Monday, February 29, 2016

SHORTS 1 and SHORTS 2 at The New York International Children's Film Festival 2016

I saw the first two collections of shorts at NYICFF this weekend and I thought they are absolutely wonderful. If there are any weak ones it's only because they are mixed with so many high caliber shorts.

I'm going to do one post for both collections and say a brief word about all the films.


A truly beautiful film about a young boy talking about his relationship with this family, with nature and one cherry tree in particular that symbolizes the bonds in the family. Its very moving.

A cat goes after a canary. Its essential a shaggy dog story with a great sting in the tail, Don't give up until you get to the end.

Wonderful short about a girl talking about her brother who is Autistic. I had seen it at DOCNYC and was moved and seeing it again I was moved again.

A man finds unwanted guests in his home. A funny little trifle.

The friendship of a caterpillar and a frog and how its changed my the changes they go through to adults. This was one of the most loved films in the series but the ending kind of made many people rethink what they felt.

The story of a man who lived on stilts. This is one of those films that gets better, way better,the more you think about it. My notes indicate that I liked the film not loved it, but the more I think about it the more I think it's truly great.

A minute long song about food. Cute.

The life of a mountain over the course of centuries both here and in space. Its a clever look at history.

A young girl goes to the zoo and takes a shine to a gorilla. I smiled so damn much my face hurt. I adored the young girl doing the gorillas hair and I was chuckling gleefully when she gave the gorilla Tarzan. I can not say how much I love this film.

A mother grows her hair as she watches her children grow, A great looking film that didn't really click with me.

A woman, a boxer, her cat and his goldfish. The least film in the either shorts collection just sort is there.

A young boy misses his father and doesn't get the changes in his family. Its really good up to a point, but it kind of stops rather than ends. I really wanted this to go somewhere more since there is a point where it just stops and you go "and the point of this is? And where are the people who should be chasing him?".


Another story about a change in a family. In this case a mother has her new boyfriend move in. He just happens to be a giant bird. Its good intellectually, nay its great intellectually but it has no emotional connection to the audience.

A boy tries to make time with a girl he meets. Wonderful film about the male female dynamic seems to be heading toward a cringe worth ending when it flips it around and you realize what was making you cringe was no place and the denouncement is dead on and real. I loved this.

Good film from Japan about why you shouldn't constantly listen to people as a man and his son go to sell a donkey and instead of sticking to their guns get caught up with what people say about them

Sweet little film about a bird falling for a badminton shuttlecock. A joy that flips and flips and flips in all of three minutes,

A man, a rooster and pull chain, Think the most unhinged animation you've ever seen (say Tex Avery on acid) and then square it and perhaps you'll have some idea about this gloriously funny film that had tears literally rolling down my cheeks, Its sheer madness and I freaking loved it. (I would explain it but you wouldn't believe me)

This is movie magic. An animated documentary about the puppets used for stop motion. This is as magical as movies get. I can't explain the OH WOW factor as the doc goes on and the puppets come to life. One of the most magical things I've ever seen.

Shy Lilou sits at a cafe and has tea with her cat having a hard time interacting with anyone. But a magical ribbon makes her feel people's emotions.

A calling card for director Rawan Rahim, who gives us some of the most beautiful character design and animated motion I've ever seen (no really). Stills do not to this film justice which is a heart warming little film. Forget film, this is a work of art of the highest order. This is an animated masterpiece by a young woman who needs to have the funds to do a feature film. I can only imagine what sort of joyous thing will come of her being able to really let go. There is a realness to her characters both inside and in their outward appearance. There is an understanding that transcends typical animated characters to be something else all together. My words can not do this film justice. If there is any justice Rahim will get backing be able to do something more wonderful that will change the way people see animation. (Forgive me I want to wax poetic about her lines and coloring and all these things but you don't need that you just need to know it's great)

Two robbers devise aplan to use cats to help rob a little old lady. A great deal of fun film from the directors of PHANTOM BOY and A CAT IN PARIS. This is a perfect example of telling a story in exactly the right amount of time. Running 6 minutes it runs out the caper and ends on a near perfect note,

HAlf hour adventure has Cowboy and Indian going to school after summer break and trying to win a trip to the moon. Funny film in the Panic series is entertaining. I think some of the other films in the series are better, but at the same time this is a lot of fun

Story of a little kid named William Boston and his friend Chester who is a scorpion. Part shaggy dog story, part stand up comedy routine this is a funny little trifle

Both collections have multiple screening this weekend and next and I highly recommend you go see them. For tickets go here

GORED (2015) hits home video tomorrow

I saw GORED last year at Tribeca and was really impressed. This excellent little film. It was one of the best at Tribeca. Sadly it got lost in the shuffle. With the 100 or so feature films screening  at Tribeca this film was never one that got talked about after the festival ended, and that's a major shame since this  portrait of a man engaged in a dying art is truly something special. Its a film that sucks you in and drags you along. Its a film that makes you care about Antonio Barerra even if you are an animal lover because there is something about the man that demands your respect (even if you suspect he's crazy). Now with the film coming out on home video tomorrow you too can discover the wonders of this great film.  Here's my  review from Tribeca in the hope of getting you to see it:

Let me begin with two warnings. If you are easily grossed out stay away, the nastiness in this film will make you wince. Additionally if you are an animal lover stay away since this portrait of a dying sport will make you angry. Also be aware I'm not going to talk about the morality of bullfighting. I'm not going to discuss the cruelty of it. I'm just going to talk about the film.

GORED is a portrait of bullfighter Antonio Barerra, a man best known as the most gored bullfighter ever. We watch as Barrera prepares for his final bull fight and we look back over his life.

Biography meets hypnotic journey this portrait of a man in danger sucks you in and drags you along. The early portion of the film which involves a lot of talking heads gives way to the second half footage of Barerra's fights. The fight footage is filled with both the wounds that Barerra suffered but also the beauty of bullfighting. Knowing full well that I may get brick bats thrown at me I have to say that there is a beauty in the motion of the matador dancing with the bull. Partly it's the suit, partly its the motion of the human body and partly its the metaphor of man and nature that makes it something hypnotic to watch.

I really liked this film a great deal. There is something about the experience of seeing this film and how it portrays a fading way of life that is truly special. While animal lovers are going to have problems with a film that portrays a man who kills animals for a living as noble, the film is ultimately extremely compelling.

Actually in thinking about it I don't know really how to discuss the film, My reaction to the film is not intellectual but emotional. Looking at my notes I found that there is a great deal not said in the film, yet at the same time the film is much more compelling than many other more detailed films. The imagery and the few words in the film are enough to create a unique and emotional experience.

Definitely one of the better films at this years Tribeca. Its recommended for anyone with an interest.

GORED be available on BluRay/DVD, as well as, digitally released on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu, throughout North America, Latin America, Spain and the United Kingdom on March 1, 2016.

For those wanting more on the film - Hubert reviewed the film last year for Ruby Hornet and his thoughts can be found here.

Tarzan's Revenge (1938)

When is a Tarzan film almost not a Tarzan film?

Odd ball Tarzan film that was released by Fox and produced by Sol Lesser who would take over the series for RKO when MGM would give it up.This is one of the films produced because of the convoluted rights issues that Edgar Rice Burroughs created by signing deals with various producers in the silent days. MGM of course was not happy but considering the film is barely remembered except by Tarzan fans and people who find it in the bargain bins history has had it's revenge.

Lesser had wanted to cast Lou Gehrig in the lead but cast Glenn Morris, an Olympic athlete as the ape man instead. As his Jane he cast Eleanor Holm, an Olympic swimmer who was so popular that he changed Jane's name to Eleanor. Morris would have one more on screen appearance but for Holm this was the only time she'd be on screen.

The film has Eleanor and her family going into the jungle to collect animals for zoos. They have no cages and nothing to catch the animals with, only rifles, which one of their party uses to kill anything he can. Eleanor is engaged to a wimpy guy with very little back bone, Why she is with him is beyond anyone. While on the boat into the jungle Eleanor comes to the attention of a rich Arab with 100 wives. He likes her fire and wants to add her to his harem. Fleetingly Tarzan appears and somehow romances Eleanor.

While not the worst Tarzan film ever made this film is no gem.  Its a big screen formulaic film cranked out of the studio system. You can feel the basic Tarzan plot being added to and modified by studio hacks who decided to retread the Tarzan meets Jane story one more time rather than come up with something great or even watchable- I mean not a hell of a lot happens.

The real question is why did they make a Tarzan film where he barely appears?

Half way into the film there is one meeting with Eleanor and some fleeting shots of him, but you could cut them out and you'd never know it was about the ape man. I'm guessing the studio heads were hoping that Eleanor Holm would decide to stay in pictures and they'd have a pre-made star. She is after all not a bad actress. The problem is she was one and done, and this film didn't help her cause not because she's bad but because the movie is.

This movie really is crappy. Its more dull than  anything else. It sets up all sorts of possibilities in the first couple minutes and than dumps them for people wandering around the jungle.

You're probably wondering why after 28 days of Tarzan films I'd choose to end with a clunker. The reason has less to do with quality and more to do with the fact that this was one of the few films that actually competed with the MGM series.  I had previously done THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN which Edgar Rice Burroughs made himself so that left  the remake of TARZAN THE APE MAN from 1960, which I was too lazy to track down (sorry it's true) or TARZAN THE FEARLESS which starred a young Buster Crabbe as Tarzan and which wasn't remotely interesting enough to sleep through again.  Seriously I've seen the feature version a couple of times and I've fallen asleep every time. I kept thinking it was because it was late and I was tired but I finally saw it one afternoon and promptly fell asleep.  The upshot of all of that the only film left was REVENGE.

And now we return to new releases and lots of festival coverage.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Day Three at The New York International Children's Film Festival 2016

I am going to do reviews of everything and they will hit this week. Right now just an over view of the day. And the goodies I saw.

The day opened with a surprisingly sold out screening of SHORTS ONE.  Who would have thought an 11am screening on a Sunday would pack them in but they did. I'll be reviewing all the films but I wanted to point out a couple of films that make the collection a must see-

ZOO STORY is about a young girl who becomes fascinated with a gorilla. I loved it, especially since the girl gives the gorilla a copy of Tarzan to read.  I also loved TWO FRIENDS, as did most of the audience until the denouncement which caused rumblings through the auditorium.
Rawan Rahim the director of the incredible LILOU

After the shorts I booked to get lunch and came back for SHORTS TWO. Its a another winning collection. I sat  next to the director of LILOU Rawan Rahim during the screening. In our brief chat she was absolutely wonderful. I will wax poetic when I do full reviews but you have to see her film. Its AMAZING. The delicate line work and images are beyond words. Stills do not do the animation justice. I want her to do a feature. I really do.

I also loved STEM a documentary about the brief lives of animation puppets. And I have to mention TWO LEFT FEET which has one of the best denouncements and flips I've seen in a long time. Its beautiful as what you think is cringe worthy moment is revealed to be something else.
Festival Director Nina Gurlnick and LILOU director Rawan Rahim
Between the films I spoke with Nina Gurlnick about the festival and stuff. I introduced my self and she said she knew who I was. That's a scary thought because its one of those statements that could be taken as a good thing or a bad thing. She pointed out that she knew my bag. Ms Rahim came over and Nina introduced me calling me the festivals "number one fan and biggest supporter". I corrected her and said I was the number one crazy.(Forgive me I am overly enthusiastic toward the festival and I fear it's overly annoying- but trust me it comes from love). I got a picture of the two ladies together,
Nina Gurlnick gets everyone to stand for t-shirts before BEYOND BEYOND

The third screening was BEYOND BEYOND a Danish film about a boy whose mother was carried off by the Feather King. He ends up on a quest to rescue her. The kids around me loved it. I and many of the adults around me got lost in the darkness of the tale (its an allegory about death). I have a great deal to say about it so a full review is coming.

The final film of the day was APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD (though the onscreen subtitle said the "Twisted World"). Set in an alternate world where the steam age never ended and France is at war with the US for its forests, the plot concerns the disappearance of scientists and the titled April, who's parents go missing and her years long quest to find them. Its a grand adventure that gets better the longer it goes. Again this is one I have a great deal to talk about so a full review is in order.

After 8 hours in the trenches I headed home.

Look for reviews all week. More reports next weekend and click on the NYICFF 2016 tag to see everything we've reviewed or reported.

Nightcap 2/28/16 Rendez-Vous With French Cinema starts this week, Why don't we really cover news and Randi's links

This week the annual Rendez Vous With French Cinema begins. The series brings some of the best films from France to the United States. Running from the 3rd through the 11th the film is going to give anyone with a love of things French much to see and enjoy.

I’m sorry that sounds like advertising copy. That wasn’t my intention. I really like the series and over the years its brought me a great deal of joy as I’ve discovered a whole slew of great films that have become close to my heart. This really is a great series where you can find some great films.

Over the years our coverage has been up and down. Some years we got to a whole bunch of films and some years we got to only a single title. Its not for lack of love, rather it scheduling conflicts. Rendez Vous always collides with the great spring awakening of the New York film world and I end up pulled in four different directions. This year our coverage is only going to be three or four films simply because that’s all we could get to.

But you all don’t have my schedule so you have no excuse. To get tickets and for more information go to the Festival webpage here.
Just a heads up the Jason Sudekis romantic comedy TUMBLEDOWN is hitting home video on April 5. Those of you who haven’t seen it yet will get your chance when it it hits Bluray and DVD. (The film is currently in theaters and streaming)
Why doesn’t Unseen really cover film news?

It’s a question that I never really had to answer because pretty much most people reading don’t care. People aren’t coming to us for news. Yes we’ve covered news, yes I’ve posted press releases for film festivals such as the New York Asian Film Festival, Oxford or several other small fests. Yes I will post information on events that run across our desks, but to be quite honest anything that I post is getting pushed because we find it cool. These are events, or festivals that we find really cool. They are stuff that either we are going to cover or wish we could. And yes occasionally we do favors for friends and get newsy stuff up.

I was thinking about the question of covering news because of a couple of things that happened. First Lesley Coffin is putting together a new film site and it is expressly not going to have film news on it. Her attitude is that there are so many other sites simply reporting the news that another one isn’t necessary. Its an attitude I agree with and based on the readership numbers can back up. The other reason I’ve been thinking about it is because a couple of friends who work for other websites are now cranking out news pieces which simply parrot other sites and even simply link to the other sites. While they do catch stuff I miss, the deeper I get into Unseen the more news I miss, most of the stories are things I’ve seen elsewhere. While I understand why the pieces are going up-it’s a combination of click bait to reveal to advertisers that there are readers, and more importantly each piece means that they get a pay check, its not something I want to do with Unseen,

As much as I would love to get new readers, getting them via stories that they probably read elsewhere is pointless since I doubt most people who cared about BATMAN/SUPERMAN are going to care about the inde and foreign films
And now lots of links from Randi

John Hurt reads Dr Who speeches
A traveling Winnie the Pooh exhibit
Ricky Jay's Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Another piece
Sophie Tucker
Death Changes How You Think
The Legacy of The Good The Bad and The Ugly
Miyazaki confirms a fan theory
The director of BOY AND THE WORLD speaks
Music to soothe cats
Supernatural dolls
The Modern Adventures of the Solos
Lipreader deciphers whats said in WW1 footage
Ryan Reynolds crashes Hugh Jackman's junket 
Best review Ever?
Steve Martin did Stand up for the first time in 35 years
Ten hours of Looney Tunes
What I learned on the Appalachian Trail

Tarzan and the Jungle Boy (1968)

The end of the line for a film series that stretched back to 1931 and TARZAN THE APEMAN. Its a sad end and probably the weakest film in the entire run.

The film has Tarzan being dragged into help try and track down the son of a missing geologist by some reporters who parachute into the jungle to find him. Along the way they come up against an evil native who wants to seize control of his tribe.

I kind of shut off early when we see the young boys father trying to keep a leopard cub in the sleeping bag of his sleeping son. My twee alarms were going off.  More alarms went off when the reporters dropped in on Tarzan with full on 1960's fashion in place and when we saw Rafer Johnson competing in tribal events that looked exactly like the Olympic events he won his medal for.

For me the film just doesn't work. Its too choppy and blocky and it suffers from the fact that the film is, like the others starring Mike Henry, thrashing about in an effort to be about something and to find it's way in the Tarzan sequence.

Admittedly the film has it's problems due to the trouble in shooting but even so the film never wholly works. Shot with the previous films in close proximity to each other (all three were done before CITY OF GOLD was released) Henry walked away from the film and the starring role in the TV series because he had had enough of the jungle dangers. I would like to think that he also did it because the films didn't really work. I'm guessing the producers were eyeing the TV series more than the films which suffered as a result.

While not an complete disaster, this isn't a film you'd really want to watch. It's more a time killer than a time passer and its the sort of thing I'll watch when nothing else is on TV rather than something I'd put on TV to watch.

A whimpering end to a great film series.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

NYICFF 2016 Day 2: MOLLY MONSTER (2016) plus a note on the GIRLS POV COLLECTION

An early day at NYICFF and only one movie. (Not to worry I'm going heavy tomorrow whit two features and two shorts programs.
Nina Gurlick tries to toss t-shirts to a sleepy audience
I have to give a huge amount of apologies for saying that Nina Guralnick didn't quite whip up the crowd last night, I think the crowd was overly subdued. I say this because I watched her kick ass in her intro today for MOLLY MONSTER only to have the audience not really be into the t-shirt toss. If the crowd isn't leaping then the problem is with them since the line "who wants a t-shirt" kind of hung in the air exactly like bricks don't (apologies to Douglas Adams). It was watching the crowd today that I realized Gurlick has what it takes and is now the uber cool t-shirt mistress. (I just hope the next bunch of audiences wake up and have fun)

Before the feature they ran a short called OCTOPUS about an Octopus trying to bake a cake but one of it's tentacles wants a chocolate cake so it becomes a battle for what kind of cake it's going to be. Its an absolute joy and it had everyone in the audience roaring with laughter.

MOLLY MONSTER is based on a German TV series about Molly, her best friend Edison (a wind up toy), her parents, her uncles and the people where she lives.  As the film opens Molly is going to be a big sister. Her mother has aid an egg and her mom and dad have gone off to Egg Island to hatch the egg. Molly had hoped to go but she's deemed too young so her uncles come to stay with her. However things go sideways when Molly realizes that the hat she knitted for her sibling was left behind. Molly and Edison then head off to find Egg Island with the hat while everyone else tries to find Molly.

Great to look at film is going to play best for the under eight crowd. I say this begrudgingly because the pieces, the songs the jokes and the basic plot are all really good (come on there are fart jokes and a song tells the audience to pick their nose it doesn't get better than that) but somehow the bits don't hang together. It's as if they came up with all of these pieces that are Molly's trip, but they couldn't completely stitch them together to make a satisfying whole, I love every piece of the film but it doesn't connect up.

That said the kids absolutely loved it.

The film has two more play dates one on each of the next two weekends and it's worth seeing if you have little kids. Tickets can be had here.
The GIRLS POV COLLECTION is a retrospective of  shorts from the last ten years. Until I saw the program book last night I didn't know what they are showing and now that I know I have to say it's a great collection. I've seen all but one of the films and this is as good a collection as you are likely to see. Never mind if you're not a girl, this is a just a great collection of short films across the board.

The collection plays on the March 5th and 20th and is absolutely worth your time. For tickets and more information go here.
And with that I bid you good night. I have some rest to get since I'm doing heavy lifting tomorrow with a full day at the festival.

Monster Hunt (2015) New York International Children's Film Festival 2016

MONSTER HUNT has the distinction of being THE  box office blockbuster in China. One of the highest grossing and fastest earning films ever, the film played a brief run across the US in January and now is getting a couple of return dates at NYICFF.

The plot of the film has the queen of the monster kingdom fleeing into the realm of men in order to give birth to the rightful heir. It seems that once the king died the throne was usurped and the new king tried to kill the queen, the soon to be born heir and anyone helping them. Meanwhile in the world of men word of the arrival of the queen and heir has reached a man who specializes in serving monster based food dishes. Dispatching an army of monster hunters he hopes to catch the monsters and serve them. In a remote village the mayor ends up pregnant with the queen's baby and ends up being chased himself.

This is a film that has one of the messiest plots ever to grace the screen. Truth be told that almost nothing makes sense, even on it's own terms, and yet because so much is flung with abandon at the audience the film actually manages to get some sort of traction in the second half. In all seriousness there is so much going on here that is only half explained that in the screening I saw I found not only myself but several other people were talking to the screen. By the time the film hits the halfway mark you stop asking questions and just go with it. (And I won't list the things they don't explain because we'd be here for two weeks)

That the film works despite the mess is a testament to the characters, both human and monster. We care about what happens on screen because we care about the characters. Say what you will about the screenwriters they may have used a blender for the plot but they crafted some great characters. I love them all and I find the little prince absolutely adorable. (and the film ends with a monster dance number)

I also love the darkness and adultness in the story, there are pregnancy jokes, one of the monsters is tricked by getting him aroused (not to worry it done so the little ones won't catch on), monsters seemingly  die horribly in the kitchen and people get hurt. This is a family film that trusts its audience to be able to handle adult things and it makes things so much better.

The film is playing at The Children's Film Festival in a subtitled and 3D version. When I saw the film in January I saw it dubbed into English and 2D. I'm not sure what, if anything was changed for the dub, but it seemed fine.  And while the film looked good in 2D there were time in the second half where I really wished I had seen this in 3D. The sense of place in the kitchen and during the climatic battle really would have looked cool popping out of the screen.

Is the film worth seeing?

Yes. As I said it has some great characters, some great monsters and the action sequences are excellent. The kids in the audience ate this film up and were laughing all the way through. The adults seemed to be like me and liked it more the later it got into the film.

The film plays tomorrow at NYICFF and it has one more screening on the 12th. For more information and tickets go here.

Tarzan and the Great River (1967)

The Tarzan series is winding down with the one entry that was all over the Medved's Golden Turkey Award and 50 Worst films books.

You remember those don't you? They were the books that proclaimed PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE the worst film of all time and Ed Wood the worst director. Neither is of course true. The books were an easy way for lazy film fans to dabble in cinematic badness and seem hipper than their friends. The books were fun reads but if you actually read the books you realized what absolute shit they were. Seriously they were. If you need proof consider that no one talks about them any more, the result of their pre- home video ramblings of half remembered films have been proved to be dead wrong in many things like plot and the quality of films.

That said this is one of the blander entries in the Tarzan series. Its the result of too many plot points we've seen before and a drive to be more spectacular over the need to tell a great story.

The plot has Tarzan summoned to Brazil to look into a jaguar cult in the jungle with is raiding villages and killing or enslaving the people. The authorities don't know they reason since anyone they send to find out disappears. In desperation they send for Tarzan who they feel is the only one who could stand a chance of surviving long enough to find out whats going on.Along the way he picks up a beautiful doctor and a boat captain with his young friend. The captain is played by comedian Jan Murray to mixed effect.

This is a spectacular film that looks fantastic in its on location setting. It looks like they spent a penny or two with shooting in real places. If the film flounders by inserting a shot of hippos in a Brazilian river it can be forgiven with a chuckle.

The real problem here is the script and the pacing. There isn't any thing we haven't seen before. Things just sort plod along with stock characters that have played out in earlier variations in the series and in film history. It would be fine but the pace is slack and the action sequences, which could have been exciting seem to have been put together with no real sense of urgency so some of the final battle between Tarzan and Barcuna the head of the cult comes off as 'eh"  in stead of "OH YEA".

While not the absolute worst in the series it's kind of clear things were coming to an end. In truth there is a reason that the film is better known for the tale of Henry and the Chimp  rather than for the film itself.

(For those who don't know Mike Henry was bitten by Dinky the chip and severely injured. He end up with monkey fever for three weeks and the animal had to be destroyed)

Opening Night at NYICFF 2016 BOY AND THE BEAST

The New York Children's International Film festival is underway and I can stop bouncing in anticipation. Seriously I have been anticipating it's arrival as children anticipate a trip to Disney World.

But I'm better now that it's underway....

I have to say at the start that I missed Eric Beckman's introduction and welcoming of the great masses of children of all ages.I mean no offense but after almost two decades of his presence not having him on opening night is like a movie without popcorn There was nothing wrong with the head of the festival Nina Guralnick doing the honor but it was a tad too restrained and gentile. That's fine but you want a shark like feeding frenzy when your diving for t-shirts and the kids were loud but not ready to kill each other for free swag.

The evening began with a short called PLAYFULNESS from the SHorts for Tots block. It was a very good music video that made you want to get up and dance.

The Opening feature was Mamoru Hosada's THE BOY AND THE BEAST about Ren, a young boy who slips between the human and beast worlds after his mother dies and he ends up being trained by Kumatetsu, a bear like beast, who is in line to become the leader of the beast world. The film charts Ren's life over ten years.

The film is another masterpiece from Hosada, who is churning out deeply moving films seemingly ith the greatest of ease. Not even Studio Ghibli has hit four solid home runs out of the park four times at bat.

It plays, as Hubert says, like a mix of SPIRITED AWAY, KARATE KID, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and five or six other things. Not that you'd know because Hosada has mixed them together into something that is truly unique. Its all in his characters which lift up the cliche or riffs to a level where every couple of minutes you find you're tearing up.

One of the best films of 2016, look for this to be Oscar nominated next year. I would swear it would win, but that would only have happened if Pixar, Dreamworks or Disney had made it.

The film is not playing again at NYICFF, but is being released in March from Funmation

And now if you don't mind I'm going off to bed because I'm tired. Its been a long day.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Case of Hana and Alice (2015) NYICFF 2016

I saw THE CASE OF HANA AND ALICE last year at Fantasia and enjoyed the heck out of it. Its great little film. Its a mystery and a buddy film. Its a long in coming prequel to a well loved film from 2004. A beautiful stand alone film this is going to make a whole new group of people fall in love with the two characters at the film's center.

With the film playing this weekend at NYICFF I'm reposting my Fantasia review in the hope of getting more butts in seats. Go see this film- and guys the film is not just for girls.

Animated prequel to the 2004 classic HANA AND ALICE is set at the time that the two girls meet. This film has Alice and her mom moving into a new house and going off to school. There Alice comes across the murder case of a student known as Judas. Judas was killed by his four wives also known as Judas. As a result of it all the students have come up with elaborate plans to prevent the ghosts from getting them. (As one character says "no it doesn't make sense"). Alice wants to get to the bottom of it and she discovers that her neighbor, Hana, is the keeper of the secrets needed to solve the mystery. That's the start of the story and a movie friendship.

This is an utterly charming film that has the original actresses reprising their roles and having a grand old time doing it. They appear to be having so much fun that we in the audience also end up having a blast. I was smiling from ear to ear.

The animation is a mix of rotoscoping and traditional animation. It makes for a visually odd moment or two early on as the realistic motion of some characters don't quite fit with the backgrounds. On the other hand it quickly becomes a bonus giving the film not only a unique look, but also allowing a fluidity of motion that we don't usually get in animated films.

Do you need to have seen the first film? Apparently not. I didn't see it (shhh- don't tell anyone) and I had no trouble following what was going on. In reading on the film I discovered that there is only a few references to the earlier film, basically its a new film with the same characters.

I don't know what else to say. I had a grand old time and as soon as I'm done with Fantasia I'm planning on digging out my DVD of the original film and watching that.

The film plays three times at NYICFF the first is Sunday. For tickets and more information go here.

Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966)

First of the Mike Henry Tarzan's has him acting more as a man of action on the order of James Bond than a jungle man.

The film opens with Tarzan's arrival in Mexico. He's been brought into protect a boy who knows the location to a city made of gold. The boy is wanted by a crazed millionaire who sends his enemies booby trapped watches and kills them with wild gadgets. Tarzan heads off into the jungle with only a leopard, lion and chimpanzee to help him.

This is an entertaining film, but you can feel the series starting to break down. Mike Henry proves to be a kick ass Tarzan, and makes you regret he got type cast by his role as Jackie Gleeson's son in the SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT films, but at the same time he can't sell this new superhero ape man. The real problem here is the script which is more TV spy show than Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Having seen all of the Mike Henry films its kind of sad that he didn't become a bigger action star. His physical presence is commanding and he has an great ease with action sequences. The problem with his Tarzan stint was I don't think the producers knew what to do with the character in a changing world. This is easily the best of the three films Henry appeared in and the one must see,if not for an okay adventure then to reclaim Henry's standing in your mind as something other than being the son of Sheriff Buford T Justice.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Brief thoughts on Wake (Subic) (2015) MOMA Doc Fortnight 2016

Epic look at the US Military in the Philippines and the environmental damage it's presence has caused on the country and the population. It's a devastating and exhausting film that will leave you feeling shell shocked.

The weight of untold history presses down on the audience from the screen in John Gianvito’s WAKE (SUBIC), not only from it's length, the film runs just under five hours, but also from all the information given to the people in the seats. There is simply way too much to take in and process in such a concentrated period. The film is a crash course on US military misdeeds and environmental destruction.

I am going to be honest here and say that if you are interested and can sit for five hours by all means go when the film plays the Museum of Modern Art this weekend. The film is a real kick in the ass and it brought forward a huge amount of stuff I never knew and never suspected. It also drove home the human cost of the American bases.

At the same time I'm not going to lie to you and say that I was able to sit and take in the film in one go. Seeing the film on the Festival Scope Pro service I was able to pause the film several times over two days in order to let what I was seeing filter in to my brain. There were times where I felt that I was losing the thrust and I stopped the film for a while to regroup.  I suspect that had I seen this at MOMA I might have bailed at intermission because of feeling overwhelmed.

As I said above if you feel the urge absolutely go see the film and make of it what you will.

I know that is an odd way to leave this "review" but understand the film is one that has been sitting with me for a couple of weeks now. I've been sitting on this review for a while and haven't been able to really put some thoughts down beyond go see the film.  Things were complicated  because before attempting to write up the film I felt I should find and try Gianvito's earlier companion film  VAPOR TRAIL (CLARK). I found it on You Tube and I started to watch it, and it blurred things and expanded things to the point that there is a longer piece in the pipeline that takes a look at both films, history and its fall out. I have much to say but I have to find the words to do so. (This is one of those times where the need to be timely about a films release or appearance runs counter to actually being able to write the film up the way it deserves to be.

The film plays Saturday at the Museum of Modern Art's Doc Fortnight. For tickets and more information go here.

Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963)

The Tarzan world tour continues....

The film begins as the last film with Tarzan leaping from a plane into the adventure in Thailand. It seems  Tarzan has to  help a friend who he had met in Africa. It seems that he is need to get the successor of the kingdom to his coronation. The successor is chosen in a manner like the Dali Lama and the boy's uncle doesn't like that and he wants the position for his son. His plan to stop Tarzan is to have one of his men intercept him, allow Tarzan and the boy to get on the road and then kill him, but they don't know Tarzan and the whole thing becomes chase of sorts

At this point Tarzan's adventures began to resemble those of Maciste whose adventures were part of the swords and sandals cycle happening in Europe. Think about it, Tarzan like Maciste runs around in a loin cloth. Though set in modern day, we know this because of the plane, the swords and dress of the characters would lead one to believe this is a period piece. In a weird way the film reminded me of SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES (aka Maciste at the Court of the Great Khan) which has the muscle man helping out in an Asian country.

The film has it's moments. Certainly the film is spectacular thanks to it having been shot in Thailand. And the action sequences when they come are great. Sequences like the fire, and the final battle between Tarzan and the evil and dubbed Woody Strode is great and I understand why that's what most people remember about the film.

And as great as the action sequences are the film over all isn't as good as it should be. There is way too much talk and too many travel sequences. The addition of the cute baby elephant wasn't needed, nor were the sequences showing the elephants lounging in the river. The film really could have been trimmed down  by ten minutes or more.

While my feelings for the film are mixed, I love sections and like others, I still think this is good film and definitely worth seeing if you can see it big and widescreen.

Useless bit of  information-Jock Mahoney who played Tarzan decided to swim across one of the rivers of Thailand in a show of machismo. Woody Strode warned him against it but he did it anyway and contracted various diseases which laid him up for the better part of two years and wrecked his health for the rest of his life. He dropped over 50 pounds during filming and if you watch Mahoney through the film you can see his body size change.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Strange Course of Events (2013)

Shaul is a hospital worker whose life isn't going anywhere. His wife has left him and taken his daughter and he is somewhat estranged from his dad. With some time off Shaul goes to visit his father for the first time in five years. Despite the best efforts of Bati, Shaul's stepmom father and son remain at odds, falling into old patterns. However when Shaul injures himself a way to connect turns up when Shaul's daughter arrives to take care of him.

Low key comedy drama is going to be a little too low key for some people; and perhaps too obtuse. Events spiral out without an explanation, there are a couple of moments of magical realism that come out of left field. While I have no problem with this, preferring a director to trust his audience rather then to spell it all out, the problem here is that the film has a kind of vacuum at it's center in that we don't really know Shaul. He's a moody fellow how doesn't say a great deal and we really don't understand why he and his dad don't get along, or even why he's so moody until almost the end, and even then it's only in a couple of lines. He says very little but never gives us any clues to who he is. If you can't connect to him the film is going to fall flat.

To be honest I'm not sure what I think of the movie. There are some really good performances and some lovely moments but at the same time the film has this insistence on keeping us at a distance, It doesn't say enough about the person at the center of the tale to allow us a doorway in. I completely understand that the film is about the walls we build between ourselves and other people and that we are supposed to be as adrift as the characters who are in the film, but at the same time we have to connect to something.

Probably the best thing I can say about the film is that it is very off beat and recommended for those who don't want a typical Hollywood style film or one with easy answers.

Raphaël Nadjari’s A Strange Course of Events on Friday, February 26, at Cinema Village in New York City

Tarzan Goes to India (1962)

Tarzan goes to India to help a Rajah save a heard of elephants from an impending dam. The project is being headed in part by an old enemy of Tarzan's who built a damn and used it as cover for hunting elephants for ivory.

The modern Tarzan marches on in a film that benefits from being shot on location. The change in location adds greatly to the proceedings as does the widescreen. I'm guessing the change of location to India was financial, but it was a coup in many ways since it allowed for epic scale sequences such as the vast dam site. It may look a tad clunky, but t the same time it has a weight over what they would have done today with computers at 100 times the cost.

If the film gets a bit twee with the little kid who lives in the jungle with the elephants things are more than made up for by the action sequences which kick in at the opening as Tarzan doesn't land in India so much as leap from a plane into the lake outside the Rajah's  palace, from there there are elephant attacks, cobra attacks, construction accidents and general man on man nastiness. For my money the only real problem is the damn builders are dicks because they can be rather than for any viable reason.

I know this film isn't particularly highly rated at IMDB but I'm not sure why.  Perhaps most people only saw this in a crappy pan and scan TV version because sitting at home and watching this on a big screen TV I was completely enthralled. Is it perfect, not but it is entertaining as all hell. I would gladly watch this again, and I will soon with a big bowl of popcorn.

A must see for anyone who wants to see a grand old school adventure.

Revised Thoughts on NOTFILM and FILM at Film Comment Selects

I attended the Film Comment Selects screening of Samuel Beckett's FILM  and the making of  FILM called NOTFILM from Ross Lipman last night. It was an intriguing evening if not a successful one.

The evening started with Beckett's FILM.  A 22 minute film starring Buster Keaton as a man trying very hard not be seen lest he exist or something. Seeing on the big screen I realized almost instantly I had never actually seen it.seen it. I know I had read the published script years ago but since it  made little sense to me I realized that the only way I was going to ever get the film was to see it. Having seen it  projected on a huge screen I realized I still don't get it or if it's even possible to get it.

The film has a really mixed reputation and I completely understand why. This is a rough film that looks at time extremely amateurish. It comes across as the sort of experimental films that were being churned out in the 1960's which only film historians and cineastes watch today. I'm pretty sure that if it wasn't for Beckett and Keaton the film would not be talked about. There presence makes people think that the film is actually about something when I don't think it's about anything.  I suspect that part of the problem is that there is a huge amount of material that isn't in the film. There are notes in the script referencing things not on the screen. As NOTFILM says there is the explanation that the room is Keaton's mother's, but it's never referenced i the film, in deed because of the silent nature and the structure of the plot so much Beckett wanted to get across is lost. I think without the explanation the film is a meaningless.

Ultimately it's a film that is perceived to more than it is simply because Beckett wrote it. And since he wrote it it must mean something and not be full of hot air. (and apparently Beckett who was initially unhappy is quoted in NOTFILM as finding greatness in the film well after the fact. I think he just didn't want to admit failure)

Lipman's NOTFILM screened next and it's best described a weird mash up of making of film and essay. Its a film that is alternately riveting and frustrating. The film nominally tells the story of the making of FILM and of the work of Beckett. THe film then shifts in the later part to attempt to become a mediation on life and Beckett's ideas.

As a making of film it's quite good.It gets into the whole making of process and how it was shaped and how Keaton was really doing it for a paycheck.  It reveals a great deal about Beckett as well (I never knew that WAITING FOR GODOT is essentially a steal from a Balzac play-which in a weird meta way had a film version that starred Buster Keaton).  There is lots of behind the scenes stuff  including secretly recorded audio excerpts of meetings with Beckett and interviews discussing the way that films such as this are put together.

What I love was all of the behind the scenes photos and film. I loved watching how it was all put together. I loved the taste of outtakes, which made me wish that they had actually let Keaton go or at least let him help with the technical aspects of the film. Sadly Keaton was just a hired hand who did what was asked of him but it's clear that despite Beckett's desire for certain things which he channeled through the director, he was completely clueless as to how to make a living breathing film. There is a liveliness and a realness in several of the out take clips lacking in the finished film. The battle to get what Beckett wanted and the ability to make a real film makes for engrossing cinema

Beyond the making of aspect he film is also striving to be more. Lipman fills the film with his reading of FILM as well as his mediation on Beckett's themes found in the making of the film and it's remembrance by those who were there. Its this last part where the film really doesn't work. Lipman would love to make a point about how life is essentially a grand Beckett play and we lose our memories and yet remain ourselves, points he hopes are illustrated by talks with Barney Rossett and Billie Whitelaw before they passed away. The trouble is we see so little of them that this grand illustration of his points is nowhere to be found. Yes, Barney can't remember his first meeting with Beckett but while he is a character in the story of the making of the film he physially disappears early on from the telling from the telling. There is simply not enough material to know if Lipman is right of wrong. The ability to illustrate the point is even weaker when it comes to Whitelaw who never fumbles and generally holds court, explaining what it took to do Beckett's plays and rattling off a large section of one of Beckett's plays off the top of her heard. If they ever illustrated Lipman's point it was something that Lipman saw but never managed to put on the screen.

To be honest I really like the film a great deal and I want to see it again, I just think that it's dorector shouldn't be over selling a film  that he is much too close to. In other words it's not as deep as he thinks it is.

The Q&A that followed both films was good. The interim head of Film Comment, whose name I didn't catch, did a stellar job doing the Q&A and he managed to get to everyone's questions.

Lipman said the film was produced for almost nothing. He did it nights and weekends over a roughly seven year period. He said that he called in lots of favors from people he had known over the years  doing film restoration. He said that interviews were arranged to be done around business trips. He illustrated the point explaining he went about contacting Bela Tarr to get Mihály Vig who had scored his films to do the music.(He also talked about how Vig gave him the score in various forms so he could mix it as he chose)

There was also a lot of questions about Beckett and his thoughts on differing things such as New York (For him one trip to the city that never sleeps was enough for him). To be honest some of the odd bits shouted out by the audience were more interesting then some of Lipman's answers to the questions simply because they focused on things Lipman couldn't address because he was answering someone's question. The shout uts were the sort of things that you wished had gone some where since they were better than the questions.

And then there was that odd moment when a woman in the audience questioned if Lipman's suggesting that Chaplin was Beckett's first choice was correct since she knew Keaton's widow and had spent time with Beckett and she said that they told a slightly different story- that Keaton was always Beckett's choice for film and for Godot. Lipman masterfully deflected it saying there are a lot of stories concerning the casting depending on who you talk to. And it's probably true since even Beckett's official biographer says that the man himself would conveniently "forget" things such as seeing Keaton perform in Paris during the original run of Godot if it interfered with the story he wanted to tell.

Ultimately it all made for a memorable evening.

While I probably will never look at FILM again, I am looking forward to seeing NOTFILM when it hits DVD or Bluray with all the extras tons of extras promised.

Its a good film that is getting a theatrical release in April at Anthology Film Archives.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Bernard Rose's FRANKENSTEIN is now on home video

Hitting home video today is Bernard Rose’s update of Frankenstein and it’s something any horror film fan should se. Focusing on the monster’s POV the film follows him as he is created, deals with his creators and makes his way into the world. More science fiction and drama then traditional horror the film is a glorious reinvention of the story. I saw the film last year at Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies and while I saw a good number of films that were playing there Rose’s film is the one that not only I remember but also one I’m still talking about.

A definite must see for anyone who loves well done rethought classic tales.

Bernard Rose's FRANKENSTEIN updates the tale to modern Los Angeles where a married couple (Carrie Ann Moss and Danny Huston) grow a human being in an incubator. We watch as the child like adult is poked, prodded and tested before his metabolism begins to cause problems. When his creators decide to kill him and start over he escapes...

One of the gorier versions of the classic tale this is strangely also one of the most faithful to the spirit of the original novel. If you've ever read the original story (its weirdly shocking how many horror fans haven't) you know that the Hollywood version isn't really the whole story and that there is a hell of a lot more to the monster than the movies would have you believe. This film tries to rectify that by focusing on the creature and using passages from the book to build character.

Less horror film than grand tragedy, we see and experience only what the monster does. We feel all that "monster" experiences from the joys to the pain. We understand his experience must be like and our hearts break. We truly understand why people hate him and why he reacts as he does.

While one of the more intellectually stimulating and viscerally affecting versions of the story the film is not without it's flaws. The creators are largely ciphers and come off as one note to the point when Moss meets up with her creature mid-film and rejects him it comes off as odd, especially since she seems to be against killing him. The film also suffers from some uneven special effects to the point that the conclusion of the film is hobbled by some weak CGI fire.

Definitely worth a shot, especially for anyone who wants to see a version of the story that is highly intelligent, decidedly different and willing to take risks.

Taking a second look at Only Yesterday (1991) and rambling on about Studio Ghibli's films

I was recently contacted by the PR people handling ONLY YESTERDAY and they asked me if I wanted to see the film again because the piece I had written on the film (it can be found here) was based on seeing the film approximately ten years ago. They wanted to know if I was willing to take another look at it and re-review the film. I of course said yes and they arranged for me to view the film.

Watching the film again for the first time in a decade I was struck by a couple of things.

The first thing was that I remember most of the film. Sequences would start and I would say to myself, this is the scene with the pineapple, or okay the end credit sequence is starting meaning it’s going to go this way.

The other thing that struck me was that while admire the animation in many of the sequences, there is a liveliness and realness that I don’t always see in Miyazaki’s work (This film was directed by his partner and in my eyes, superior Isao Takahata), I still don’t really care for the film that much. Its not that the film is bad, it’s not, but rather it’s not the sort of story that I can connect to (When the film was made it was thought it was going to be a film for women).

The plot of the film has Taeko, a 27 year old woman, leaving her job and going to stay in the country with a family that is is tangentially connected to. Over the course of the film she flash back to when she was in fifth grade. She also interacts with a younger version of herself. The film is  about Taeko trying to find herself , her place in the world and in some ways get away from being the fifth grade version of herself. That’s fine but to me it plays like a soap opera. Worse it feels kind of backward to me. To me the film really seems to be saying that all Taeko need to do was find a good man to be happy, which is kind of the antithesis of most Studio Ghibli films.

I could accept that she finds a place she loves and goes back- except that the ending makes it clear she was going back for a guy. I’m not saying she can’t, but I just find that a character such as Taeko would throw it all away for a guy. It’s a turn that makes her one of the oddest heroines in Ghibli history in that she’s the only one who really gives up her world for a guy. Yes most if not all of the Ghibli heroines connect with guys, but none seem seem to be giving up themselves or their strength- or if they are they act as Sophie in HOWLS MOVING CASTLE and she rescues her love first, there isn’t a passive act of giving herself over. Taeko shows none of the real strength that other women in the Ghibli oeuvre do. Every other heroine is a stronger personality and the relationships seem to be on more level ground.

And it’s something that would have bothered me even if it wasn’t Ghibli.

I would like to blame I on the graphic novels that the film is sourced from, but I haven’t read them. To me the film plays like a kind of soapy romance novel.  You know the one's that are massed produced and cookie cuttered from publishers like Harlequin, where all one needs is a good man to make a woman feel complete.  It feels like it’s a story for a shop girl who wants to dream of a better life and a sweet guy who can make it all better.Worse it feels like its a tale from a society which looks down on women and expects them to get married and have babies.

Its a well told tale but I would prefer a stronger female character who doesn't need a man...hell I would have preferred her not to turn around and go right back.

I don’t hate the film, I just don’t get why people are falling all over themselves about it. Is it because it’s Ghibli and instantly everyone think it’s top of the line?

And that's an interesting question are: Ghibli's films being heralded as great simply because they are Ghibli which some how makes them better than everything else that's out there. As some one who has literally seen almost every film that Ghibli has produced (including all but one of the Ghibli Museum films)  and as a big fan of animation I feel that I'm in a interesting position to answer that question.

The short answer is that I really do think Ghibli really does get the benefit of the doubt.

Many animation and anime fans drift to Ghibli automatically and go crazy for them. I've had people tell me that a Ghibli film they've hated is better than an American or French animated film simply because the Studio produced it.  And if you take it further- with in the Ghibli canon the Hayao Miyazaki films are held to be light years above all the others whether they are or not. I've had people tell me that while GRAVE OF FIREFLIES is great it's not as good as it could have been because Miyazaki didn't direct it.  I've also gotten into running battles over Ghibli films that no one had seen- The best example is I got into battles concerning  the studio's TALES FROM EARTHSEA with people who hadn't seen the film. To them the film wasn't good, sight unseen, in part because the Hayao didn't direct it but largely because Hayao bad mouthed his son's film. It was bad because some one who had an axe to grind said it was bad? Seriously? No one would listen to my assurance that the film was good. I am and have been a staunch supporter of the film because I liked it. But now that people have seen it I still have it maligned as not being  as good because of the battles. (An aside- I'm still waiting for a rediscovery especially since Goro Miyazaki's next film UP ON POPPY HILL was extremely well received)

To be fair most of the people falling all over the Ghibli films really haven't seen a great deal of animation. They see the hot films, the big Hollywood production but they don't see the films outside of that. They aren't well versed in French or East European animation. They haven't seen the inde American films. They don'tsearch stuff out or go to places like the New York International Children's Film Festival which brings the world's best animation to America.

And before you ask, I know because I've asked a bunch of them.

This isn't to say that the Ghibli films aren't works or art, some of them are, I' simply wouldn't argue that most are the best thing since sliced bread, since I could show you any number of films that kick many Ghibli film's ass.

And that swings me back to ONLY YESTERDAY.Here is the last Studio Ghibli feature to be released in the US. Why is that?

In doing research for this piece I went back through my notes, files and assorted scraps of nonsense and I found a couple of things that aren't readily apparent or probably remembered by some people.

First off when the film came out there was a limited market for animated films in the US. For the most part the only game in town was Disney and even then it was on a kind of life support. Yes BEAUTY AND THE BEAST would revive Disney's fortunes the same year big time, but it was still limping along, some five years after THE BLACK CAULDRON almost killed the studio.

The next problem with the film was there were no cute characters. Say what you will this film, despite the flashbacks, was all people and conventional American Studio wisdom was that audiences won't go to an animated film that's just people. They need something cute to get people in since unless it's science fiction or fantasy, no adult was ever going to go see an animated film.

The last problem preventing the film getting a US release was it's a girls story. According to a couple of things I've read the film was aimed at girls and women. Of course the film has found a wider audience, one can not be a top grossing film without it, but at the same time as far as American studios were concerned girls didn't go to the movies.

As a result the film has always had this weird reputation of the last decade as the odd duck  Ghibli film. Its a film that didn't fit anywhere. While OCEAN WAVES is a similar drama, it was made for TV it never had a reputation as a feature film. WHISPER OF THE HEART while largely also a drama does have the sequence with the Cat which instantly made it more salable. ONLY YESTERDAY had none of that and it floudered.

Until Disney, primarily because of John Lassiter who is a friend of Hayao Miyazaki, started the ball rolling there never seemed to be a chance for getting this film released. Hell unless you found a bootleg or an import the film has been unreleased in the US for 25 years. And what's more until GKids took over the Ghibli library of films Disney probably would never have released it. It's a film that in it's way seems to be either cursed or if not that fallen into a crack. Of course I'm sure that even though Disney and GKids were pushing to release it  there were other issues in getting the film released, the film is much better than some other films that have gotten released (The previously mentioned OCEAN WAVES for example).  Its a film that Ghibli fans seemed destined never to see.

And I think that is why in part, some critics have gone over board praising it. I'm sure they like the film but I think it's them trying to make up for lost time and what must be a lost classic because it's from Ghibli and because Isao Takahata whose PRINCES KAGUYA blew their minds just over a year ago. I think they are over doing it but that's my own thing.

But that doesn't matter because now it's here, going into wide release Friday and we can decide for ourselves what sort of a film it is.

For me this is a good film, but nothing quite as classic as some of my fellow writers would have you believe. As I've said this is a good film that doesn't really resonate with me. I don't think its the lost masterpiece many have said, in part because I've never thought it lost. (I wonder what they would have said if they had seen it 15 years ago like myself or 25 years ago like the rest of the world)

Of course you all should decide for yourselves, and you'll be able to when ONLY YESTERDAY begins it's next round of theatrical engagements starting Friday.

Despite my rambling reservations I do highly recommend the film.

Tarzan the Magnificent (1960)

Last of the Gordon Scott Tarzan's has him attempting to drag bad guy Coy Banton to jail. Banton is played by Jock Mahoney who would take over the role from Scott in the next film TARZAN GOES TO INDIA. The resulting battle of manliness has so much testosterone that women seeing this should be warned they may leave the film with full growth beards.

The plot of the film has Banton and his bad guy crew robbing a bank and shooting up the town. The police chief gives chase and manages to spirit Banton away in the middle of the night. Banton's men lay an ambush and kill the cop. Tarzan then does a number drags Banton to a trading post. He wants to put him on the ferry to the city but the people at the post are afraid, more so after Banton's men kill the ferry captain and burn the ferry. Tarzan is stuck taking the overland route which he does, dragging some stranded travelers with him. Things then become a cat and mouse game as Tarzan and party are pursued by Banton's men. (the film is a riff on the plot of the last film TARZAN"S GREATEST ADVENTURE)

A great cast, which in addition to Scott and Mahoney also includes Lionel Jeffries, Betta St John and John Carradine, manages to make this one of the tensest of all th Tarzan films. It helps that Banton and his men are just pure evil. They will just shoot you for no reason and you fear for Tarzan and his party. The tension continues straight to the end when Tarzan gets his ass kicked in a final battle with Banton.

One of the better Tarzan's is definitely worth a look

Monday, February 22, 2016

Paul Verhoeven's TRICKED finally opens 2/26 at The Village East Cinema in NYC and Fandor

Three years after screening at the Tribeca Film Festival Paul Verhoeven's TRICKED is hitting US screens and Fandor this Friday. I did not see the film when it played Tribeca but it generated a great deal of talk. I had hoped to get to see it, especially after John filed the review that follows and it looks like this weekend I'll get my chance.

TRICKED, the new film by Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Robocop), is not only two films in one but also a clever subversion of moviemaking. The short narrative film following the secrets, lies, and backstabbing of eight characters is crowd-sourced: Verhoeven actively solicited scripts for the film after presenting the first five pages of the script publicly; it was up to the online audience to write the rest. Far from the chaos I'd expect from such an experiment, it actually produces a witty and clever film shorn of the excesses of big Hollywood filmmaking.

The first half of the movie documents the project and the making of the script and film. Verhoeven discusses in detail his ideas to open source his work, which presents him and the cast with atypical surprises. It's a process that runs counter to the director's and actor's discipline of preparation—most artists actively resist audience suggestions, and reminds us that the director is never the absolute, sole artist. In fact, Verhoeven vibrantly thrives on screen at the challenge. He continually emphasizes, however, how the process taps into the unknown and frees him to be creative in a way that his earlier, tightly choreographed major motion pictures have not.

'Remco never appears in two Paul Verhoeven movies at HOME!'

The technique winds up being actually much more complicated that his original assessment. It doesn't allow the actors to fully get into character in the initial scenes (Verhoeven sees this as a plus). He and his crew have to sift through 700 public-submitted scripts to cover the next five minutes of the film. Eventually, he uses snippets of several of all the submitted scripts—a line of dialogue here, a plot twist there—so Verhoeven himself is influencing the outside forces. It's not a completely improv film, and he also gets feedback and interpretation from his actors and cinematographers. There's a lovely scene in the documentary which tours the house that the movie is set in, explaining why certain shots will work and others won't: finished house interiors aren't built for long shots, so it forces him to work close-up, bringing the viewer into a more intense and personal "physical" relationship with the characters, which proves essentially important in the developing plot of the movie.

'I'm glad you could come to my little informal wine-tasting party. I didn't have a thing to wear.'

So in the end, Verhoeven raises questions not usually tackled in a film documentary. With actors interpreting and the director guiding, is it that different from the making of a regular film (or episodic TV series where scripts are revealed weekly)? What do we, the audience, want from a film? Should is be ultra-realistic with possible loose ends and unresolved subplots, or to be cleaner, tighter, more controlled than life? (Of course we want both, greedy audience that we are.) Does a crowd-sourced script compiled from 397 different contributors have any chance of being accessible and entertaining? This is taking the idea for a research group that shapes the final motion picture to its extreme. The process also brings into question the subject of work for hire. In this day and age when artists are regularly encouraged to submit their work for consideration but then lose the rights to it, is Verhoeven's method simply a fad or an experiment? Does open source filmmaking contribute to the death of the professional?

That all said...the second half of the film, the movie itself, dismissed all my doubts within minutes. This part of Tricked is bright, funny, sexy, mysterious, with interlocking social connections and stories, couples squaring off against each other and their circumstances, and a great many double-crosses that delight in their clever reversals. Without the documentary half of the film, I challenge any viewer to guess that this movie was created by almost four hundred writers, so tightly plotted and intricate is its story. Reminiscent of a middle-period Woody Allen social comedy, it's a perfect short length and features some bright and witty performances. There's some minor logical short-cuts taken to make it a brisk film and a few remarkable coincidences without which we wouldn't arrive at a crowd-pleasing ending (thank goodness Google Maps is updated enough to show a scaffolding; it's more dramatic to arrive at a tense business meeting at the last minute rather than phone ahead and warn of a duplicitous plot). But it's a perfectly natural normal film, far from the possible mess it could have been. Verhoeven's experiment works...this time, at least.

'Hands up everybody who doesn't want to throw a baby shower for Nadja!'

Films on films fascinate me: they run the gamut from navel-gazing to revelatory, and the documentary half of Tricked is some of both, but it's done with a cheerful and light tone which forgives the occasional self-obsessed aspect. The crowd-sourcing element of the documentary makes it unique. I'd still be cautious of any other film made the same way; Tricked survives because of the attention to detail and care of Verhoeven and his cast and crew, not because they relinquished any control. That this innovative experiment produces both a solid insight into filmmaking's mechanics and techniques and a brisk, breezy romantic social comedy is a testament to the Verhoeven and company's skill in telling a fine story out of piecemeal contributions.

Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959)

This film is a game changer. Gone are almost all of the trappings of the previous films, key among them Jane and the pigeon English. It is the rebirth of the ape man as an adult character. Its is considered to be one of the best, if not the best Tarzan film ever made. I would have no trouble calling it one of the best in the series, certainly the best of the post Weissmuller films.

The plot of the film has Tarzan (Gordon Scott) trying to hunt down an old "friend" named Slade (Anthony Qualye). He and his men had been raiding villages getting supplies dressed as natives. When one someone in the village recognizes Slade, he shoot the man but not before moaning Slade's name. Its a clue which Tarzan is able to follow.  Heading off down the river Tarzan ends up joined by Angie (Sara Shane), a female pilot and model. The majority of the film is the cat and mouse game between Slade and Tarzan.

Gritty, realistic and nasty, this was no longer your grandfather's Tarzan. This was closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs idea of Lord Greystoke. Scott completely comes into the role in this film and it's shame he had only one more outing in the role. Its also completely understandable that he ended up in Italy doing Maciste films.

The film is notable for any number of reasons but of semi-major interest is the appearance of a young Sean Connery as one of Slade's cronies. He's a mean spirited and nasty man who loves to torment people. It ends up getting people, including himself killed.

One of the things that I really like is the relationship between Taran and Angie. What starts off as neither caring for the other much, but being intrigued and turns into something much more complex. How it unfolds is atypical not only of the series, but of most films period. The resolution is kind of to be expected, except you'd think it was to happen between films.

The psychology of everyone in this film is intriguing more so when you consider when the film was made. The allusions to sex (characters are clearly horny for each other) and the outright graphic violence as part of a character's psyche is shocking in what may very well have been deemed a kids film (something the Tarzan films were often considered). The fact that Tarzan yells triumphantly after pitching a foe off a cliff is both cathartic and makes you wonder who the hell our hero really is. There is a complexity here that ended up being lost when Scott left the role after the next film and the focus changed.

This is a great film on any level. Its just a solid trip into the jungle where bad things happen to bad people. You have a great hero and a great group of villains interacting in a series of great action set pieces. Its a film that has you on the edge of your seat for it's entire running time.

A must see for anyone who likes damn good films, never mind Tarzan or adventure films.

(There is a kind of inversion of this story with Tarzan hunted in the next film, the really good TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Missing Girl (2015) Oxford Film Festival 2016

I'm not quite sure what to make of this film.  Going in there was a great deal of buzz from friends and colleagues raving about how great the film was. Its a film that I had to make an effort to see after my initial attempts were met with misfortune. And now that I've seen it I'm kind of at a loss to know why everyone was falling all over themselves about the film.

The plot of the film has to do with late bloomer Mort who owns a comic shop in a small town. He works with Ellen whom he hired three weeks before.  Ellen is an aspiring artist who seems kind of sweet on Mort, who doesn't know what to do, since its clear he is interested in her as well.

Rambling attempt at a slice of life at a comic shop kind of just lays there. The characters are sort of there but what they are given to do doesn't amount to a great deal. Things ramble around in exactly the way things don't in real life. Its not bad, actually some of the exchanges are pretty witty, but none of it is real. The easiest way to explain it is that the film plays like some one connected up a whole bunch of  small inde comic chapbooks. Its separate pieces not a whole story.

Actually the central setting of  the film, the comic book shop never feels real. Its as if the film the director wanted to make an off beat romance and set it in a comics shop to achieve that.The problem is that its written by someone who really hasn't spent any time in a comics shop. I saw this with Eden, who writes on comics and even helps run the SPX comic convention and she was completely apoplectic with how wrong it was  She walked out about half  way in  never to return.

In discussing the film afterward I had said to Eden that I liked the character of Ellen but that she seems to have been lifted from another film. Eden pointed out that the reason I liked her was that she embodied the wish fulfillment of most comic geeks, she is the ideal woman that most male comic fans wanted as their girl friend, smart, loves comics, and sexy enough to have been a stripper. She was dead right.  Ellen is a great character, or would be in another film, but here she simply plays like something that is too much too perfect to be real and probably written by a guy who doesn't really know women.

This isn't a bad film, its just not a great one. its an okay one.

One of the very few disappointing films at the Oxford Film Festival