I think the reason that the film isn’t as current as some other films comes fro two places.

First the cast. Where initially these were largely secondary actors and you could accept them as the characters, after the film all of them became stars in their own right. The ability to blend and be real was diminished. This isn’t to imply that they are bad, far from it, rather that when you’re watching the film you’re watching big stars. As anyone knows there is always a danger of stars over powering the sense of place of the film and watching THE BIG CHILL now that’s the case.

The other more serious problem is that 33 years on the film is harder to relate to. Yes, the film relates the disillusionment we all face as we hit middle age and have life make us realize we are mortal, but the characters in the film are special. These are men and women who grew together during the late 60’s during the time of peace and love and flower power. They thought the world would always be theirs and that things, despite Nixon, would be forever sunny. Now some 15 years on that was no longer the case- the dream was gone- really gone- hell, Reagan was in the White House.

Seeing the film now is hard to relate to if you are not of that generation. At no point, other than perhaps he initial election of Clinton or Obama was there ever the sense of anything was possible. Where the various elections brought a sense of hope both were quickly dashed as the politics of the modern word smashed hope and replaced it with fear and ‘us vs them’ factionalism. For anyone who didn’t go to college in the 60’s the utter sense of disillusionment that pervades the characters in the film is hard to relate to. I mean for those my age and anyone younger we’ve had to deal with the disillusionment ever since Trickie Dick, Watergate and the end of Vietnam began the soul crush of the last few decades. People today are disillusioned much earlier. And if they are disillusioned in their 30’s and 40’s it’s only because they realize that partying and video games aren’t the real world.

Does THE BIG CHILL matter?

As a good film and one of historical signifigance yes. But as a cathartic treasure of the cinema no. It’s a film whose time has come and gone, much like the hope th characters felt when they were in college.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Playing catch up with the Oscar noms thanks to some home video releases and trips around the homestead when the trains and weather kept me from going to work.

INSIDE OUT- Believed to be the one absolute lock at this years Oscars disappointed me greatly. Pixar's look into the mind and emotions of a young girl didn't really work for me on almost any level. Watching the DVD I found myself talking back to the film almost from the instant it started and all the way through it. Much of my commentary had to do with the feeling that they were doing it all wrong. I had the feeling that the film was made in story conferences instead organically "and all of the memories are in these balls"  suggested one person and then the others chimed in. I never believed in it for one instant and had I not been desperate to find something to like or even understand why people were raving, I would have turned it off 15 minutes in.

SPOTLIGHT is a truly great film. Put it on my best of 2016 list (because I saw it this year) As great as MAD MAX FURY ROAD is this fim gets my vote for Best Picture as far as the nominees are concerned because MAD MAX doesn't work as well on a small screen. SPOTLIGHT works well on any size screen. The story of what happened when the Boston Globe decided to reveal the scope of the pedophile priest scandal in Boston is gripping moving cinema.  It is a quiet little powerhouse that kicks your ass as it reveals why people have to stand up and do the right thing and why investigative journalism matters.

REVENANT is a cinematic masterpiece that I need to revisit. The film is not what I expected and it kind of confounded me the first time through. I do know several things:
1- the film really needs to be seen on a big screen. Its epic scope is jaw dropping.
2- for the most part this is probably Leonardo DiCaprio's best role and for the first time since GILBERT GRAPE he deserves a nomination
3- The dialog is awful and the vocal acting is terrible. If all the dialog was removed  or of the sort of thing we couldn't understand it would be a better thing.

THE MARTIAN is great science fiction adventure film That weirdly is lacking in tension. Yes it's a great yarn, and yes I had a great time watching it, but I never really felt any danger. Yes I knew how it was going to end. I enjoyed the hell out of it and I cheered at the end, but one of the best films of the year? I think not.

27th Day

27TH DAY is a pulp red scare science fiction tale is the sort of thing they would never make today, or if they did would never come from a major studio. While on some level it’s a solid science fiction tale it’s so infused with us vs them, the commies are bad that it’s dated badly.

The plot of the film has five people abducted by aliens. They are told they come from a dying world and looking for a place to settle. Since they are incapable of killing, they give each person a vial that if opened will wipe out 3000 square miles. The box the vials are in can only be opened by the person it was given to, however anyone can open the vial. After 27 days the vials will be rendered inert. The people are then put back where they came from. One girl throws her vial into the ocean. Another woman commits suicide. The others go about life until the aliens inform the world of the vials. Two go into hiding while the Soviet soldier if grabbed and tortured for information. The Americans try desperately try to determine if the commies are going to destroy America.

Enjoyable on its own terms 27TH DAY, has gotten lost in sands of time with its red scare red baiting. The commies are very much the bad guys here and if it wasn’t for them everything would be great. The attitude is quaint and now quite laughable, though with the saber rattling behavior of the current leader of Russia it may go back into favor. Only if you get past the red menace will you have any chance of enjoying the film.

In its own way 27TH DAY is a perfect addition to all of the other serious science fiction films from the period. Closer to IT CAME FROM OUT SPACE, WAR OF THE WORLDS and other George Pal Science fiction films, 27th Day gets you thinking. If you get past the us vs them  nonsense the film raises some interesting questions about human nature. What would you do if given this ‘gift’? What do you think your government would do and what would other people do? While the answers are less clear cut then when this film was made, the questions are perhaps even more relevant than before.

I really like this film a great deal. While I’m not going to lie and say I’d put this on over something with monsters, but on a night that I wanted something headier I’d gladly put this on.

Definitely worth a look

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Big Game (2014)

If you watch the trailer for BIG GAME you're going to get the impression that it's an action packed, balls to the wall film because the trailer cuts together a good chunk of the action sequences in it's two or three minute running time. The trouble is that's not the film.

The film is nominally two stories that collide. The first is the story of Samuel L Jackson's President. He's not well liked by some people who seem him as a soft. One of the members of his staff sells him out and sets him up to be kidnapped. When the plane goes down he is found by 13 year old Onni Tommila. Onni is in the woods to find and kill an animal on his birthday. Its a test of manhood for those in his family and by all accounts he's loved but not highly thought of. Onni at first thinks Jackson is an alien, but then realizes his mistake. He takes the Jackson along as he goes hunting...and that's when the bad guys show up and Onni has to become a man and keep Jackson safe.

I suspect that anyone who saw the trailer and then the film was greatly disappointed because there isn't a a lot of action. There is tension, but outside of the plane crash sequence there really isn't any conventional action sequences until the final 20 minutes. The film as it is is actually a coming of age story.  Yes we have the whole political intrigue angle, but in actuality the film is about a boy becoming a man and bringing home the biggest game possible, the head of the free world.

I liked the film a great deal. I had read some of the reviews when it came out which kind of inferred that the film didn't work for whatever reason. Going in slightly aware that the film wasn't as advertised I let the film be what it was and was greatly rewarded. While I was disappointed  that there wasn't more action than what we saw in the trailer, I liked that the film was ballsy enough to be its own thing. I liked the the interplay between the leads. It made sense that they would end up as friends. (I also like the cynicism that marks the end of the film)

Why has this film fallen between the cracks? I really don't know. This is a solid little adventure film that is a must see for anyone tired of the same old same old crap from Hollywood.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Meet The Patels hits DVD Tuesday

Ravi and Geeta Patel's MEET THE PATEL's has been kicking around Unseen for over a year now. The film  was a big to do at DOC NYC in 2014 where several Unseen Films people saw the film, but no one wrote it up because everyone thought someone else was going to do it. I realized that there was no review at Unseen when I went to repost the review for the home video release. I could find the Q&A that Chocko shot but no actual review.

No matter, I ended up with a copy of the DVD so I could watch the film and give a report.

MEET THE PATELS is the story of Ravi and his quest for love. Actually Ravi had found love with a red head from Connecticut, but after two years of a secret relationship he wigged out at having to tell his parents about the relationship and broke it off. Ravi then found himself on a whirl wind trek to find a girl, also with the last name Patel, in order to please his parents who thought that the almost 30 ear old should finally have a girlfriend and get married. What follows is a very funny, extremely human film about searching for love, trying to please one's family and just trying to find one's self.

There is a reason that this film has been kicking around for a year and that's quite simply that it a great film. Its an utterly charming film that is full of a whole bunch of people you would want to hang out with. Yea Ravi's family and their ideas sometimes make him crazy, but at the same time his family is very much like families everywhere full of love for their own even if they cant understand why the plans they made for you aren't making you happy.

I can't recommend this film enough.

The film hits various home video platforms tomorrow and is a must see for anyone who just wants a great film.

For those wanting more on the film, below is a Q&A from the 2014 DOC NYC screening of the film,

Wedding Doll (2015) New York Jewish Film festival 2016

Hagit is a mentally handicapped young woman working in a toilet paper factory. Her mother has largely put her life on hold to care for her daughter and as a result she can be a bit over bearing. When Hagit begins to drift into a kind of romance with the boss's son things become complicated, more so when the factory is scheduled for closing.

The reason to see this film is Moran Rosenblatt's thrilling performance as Hagit. A wonderfully nuanced performance full of light and shadow this is the sort of performance that gets one noticed and calls from Hollywood and major film companies. The performance is so good that I would probably fall down in utter disbelief if I met Rosenblatt and she wasn't like her character. Equally as good is Asi Levi playing Hagit's mom, Sara.

Bittersweet though never sad, but frequently quite happy, WEDDING DOLL is a film of quiet power. Its a film that you slip into like a pair of well worn slippers. However once you are in you find that you are powerless to either take them off or not to go where they take you. I was happy to go where ever it took me and when it was done I was very curious where everyone ended up. Thats a testament to brilliant acting, great filmmaking and script that doesn't take the easy way out for anything it does.

This is one of the gems of this years New York Jewish Film Festival

WEDDING DOLL plays this afternoon and tonight at The New York Jewish Film Festival. For tickets and more information go here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Nightcap 1/24/15 Problems with Oscar, 2015 catch-up and Randi's links

The snow and the march of current events have altered what the Nightcap was going to be...
Earlier this week I had written a long piece on the Oscar So White controversy but the actions Friday of the Academy Governing Board to correct things has made it largely redundant. However there are a couple of points I still think should be made and I've cut them out of the longer piece and put them here:

Assuming we can alter the makeup of Academy, ending the overwhelming older white guy majority of the Academy to can make it ethnically and sexually diverse I think the Academy will still run into several problems which I don’t think anyone is considering. (And please understand I am playing a devil's advocate to point out future problems)

Since the balloting is secret we’ll never know who almost was almost nominated and by what margins. For all we know, everyone from a minority could miss getting nominated by a single vote. This means we could end up with all white nominations again- but it would be coming from an ethnically diverse membership pool. If that happens will that mean people will still cry racism? Or are they going to claim manipulation of the choices? Perhaps things should be less secret- or at least someone should go back and check the choices for the nominees and report back... but then if you manipulate the choices to make them ethnically diverse you then no longer have "the best"

And then there is another problem - who is to say what is the best of anything?

As far as I’m concerned the Oscars are close to a joke. We are worried about ethnic diversity but if you think about it you realize that only the films with large budgets behind them or big stars end up getting the nominations. Considering that many small films don’t have the money to mount an Oscar campaign most of the small films are getting lost. I could argue and win that the best performances simply aren’t being seen by Oscar voters. They don’t have time to see all of the small films, which are usually the ones with most of the ethnically diverse performances. There have been numerous reports in the media of Oscar voters simply not doing their home work and watching all the films. Basically unless a friend tells someone that something is good the films simply aren’t getting watched. The end result is that every year Oscar leaves people out, of every ethnicity.

How do I know? Because if the "best" films were getting seen, I wouldn’t have people throwing some truly great films at me for review in the hope of some sort of word getting out there. If you go through my pieces at Unseen you'll find a good many people who were beyond great but whom Oscar never was going to pick. Most of the films are too off beat or too small for Oscar to ever notice or acknowledge that they exist. Just this week IP MAN 3 was released in the US. The performance of Donnie Yen is one of the best I've ever seen in any film. Will he ever even be considered for an award? Not in the US, its a small release and a foreign film which no one is going to pay serious attention to- even if they see it. How many other small or foreign films contain Oscar worthy performances and technical achievements? Dozens if not hundreds, but Oscar will never see them because they are lost beyond the glitz of the big budget of the big studio films.

Oscar isn't picking the right films and even when they bring in ethnic diversity they will still be getting it all wrong.
The original plan for this week was write up some capsule reviews of films I saw but never wrote up. I never got that far....

BLACK MASS is the story of James Whitey Bolger. For a long time Johnny Depp was held to be the front runner for the Best Actor Oscar but he got shut out when the nominees came around. I think the film is really good but it's under cut by really shitty makeup jobs that looks good on absolutely no one. Its so bad that you never buy any of it making what should have been a great film just okay.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA is as computer animated as most Pixar films and outside of a couple of sequences, the storm at sea and the Whale attack, it's less alive.  What can I say. Ron Howard has made a film that reduced the story of the Essex to a dull slog. Its not a bad film by any means but quite frankly it isn't all that exciting. Having read the book it's based on made it even less exciting because I knew what happened and was thinking back to the more exciting words in the book. Not a bad film but too fake to be believed.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives a hell of a good performance in the crowd pleasing SOUTHPAW. The story of a boxing champion who goes on the skids after an incident where his wife is killed is pure Hollywood hokum, but it’s good hokum and you can’t help but get dragged along despite knowing that its all soap opera. I was moved to get a bit misty despite knowing I was being manipulated. Its sort of like a magician showing you how he’s doing the trick and still being amazed when he does it flawlessly. The real story is Gyllenhaal who gives an Oscar worthy performance (he’s better than any of the nudnicks nominated and it's going to be one of those performances that in five years everyone will wonder why he wasn't nominated). It’s a worn lived in performance that’s so good I can’t believe he was acting. It’s a must see.
A heads up- Bernard Rose's FRANKENSTEIN is coming to home video February 23rd. I saw the film back in October when the film played Scary Movies. Its a neat little rethink of the story that in some ways is closer to the Mary Shelly novel than any other version despite the modern setting. I'll remind you again closer to time, but for now here is my original review.
Randi's Links
So long you silver tongued devil
The misogyny of the Hateful 8
Fairy Tales are older than we thought
What ever happened to David Bowie's Glass Spiders set?

Carvalho's Journey (2015) New York Jewish Film Festival 2016

One of the best films at this year's New York Film Festival is one that really should be seen on the big screen. The film is a portrait of Solomon Nunes Carvalho and artist and photographer who traveled with John C. Frémont on his fifth trip into the west in 1853. It was a trip that changed the man and in some small way America as well.

This really cool film is a look back into America 160 years ago when the West was barely open and the the mixing of ethnic groups didn't really happen. At the time the fact that Carvalho was a Jew might have kept him outside of an expedition of this sort but Freemont didn't care and took then men he needed to accomplish his task. The film reveals how various ethnic groups collided in young America,including the Native Americans and the Mormons in nonjudgmental ways ways that most documentaries don't go into. It is this ability to portray America in the 1850's is one of the big joys of this film.

Another of the joys is that much of the film was shot in the American west in the places that Carvalho actually was. We see the places as they are now and in the sketches made from Carvalho's pictures. Seeing them on the big screen- really big is just awe inspiring.

But the best thing about this film is that this is just a grand adventure. Truly this is the stuff of legend. This is pure movie adventure and the sort of thing that I can't imagine has never been made into an adventure film. Its amazing to think what Carvalho and the other men went through. While we know Carvalho gets back how he does it and what he experiences is not clear to us until it happens.

I absolutely loved this film. Go see it,

The film plays tomorrow at the New York Jewish Film Festival. For tickets and more information go here

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Turbo Kid hits DVD and Bluray Tuesday

When TURBO KID played Sundance last year it was hailed as a great throw back to 1980’s or 1990’s kids films. The film was the talk of every festival I attended last year as everyone wanted to know if I had seen it yet. The word on the film was so high that I felt bad for having missed the film at every turn. When the film finally got a release in late August the film still remained outside of my view because the release was so small it came and went much too fast for me to get to it.

Of course good things come to those who wait and the film is getting released this week on home video including in a super special collectors set. More on that in a minute.

Those who were describing it as a throwback to 1980’s kids films are right one except that they left out the film is very bloody in an a wild over the top manner to the point a pin prick results in a geyser of blood. And the film is full of f-bombs, which while probably in keeping with the way people talk, is going to keep the family audience away. I say this because as I was watching this I was thinking how much my niece was going to love the film until the blood started and then I realized her mom was not going to let her anywhere near the film.

The plot of the film has a comic fan kid called the Kid who lives in a post-apocalyptic 1997 finding a power suit finding a power suit like the one worn by his favorite comic character, Turbo Man. Using the suit he battles the evil Zeus and his horde in order to keep the wastelands, and his girlfriend Apple, safe. It’s all low budget fun where everyone rides bicycles and makes interesting use of discard. As someone said it’s a no budget version of MAD MAX.

The film is also a blast.

Seriously the film works on so many different levels that it’s a truly great film. First the film manages to perfectly mirror the kids films of the 1980’s that I’m guessing the writer/directors grew up with on cable. Films like EXPLORERS, KENNY & CO, GOONIES, LABYRINTH and THE LAST STAR FIGHTER all seem to have crept into the film in one way or another. I used to catch all of the films when channel surfing back in the day and I was reminded of so many of them.

What I love about the film is this is the sort of film that a 10 or 12 year old would have come up with. It really seems that if a kid could have made a film back in say 1988,  this would have been it. Having made films when I was a kid the twists and turns and ways of coping with short comings are exactly the sort of thing that I used to do- for example since we couldn’t drive we came up with a reason to use bikes. We loved comics so we’d have a super suit. We loved horror movies so we’d have blood soak everything. And when we wanted to act older so we’d curse. It’s everything that I would have done back when I was 12.

For me everything about the film just feels right, most importantly the world absolutely makes perfect sense unto itself. So what if a couple of post 1997 things drifted into the film, it still feels right for the world the film creates.

Of course none of that would matter if the story wasn’t compelling and it is. The story is constructed in such a manner that we want to know what happens next. What is great is the film is in no way cliché. I doubt very much if you could guess most if not all of the twists. I had no clue where it as going other than the good guys were going to win, but even then I couldn’t be sure who’d survive or in what condition because people die and limbs are lost.

I love this film and my 12 year old self absolutely freaking loves the this film.

You have to see this film.


And now it’s coming to home video in a super 3 disc special edition. I've ordered mine- you should order one too.

Here's the details on the super special edition pictured above:

In addition to the main feature on both Blu-ray and DVD, the Ultra Turbo Charged Special Collector's Edition will include Bloody Wasteland: The Making of Turbo Kid, a making of the movie featurette, T is for Turbo, the original short that preceded that film, several mini documentaries, Fantasia, Gore, Stunt, Funny, The Kid, Apple, Zeus, film festival introductions from BIFFF (Brussels), Edinburgh (UK), Sitges (Spain) and 2 still Galleries including Design/On Set, Fan Art, and 'The Ride' booklet. The suggested retail price for the collection is $29.99; and is currently available for pre-order at at $19.99. The collection will be available exclusively on and directly from the filmmakers’ site:

The content included in the “Ultra Turbo Charged Collector's Edition” is:

Disc 1 - Turbo Kid - DVD - Main Feature + Commentaries

Audio Options: English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Dolby Stereo, French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles English (SDH), Spanish, French
Commentaries English, French
Disc 2 - Turbo Kid - DVD - Bonus Features

Bloody Wasteland: The Making of Turbo Kid (24 min.)
T Is For Turbo (original short) (6 min.)
Mini Docs: Fantasia, Gore, Stunt, Funny, The Kid, Apple, Zeus
Festival Introductions: BIFFF (Brussels)*, Edinburgh (UK), Sitges (Spain)*
Still Galleries (3): Design/On Set, Fan Art, 'The Ride' booklet
Official Trailer
Trailers from Epic Pictures Releasing
Disc 3 - Turbo Kid - BluRay - Main Feature + Commentaries

Audio Options: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Dolby Stereo, French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English (SDH), Spanish, French
Commentaries: English, French
Twitter: , #TURBOKID

Waves 98 (2015) Sundance 2016

"I am tired of all of the depressing stories"

Winner of the Short Film Palme D’Or at Cannes last year WAVES 98 is a mix of animation and live action that sets a definite mood and a feeling of isolation. Its a wonderful little film that really should be seen on the big screen.

The plot of the film follows Omar as he travels from the outskirts of Beirut into the city where he connects with several people but still finds himself oddly isolated.

The first thing you need to know is that the the film's official description adds all sorts of details that are not in the film. What the film is isn't quite what it's advertised to be. That isn't a bad thing since the film stands up on it's own nicely.

What sells the film are the visuals. There are numerous sequences that are just stunning.  I loved the image manipulation as things freeze- or not in frame - during Omar's scooter ride. Also some of the later pieces involving the golden elephant are just awesome to see.

This is a stunning film and definitely worth searching out-especially if you are Sundance.

Public Screening #1: Saturday, January 23, 12:00PM – (Temple Theatre, Park City)

Public Screening #2: Sunday, January 24, 12:00PM – (Redstone Cinema 7, Park City)

Public Screening #3: Tuesday, January 26, 3:00PM – (Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City)

Public Screening #4: Saturday, January 30, 8:30PM – (Holiday Village Cinema 1, Park City)

For tickets go here.

Those People (2015) New York Jewish Film Festival 2016

Coming of age tale set among the rich one percenters of Manhattan has an up and coming artist trying to find his way in the world and and in love as he finds his affections split between his boyhood friend whose father is in jail for Bernie Madoff like crimes and a slightly older concert pianist.

Great looking and well acted tale is going to play better for anyone who likes TV shows and movies about the ultra rich. My tolerance for watching poor little rich people whine and moan about their lots in life has always been rather low. I don't care about them or their problems... or rather I don't care for the trapping we see in popular entertainment since a portion of the films always seems to be concerned with the conspicuous consumption taking away from the human drama. that is the case here to some degree, however once you get past the glitz  and the formal attire the story of Charlie and his course through life is rather entertaining.

I'm in a weird place because I'm not really sure what to say beyond that.  I mean I really liked the film and I'm glad the fact that covering NYJFF forced my hand in seeing it, but at the same time I really wish that the film wasn't as beautiful to look at as it is. I wish the slickness was gone and that it was a tad rougher around the edges so that there would have been a hand hold to bring it closer to one's heart. As it is it's a good little film, worth a shot for those so inclined.

THOSE PEOPLE plays tomorrow at the New York Jewish Film Festival, For tickets and more information go here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Lesson (2015) Slamdance 2016

A bullied teacher with too much on his plate snaps and kidnaps two of his students in order to get revenge and teach them a lesson.

A surprising small scale gem of a horror film that is scary, intelligent and just damn amazing. Where the hell has this film been lurking and why the hell haven't I heard of it until now? No matter Slamdance has it and soon I suspect will the world, and we are so much better for it.

Director Ruth Platt has fashioned one hell of thrill ride that doesn't feel like any other horror film out there. Part social commentary, part torture porn, part theater piece the film has a great deal on it's mind and it manages to get it all out while making you wince and scream and feel. Its a brilliant twist on a well worn sub-genre that normally I avoid like the plague.

There is much to admire here.but the big deal here is the creation of mood and a head space. What Platt has done is assemble the film in such away that the audience is completely off it's feet, forceing them to dance and engage to get a grasp on what is going on, much like Fin who is tied to a table and forced to endure a lesson that may cost him his life. The opening sequences look like any number of socially relevant dramas coming out of the UK. There are black and white flash backs to Fin's childhood that fill in background. Right before the kidnapping the film feels like a coming of age film. The kidnapping is so low key and unexpected that you kind of have to process what we are seeing. It just happens kind of out of nowhere and is done. And then once the lesson starts the film becomes a kind of weird monologue as Mr Gale lectures and tortures and Fin drifts in and out of reality.

What amazes me is that for most of it's running time this doesn't feel like what we think of as a horror film. There is no build-up to shocks, there are no dark and scary places and all of the monsters are in plain view. I've seen the film, I've been disturbed by it but until the film moves  into the final 20 minutes this film steers away from most horror conventions. Yes the film has a bloody resolution, but at the same time the coda after the blood soaked climax is not what I even remotely expected. Platt isn't done messing with her audience's expectations until the end credits.

To be honest the film isn't perfect. There are some sequences that fall flat, a moment or two where the violence isn't handled perfectly. There are moments I admire more than I like, but at the same time the film is a kick is the chest at times as it all comes brilliantly together. It has a visceral power that gets under your skin and into your head and makes you wince- and, strangely for a horror film, think. Its a film that hung with me and which I mentioned to other writers giving them contact information for the film's producers because I was so blown away by the film I felt that I had to try and get the word out to even more people.

I suspect that the film is going to divide audiences. I know that there are a whole bunch of gore-hounds who are going to hate chunks of this film and others who are expecting typically constructed horror film who will be disappointed. However for anyone looking for a horror film that breaks the rules, that goes its own way and does so with a bravado that most other films are lacking, this film is going to be like finding a gem in the rough. This is going to be one of those films where we can note the emergence of a director who looks to be destined for great things (Note to Ruth Platt- Don't feel the need to give into studio pressure-keep following  your instincts because you were dead on here)

This is a real find. This is a genre bending blood bath that dips into the torture porn genre I hate and makes it something I love.

Highly recommended.

The film plays SLAMDANCE tomorrow the 23rd at 1030PM and on the 26th at 10AM for tickets and more information go to the festival webpage

In Brief The Rifleman's Violin(2014) New York Jewish Film Festival

Short film about violinist Stuart Canin who ended up playing for Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill during a break during the Potsdam conference.

Wonderful look at a small happening during a big event. That the film is as entertaining as it is is due entirely to Canin ho is a charming raconteur. He's the sort of a guy who you'd like to sit down with and have him tell you about his life.

Its a stunning little film and one that really should be seen- even more so since the New York Jewish Film Festival screening will be followed by a reconstruction of the performance by violinist Stuart Canin and pianist Thomas Sauer as well as an on-stage discussion with Canin; the film’s producer Abraham Sofaer; director Sam Ball; and Stanford University historian Norman Naimark. Its going to be a once in a life time event and a must see.

For tickets and more information go here

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Naz & Maalik (2015)

NAZ & MAALIK is heart felt examination of what it is to young gay closeted and Muslim in America. The film follows the story of two closeted gay teens in Brooklyn who end up colliding with the FBI when their "suspicious" behavior is noticed, putting their secretive romance in danger.

This is a very good small scale film that over comes a few bumps thanks to two central characters that you really care about. Kerwin Johnson Jr and Curtiss Cook Jr sell  their characters perfectly making you care about them the instant they appear on screen.

The film's story, based on the experiences of a room mate of the director, has a realness to it that has been missing from many recent inde films. So many directors try to spruce everything up with contrived twists but director Jay Dockendorf  simply lets the story unfold without really amping things up. More importantly he has dropped his characters into the real locations in a round the neighborhood where the film takes place. It's a detail that may not be caught by anyone not from New York, but for me it was something that made it more real and allowed me to forgive the occasional weak supporting performance.

To be honest the press material I got on the film talked about the deeper implications of the film with talk about what it means to be Muslim in our cities, but for me that wasn't important. For me what mattered was the fact that this is a good little film about real characters going through life. The social relevance placed on the film by the PR material is nice but it adds nothing to the quiet power into the well told  tale of two young men, any young men, simply trying to find their place in the world.

NAZ AND MAALIK will open in NYC at Cinema Village on Friday, January 22, and will also be available January 26th, 2016 on DVD via Wolfe Video and many major retailers, and also on VOD via and additional digital platforms.
Definitely worth your time.

Hot Sugars Cold World (2015) New York Jewish Film Festival 2016

Portrait of Nick Koenig  who records under the name of Hot Sugar. Koenig uses sound samples that he records himself as the basis for the music he makes.

While I like the music that Koenig makes I was largely bored by this fly on the wall film which follows Koenig around as he records sounds, makes music and records more sounds. We watch him inter act with various people and then record more sounds and that's about it. I'm sure that is going to be rapturous for some people but for me after about 20 minutes I tuned out and waited for something exciting to happen.

It never did.

A large part of the problem is that Koenig is a low key guy and hisspeaking voice while emotive is also very monotone. There isn't excitment in it. Worse a bunch of what he says is more teacher explaining to student, not to mention being reptative. If he explained how the sounds he records are unlike anything else one more time I ould have willed myself to go teleport to where ever he was and beat him senseless with the severed arms of the director Ho many times is he going to say the same thing in 90 minutes?

Don't get me wrong this would have been an awesome short but 90 minutes is much too much.

The film plays Saturday. For tickets and more information go here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Prescription Thugs hits theaters and VOD Friday

Chris Bell's PRESCRIPTION THUGS was one of the best films at Tribeca and one of the most important films I saw in 2015. Its a damning portrait of how the drug companies are killing us with their medicines, most of which we really don't need or which we need because we have to clear up the side effects of one drug are causing all sorts of havoc.

The film is opening Friday in theaters and on VOD and is an absolute must see. Here is the review I ran back at Tribeca.

Chris Bell's follow up to BIGGER STRONGER FASTER would seem at the start to be been there and done that look at the over use and abuse of prescription meds, but somewhere relatively early on the film takes a personal turn as Bell reveals that the film was made partly in response to the death of his brother from drugs. The film then flips again as more details are revealed.

Damning indictment of the drug industry is a deeply moving look at not only the big companies but also the addicts themselves. This is a film that does what the best documentaries do take a big subject and make it so personal that people are very likely to actually get up off their asses and do something.

I can't say enough good about this film. It really blew me away. I mean that. Consider that by the time I had seen the film I had seen 40 other festival films in two weeks, and four more earlier in the day. I was ready to walk out and go home, but I figured I'd stay and give it a try. At first I was considering how long I was going to stay only to get the thought out of my mind as Chris' brother dies and Chris looks for answers. By the end I was deeply moved, so much so I put it on our Must See List of the festival.

See this film. Even if you think you know what the deal is with the companies odds are you'll learn something new, additionally Chris' own story will move you.

One of the best films at Tribeca

Song of Songs (2015) New York Jewish Festival 2016

Very deliberate, mannered and beautifully composed love story that begins in a small Jewish village in 1905 where a young boy and girl fall in love. Years later, after leaving the village he returns on the eve of the girls wedding to another.

If you don't like art films where the films are works of art,meaning they are very mannered and very much about something then you may find SONG OF SONGS 75 minutes a tough haul. If on the other hand if  you can go with a deliberate film that uses voice overs, tableaux, and poetic dialog and allusion then you are going to have a sumptuous feast.

Reminding me of the work of Sergei Parajanov fused with the work of Tarkovsky and shot full of nostalgia, SONG OF SONGS is a frequently breath taking film. Its a kind of cinema, literary, theatrical mash up that ponders the nature of love and what we remember of it and of our lives. This last point is key since the film hinges to a large degree on the return of the boy to the village and his being confronted by the reality of life which is very much at odds with how he remembers things and his idealized view of life. Things are not how he left them or expected them to be.

As glorious as it is in moments, much of the film left me distanced from it. I could not connect to the film on an emotional level  despite fully engaging with it intellectually. I was never fully caught up with it or connected to it by my heart.  The result is I like and admire the film instead of loving it - at the same time I know the film is a work of art even if it's not fully to my liking.

SONG OF SONGS plays tomorrow at the New York Jewish Film Festival. For tickets and more information go here

In Brief: Moonwalkers (2015)

The animated opening credits are great but outside of that and rock solid performance from Rupert Grint MOONWALKERS is a bloody mess- literally.

The plot of the film has the American military worried that they won't be able to put a man on the moon so they send an over the top CIA agent (Ron Pearlman) to try and find Stanley Kubrick. Unable to do so he hooks up with the manger of a bad rock band (Rupert Grint) in the hope of staging a fake landing. However things go horribly wrong and before you know it turns into a bloodbath thanks to the interference of a variety of people.

I suppose this will be funny if you click with its stupid funny vibe, but to me this was just stupid characters doing stupid things. Somewhere about the time the lead singer in Grint's rock band started touching himself I started to drift off because it was clear everyone from top to bottom in the film is completely clueless.  It only got worse as things went along to the point the need to suspend disbelief took a turn to the point where you'd have to hit yourself in the head with a brick to accept any of this. By the time the huge shoot out occurred at the same time the fake moon landing was happening I was just shaking my head and mumbling that life was too short for this sort of crap.

This would have worked if the increased the IQ of the script by a half dozen or so points and had played it straight.As is this is a real mess and the first film of 2016 that I can say truly sucks.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

JeruZalem (2015)

There are three gates to hell-one in the desert, one in the ocean and one in Jerusalem- opening quote from the Talmud

Found footage film follows Sarah and Rachel as they travel to Jerusalem with Kevin an anthropology student they met on the plane, unfortunately this is just as the apocalypse hits. The film is told via Sarah's Google glasses like eye wear.

The first five minutes of the film that explains it all the premise behind the story is creepy as all hell. Setting a heavy mood of dread it sucks you.  These five minutes are a kind of mini movie about the first case of the dead returning to life. Its a scary little piece with a gotcha ending.

From there the film shifts gears to follow the girls as they travel to Israel.  They make some friends and things get ugly as the dead return or rather dark angels inhabit the bodies of the dead and giants walk the earth.

I have to say that to some one who dislikes the found footage genre  the  POV of the glasses is a found footage conceit  that actually makes sense. It logically and believably explains why we see all that we are seeing. While I have grown to hate the genre, I think here it works and aids in the story telling.

 I really loved this film a great deal. It kind of blindsided me from it's opening mini-movie, to its characters who aren't assholes (a rarity in found footage films), to the conceit that actually works, onward to some really "WTF was that?!" moments, this is a really good horror fantasy. It honestly and truly works on it's own merits with no need to accept anything because of the genre or anything thing else.

Is it scary? Not so much scary as very very tense. Once things get going and literally all hell is breaking loose the film keeps us on edge as we wonder what we are going to see next, zombie? demon? giant? one never knows. The result is a film that is a great deal of fun and really suspenseful.

There are a couple of minor missteps that kept me from calling the film a classic. First I don't really like the injection of humor into the film. The occasional popups of cat videos when the glasses break, music from the glasses at inappropriate times or texts from dad during sex aren't really necessary and distract from the mood that the film is creating

I'm also slightly torn about the pacing of the film. In some ways the film suffers from taking a bit too long to get into overdrive, we are over half way in before it gets crazy. While it makes up for lost time (and wonderfully moves like the wind) once things start, one can't help but ponder how much cooler this might have been if we had a bit more madness earlier. On the other hand once things do go nuts the tension is amped up because the directors took the time to give us a whole bunch of characters we  actually care about- so maybe I'm wrong- and just wanted more of the good stuff they give us in the end.

Quibbles aside this is a damn good horror film and one of the best found footage films you'll run across. Highly recommended.

JERUZALEM opens in theaters and on VOD on January 22nd.

(And no like 99.99% of the found footage films we never find out how we are seeing what we are seeing.)

How To Win Enemies (2015) New York Jewish Film Festival 2016

HOW TO WIN ENEMIES is one of those films you really can't talk about until you're talking to other people who've seen the film because the construction of the film is is one of those that twists on itself several times before you get to the ending which is in no way what you expected at the start. To be certain it's whimsical and enjoyable but not something I really can discuss.

I can tell you that the film involves an attorney named Lucas who meets a lovely young lady who spend the night and steals all his money. Not wanting to let go and knowing a thing or to because he reads mysteries he tries to get to the bottom of it all... From this point on you're on your own.

I will add that for the most part this is a really good little mystery/caper that only kind of weakens in the final minutes when it kind of rushes to a conclusion. Its an oddthing to do since the film takes its time to set everything up so the quick ending kind of disappoints.... but not much since this is a film I will happily watch again a few more times and hand off to friends once it hits DVD.


This film plays Thursday at Lincoln Center. For tickets and more information go here.

In Brief: Band of Robbers (2015)

This is a way better than it has any right to be re-imagining of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as modern day characters. Years before Huck too the rap for Tom and went to prison. He gets out of jail to find Tom is now a cop and still obsessed with the same pirate treasure he had been since he was a kid. How the search for the treasure plays out is the film.

This is a very funny and strangely charming little film. Entertaining as all get out the film is more than likely to put a big smile on your face as the crazy characters go along with the seemingly mad rantings of the grown up Tom Sawyer. While it's very clear that Tom is really close to be being bat-shit crazy, it's also clear that he is utterly charming and so smooth you completely understand why people follow him despite knowing better.

If the film has anything that could be considered a serious flaw it's its over done intention of carrying over all of the characters and iconic situations from the Mark Twain novels and having them show up somehow in the film. While it isn't a bad thing as such, the sledge hammer way in which it is done at times kind of is like gilding the lily, it isn't necessary

Still despite its over kill attitude BAND OF ROBBERS is great fun and highly recommended.

The film is currently playing in a select number of theaters but is also available on VOD from Amazon and elsewhere.

Monday, January 18, 2016

IP MAN 3 (2015)

(This review contains potential spoilers)

IP MAN 3 is proof that some series get better as they go on. A wonderful continuation of the story of Ip Man it’s a film that will delight those who have seen the earlier films but it also will work extremely well for anyone who is using this as an entry point. The film has some of the best work Donnie Yen has done both in the action department but also in creating a character. Yen is so good that if Oscar wasn’t blind to international action films he’d be in the running for Best Actor.

The film picks up in 1959. Ip man is quietly teaching his students while his son goes to school and his wife takes care of the two of them. When a foreigner land speculator and bad guy, played by Mike Tyson, tries to force the sale of a school which is key to his real estate plans Ip man is drawn into the fray. Meanwhile, Cheung, the father of Ip Man’s son's friend is trying to set up his own competing school of Wing Chun and will do anything to rise to the top

The likelihood of Donnie Yen getting nominated for an Oscar for IP MAN 3 is almost nil. Not only is it a martial arts film from China which almost instantly disqualifies it out of the box, but it’s also his third time attacking the role which Oscar also frowns upon. Never mind that Yen’s performance is one of the finest I’ve seen in any film for years, Oscar simply is going to overlook what is quite simply a fine blending of physical (and I don’t mean fighting) and vocal acting of the sort that few anywhere in the world is capable of. Yen has become one of the best dramatic actors working today.

That Donnie Yen has tuned in a performance this good is not really surprising to me. I’ve suggested to him in interviews to give up the action and just do a drama because he is too good to be doing just fighting. I know it’s a ballsy thing to do, but when you see some of his performances over the last few years you realize just how good he is. Watch his films and you too will argue for him to do more with his god given talent.

I first noticed it in BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS where his portrait of a fallen cop trying to do the right thing breaks your heart as he tries to make a better life for his kids. This carries over to IP MAN 3 where Yen’s physical presence, his looks, his gestures and even his way of standing adds weight to whatever he does. Yes, he’s the uber cool Ip Man (watch him stride into battle during the fight outside the school) but at the same time for the first time in the series we see the life going on behind the eyes. He’s not just a fighter but a man who cares about his wife, his son and friends. The fact that Yen can make us feel what he feels makes everything better.

This is especially true in the fight sequences which, when taken in the context of the story, are some of the best Yen has ever committed to film. While not as spectacular as some of the fights in his other films, they have a weight that amps up the tension to the point you move to the edge of your seat.


Because there is a potential cost to what happens as we see the violence leaves many people broken. People get hurt, and the characters really feel for each other. It’s as simple as showing the kids having black eyes at the start or the principal with a bruised face later in the film, but more of it is the intensity in Yen’s eyes and the urgency in his movements- he fears some one will get hurt or die if he doesn't act. All you have to do is watch the shipyard fight sequence or the elevator fight and look beyond the motion to see Yen’s body language and expression. Yes, he’s cool as cucumber in many ways but it’s also clear that he is concerned for his wife in the elevator fight and son in the shipyard battle. Yen’s Ip Man isn’t just fighting for himself, he is fighting to protect that which he loves and holds most dear (a thought reinforced by the final line of the film).

If you want to know how important the emotional connection is to making the fight sequences better compare any of the Ip Man battles with the rapid fire fight sequences that his friend Cheung has with the heads of the various martial arts schools. The fights while spectacular  and more flashy than some of the Ip Man fights have much less weight. This is because we are not invested in them, partly because Cheung is a secondary character but also because there is nothing at stake. If he wins it’s a matter of pride it, it’s not to save the life of a loved one, which is the stakes Ip Man is always fighting for.

You want to cheer at the end of each of Ip Man's fights. The satisfaction that we feel at the end of any of the fights is why the truly great action films are more than ballet of motion. While I know seeing the fights out of context would be exciting, they don't measure up to seeing them in the context of the film, where we know the characters and back story which lifts them up. Its kind of like watching the chase in BULLIT with Steve McQueen, yes it’s a great piece of cinema that is frequently screened on it's own, but when you see it in context, with the back story of the characters and the tension of the plot attached it becomes something truly magnificent.

Despite being the best film in the series IP MAN 3 does have its share of problems. Chief among them is that the film has no conclusion to any story line other than the one concerning Ip Man’s wife's illness. The Mike Tyson story line literally stops when the fight between Yen and Tyson does. Seriously the fight doesn't conclude, it just stops. I know it's a spoiler to say this but the pair have a kick ass 3 minute fight that just stops with both parties walking away from each other. It’s an odd moment, but  you think it will play out later but it never does.  From that point on the film ignores that whole plot line and instead focuses on Cheung's‘s quest to be the Grandmaster of Hong Kong. It’s a plot line that goes until the battle between Ip and Cheung and when that's done the film just ends right there. Its a weird way to end the film that makes you feel like you’ve missed something.

When the film ended a bunch of us stood outside the theater talking about the weird way the film ends. As we all discussed what we thought we all had the feeling there is going to be another film in the offing. Additionally despite our feelings toward how it all ended we all were chomping at the bit to see the film again because we all enjoyed it so much we didn’t care about any flaws we just wanted to see the great film again.

I should probably mention Mike Tyson. If you're looking for him to be in the film for a large amount of time, you're going to be disappointed. He's in the film for perhaps ten minutes but his presence is felt all through out, so it was right to cast him in the role, His performance is uneven with some of his dialog dubbed in by a voice that doesn’t match his normal voice. But he fights like like hell and I'd love to see a rematch with Yen that runs longer. (The fight between Tyson and Yen is responsible for  some continuity goofs such as Tyson punches out a series of windows which are miraculously unbroken after the fight.)

This is the first film that's going on my lists for the best films of 2016, certainly for Donnie Yen's performance if not for the film as a whole.

An absolute must see- especially on the big screen.

The film gets a limited theatrical release Friday and is being released on VOD-but seriously if you can see it big with big sound make it a priority-its a trip and then some.

Sundance 2016: VIVA (2014) plus some reports of films we've already seen

Jesus is a a gay young man working as a hairdresser. He also spends time doing the hair in a drag club. Jesus would like nothing better than perform himself. One night when Jesus performs he finds that his father, just out from prison is in the audience. He father slugs him.  His father then works his way back into his son's life moving into his apartment and trying to reconnect with Jesus, despite not approving of his son's sexual orientation nor life style.

Melodramatic and predicable turns of the plot are easily wiped aside by a cast that hits every note dead on perfect. We are moved by the characters and their plight because the actors manage to sell the story beyond what the script deserves. Because of the cast the film has a real lived in feel. I don't know when I've seen a cast this good in the last five or ten years.

I really liked this film a great deal. It's one of those films that will move you deeply and by the time the end credits roll have you wiping tears from your eyes from it's bittersweetness.

The film is playing at Sundance Friday Saturday and Monday and is a must see. (Ticket info here)

I'm told the film has been picked up by Magnolia for US release and I'm expecting a big release and a long life.
Also playing at Sundance are some films which we saw back at the New York Film Festival this past October:
Cemetery of Splendor
Maggie's Plan
Miles Ahead
The Lobster

I should mention that I'm hoping to get some on the ground reports as well as reviews up once things happen. Keep checking back because some wonderful things may happen

I Don't Belong Anywhere:The Cinema of Chantal Akerman (2015) New York Jewish Film Festival 2016

Stunning portrait of Chantal Akerman makes it hard to believe she just died since this film includes the director editing her last film NOT A HOME MOVIE and she seems to be in excellent health even if she smokes like a chimney. It's a brief film full of clips and talking heads, including actors who worked with her and the directors she influenced.

In the last year and a half I've been bumping a lot into Chantal Akerman's work a great deal. There have been numerous articles I've read, documentaries I've seen and her films to consider. Some of the cinema I've talked about here at Unseen and some I've just let slide because it didn't spark anything in me. While seeing all of the films material on and from Akerman has given me a respect for what she did, it never made me a fan because let's face it some of her films are an acquired taste- NOT A HOME MOVIE being a perfect example.

I DON'T BELONG ANYWHERE on the other hand makes me want to go back and retry some of Akerman's films films again. While I am not certain I will feel as wondrous about her films I suspect I will understand them a bit better.  At the same time there is nothing like having the people she worked with explain to you what they got from working with her or having  director who stole from her explain why she was so influential. For me the film was full of all these "AH HA!" moments that made me sit up and begin to reassess what I had seen in the past. For me this is the point where all the dots concerning Akerman came together.

This is a great film on a respected filmmaker. Its so good that I when I was watching the film I stopped taking notes and just let the film go. I didn't want to miss anything.

If you are a fan of Akerman or have any interest in her films or her influence then you must see this.

The film plays NYJFF on the 20th. For tickets and more information go here

The film will also be playing this spring at the Film Forum

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Nightcap 1/17/16:On the Oscar nominations, See AFERIM! this week and avoid MOJAVE, things heat up, the Oxford FIlm Festival is impressing me, where Unseen is going and Randi's links

The Oscar nominations are out and well, they are bland.

Everyone is complaining about the lack of ethnic diversity but since the nominations are not decided by one person and are the top vote getters  it's kind of hard to know who lost out and by what margin. I don't know if adding anyone will change the predicted outcome other than to make some people feel that at least the choices weren't color blind before the winners were all white.

And I don't want to go off on how Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara are on screen for pretty much the entire time in DANISH GIRL and CAROL and are up for Best Supporting Actress. Great performances but they are the leads, especially Mara since it's her story.

I'm unimpressed by most of of the noms, though I am impressed that they once more picked two choices for best animated films from GKids. To me its clear proof that sometimes Oscar really does care about the best films.
I want to note two films that are coming out this week

AFERIM! was a great adventure from Turkey I saw at Tribebca. Its trip about two constables tracking down a run away gypsy. Its funny and touching and  one that will open your eyes to another sort of life. Its just great.

MOJAVE is shit. Yes it has Oscar Isaac and endlessly quotable dialog but it has some of the stupidest plot twists ever. Its the story of a serial killer tussling with an actor and none of it makes any sense. I know you'll want to go because of Isaac, who is great, but trust me it really sucks.
And now things will be getting busier…

At this point we’re going to shift into busy time until next December, with festival "season" hitting over drive as Sundance and Slamdance start up this week.

Yes we are going to have some coverage of both festivals in the offing. I have a few reviews already scheduled and I’m waiting on access to a few more films as well. I also have someone on the ground who is looking to send some stuff your way. I won’t jinx it by saying more than that.

And if that isn’t enough I have another 8 days of reports from the New York Jewish Film Festival plus additional reviews of new releases dropping including the awesome IP MAN 3 (tomorrow).

Keep reading because we'll keep posting.
I want to remind you that after the “dances” the Oxford film Festival is happening in Mississippi. The organizers are lovely, the filmmakers are accommodating and based upon what I’ve seen the films are incredible, espeically the shorts which I've been overdosing on. I still have a good number of films to go, but this very well maybe the best programmed festival I’ve run across.

For more information and tickets go here.
As you no doubt know things are slowly  changing around here at Unseen Films. We've made a couple of small changes behind the scenes and we're working on more changes in front of the scenes, so things are happening.

One of the things I've wanted to do with Unseen is stop flailing about and trying to find out where we really belong. Over the last couple of years, and this last year in particular, I've tried to chart where Unseen was heading with the intention of having it make money and getting us more "respect". I wanted to find a way to make the site to be considered one of the big guys...

While I'm still working on getting the site to make some money, I'm giving up trying to have the site get some respect, largely because I've come to realize that for better or worse we already have it.

No we aren't a big deal. No matter what we're likely to do we are rather a small deal but we are a solid small deal. We have some faithful readers, we are on the radar of many people outside our regular readership to the point people know who we are and our reviews are being noted here and there (say movie trailers and DVD  cases).

No we aren't one of the big names, but when it comes to highlighting small films and festivals we are a site that is helping to get the word out. For better or worse there is is a reason that when we do festival coverage that our readership triples and why our coverage of small films end up coming back around when the films get larger releases- people do take what we do seriously.

To that end I'm going to do less chasing of the big stuff, it will show up here as it crosses our paths, but I think, for now we'll stay in the inde track and follow the festivals where they lead.
And now Randi's links

10,000 sparklers
Stop Motion Animator
A David Bowie story
Stan Lee can't read comics any more
Pepsi Year of The Monkey Video
George Clinton remembers David Bowie
Oscar upsets
The most brilliant moments of Alan Rickman's career
Is ghetto now a racist word
Views from and of space
Best Picture nominees that time has forgetten
If you haven't see the WIZARD OF OZ in word order yet
For those curious as to how many films I see a year- my count is 53 features and 30 shorts (which I'm reviewing hence mentioning) through the first 15 days of January. The question always is how many films do I see not how many new films.

I will be periodically up dating the totals through the year.