Thursday, June 30, 2016

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's CREEPY (2016) New York Asian Film Festival 2016

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's CREEPY is the master in full bloom for good and bad. This film is both the man who made PENANCE, TOKYO SONATA and JOURNEY TO THE SEA as well as the one who did the second REVENGE FILM, REAL and BEAUTIFUL NEW BAY AREA PROJECT. Its both the art house god and the king of quickie schlock-and trust me I know I'm a huge fan and I own most of his films.

CREEPY is the story of a police detective who ends up on the wrong end of psychopath. Retiring from the force he becomes a college professor. However after a colleague at the school asks him to look into a weird missing persons case that's classified inexplicably as a crime he ends up drawn back into the game. More so when one of his old cop buddies is found to be investigating the same crime as well. Of course things get a little close for comfort when one of his new neighbors turns out to be really creepy.

I really like this film, but the turn in the film during the second half from straight on serial killer film to fun house ride kind of threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings for me. Don't get me wrong I like the film, but I loved the first half film, its the second half where logic and reason goes out the window I have problems with. The easiest way to describe it is to imagine sitting in a theater watching the best thriller ever and then you turn your head for a second to find you're now in a burning a clown car that's driven by a maniacally laughing John Wayne Gacy toward the edge of a cliff. You want to know how the hell you got there...

For me the moment that things broke apart as the moment when we first get a look inside the neighbor's house. We go from the typical  interior  into this long gently sloping steel and stone hall with windows and I suddenly realized that the interior could not in a million years be part of the house whose exterior we've seen. Things get worse when you see all of these underground rooms and realize this is a madman's lair that would have taken work crews years to build, and not the four or so people who live there.

In the second half character behavior is determined by needs of the plot as our hero's wife suddenly and sporadically behaves as if she is interested in the weird guy despite being creeped out by him, wanders around drugged out, though no one notices and suddenly claims martial issues for no determinable reason. Mio the "daughter" of the crazy guy alternately flees in terror from him, dropping all the clues that things are not right with him, and does his bidding.

The list of plot contrivances in the second half could fill a book as things move along at a good pace but in no way that makes any real world, or even first half of the film sense. From the wife getting strung out on the neighbor's drugs when she really hates him, except when she doesn't, to a police lieutenant going to a house alone and then going missing long enough for the bad guys to get away to the wife turning and re-turning against the husband and neighbor to the cops arresting the husband for kidnapping at a time when no one would have known he was home to pretty much everything that happens.  Seriously I could keep going with every twist and turn from the disappearance of the first cop but that would be simply stating everything that happens because none of it makes a lick of sense. (I'm guessing it works in the source novel where things would have room for it all to be explained)

To be perfectly fair the second half is tense and gripping, but not because it's a well plotted film, rather its because the film is flying so far off the rails that you stare slack jawed at the insanity, terrified at what unbelievable thing is going to happen next. We've seen enough nastiness that we know anything is possible.

Walking out of the theater last night I was asked what I thought and I said I liked the film, loved the first half and kind of hated the second because its another film from the first. (My hatred has softened, but I'm still not high on that second half)

When I got home I got into an exchange on Twitter with my friend Nate Hood who loved the last half hour. On it's own terms its good, but not attached to the first half of the film. Nate pointed out how J-horror films tend not to make any sense, and while that's true to some extent, it's also the reason I don't like most of them. The really good ones, or the ones I like, work internally. To be certain the weirdness can't happen in a real world, but with in the world of the J-horror films they can. CREEPY violates that simple rule all over the place. As I said above the whole second half isn't even consistent with itself, never mind the first half or reality. (Perhaps if nothing made sense it would have worked better since the normal would be a variation of the Mickey Mouse Club's Anything Can Happen Day)

The film is a mess.

Yes it's gripping and compelling, but it doesn't hold together when you look at it.

It's a mess

And I enjoyed the hell out of it while it as on, but I don't ever need to see it again, and I like it way less than I really should

Is it a bad film?

Not so much bad as a Kiyoshi Kurosawa one, which ultimately means even in going off the tracks its a fire ball that's more interesting than most trains that stayed on.

(At some point remind me to write about how the film is a solid mediation on how we interact with our neighbors, not to mention a glorious example of how to use sound to accentuate the action instead of music.)

Haze (2015) NYAFF2016

Four street kids live on the fringe of society scamming motorists and stealing whatever isn't nailed down. When one of the group is killed when a robbery goes wrong the group is rattled to the core. As one looks to pay for the burial of their friend, the others continue on but life has a way of smacking you in the face.

I should say up front this isn't a dark thriller, more a slice of life highlighting the street kids who are the poorest of the poor. The suspense comes from just seeing whether life kicks them in the teeth one more time. As one races to find the burial of his friend the other skate along until one is caught. How it all plays out is not entirely how you expect.

With one of the best casts of young actors ever to grace the screen HAZE amazes with its sense of reality. Hell if some of the shots weren't obviously set up for the camera, and if a couple of the adults were slightly better actors one could almost swear this was a documentary instead of a narrative film.

HAZE blew me away and then some.

This is grand filmmaking of the finest kind and I'm already looking to catch up with director Ralston Jover's other work.

If you can manage to see this when it plays tomorrow at NYAFF do so.

For tickets and more information go here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bacchus Lady (2016) NYAFF 2016

Some one get this film a US release so that Youn Yuh-jung will get an Oscar. Not only will she get an Oscar but he will get the attention in the US that she so richly deserves. Forget the acting greats like Meryl Streep, Youn Yuh-jung puts them all to shame.

Playing an senior citizen forced to turn a sell sexual favors to supplement her income, Youn Yuh-jung is woman struggling to get by. Things become complicated when she ends up caring for a young boy whose mother is carted off for stabbing an ex-partner.As things begin to turn weird time and tide begin to take a toll on her clients forcing her into a role of a different sort of angel.

Ballsy, in your face and not shying away from the fact that growing old sucks big time BACCHUS LADY is a refreshing look at what it means to have time wear one down. Life may be all tea and crumpets when we are young but there is a point where it all turns banana shaped. BACCHUS LADY shows us that  apologetically.

What I love about the film is that the film is not all gloom and doom. There is a humor to much of the proceedings. Life is absurd and this film shows that offering up laughter with the tears and chuckles with the shocks. While it doesn't take the sting out of the story, nor prevent it from breaking your heart, it does keep the audience from wanting to play in traffic when it's done. Truthfully it will make you want to go out and hug a mother, father or loved one of a certain  age.

To be completely honest I was not planning on seeing this film, but the oppurtunity fell in my lap and I jumped at and I'm glad a did. This is one of my favorite surprises of this year's NYAFF.

For tickets and more information go here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Whats's in the Darkness (2015) NYAFF 2016

Wang Yichun  introduces her film
My second trip to the Walter Reade Theater for this years New York Asian Film Festival was for Wang Yichun's WHAT'S IN THE DARKNESS a mash up of a coming of age film and a serial killer flick. Its one of the biggest head scratchers of the festival.

Set in 1991 the film is the story of Jing. She's a young girl in a rural village trying to come to terms with life and growing up. Her mom is a stay at home mom and her dad is a brighter than average police officer who is going nowhere because he is trying to use the forensics he learned in college. Both her parents seem to look down on her and remind her constantly of the financial hit they took by having her, their second child. Into the quiet town comes a serial killer who is killing young women. Of course the bone head police don't have a clue and keep arresting  the wrong suspect.

Will Jing survive? Will they catch the serial killer? More importantly will any of the plot threads be resolved? Not bloody likely.

WHAT'S IN THE DARKNESS has been bouncing around for the festival circuit for the better part of a year, and while it's a good film, I'm kind of hard pressed to know why because its not that interesting. Its the sort of film that left the audience staring at the screen for a good two minutes before light applause started as if someone suddenly realized they should applaud since the director was there. It was less than a minute after the sudden appearance of the end credits when murmurs of "you have to be joking" and "That's the ending?" started coming from the people around me.

Give  director Wang Yichun points for making an enigmatic, if amusing film but you have to take some away because she's got so many balls in the air most of them crash by the end.

The biggest problem with the film is that serial killer story exists at all. While it adds a nice sense of danger it has no reason to be such a focal point since the film doesn't do anything with it. Yes it could have worked had it been one or two murders since it would have been  an telling echo of the dangers of growing up but the increasing number of deaths (including a weird one where a pair are burying a body in the daylight) is just too much to ask. Focusing on it that much requires the film to do something with the threads other than show the police are morons and leave us hanging with a literal last minute twist at fade out.

Of course it doesn't help that there isn't much to the characters. Jing is tight lipped and simply reacts to the world around her and tries to find her place. She says little and simply observes or sings. Meanwhile her parents are one note beasts who are abused by life and simply bitch about everything-Jing in particular. Their lives fade in and out in a series of loosely connected episodes that go nowhere and change nothing other than Jing's hairstyle and the town has a few less residents by the end.

It's not a bad film, I enjoyed it up to a point, but there was this point where I kind of knew it was going nowhere so I just threw up my hands because I knew there wasn't going to a resolution, or a more importantly a point. Films, even slices of life, have to have points, this film doesn't have one.  If the film was a true slice of life why have the serial killer thread? I say this not because I want closure but because four dead people is just too many for a slice of life - I mean how many towns or cities have known killers working this fast? Its a slice of life for nowhere.

I had to duck out before the Q&A and that's probably a good thing because I would have been required to ask a great many pointed questions that the director probably wouldn't have wanted to answer.  And it's not that I want answers about the plot, I've seen enough films in my day to know that some films don't have answers, then again those enigmatic ones that work don't have red herrings floating around front and center. I would have wanted to know why she made the choices she did that got the film stuck in a mire.

To be brutally honest I have no idea why this film exists. I don't see the point of the story.It kind of goes nowhere and if it didn't have the killer story line no one would have ever paid it attention. I somehow suspect that the film was supposed to be a simple coming of age film, but that the murders had to be added to get funding. I mean name another coming of age story, short of one involving a psychopath, that has a body count this high. You can't even call it a shaggy dog tale.

Annoyance with the fact that the film goes nowhere it is good enough that I can say that the film is kind of worth seeing if you run across it, but you need to know like in life there are no resolutions, however unlike in life there never is the possibility for any to occur.

The Throne (2015) NYAFF 2016

Telling the oft told story of the bad ending decreed by King Yeongjo for his son, Sado, THE THRONE looks to explore the relationship between those in power and those without it. Its a gorgeous looking film that will either suck you in and drag you along or keep you at a distance while you watch the first class performances and the art direction.

The official story of what happened in 1762 is that in order to stop the madness, debauchery and evil acts of his son, King Yeongjo had him placed in a rice crate for eight days without food or water while he slowly died. What exactly happened has been the source of speculation with some historians now claiming it was more a battle for power than anything else.

Here Lee Joon-ik has fashioned it into the struggle between a strict king and his free spirited son. Its a variation of the themes that Joon-ik has explore previously in KING AND THE CLOWN, BLADES OF BLOOD and BATTLEFIELD HEROES. However this time out I'm not sure he's as successful as he was in previous attempts.

Bouncing between the eight days the Prince spent in the crate and what lead up to the execution the film never full engaged me. I never really understood what the riff was between father and son. Yes I understood what brought it on- the Prince essentially made a public move to kill his father, but the bumpiness of the relationship didn't feel real. Something seemed off.

After the first ten or fifteen minutes I disconnected and just watched the pretty pictures. And while I will admit to getting teary eyed at the end I think that more the work of the editor than the story.

For tickets and more information go here.

Monday, June 27, 2016

She Remembers He Forgets (2015) NYAFF 2016

Earnest,perhaps a bit too earnest romance looks at the disappointments in life and the roads not taken.

Married couple Gigi and Shing-Wah attend their high school reunion and find that they had hoped that things would have been better for them. Gigi is also left wondering if things wouldn't have been better had she gone off with Bok-man who as once a friend to them both and part of a romantic triangle.

Flashing between the present and the past SHE REMEMBERS, HE FORGETS works hard at trying to be more than just a weepy romance. Pushing to really examine the threads between what we hoped to do and love when we were kids/young adults versus what middle age brings the film has a great deal going on. This is not a simple boys meet girl, girl must choose one story, but something else that forces the audience to examine what might have been if only...

And that is the problem with the film, the ever present hand of the writer director, which is adding layers and twists that make the film in many ways more real, but ends up being too much for the film to handle. By constantly flashing back and forth too many plot lines are generated, while it adds to the sense of real life, things end up either unresolved or rushed to a conclusion. While we do get everything we need for the central story the mosaic around it is found to be less finely crafted. For better or worse the film is a romance and despite the layers its pretty clear how most of this is is going to go regardless of what director Adam Wong tries to do or how he tries to make us think otherwise.

This by no means a bad film, its just a film that is trying way too hard to win us over and while I can admire its gumption at striving to do more and be the best, I still have to say that while I'm giving bonus points for the attempt, I have to take a few others away for not quite being wholly satisfying. The best way to describe it as its a film from the first frame you know you're going to love but by the end you simply like it and you end up wondering how did that happen.

Worth a look for the attempt if nothing else.

For tickets and more information go here.

Love in the Buff (2012) NYAFF 2016 repost

This is the review I wrote for LOVE IN THE BUFF back in 2012 when the film played NYAFF. It was part of a long introductory piece on that year's festival and it was inserted in as backhanded review of sorts.

It is not my best review, then again it was written to be part of something else. I probably should have rewatched the film and rereviewed it but with 51 other films to I had to trim something somewhere.

... I have taken in Love in the Buff. This is the sequel to Love in a Puff which had two people meeting and falling in love, only to find they make each other crazy despite being mad about each other. Or so I’m told. I never saw Love in a Puff so I have no idea what went before…

…a fact that kind of worked against my completely enjoying Love in the Buff. Yes, everything about this film, which follows the pair as they spend time away from each other, while finding they have to be connected, is top notch. Its funny, charming, moving and it has a first rate cast you connect to. The trouble is I felt like I was missing all the back story.

Definitely worth seeing if you’ve seen the first film. If you haven't its still worth a shot.

In Brief:Independence Day Resurgence (2016)

Jeff Goldblum just realizes he's made another turkey
A large scale dunderheaded film that makes no real sense but has a few funny lines and a an action sequence or two that are fun in a pure spectacle sort of way.

The problem is that where Roland Emmerich used to make films for teenage boys he now let's them write the script with the result that characters are nonexistent and events trail off into nothingness. For example a huge fight inside a space ship is spectacular and then just is dropped and then picked up with no sense of how we got there. The number of aliens comes and goes, the number of hips come and go. The shields come and go. None of it makes sense on its own terms.

The film creates a frustration because you can't even go with it on its own terms. Its not just operating in its own universe, its creating as it goes on and destroying what went before.  As an audience member you'll be doing head palms- and then staring at the screen in disbelief as the  plot spontaneously creates itself in ways so unnatural that uptight conservative pundits will call for it to be prohibited by law.

This film is a film that cries out for the Rifftrax guys or lots of drunk friends- otherwise avoid it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Links and stuff from Randi and the Unseen team because intriguing stuff never stops showing up

Just because we're in to the crazy period where New York Asian beeds into Japan Cuts which bleeds into Fantasia and are posting like made it doesn't mean that nightcap stuff doesn't top appearing- so to appease the handful of crazies who love the links we share here's a bunch from the last couple of weeks.

Japan Crate- monthly candy deliveries
Time Lapse of Tokyo
30 Minutes of  THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED have surfaced
Confessions of a zookeeper
Hitting a glass bottomed bridge with a sledgehammer
Idiocracy makers to do anti-trump ads
The Killing Joke
How to stop ums
Henry Rollins on Dr Suess
THere was a 5th housemate in the YOUNG ONES house
Japan's porn industry apologizes about coercion 
North Korea blows the propaganda war
I'll Say She is

Dong-ju: The Portrait of a Poet (2016) NYAFF 2016

Portrait of poet Dong-ju who grew up under the Japanese occupation  of Korea. Forced to speak only Japanese he wrote is work in Korean and worked on Korean independence- something that would land him in a Japanese prison.

A starkly beautiful film, DONG-JU is a film that not only tells the story of Dong-ju and his his cousin but also highlights the terrible things the Japanese did while they controlled Korea. The razor sharp black and white photography helps to put us into this other time and place.

The trouble is that this is very much another time and place. Watching the film without knowing the full history of the "colonial period" where Japanese lorded over Korea kept me distanced. I could follow what was happening but at the same time I was very aware that there was backstory that I wasn't aware of. All through the film there was a sense that I should know more about the history, and more problematically about the the man at the center of the film. Yes I know he is the best known of Korea's poets but what are the myths about the man that make him so compelling? As told here he is a guy who wrote some killer poetry.

This isn't to say that DONG-JU is a bad film, it's not. It is a quite good film, at least for those who know something of the subject. Without having some connection to the material going in I'm not sure how moved anyone is going to be coming out. I know that the pre- end credits crawl with additional details of Dong-ju's life and a post film trip to Wikipedia filled in details that either I missed or weren't translated in the film.

I like the film, but to be completely honest I can't really say what I think about the film until I first read more on Dong-ju, and life for Korean's under the Japanese and then try the film again.

For tickets and more information go here.

A review of How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change (2016)

Just as Josh Fox, the Oscar nominated director of GASLAND, was doing a happy dance because his home was no longer threatened by fracing, he discovered that the effects of climate change were killing the trees around him. Setting out to see what could be done he discovered that some effects may not not be reversible. He then decided to travel the world to see what the situations are in various countries and to see what we won't loose to climate change.

Full disclosure I am not a Josh Fox fan. I have not reviewed his GASLAND films here at Unseen Films because I really don't like them or him. I'm not pro- fracing nor am I anti-climate change I just think that his films preach too much.

And so it is with HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD, great opening dance number aside, I still felt like I was being preached to. Don't get me wrong the trip that Fox takes around the world is enjoyable and I really do like the film, I just can't get past that the film is first and foremost a lesson, which is odd because Fox seems to be trying to do more than just scream about gloom and doom, he's actually trying to show the good things that have come out of being forced to change how we do things.

As this posts, the day before the film premiere on HBO I should probably say that this review has been sitting in the queue waiting to be posted for about three months. I saw the film sometime about the film hit theaters but I was too busy with other things to get a finished review up. It sat in my pile as I watched several other climate change films that came and went. This was the first of many films on climate change that I saw this year and I decided to go back and take a look at the film to get my thoughts clear on the film- especially since so many similar films were so blah that I didn't review them.

Seeing it a second time I noticed a couple of things. First it is much better than the films that I didn't review. While I would still say that TIME FOR CHANGE is the best of the climate change bunch HOW I LET GO... is a nice change of pace that tries to do something more than just throw out the facts. Fox tries to do more, he's trying to show us the ability of the human spirit to survive and he does so very well. Its so nice to see a somewhat hopeful film.

That said I am still not a big fan of Josh Fox and I am still tired of climate change films. However if you are interested in the subject and ant to see a film that isn't wholly gloom and doom tune into HBO tomorrow and see HOW I LET GO...

All About Lily Chou Chou (2001) NYAFF 2016

Probably the best known of Shunji Iwai's films in America, if only because the title seems silly and is one of those things that sticks in your head even if you've never seen the film. For example when I was discussing the fact that I was going to be seeing this film at NYAFF several people in my office who don't know films said they had herd of it. When I asked them about Iwai's other films like SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY they stared at me blankly.

A kind of puzzle box of a film LILY CHOU CHOU concerns the lives of several teenagers over the course of two years. We watch as they drift through life and deal with the pain and misery of being a teen and how they, and one in particular,  find solace in the music of the title character.

A mythic and ethereal kind of film that is highly tinged with darkness as gorgeous images reveal terrible and mundane things. This is a film that very much is like the split of being a teenager. Its also a film that kind of divides audiences into those who can connect to the teens in the film and those that can't.

Seeing the film for the first time for this year's NYAFF, I was struck by how outside the narrative I felt.  I really couldn't connect to the film on any real level.  I suspect that the films use of message boards as a plot device now seems quaint in a world with Twitter and Facebook. In a weird way Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp's comment in The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film that Iwai's films are "rooted in the era in which they are made" is very true about this film as well since what may have seemed special and unique when this film was made is now quite ordinary. Even the backstory of the film, it's sourced from an on-line novel the director wrote with input from fans and it was shot digitally are nothing special any more.

Watching the film I got the sense that all of my concerns aside the biggest problem is that I'm several decades past being able to connect to this film. Say what you will about the film on any number of levels the real target audience for this film is a certain group of a certain age who are going through a similar experience as the kids in this film. This isn't to sell the film short, rather that if I was about 15 when I saw this I would have been rapturous for it. Additionally if I had been closer to 15 than I am now I probably would have liked it more.

Will you like the film?

I have no idea. What do you think of Iwai's other films? How close are you to the age of these characters?

Personally you're on your own with this one.

For tickets and more information go here.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


IF CATS DISAPPEARED FROM THE WORLD is one of the three films I can't see at the New York Asian Film Festival.  Mondocurry saw it yesterday and was so high on the film that he has almost talked me into going to see it.

Here's Mondo's piece over at for your review and which will hopefully get you to run out and see it Monday at 9PM.

Maverick (2015) NYAFF 2016

Cheng Wen-Tang's MAVERICK is the second part of the director's planned trilogy  of police films. It was nominated for several awards including Best Supporting Actress for Man-shu Chien at the Golden Horse Film Festival, which is fitting since it's the performances that you'll remember.

Rookie cop is brought along to raid a gambling den. Things go sideways when the son of a city counsel member is found stoned out of his mind in the back. The older cops make the case go away but the newbie won't let it go. Battling the corruption which seeks to derail him, he keeps picking at the case finding out that the counsel member's son is supplying drugs to the local high schools.

Good low key crime drama is a really nice atypical look at the police in Asian. Falling somewhere between the dark cynicism of many films and the super cop rah rah that some  big action films take this is a hopeful look at one man trying to make a stand.  The film is also atypical in that the film is not full of big action set pieces that seem to be be in most recent police films. This is a slice of life drama that manages to hold your attention without having to resort to shoot'em ups every ten minutes.

While the film is probably too long at 117 minutes, the film holds you attention because the actors are so good that you believe them and feel for their plight. This is particularly true in the romance between one of the cops and a character played by Man-shu Chen. There is a rawness to their scenes that keeps things interesting.

A solid crime drama

For tickets and more information go here.

Mondocurry covers NYAFF

Mondocurry is putting in hard time covering NYAFF over at his own place He's hit a bunch of films I'm seeing at the screenings and he'll be seeing ones I won't get to- so keep checking his site to see his take on things as well as stuff Unseen won't get to,

In brief: Jagat (aka Brutal) (2015) NYAFF 2016

Set during the early 1990's when the the Indian Malaysians were living under horrible conditions having beenkicked out by the land owners and driven to the cities, However once they got to the cities things were worse as the rampant crime limited their options.

12 year old Appoy lives parents. His father wants him to study hard but he'd rather watch crime shows on TV. Not fully succeeding in school despite  being pushed by his dad he struggles to find a place for himself despite the unsavory characters moving around him, trying to pull him off the straight and narrow.

Social drama meets coming of age film meets crime drama for a potent film experience.(Think Satyajit Ray on a dark day) Despite the feeling that this isn't quite real life, the film paints a portrait of life most people in America are not going to have any idea about. Its a hard existence where even the strong may not survive.  Its a gritty story that could have used a few less perfectly composed shots.

That said this is a moving film and a decided nice change of pace for NYAFF

For tickets and more information go here.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Tekkonkinkreet (2006) NYAFF 2016 repost

This is a repost of the review that I ran a couple of years ago on the truly mind blowing Tekkonkinkreet. This is one of the touchstone films i my love of animation because there is nothing like it which is why you should see it.

Tekkonkinkreet is the story of two kids named Black and White. They are known as the Cats and are considered by some to be the protectors of a part of the city known as Treasure Town. As a year goes by a yakuza captain returns to the city and a man named Snake appears with his eye on turning that part of the city into an amusement park.

I'm explaining it badly, forgive me, since this is a film thats better to experience than to hear about. Using a mix of 2D and 3D CGI this is a film that is vibrantly alive. There is a real sense of place that is missing from many animated films. The world bleeds off the screen. The film rarely sits still its constantly in motion as characters go from place to place or engage in battles for life and death. Its an amazing thing to watch.

The characters are very real. I watched the film with the English dub (I know boo hiss) and the choices of actors was wonderful. The voices of the kids were kids and seemed to perfectly match their personalities. The same goes for the other characters as well. What I liked was that the kids were kids. They seemed to be real kids behaving in the situations presented. Granted the film is wildly fantastical but the personalities and behaviors outside of the running and jumping and beating people up was real.

A word of warning, this is a dark film at times. There is a great deal of violence, which despite being animated is very nasty and bloody. The film also has some dark undertones as some of the characters slip into the darkness of their souls. Its disturbing enough to get an R rating.

On the down side the film takes a while to get going. I was about a third of the way in before it started to click with me. No doubt it was due in part to the very large cast of characters. (I'm certain this is going to play better on a second viewing). My other problem with the film was a shift towards the end which makes me think I may have missed something along the way. I feel as though I missed the climax of somethings. (Again this will probably be better on the next viewing)

Over all worth a shot. definitely see this in widescreen since the compositions are geared to that.

For tickets and more information go here.

In Brief: What a Wonderful Family (2016) NYAFF 2016

In the middle of golfing and drinking his way through retirement Shuzo is shocked to his core when his long suffering wife hands him divorce papers in answer to the question of "What would you like for your birthday?"This shocks everyone in the family out of their complacency and well...

Absolutely charming small scale gem. is a real delight. A gentle domestic comedy hits all the right notes and creates smiles if not laughs from start to finish. Its  a film that takes the family comedy that's been worked over the last hundred or so years and takes the best parts to form a winner of a film.

This is one of the real surprises of this years New York Asian Film Festival. Here is a film that I expected very little from that absolutely charmed the pants off me. This is an early pick for what may turn out to be one the to or three films that ends up being talked about all through the festival- you know the sort of thing that becomes some sort of secret club for those who were there and lucky enough to actually have seen the film.

Highly recommended

For tickets and more information go here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tetsuo The Iron Man (1989) NYAFF2016

Tetsuo The Iron man has two sequels, thousands of imitators and it influenced thousands more either directly or indirectly. This low budget film shook up the film world and changed everything that followed it. Its visual style, lack of crystal clear narrative and dialog created a visceral punch that’s still being felt today.

The plot has man becoming a machine, either in reality or in his head. What’s real and what isn’t clear.

I’m not sure what to say about the film. I was going to talk about the cyber punk style the film was part of. but then I realized any of the films that I wanted to talk about like Death Powder or 964 Pinocchio followed this. Tetsuo really is the starting point of a film movement.  Its style was then taken up by a number of radical young filmmakers who saw the film as a way of mainlining feeling into the audience

If you’ve never seen the film you should. It’s a must see not only because the film changed everything that followed, but because it’s a good film. A black and white nightmare of body horror, the film pushes the David Cronenberg idea of a body in revolt to delirious heights. It’s a film that jumps on your buttons over and over again until they stick in place. It’s a film you walk out of exhausted and exhilarated. It’s truly one of the crown jewels of cinema because it’s a film that only could exist as cinema.

What bothers me is that director Shinya Tsukamoto is known for Tetsuo and not for all of the films that followed. A killer director his films like Snake of June, Nightmare Detective, Tokyo Fist, Gemini, Bullet Ballet and the crushing remake of Fire on The Plains he has pushed cinematic story telling in interesting ways. More amazingly none of his films, other than the sequels look like any other. Tsukamoto cleans the slate with each film and we are better for it.

Tetsuo is a must see. If you never seen it then you must try to get to Lincoln Center to see it when it screens Saturday. If you’ve seen it but only on TV then you also must see it at NYAFF because seeing this on the big screen is a mind blowing experience and is nothing like seeing it TV,

For tickets and more information go here.

The Bodygaurd (2015) NYAFF 2016)

Song Yue's send up/ homage of the classic Hong Kong films is a pure delight. Its a wonderful modern day recreation of an old school style action film.

When his master dies Wu-Lin, aka Mr Hero, master of the Iron Kick goes to the big city to find former friend Jiang-Li.  Through circumstance too neat to bother with Wu-Lin goes to work protecting a spoiled rich girl. Of course all is not well between friends and a show down ends up in the cards.

Moving like the wind the film's plot is little more than an excuse to get martial artists and guys with guns to crash into each other. It knows the plot is throwing up is well worn and silly cliche tropes, its the classic battle of schools plot, but it turns it to its advantage, giving us knowing jokes and sudden unexpected situations that delight with the sudden turns.

And then there is the action, a glorious mix of head on bone crushing action mixed with knowing silliness. Its clear that they had a blast making the film because people are smiling during some of the battles. Little of it makes any real sense, the sequence where  Hero chases a van with the kidnapped girl in it would require his moving like the Flash to work, but its entertaining as all hell. This is a grand popcorn film.

An absolute MUST see when it plays Saturday at NYAFF- because this is a film that improves ten fold when seen with an audience.

For tickets and more information go here.


It was good to be back at the Walter Reade for NYAFF 2016. Walking in I saw Earl who I high fived. I haven't seen Earl in ages and it as good to see him lurking about. I then began the slow round of talking to everyone I haven't seen since last year...

Walking into the theater I got as far as the lovely Lee and the conversations began about being home, the selections this year and how everyone was falling into their usual seats. We were talking for so long that when Alec showed up I still hadn't found our seats. We then found them on the opposite side of the auditorium than usual and was questioned by other regulars of the festival about not being in our usual places.

The lights went down and Rufus introduced Sam who welcomed everyone and then brought the Subway Cinema crew on stage. He then brought out director Kazuya Shiraishi and producer Yoshinori Chiba of TWISTED JUSTICE who joked about the film and its place as the opener.

We were then reminded that there would be a Q&A following the film and a party after that. I bolted after the film because I had mistimed trains  and if I didn't leave when I did it was going to be a long stay in Penn Station waiting to get home.

It was for the most part really nice to be back in the trenches once more.

For those playing the home game I do not have a scheduled screening until Monday- however reviews of everything will be posting through the weekend.
As for tonight's movie

I had read a couple of positive reviews of TWISTED JUSTICE and I was told by someone else who had seen it that it was wild and crazy and good.

The only thing I can think of is that the film plays better on TV than on a big movie screen because what I saw tonight was a mess.

Actually what it is is a film that doesn't know what it wants to be or be about. It thrashes about for two and a quarter hours not being about anyone or anything. The pieces kind of work but not together.

The film is the true story of a cop, here called Yoichi Morohoshi, who joined the police force because his judo skills would win the police the national championship, He was grossly unqualified and he knew it but he joined anyway. Starting as an inexperienced nerd he struggles and blind lucks his way to success in a system that rewards success via quotas. The more arrests you make, drugs you find and guns you seize the farther you go.  Morohoshi is very good at scamming the system and over time climbs into bed with the yakuza and other unsavory people. It all goes on like a weird illustration of Murphy's Law and the adage of people rising to their own level of incompetence. It eventually all collapses, leaving a trail of dead bodies across the front lawn of justice.

Nominally a comedy, the film, especially in the second half shifts tone into dark realism at random moments. People are beaten up, strung out and break apart. The shifts tone do not work in the least, largely because even the tone of the humorous parts don't really have a consistent tone. Shifting from low key situational humor to just silliness it's all over the place.

Everything is cartoony until its not. Morohoshi comes off as a clown more than anything. Actually the film doesn't have many details as things just happen and side characters just appear to say jab an ear with an ice pick.
A large problem is that the film really doesn't have any real characters.  Are these people buffoons or real cops? I have no sense of anyone existing beyond the scene they are in.

I won't even talk about the women in the film who are either love struck does or power hungry whores. That's probably giving them too much characterization since the women are basically sex toys for Morohoshi. All we seem him do is bump uglies with them.  They are so marginalized that the two women blur together after awhile. Then Morohoshi rapes one because she ends up strung out on the speed he is selling before dumping her in prison to get clean. Thoughtful guy, not. While the rape is bad enough because of its ugliness, it's made worse because its out of place for Morohoshi. Its bad enough that it had several people around me wincing- especially because she seems to like it because he's finally paying attention to her.

The rape illustrates a key problem with the Morohoshi, and that we really don't know who he is. The normally sweet guy suddenly turns extremely violent for no reason (perhaps to show how far he's fallen). It probably shouldn't surprise me since he is normal person at some points and goofy in most others.

The plot of the film covers roughly 30 years of time. It begins in 1975 when Morohoshi joins the force and then just ping pongs through time to the next promotion. It would be okay but there is nothing special or unique the time jumps, its just more of the same as they try to buy guns to make it look like they are doing their job. The repetition could have been cut down and the film stream lined and tightened. Frankly other than a hair change there is nothing to distinguish most of the time periods apart.

As the film races to it's conclusion several WTF moments pop up when the strung out Morohoshi is sent to the boonies because his plan to buy guns has blown up big time, and because he's become a drug addict. Suddenly the character has gone gray and is wearing straggly facial hair...both of which comes and goes randomly. He is on and off physically broken for no reason. And coming and going randomly is Morohoshi's madness which has him filling in a report ala Jack Torrences' novel in THE SHINING and babbling oddly. Who is this guy and what is he doing in this film?

What pisses me off most about the film is that I almost gave the film a pass, I almost let the film go with a positive review despite all my issues because there is this scene towards the end where Morohoshi is in prison and talking to his attorney and he explains his character and why he did what he did. Its as glorious a sequence and piece of acting as you'll see all year- its an Oscar worthy performance. The trouble is that it comes in in the final moments to kick us on the ass and act as smoke and mirrors move. Yes that's who he is and what the film is, but GOD DAMN IT THE FILM DIDN'T EARN IT.  Its a grand "ah ha" moment that doesn't belong here- its pat on the ass as it sends us into the streets and complete bullshit as a result.  As I said its a brilliant sequence- but its from another infinitely better film we should have seen instead.

In fairness I do have to say I did like pieces of it- but as a whole, as I told a friend who missed the film, I could have had a more productive evening staying home and trying to knit a pizza, while I still would have been frustrated with the end result I would have at least become proficient in knitting.

I really don't think much of the film, I was going to write a brief three or four lines because this was part of the Opening Night report, but got carried away.  On the other hand people like Joe Bendel liked the film so the choice whether to see the film Tuesday when it screens again is up to you.

For tickets and more information go here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

In Brief: Lazy Hazy Crazy (2015) NYAFF 2016

Sexually frank story of three girls who move in together. One is selling her services via an app and the others join in.  The film follows their ebb and flow of the women who through it all remain friends.

Nicely done low key film is not going to be for all audiences. The slice of life nature of the film and sexually frank discussions are not going to work for everyone.  I myself liked the film but at the same time felt myself distanced from the characters through age and sex, I am decidedly not an 18 year old woman.

All of that said, this is a lovely little film with some very real performances from the three leads. The cinematography nicely puts us into Hong Kong in a way that few films ever do. I also am a fan of the gentle score which nicely highlights the the action on screen.

If you have any interest in seeing this film I definitely recommend it when it plays Saturday at NYAFF.

For tickets and more information go here.

The Laundryman (2015) NYAFF 2016

Dark comedy/drama has a hitman looking to try and unlock the reason that he is suddenly being haunted by the ghosts of the people he's killed. Using a medium his boss recommends our hero begins a quest to find out why he the ghosts are hanging around him. Its a quest that causes him all sorts of trouble,

Genre busting film is very hard to classify except as something that will absolutely thrill anyone who wants to see a great film especially one that doesn't stick to genres. Seriously this film jumps from crime drama to comedy, to supernatural tale, to romance to pretty much every thing you can think of except science fiction and musical.

A mind bending , heartbreaking, very funny film THE LAUNDRYMAN is just a shot of pure cinematic magic. This is one of those films that feel like a full ten course meal. Its a film that keeps rolling out the twists as it goes becoming even more satisfying as it goes along. Its one of those films that when it ends you want to get up and go home because you've not only been entertained but emotionally moved as well.

This film is playing early on Saturday at NYAFF and I'm curious how it's going to affect the films that follow it since the next two films are nothing like this.

Wow. Just Wow.

I'm leaving it there because this just doesn't do what I expected even when it did what I expected so I don't want to risk cluing you into anything.

A must see when it screens Saturday at Lincoln Center

For tickets and more information go here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Breaking a Monster: A Film About Unlocking the Truth (2015)

I saw director Luke Meyer's short film UNLOCKING THE TRUTH  last year at the New York International Children's Film Festival and fell in love with the band Unlocking the Truth. I went home looked on line for their music and sent it to a a number of my friends. I was therefore excited when I found out shortly there after that Meyer had turned the short into  a feature.

The band is made up of teenagers Alec Atkins, Malcolm Brickhouse and Jarad Dawkins who met when they were four years old. Unlike the stereotypical idea of African American youth the boys gravitated not toward rap or hiphop but toward heavy metal. Playing on the streets of New York and in Times Square got them noticed and eventually they signed a huge 1.8 million dollar contract with Sony. The film follows as the boys begin their big push into the music world and get noticed by the media when news of their contract breaks.

There is no denying that the guys are talented musicians and that their music is excellent. There is also no denying that the guys are charming young men.

I'm just not too sure what I think about the film as a whole though.

Yes this is a good story.

Yes there are some fantastic moments.

The problem is that this is the story of three teenagers and their handlers and there really isn't much drama. Yes there is the battle between the kids being kids and the fact that they are rock stars, but because they seem to actually have parents who care and handlers who don't come off as absolute jerks there isn't much suspense or tension. Don't get me wrong I love the guys and I'd love to hang out with them, but at the same time the film doesn't make it all look sexy.

About half an hour in I was ready to put the film on hold and come back to it later...and that bothers the hell out of me because this isn't a bad film.

Should you see the film when it opens Friday?

Yes. Its a very good film, its just not one of the great rock docs.

Swallowtail Butterfly (1996) NYAFF 2016

What follows is my IMDB review for SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY slightly tweaked. I've seen the film several times since I wrote the piece and I've seen HANA AND ALICE completely as well. 

SWALLOWTAIL is a film that produced arguments, many verbal some almost physical because several people I knew thought the film was the second coming of (insert great work of cinema here). It was a film that broke the rules, rattled their cages and made them fall in love with cinema again. I thought it was over long, rambling and nothing special.  I can only imagine what would have happened if the film had appeared in a world like the one today, instead of one without Twitter Facebook and other social media nightmares. I'd probably have ended up in a ditch somewhere.(though that actually almost happened but that's another story for another time)

I've seen SWALLOWTAIL four maybe five times over the two decades and I'm still not loving it. I considered rewatching it again for this years NYAFF, but there are 51 films that I haven't seen and the thought of trying one I keep trying to like when it's over two and a half hours isn't something I need to do. Perhaps maybe down the road I'll try it again.

For now here are my thoughts from IMDB

Love it or loath it tale of a young girl in Yentown who's mother dies and she is taken in by a collection of oddball characters.

Polyglot film is a mix of languages and styles with a drive to be about something. It didn't work for me and after about a quarter of its two and a half hour running time I had to give up, not because it was bad, rather because it just wasn't working for me. Its too hip and happening. Usually I like Shunji Iwai, the directors work. His Arita in Jam Films is wonderful, and Hana and Alice is very nice. I wish I could tell you more about the film but its one of those films that just didn't seem ever to come together...

That said worth a look since some people I've read love the film.

For tickets and more information go here.

Thoughts on The Bride of Rip Van Winkle (2016) NYAFF 2016

Iwai Shunji is receiving the Star Asia Life Time Achievement Award at this years New York Asian Film Festival and it's a move that is either going to thrill or annoy the people who have been following his career over the years.  When I was descending into Asian film with wild abandon Shunji's SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY (a review later today)was held out to be the be all and end all of Japanese film by several people I know.  It was a film I was verbally and almost physically attacked for not liking (and you thought fanboys are tough today).  Despite several attempts at the film it has never clicked with me.

The funny thing is that outside of his segment in JAM FILMS called Arita and his HANA AND ALICE I really don't care for his films all that much. I don't think they are much of anything leaving me scratching my head and wondering what the fuss, and the occasional excessive run times are all about.

Which brings me to Shunji's latest film THE BRIDE OF RIP VAN WINKLE which is showing at NYAFF as part of this year's look back at the director.

The film is the story of a young woman who isn't socially adapt. She meets a young man, they quickly marry only to have the marriage fail. She then becomes a maid and later companion to a dying woman.  Its a film about trying to make connections and trying to find ourselves. It can be an intriguing look at society today

THE BRIDE OF RIP VAN WINKLE vexes me. A film of great beauty and occasional stunningly wonderful moments, the film more frequently seems to skid off  in self indulgent navel gazing. Sequences that seem to be firing on all cylinders are followed one ones where the film seems to just be idling and letting things play out way past the point they need to.

At some point, as I did with SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY 20 years ago I shut off and just let the film wash over me.

When the film ended I went on line and started to read about the film. I wanted to know what I was missing.

Apparently nothing since there are two versions of the film and NYAFF is running the full 179 minute one. It's a film that runs a full hour longer than shorter version which is also playing theaters in Asia. This full version is exactly what Shunji wanted to release and reaction to the cut is either gushing love or similar to mine-which is "it's got moments".

Where does that leave any recommendation?

I have no idea. If you like Shunji's earlier films give the film a go. If not it will depend upon how you feel about a film that frequently rambles nowhere.

For tickets and more information go here.

Seoul Station (2016) NYAFF 2016

Numerous story lines collide- an old guy with a neck wound wanders back into the city and his "brother" attempts to find medical help for him. A young woman has trouble with her boyfriend wants to pimp her out via the internet. Meanwhile a father looks for his missing daughter. Elsewhere in and around the Seoul Station various homeless people cope with the late night. Everyone wants to settle in for the night - except that the old guy isn't just wounded but carrying the infection that will begin the outbreak of a condition that will see the dead rise and attack the living.

An absolute rarity in the zombie genre, a film with honest to god characters. Not only that its a zombie film with real scares. And its animated.

Normally I hate the zombie genre. I mean I HATE IT, so when I tell you SEOUL STATION IS really good believe me , this is REALLY GOOD. Actually it's quite amazing especially since the zombie film has been so badly raped by lazy hacks and would be comediennes that that to me the genre is pretty much worthless (do not get me started about WALKING DEAD). Yes we'd occasionally get a good film but it as always buried in the middle of 25 turds.. this is one of the best I've seen in years, decades if you want a straight on balls to the wall horror film as opposed to something like MAGGIE or MISS ZOMBIE which use the tropes for other purposes.

SEOUL STATION works for two reasons. First is the characters. Pretty much everyone is a real person.  If they aren't a full fleshed out person then we have enough to think there is more to them than just being a cardboard cut out. We car about the people- even the ones we don't like.

The second reason the film works is that the film is set at the start of an outbreak. The characters don't know what is happening so their panic feeds our panic. We don't know the rules because no one knows whats happening so they haven't figured them out. The hordes are not your typical zombie masses but something else. They are fast but clumsy, they fall down a lot. While there is little doubt that they are in a direct line to the George Romero ones, a head shot is needed to kill them and the film riffs his DAWN OF THE DEAD,  there are enough differences that it keeps things interesting. It also allows for some scary funny moments as we can't always be sure if someone infected or not. Best of all it feels real and you get the sense that this is how is would probably go (the governmental response is just as chilling as the zombies).

I was scared and on the edge of my seat for most of the film.

And do I really need to mention the social commentary that runs rampant but unobtrusively all through the film? And when you consider this was made by Yeon Sang-ho who made the bleakly depressing KING OF PIGS you can be sure its not a happy film.

One of the best films at NYAFF and one of the best horror films of 2016. A must see.

For tickets and more information go here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)

Hong Sang-soo returns with a film many hailed as one of the best films screened last year at the New York Film Festival and for some the best of 2015.

Not being a Sang-soo fan, I avoded it like the plague. To be honest I am one of the many people who are tired of him essentially making the same film over and over again. As I have said numerous times, I'm pretty sure that you could edit all of his films together in to one film and have it play perfectly. Additionally you could edit together clips from all his films and make a variation on Sang-soo's one plot.

At this point you're probably wondering why in the hell, if I'm not a fan of Hong Sang Soo would I take a look at RIGHT NOW WRONG THEN. Simple, the right to people told me to try the film and if I don't like it the walk away from Sang-soo forever and never feel bad about seeing another one of his films.

With that in mind I sat don and I watched RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN.

The film is essentially the same story told twice with variations. The story is that of a film director meeting a young woman who is a painter and the course of their interaction over the course of a day.

To be perfectly honest I liked one telling of the story and not the other.I hated the first time through and really liked the second. My dislike of the first iteration has nothing to do with Sang-soo's notions of repetition and desire to revisit the same damn story. It has everything to do with the first part of the story feels like a rough draft, the sort of thing that any good artist would have burned when he got it right. Its the sort of thing that had I not been told it gets better I would have walked out and never seen again.

To be fair there isn't really anything wrong with the first pass, except that its full of all the little quirks and humor that I hate about Song-soo's work.

The second half of the film, and the one that gives the film as a whole it's title, is infinitely better. Made after the first half was done, Sang-soo showed the cast the finished film and then went out and remade it. The resulting film is a much meatier much deeper film.  It is the final product to the first half's unfinished doodle. The characters are richer, the plot fuller. There is something about our connection to the characters that is better.

I am at a loss to know why Sang-soo didn't simply release this better version instead of tying it to the lead weight of the first half.

I suppose that some of you out there are calling me a heathen. Some of you are saying I'm missing the point, the point is the repetition and how thing might play out another way. Thank you but I highly doubt it. I've had enough discussions with deeper minds and more artistically inclined minds than myself and I've told you the same thing that I've told them, that Sang-soo is largely full of it, that he is a one trick pony that he's sold a bill of goods to the cineastes as something greater and more meaningful than it is.

That said, there is no doubt that he can turn out some hellaciously good films, which the second half of RIGHT NOW WRONG THEN is. I really like the "romance" that plays out there.

I just wish Sang-soo would stop being like Orson Welles and Don Quixote and just make one film from start to finish and then move on to another plot line. Stop revisiting the same damn plot/themes since you've gotten it right, now move on.

My attitude toward the film is that is you're a fan of Hong Sang-soo the film is a must. If you've never seen one of his films, give it a try. If you are not a fan wait until the film hits home video, jump 55 minutes in and just watch the good stuff that is the second telling.

Sacrilege I know but that's what I feel.

The Priests (2015) NYAFF 2016

When you want to reinvigorate an over done genre of films sometimes resetting the film in a new location makes everything better. Take for example the overdone genre of exorcism films. We’ve had too many films since the EXORCIST rattled cages 40 years ago, and a good number of them aren’t all that hot. Yes there have been some winners but mostly it’s the same story told over and over again. THE PRIESTS resets the well worn story of an exorcism and resets it in Korea, adds lots of character development and psychology and a dash of local culture for a film that will have you at the edge of your seat.

The film begins in Italy where word comes to the Catholic Church of the appearance of a demon. As the church scrambles to get word from the man on the scene we find out he has matters in hand, the demon has been exorcised. Unfortunately in the rush to destroy the demon accidents happen and the demon gets lose and goes into a teenaged girl. Flash forward a priest in Korea wants to perform an exorcism on the girl who was possessed but needs approval of the church. Fearing the backlash if things go wrong they give him unofficial approval. The Church also begins to look for a new assistant for the exorcist since the old one has locked himself away. As the two men come together preparations are made for the battle with evil.

One of the best films about exorcism that I’ve run across, THE PRIESTS will keep you up late at night. I saw this film in the evening a couple weeks back and when it was done I spent the next two hours trying to cleanse my head with stupid comedies. It helped me to get to sleep but the feeling still hung with me for a day or two afterward. Of course it didn’t help that I was telling everyone I could about how good the film was.

The reason the film is so chilling is twofold.

First the film’s moving the typical Catholic exorcism tale to Korea instantly puts us off balance. Things are not quite the same, especially when the story adds in shamanism and other non-western touches as if they were no big deal. It colors things deeply for the Western audience and probably to some degree Korean audiences as well.

The other reason the film works is that this is a character driven tale. We care about the characters a great deal and our like for them is what keeps us watching. We fear for what will happen to them. The real chills come not from the blood and guts, but from the fear that the men we like will get hurt or killed. We buy it all because we buy the characters-all the characters. Say what you will there isn’t a bad performance in the film. Even the small roles manage to be characters, which is important since what they do affects what we see later on.

This is a great film. It will scare you. This is one I want to share and pass around.

An absolute must see when it plays Thursday at Lincoln Center

For tickets and more information go here.

In Brief:Apocalypse Child (2016) NYAFF 2016

Love and surfing on the Philippines beach of Baler as a surfer named Ford (who may or may not be the son of Francis Ford Coppola) drifts through life with his girlfriend.

Small inde gem channels the best of the American inde film movement and transfers it  half a world away. This is a great looking film that hits all the right notes. The cast is great, and frankly better than the ones in many similar American films. Everyone here seems to be inhabiting their roles rather then acting. The locations are lovely and the music is awesome (anyone know if there is an album out?)

This is the second film screening at this years NYAFF and its going to confuse the hell out of some of the audience who are expecting the typical genre fare (more so when you consider the film is being followed by a balls to the wall horror film). There isn't anything genre about this film unless you consider character driven films to a genre now.

I really like this film a great deal. Consider it the first real surprise of the festival and one of the front runners for one of the top films.

And please forgive the lack of detail and discussion but this is one of those films where it's best if you go in blind and just let it hit you. Knowing the film is good and worth your attention is all you need to know

Highly recommended, especially if you want to travel NYAFF's welcome move toward screening more than just genre.

For tickets and more information go here.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The New York Asian Film Festival Starts Wednesay

My annual homecoming starts Wednesday when the two plus week party known as The New York Asian Film Festival begins.

NYAFF is a grand family reunion with great movies. I say this because every year I get to see the friends, now family, who I would otherwise never see. If you go to the festival for more than one or two movies you find that you start talking to people and that the conversation lasts days as you meet and remeet at all of the showings. The conversations turn to post film dinners or pre-film lunches and the meals into lifelong friendships. Most of the people who are my really good friends now all came from NYAFF. Purely on the basis of people you've seen here Unseen Mondo, Mr C, Chocko, Hubert, Alec and Peter all were picked up at the festival.(And no Joe I'm not forgetting you but our collision was elsewhere, NYAFF was just another reason to hang out)

For me the festival is all about the people- and what a grand bunch of people they are. I wouldn’t trade anyone of the crazies for a million bucks. If it wasn't for the people I would cover it remotely and never go- but the vibe and the conversations that keep me going back even when I am too tired or not in the mood to make the trip into Manhattan.

On top of the people you get great films. I’m not going to go into how many great films I’ve discovered at the festival- too many too count-instead I’m just going to say pick a film and go see something because these guys and gals know how to pick great films.

You have to remember that NYAFF is one of the reasons that Asian films have slipped into the mainstream. Yea they were always on the fringe, but thanks to this festival films from across Asian can get a regular release because the success of the festival proved there is an audience. Because Goran, Rufus, Sam and the others, past and present, pushed to get prints of the film studios were forced to sit up and take notice. On top of that the articles by festival founders Grady Hendrix and Marc Walkow in periodicals like Film Comment opened the eyes of more people about the cinematic wonders most people weren’t considering. Taking it further their love of these films has resulted in even more films as festival founder Marc Walkow ended up a producer on the Sushi Typhoon line, and the ABC’s of Death films. Now the Subway Cinema guys are also producing DVD packages making sure not only are we getting great films but kick ass extras as well.

I love the festival because for me so much good as come from it.

You have to go- it’s a blast and you’re a most certain to make a new friend or two- seriously everyone is friendly from staff, to volunteers to audiences is wonderful.

As for the festival this year- it’s excellent, it really is. Based upon what I’ve seen it’s light years ahead of last year. As this posts I’ve seen over half the films  and  I’ve tickets for most of the remaining films. While there are couple of films I didn’t care for, there have been no films that made me wonder why it was being presented. No film I saw was bad, some simply weren’t my cup of tea. I didn’t like them but I know other people who did.

We will be reviewing all of the films except perhaps three or four. All of the films we won't get to are screening in slots I can’t make and were not made available for review. I’m hoping to get coverage of the films, but as it stands now we should be reviewing 47 or  48 of the festivals 51 films.

While the reviews are coming starting tomorrow, all timed to run a couple of days before they screen, there are some films which you’ll want to get tickets for ASAP. Within the 26 films I've seen there are some are truly great films and some that are just really special experiences - these are my must sees. It's important that you act now to get tickets because almost everything is screening only once, so if you miss something there is no chance to circle back.


THE PRIESTS- a creepy horror film about Catholic priests taking on an ancient evil. It makes an over done genre new again thank to a blending of cultures.

TEKKONKINKRETE - one of the most visually stunning animated films you'll ever see. If you've never seen it you must make an effort

BODYGUARD- Yue Song's send up/homage to old school martial arts film  is set in present day Hong Kong. Its the old story of competing schools done entertainingly. This is a blast and a half and a must see with an audience. This is as close as this year's festival is getting to Shaw Brothers insanity so go see this.

WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY may not be the best film of the festival, but it an absolute delightful domestic comedy that I'm guessing most people won't go to because it's screening so early in the day. They will regret it once everyone begins talking about it. Its a charming small film  that should get an audience which appreciates it.

THE LAUNDRYMAN-comedy, action supernatural thriller about a hit man seeing the ghosts of those he killed bends genres to be a fantastic fun house thrill ride.

MAVERICK-new cop gets on the outs when he won't let a case of corruption go. A week later I'm still thinking about it.

HAZE- life on the fringe in the Philippines. If it wasn't for an off performance or two in the supporting cast you'd swear it was a documentary.

INSIDE MEN- kick ass political revenge thriller. Once it sets the table with characters and situations it just goes to the end. I want, and need, to see it again because it's that damn good.

MR SIX- one of the absolute best of the fest and of 2016. If you missed this when it played at Christmas in NYC here's you chance to see one of the best performances ever (no really) as Feng Xiaogang gives soul to the titled character, a gangster with principles in an unprincipled world.

SEOUL STATION is the first genuinely scary zombie film in years. A balls to the wall story of the start of the outbreak. Yea its animated, who cares, its brilliant. One of the best films at NYAFF, one of the best horror films of 2016 and possibly of the year regardless of genre.(Be prepared for darkness and left turns because this is from the mad man who did KING OF PIGS)

These 10 are the one's I recommend trying based on the 26 films I've seen. (There are 25 more to see and I'm going to try to do just that)


With the curtain raiser done time to rest since I have lots of late nights ahead.

For tickets and more information go here.

Nuts! (2016)

Penny Lane's NUTS is the story of Dr J.R. Brinkley who used goat testicles to cure impotence in the early 20th century. Brinkley was so successful that the town in Kansas he lived in prospered as did his wealth. He was a pioneer of radio and helped the popularity of country music to spread across America. Of course Brinkley's success made him a target...or so the story goes.

A mix of animated sequences, talking heads, photos and narration NUTS is a film that is very deliberately told. Its a film that sets up it's central character and then knocks him over as his grand tales are found to be less than truthful. Its a film that sucks you in and takes you along- and then turns on you.

For me the film is an amusing trifle of a film. It is most certainly entertaining but I'm kind of at a loss to see in it the film that has won several awards.  I'm also trying to find the reason that several friends have insisted that I really must see the film because I was going to love it. (Sorry I like the film, and not much more than that)

For me the problem is entirely the presentation, it simply didn't work. I didn't like the animation style, the intentionally flat recreations nor the feeling that this would have been a great 20 minute film. I'm sorry this film just rambles on toward a conclusion we can pretty much guess is coming- Brinkley was a charlatan.

Mostly though, I really dislike the tone of the film which never fully sold me about Brinkley's success. There is something in the awkward animation and flat toned narration that lets us know that a flip is coming somewhere down the road.

After I watched NUTS to the end I went and found a piece by Lane where she talks about what the film is really about, namely that its not that the people around Brinkley were gullible but how we all are. Lane said she wanted to make a film that makes us rethink how we see the world. She wants to seduce us so that we are aware that we are being seduced. The trouble for me was she never really seduced me. For me it was kind of like watching an okay storyteller tell you a tale with a sting in the tail. You're amused by the tale but you know things will flip eventually and when they do you're really not all that surprised because there was something about how the story was being told that clued you in that the teller was looking ahead to something and not being here in the minute.

For me Lane was always looking ahead, always looking to make a point.

Watching the film I couldn't help but think of Orson Welles brilliant F IS FOR FAKE which so masterfully seduces you with the story of the first hour that you lose yourself and are fooled by the end despite being told that it was coming. Lane never fully seduced me. She never had me accepting things as she said they were because the tone was much too knowing and up to something.

To be honest I'm probably nitpicking something the vast majority of you will never feel. I'm guessing that most of you will go along and then giggle when the truth is revealed,

I wanted so much more than just like this film.

NUTS! begins it theatrical run at the Film Forum Wednesday.

Addendum; doing some post film/post review reading on Brinkley and his crazy life I have come to feel that I really wish that someone would turn his life into a miniseries. Good god its a wild life, more so than this film even touched on.