Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best of the Best: The Best of 2017 Part 2

And now my choices for the BEST OF THE BEST films and film related stuff that I experienced this year. As these are my personal choices (and when you see the notes you'll understand that about a few).  That said these are some really cool films and happenings.

And they are in no particular order simply the one they ended up written down

A picture with Sam is probably the best movie picture I took all year. After years of talking Tribeca movies and several failed attempts at getting together to simply take a picture Sam Juliano and I meet in passing outside of a movie theater and snap a selfie before going our separate ways. No plans no great shaking of pillars just two guys recording themselves for an instant for posterity.

All the film festivals this year- Seriously NYFFF, Tribeca, NYFF, DOC NYC, NYICFF, Winter Film Awards, ect ect- you all rocked. The programming truly shined and I had a blast.

Meeting Eric Tsang was just damn cool. The ability to sit down and talk with Mr Tsang, one the greatest actors and most important filmmakers in the world for fifteen or twenty minutes was a delight. That I got to share it with Jared was awesome- and I envy him since he got got spend more time later that night with Tsang when the New York Asian Film Festival finally gave him a life time achievement award.

Interviewing Yoshihiro Nakamura and his wife Yumi was one of the greatest experiences I've had since I started Unseen Films. A wonderful discussion of film, neck ties and New York this was one of the rare times when you find out a filmmaker you really like is just as wickedly cool as you hoped. I only wish that I could ave spent more time at the after party that night and really spoke with them some more.

Meeting Bill Pullman and Jared Moshe was the high point of year's end. Pullman is one of the best actors working today and just a cool dude. That I got to spend time with a man who has so many iconic roles, not to mention makes the ladies in my office swoon was amazing. At the same time Moshe is equally cool and someone I'd like to sit and talk movies with.

Being quoted in the trailers for CITY OF JOY and THE DEPARTURE was really cool. I've been quoted in ads and trailers before but when you find that the people behind a film that you truly love love your words it means  so much more than just "hey I'm quoted".

Eric Clapton at DOC NYC delighted me and excited me to no end. I have no idea why. His 20 or 25 minutes introducing and talking after the film for some reason was just incredibly special- probably because so many people I know love him and just being there I was their surrogate.

The Clive Davis film and concert at Tribeca was just WOW. Talk about soundtrack of your life. It was pure magic

The public screenings at the New York Film Festival rocked. From seeing a world premiere Alex Gibney film where he talked about how it was almost not seen, to seeing a film about the building of the Metropolitan Opera House in the Opera house, to seeing PANDORA"s BOX with an orchestra to the Mathieu Amalric Q&A to  watching Spielberg enter the building, to almost killing Randy Newman to hanging out with friends it was just a blast. Why do I go to public screenings at NYFF? because wondrous things happen.

Brooklyn Academy of Music is a joy. I'm not talking their film programming but their programming of things like the Net Wave Festival where film blends with music, dance and theater to create experiences unlike anything we've ever seen. This was brought home two weeks ago when I saw Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia which transcended one discipline to become a transcendent experience. Long live BAM.

The No Man's Land Sequence in WONDER WOMAN is the moment that superhero movies changed forever

The slaughterhouse sequence, especially the ending, in OKJA is perhaps the best concentration camp sequence I've ever run across. The end of it completely and utterly changed my feelings toward the film and made it impossible for me to see the end of the film as happy. I was crushed

LILA- a lovely short film about a young woman sketching and changing the world changed how I saw the world.

LOVE IN IDLENESS- Kim Noce's retelling of part of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is a visual delight. It is a film I can't shake and can't stop thinking about.

KURO- Greater than the sum of it's parts KURO has haunted me since January. Its a visual story and an aural one that come together to change how you process the world.

RUMBLE-Link Wray and the Native American musicians changed the world and this film shows why and how. One of my top three films of 2017

MATASABAURO OF THE WIND- Not really the best of the year but god damn it's one of my favorites for the simple reason this is what I would want to happen to if a series of children's stories I wrote long ago ever ended up on the big screen

ATOMIC BLONDE - Glorious action ballet

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF 1000 PLANETS- love it or hate it film is a comic come to life. While it runs out of steam toward the end te momentum keeps it going- and it has  Rhianna in an Oscar worthy cameo

JUNKHEAD- visually arresting stop motion film about life under ground. Amazing.

LIYANA- a group of children come together to tell a story based on their lives.- Its as good as documentary filmmaking can be.

DEAR BASKETBALL- Kobe Bryant says goodbye to basketball in a film that has me sobbing every time I see it

FIX AND RELEASE- turtles are damn near indestructable

TOP KNOT DETECTIVE- send up of crazy Japanese TV shows made by people who know and love crazy Japanese TV shows is just manna from heaven.

LAST FLAG FLYING- clunky plot for sure but the emotional truth of brotherhood, love of country and the moronic nature of bureaucracy transcends all.

LOST FACE - amazing Joseph Conrad based tale is  perfect story telling

FIRST BLOOM- A five minute animated love story of a boy and a princess- think of it as the sort of thing that Ghibli would be proud to claim as their own. I watched it on repeat until my computer locked up

ZAMA- one of those movies that delights on so many levels. While I know people who hate it I clicked with it and its weird vibe and was entranced

ZORN- unfinished look at the composer is a one of the greatest music films ever made- what will this be when it's finished?

KONG SKULL ISLAND - This is the film my eight year old self would have sold his soul to the devil to see. What I originally thought was just a giant monster nostalgia trip revealed itself to be a true cinematic work of art and deeply complex film on repeated viewings

THE DEPARTURE - my pick for the best film of 2017 haunts me to this day. A meditation on life that goes there and back again. It is a mystical religious experience about life and death that moved me on so many different levels.

WHAT HAUNTS US- Movie of the moment reveals in its tale of sexual abuse that we are all guilty of not peaking up. A damning indictment that will leave you broken

LA 92- of all of the films on the LA riots this is the best- and then some. I have no idea how this plays on TV but in a theater with no way to look away, it was a steel toed boot into the genitals and punch in the face. It transcends mere documentary making to become something else entirely

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS screamingly funny film based on the best selling books made me light headed from laughing. More importantly it had the adults laughing harder than the kids because they could see all the humor

And last and most importantly the absolute best cinema related thing to happen was the mere fact that I got to hang with and talk to and see life with all of the people who have become the Unseen Films Family. As much as I love the movies the reason I share everything I'm doing is so that I can expand the circle of all the great people I call friends with whom I share the darkness, the occasional dinner and the constant conversation.  The best thing in films this year are the people that it has brought into my life.

James Fitzpatrick's Travel Talks

I discovered James Fitzpatrick’s Travel Talks on TCM where they played as filler between films. I loved them all a great deal since they showed the normally black and white world of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s to be alive with color.

The Travel Talks were independently produced by Fitzpatrick. They were released in one form or another over a period of twenty years with the last being done for Paramount in their Vista Vision process. Almost 300 shorts were produced and now the Warner Archive has released 3 sets with 60 films on each of them.

I don’t know where to begin or what to say other than this set is really cool. Watching the films is very much the cliché of taking a trip into another place and time. Fitzpatrick's films transport us in a way that many other similar films never do. We see places that you don't really see in other films of the period. For example his films made after World War 2 show the towns and cities in ways that other films don't- they are damaged places that are alive. There is no stentorian narration to talk about loss or the cost of the war-it's simply this is how things are- alive and vibrant.

I think the reason that Fitzpatrick’s films work as well as they do is they never feel staged. Where most other travelogues of the period feel like they were always focused on some event the Travel Talks are about local color and life as it is. The films feel as if the film crew just showed up and started filming and then then things happened or didn’t. Sometimes we’re just left with the beauty of the land. You never know what you are going to get and that makes the films all the more special.

I love these films a great deal. When I got the discs I put the first disc on to see what they looked like and found myself three hours later contemplating starting the second disc.

Yea these sets are those kind of time losers.

These are sets where you say you're going to nibble and find you've had a meal. I love these films because they blend together to be something special. For however long I watch I drift away and the world becomes something far away. Its a vacation in one's living room.

These are some of my favorite DVDs of the year. Highly recommended

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Best of 2017 Part 1

As with every year my best of the year list is huge Animal Farm like affair that has two parts- the THE BEST OF THE YEAR  and the BEST OF THE BEST. What follows here truly the best of the year films. They are the films and moments that moved me in one way or another. These are the ones that stood out from among the over one thousand films I saw this year. Seeing that many films I am allowed to do a monstrous list of great films- and because these are great films

The last two shots in A MONSTER CALLS- as perfect an ending as humanly possible- and just as valid as the ending of the book (which it tweaked for visual reasons)

The final battle in HACKSAW RIDGE- this is the hell of war.

CORPSE SERIES- funny as all hell horror comedy that just nails it all perfectly. This film needs to be seen because it is just that good.

WHITE HELMETS - moving short about the people who are trying to save Syria. While there are numerous great films about the horrors of the suicidal genocide going on in the country this is the one that has stuck in my brain and causes me to tear up when I think about it

HELL FOLLOWS- Brian Harrison's masterpiece short film plays like a crazed Japanese Yakuza film by Miike on steroids only bolder. I want to see what he does next-hopefully a feature version of this. I truly don't know why this film hasn't been a subject of much love.

REVOLTING RHYMES- hour long TV animation about the big bad wolf and his nursery rhyme nemesis. Its awesome with an ending that has a real and completely unexpected emotional kick.

RICE BALLS- Touching film of a father and a son and lunch. Gems like this is why the New York International Children's FIlm Festival Shorts collections are MUST sees every year.

RAT FILM- a look at rats in Baltimore that is so much more

MUMON- Yoshihiro Nakamura's Samurai "comedy" is an brutal take on the pointlessness of war. It is the master director working at the top of his game to make a film that sneaks up on you and punches you in the face (I probably should put it on the Best of the Best but compared to meeting the director it takes second place)

ANGEL WAGENSTEIN: ART IS A WEAPON- portrait of an artist and contrarian most people have not heard of gets better every time you see it.

1000 JUNKIES- unheralded masterpiece  is an uncomfortable comedy about people trying to score drugs over the course of a day. It was one of the real unexpected pleasures of Tribeca this year that everyone tried to sell to everyone they met as crown jewel hiding in plain sight.

GILBERT- portrait of Gilbert Gottfried that is funny and moving.

KNIFE SKILLS - moving short about a program to reintegrate convicts into society is just great. When it was done I was staring at the screen wondering why this film wasn't on everyone's must see list

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS- Agatha Christie as an exploration of guilt, justice and regret is a well known murder mystery made greater by becoming about something else.

6 WEEKS TO MOTHER'S DAY- Portrait of a woman and her school that forces you to rethink how we teach and treat our children

STREET LIGHT HARMONIES- awesome film about doo wop that is must if you have any interest in the music. This  is going to be a PBS pledge drive staple if they pick it up.

NAILA AND THE UPRISING- wonderful portrait of a woman and her place in history during the first interfada

LBJ- Woody Harrelson deserves Oscar consideration in Rob Reiner's unexpectedly great portrait of a man who would be president. While not wholly factually accurate it still feels emotionally right

TRENCH 11- One of the best horror films of the year takes the tired military monster film and makes it truly scary and compelling.

4 SISTERS- Claude Lanzmann revisits his SHOAH material and turns out wonderful portraits of four women who survived the horrors

TOM OF FINLAND- excellent portrait of the erotic artist may not be graphic enough for some but it still manages to be a touching film about following your heart and changing your world.

STANDING UP- possibly the best film on stand up comedy that I've seen

QUEERCORE:HOW TO PUNK A REVOLUTION- the story of how a couple of kids invented a movement and changed the world. Gritty, raw and alive.

THIS IS CONGO A look at what is going on in Congo from every side does what every documentary should do but doesn't.

BEATRICE- beautiful portrait of a young woman who won't let the loss of her limbs stop her from being the best fencer she can be.

FIRST REFORMED - Paul Schrader's newest film showed up unexpectedly at the New York Film Festival and rocked the house. Fueled by an Ethan Hawke performance that could get him an Oscar it's a film about love, loss, lack of hope, penance and redemption that goes into unexpected places with unexpected results. Schrader's best film in years and one of his best films period.

INSHALLAH DEMOCRACY- A look at what it is really like to be living in Pakistan where everyone isn't a terrorist and democracy is taking hold despite Western media's portrayal of it being oterwise

NAPPING PRINCESS A waking dream  and blurring of story and reality becomes something special when you suddenly realize that the film is what cinema is all about.

HALL OF MIRRORS- Portrait of Edward Jay Epstein as he investigates Edward Snowden. A wonderful portrait of a man who has changed the world as we know it.

The Best of the Best follows tomorrow.

After Dark (1933)

The plot of this extremely short feature revolves around several emeralds. A young man is returning home on a boat with the gems when he meets a an older man and his niece. While traveling on the night train the older gentleman drugs our hero and takes the gems. When he wakes up and realizes that the gems are gone he goes in search of the man and his niece (who knows nothing of what her uncle has done) at the address he was given by the girl. The uncle realizing that he is being pursued hides the gems in a clock in a shop which then is sold before anyone can recover them. The remainder of the film then takes place at the spooky mansion where the clock now resides.

If you think I've said to much understand that thats about the first 15 minutes of the films 45. From about that point on the film becomes even more confused as characters come and go in and out doors and windows in order to recover the gems. Actually to be honest the film is confusing from the get go with way too many characters, all wanting the gems, crashing through this film for its own good.

I'm not a fan of this film. Its an okay attempt by an English producer to make one of the old dark house films that American producers were churning out with great regularity at the time.Unfortunately it was done in the "short feature" length that some producers used to make to fill quotas for British film production. The idea was to make British films to play with American ones so they met the quota, this was done by any means possible including cutting the length. The actors are game, but the script, which is based upon a play, is way too loaded with characters and situations to play in the running time alloted. I like that the film kept moving, but I disliked how it breezed over too many plot points. Yes you get most of the required information, but you do so at a speed that makes it difficult to process what you're seeing.

Understand that this is not a bad movie, its not, but it isn't a great one either. Its an okay movie that could have been something if they had stretched this out to an hour or so.

Is it worth seeing? If you can rent it and are doing so knowing that its only 45 minutes and you have something else to watch I'd rent it. If you have the opportunity to purchase I wouldn't do so unless I was paying about the cost of a rental fee and no more.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Film Finds of 2017

Every year there are numerous films that don't quite make the Best of the Year list but still require note at the year end. These are the film finds.

MOON OF THE SLEEPLESS NIGHT- Charming stop motion film about a boy and squirrel freeing the moon from a tree. A glorious stop motion animated film that really needs to be seen by everyone

4.1 MILES- crushing film about Greek sailors saving drowning refugees. It will stick in your heart and your throat.

RICHARD TWICE- stunning bio film of one of the members of the group Richard Twice that had me falling in love with some music I had never heard before and emailing to interviewing the director

JONATHAN- moving family drama about a young man who has the love of his life re-enter his life just as his father gets sick. A must see.

MAY IT LAST- a super documentary on the Avett Brothers that will make you a fan if you aren't already

THE VAULT- killer caper film with a supernatural twist and a really good cast (including James Franco) who sell the don't think about it plot.

BESIDE BOWIE- wonderful portrait of Mick Ronson that highlights a great musician and shows a side of Bowie we would never see otherwise.

DARK MERIDIAN- one of 2017's best crime films has a crooked police detective getting in over his head. Its a film that proves film noir isn't dead when it's put on screen by talented filmmakers

SAVAGE DOG- Awesome action film of the sort Cannon used to make. Forget the plot it's all motion.

SAVING SALLY- mix of animation and live action is a winning film that delighted everyone who saw it at NYAFF

MAUDIE- Sally Hawkins deserves an Oscar for this tough but touching film about an artist and the man who loved her. And if we're talking Oscars Ethan Hawke should get one too

LOST IN PARIS- off kilter romance  knows it's silly and works it so well you can't help but smile. A must see if for  no other reason than the wonderful set pieces (especially the musical ones)

TATER TOT AND PATTON- wonderful character driven tale probably should be on the best of the year list (attention anyone from the film feel free to claim its there I'll swear to it) but I waffled at the last minute  which kept it off.

HERBIE- fantastic character study with an Oscar worthy performance at its center

D-LOVE- The joy of unexpected meetings changing our worlds. Another film that I should movie to the Best of the Year list but I'm waffling so here it is instead.

THE EXCEPTION- Wonderful historical thriller of the sort they don't make any more with a great cast including Christopher Plummer. Its so good you'll want to know what happened to everyone next.

THE PILGRIMAGE- Bleak drama about moving a holy relic was despised by many critics because it didn't do what they wanted it to. However taken on its own terms its a punch in the face adventure and biting commentary on religious belief.

GREY STATE- sad tale of a conspiracy nut who went off the rails. It will break your heart

GET ME ROGER STONE- Chilling portrait of one of Trump's cronies will help explain how we ended up with Trump in the White House

SIDE A SIDE B- Romance told in song is just an awesome film and one of the best musicals of the last decade. If it didn't wobble at one point I would have put this on the best of the best

WEDDING PLAN- awesome quasi romance is really an exploration of what God wants for us.

RIVER BELOW- What would you do to save the thing you love? Its a tough question

SHIVA- wonderful short film about 20 somethings sitting shiva. A real joy.

ERIC CLAPTON:LIFE IN 12 BARS- excellent look at the man (though not so much the music)

SAVING BRINTON- If you love film you must see this. I'm keeping it off the best of the best only because we don't see enough of the collection

EXPERIMENTAL CITY- one of a kind look at a city of tomorrow that just delights

VIGILANTE- a look at Curtis Sliwa told by the man himself. Riveting from frame one

JESSZILLA- portrait of a young girl who loves to box.

IT'S NOT YET DARK- moving portrait of the late filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice who said fuck you to death until the bitter end and raised a family and made films all while suffering from Motor Neuron Disease. He is a hero and we all should live life like this.

DON'T KILL IT- Dolph Lundgren finds the role of a lifetime as a weary demon hunter

THE BEANING ponders if the Yankees made a deal with the devil for success-and yes this is a documentary

THE TABLES- wonderful portrait of the ping pong tables in NYC's Bryant Park and the people who play on them.

Ex-File 3: The Return of the Exes

As the protag of a break-up franchise, you would think Meng Yun would have plenty of experience with failed relationships by now. However, he was not around for the second installment. His buddy Yu Fei was there, but it was a very difference Yu Fei. Tian Yu-sheng goes back to the original elements for the conclusion of the [loose] trilogy, but Meng Yun is keenly aware he isn’t getting any younger—and the final break-up is sure to be the hardest in Tian’s Ex-File 3: The Return of the Exes, which opens today in New York.

Meng Yun and Lin Jia probably never should have called it quits, but they are both too stubborn to apologize or seriously examine their own faults. Their friends Yu Fei and Ding Dian never should gave broken up either, but they still spend so much time together, it is like they are still together. Frankly, they largely broke up out of solidarity with their friends and will likely patch things up sometime when they aren’t having closure sex.

Unfortunately, Meng and Lin are an entirely different case. They still conspicuously pine for each other, but they refuse to let go of their resentments and pride. As a result, both will most likely cause nothing but frustration and heartache for their subsequent romantic rebounds, but Lin’s former classmate and Wang Zi, the niece of Meng’s new client are still eager to try.

Part two was more of a traditional rom-com, but the Meng Yun installments better compare with Pang Ho-cheung’s more mature and realistic Love in a Puff/the Buff/Off the Cuff trilogy, except Ex 3 gets surprisingly fatalistic down the stretch. Basically, Tian wants us to understand you can still mess up a relationship, even if it was meant to be. On the flip side, if you have a chance to settle for someone who is attractive and compatible, don’t be an idiot about it. Just do it, even if you are not head-over-heels for them. These are points Meng and Jin will learn the hard way.

Han Geng and Kelly Yu Wenwen look like a perfect couple, but they each show substantial range, venturing into some dark and angsty places. In contrast, Ryan Zheng and Zheng Meng Xue keep things light and naughty, but they are undeniably charismatic as Meng and Lin’s shallow fuerdai-esque friends, Yu and Ding. They are certainly well matched. Luo Mi’s Wang Zi deserves better than she gets in the film, but conveys a fair degree of depth beneath her relentlessly cute and upbeat façade.

Essentially, Ex 3 is half rom-com and half anti-rom-com, which constitutes an interesting mix. That also means the candy-colored posters are a bit misleading. Regardless, Tian pulls off the balancing act fairly dexterously, while reaping the benefits of lead and supporting performances that considerably exceed expectations. Arguably, we are talking about the stuff of New Adult melodrama, but it is nicely executed. Recommended for fans of Pang’s Love trilogy who found the Tiny Times franchise too superficial, Ex-File 3 opens today (12/29) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

Paul Thomas Anderson x 5 at Metrograph starting Monday

In a career spanning a little over twenty years and eight features, Paul Thomas Anderson has established himself as one of a handful of working filmmakers for whom every new release feels like an event, the latest episode in an ongoing drama of artistic challenge, trial, and revelation. While audiences are discovering (and rediscovering) Anderson’s latest tightrope feat, Phantom Thread, Metrograph is presenting an opportunity to look back at the long, winding road that he’s travelled to this new pinnacle, from tough-minded character studies through gonzo romances through two serio-comic period pieces that offer a sinister secret history of the state of California, beginning January 1
Hard Eight (1996/101 mins/35mm)
An auspicious debut that was also somewhat atypical among Anderson’s films for its small cast and obedience to genre rules, this tight, terse neo-noir introduces the first of the writer-director’s makeshift families: Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), a professional Reno gambler; John (John C. Reilly), a simple, skint “stranger” who Sydney decides to mentor; and Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), the escort who John falls for. With Samuel L. Jackson as an unwelcome reminder of Sydney’s past, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a simply massive cameo (“Shaka lacka doo, shaka lacka doobie doo…”)

Friday, January 12 - 4:30pm, 10:00pm

Boogie Nights (1997/155 mins/35mm)
The movie that irrefutably marked Anderson as a major talent, a filmmaker of élan, humor and heart, Boogie Nights follows well-endowed picaro hero Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) into the burgeoning 1970s adult film industry, following Dirk and the business from celluloid to videotape, and from youthful optimism to adult disillusion. At the center of the chaos, tracked by a restless moving camera, is patriarchal porn maven Jack Horner, played by Burt Reynolds in Grand Old Man form.

Showtimes TK.

Magnolia (1999/189 mins/35mm)
A movie of unchecked, cosmic ambitions and desperate emotional eruptions, Anderson’s magnum opus takes place during an eventful day in the life of the San Fernando Valley, as viewed through the interlocked stories of an ensemble that includes two aging, ailing television-world figures (Philip Baker Hall, Jason Robards), two drug-and-sorrow addled women (Julianne Moore, Melora Walters), two “whiz kids” (William H. Macy, Stanley Spector), and an eerily-prescient Men’s Rights monster played by a very game Tom Cruise, all united in spiritual sickness and the songs of Aimee Mann.

Showtimes TK.

There Will Be Blood (2007/158 mins/35mm)
Working with the loose model of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!, Anderson wrought this tale of greed, obsession, and blind competitive rage in the California oilfields at the turn of the last century, in which the forces of capital and faith, as embodied by Daniel Day-Lewis’s feral would-be tycoon and Paul Dano’s boy preacher, are locked in an acrimonious grudge match. A testament to the genius of production designer Jack Fisk, and recently named “Best Film of the 21st Century So Far” by The New York Times.

Monday, Jan. 1 - 4:00pm / Tuesday, Jan. 2 - 4:00pm / Wednesday, Jan. 3 - 4:00pm /
Thursday, Jan. 4 - 3:30pm, 7:00pm

Inherent Vice (2014/148 mins/35mm)
In which “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a stoner private detective based in the Los Angeles-area beach ‘burg of Gordita Beach, gets sucked into a conspiracy that’s more than mere pot paranoia after a visit from ex-old lady Katherine Waterston. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, Anderson’s by turns loopy and melancholy film is a wild whodunnit and a eulogy for the counterculture, with superb supporting work from an extraordinary ensemble including Josh Brolin as Sportello’s jarhead department contact.

Saturday, Jan. 6 - 10:30pm / Sunday, Jan. 7 - 10:30pm / Monday, Jan. 8 - 7:00pm

Thoughts on The Shape of Water (2017)

I'm a bit late to the party with THE SHAPE OF WATER. most of my friends have seen it and many have placed it on their best of the year list. For me it was the one film I had to see before I considered my Best of 2017 complete. Yes there are other films to see but this was the one that I thought could change my list.

It didn't happen.

The plot of the film has Elisa, a young woman working in a secret government facility coming in contact with a strange gill man from South America. Her fascination turns to love and when it's decided to kill the creature to study it before the Soviets get it that she takes steps to rescue him.

When this dark violent fairy tale is firing on all cylinders it is high art. It is a lovely film about love and longing (Elisa's explanation of what the creature sees in her brought me to tears)  and it's super story telling. It is very much a Grim's fairy tale for adults thanks to the nudity and the really ugly stomach churning violence. This film truly is a grim tale.

While many of my friends wax poetic about the film I'm bothered by two things, one to a small degree and the other to a much greater detail.

The less offending bit to me is how fast and how the pair bond. While it is a foregone conclusion that they will come together things move a bit too fast. Additionally I don't think the playing of music in a lab she is only supposed to be cleaning wouldn't have been noticed. Its a minor thing that you'll forget once the film is moving at speed- but it was just bothersome for me that I didn't quite connect to the film as a result.

The other, much bigger problem, is Michael Shannon's villain of the piece. A vile scumbag from frame one he is a huge jet black cloud in a film that is colored in shades. Shannon's sadistic military security agent has no shading and simply a dick who wants to kill the creature and inflict as much pain as possible on everyone. While he is scary as all hell, there is nothing to him except the hate and violence and he overwhelms the modulations of the story. He makes what happens less real since his one note nature never lets you think this is real. While I know characters are this black in fairy tales they are short little stories not two hour log entertainments.Had he not been so singularly evil I would have loved THE SHAPE OF WATER instead of just liking it.

As it is the film is a wonderful tale for adults. I'd just be aware that the violence can get ugly.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Worst and Most Disappointing Films of 2017

Surprisingly the list of bad and disappointing films this year is relatively small. Blame it on not having a readily handy Bluray or DVD player so I was picky as to what I watched and it paid off.

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS- These are the films that aren't really bad but didn't even come close to the promise that the concepts, the festivals or the early talk  suggested that they would have.

PUNK FU ZOMBIE- This zombie film is way too knowing to work. While not bad it's a major misfire when you consider the film was run at Fantasia which normally is good enough in programming you know why a bad film is being run. Being set in Quebec was not a good enough reason to waste our time..

A GHOST STORY- yea the idea of Casey Affleck in a sheet works surprisingly well, but despite some affecting moments this tale of a spirit stuck in one spot breaks apart as writer director David Lowery fucks with time and logic to make a point that really didn't require all the bullshit.

DEVIL'S GATE is the story of FBI agents investigating the disappearance of a woman and child off a weird farm in the middle of nowhere. While the film frequently scores big time with kick ass sequences there are a few too many bumps so by the end you really wish it had been better because what here is so damn awesome that you're sad to see it break apart.

THE ENDLESS- Two brothers return to the UFO deathcult they grew up in only to find things oddly normal. Solid off kilter cult film works like gangbusters until the third act which just gets fucking weird to the point of becoming incomprehensible

DUNKIRK- Christopher Nolan's film is for some the pinnacle of cinema. For others, like myself, its an over rated film that has lots of problems which no one really wants to talk about... because it's Nolan... which is my point he makes horribly messy films that don't really work.

BABY DRIVER- pure form over content. Its the moment I truly realized I will never care for Edgar Wright's work


VOODOO- Hands down the worst film I saw this year (that I remember and stayed to the end for). It is one of the worst found footage films ever made (which is feat since so many suck) as well. The tale of a woman and a death cult the film makes no sense and was filmed in such away that it makes MANOS HANDS OF FATE look like an Oscar contender. This is just increasingly awful levels of awful. This will be the film you are forced to watch on repeat in hell.

LIZA LIZA SKIES ARE GREY is a nostalgic coming of age tale that would have been a bad drive-in film in 1967 when the film is set. Now it's just a god awful film made by a filmmaker whose head is stuck in some weird time warp and other dimension

ASSHOLES got an okay review from me but to be honest the more I've thought about it the worse it seems. More intent on pushing buttons and telling stupid jokes the film has withered and died in my memory

ONE PERCENT MORE HUMID would have been off this list if it was one percent better written. It makes no sense despite some good performances

NOBODY IS WATCHING amazed the hell out of me with the love it found with other writers. The story of an actor working as a nanny does nothing for about 75 minutes and then suddenly rushes to an ending that has no had no build up. I went to the bathroom in the middle of it just to force myself to stay awake and found I missed nothing

THE REHEARSAL- was on my worst of 2016 and again in 2017 because it hit US theaters. Perhaps now that sexual abuse is front page the fact that the film revolves around an adult and a 15 year old will get the film the hate it so richly deserves.

BAD BATCH- How do I hate you let me count the ways. So bad I forgot I suffered through it. A post apocalyptic mess where nothing makes sense from the first frame to the last. People fled the screening room and those that remained stared incredulous at the screen. There are moments but over all this is a giant stinky turd ball baking in the desert sun.

TILT- What a waste of time. Basically a man kills someone on vacation (before the film starts) and then is driven nuts by the guilt until he breaks in the final moments- only to leave us with a cliffhanger of an ending.

FLAMES- Filmmakers revisit their once upon a time love affair. Who cares? Some loved it but most of the people in my audience were sound asleep.

ROCK AND ROLL THE MOVIE should just be set on fire where ever it is found. Unfunny and probably offensive comedy is just best forgotten.

Thoughts on The Greatest Showman (2017)

Hugh Jackman finally gets to play PT Barnum in a very messy, occasionally transcendent musical.

With as much historical detail as an elevator pitch the film tells the story of Barnum's rise from a poor tailor's son to the world's greatest showman. The plot is kept to a minimum as songs take the place of exposition and character as we breeze through the man's life and come out on the other side strangely feeling good.

Much too short to ever hope to due Barnum's life justice, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN isn't really interested in being the story of the man but more a piece about finding family in unexpected places. Barnum and the people around him clearly bond and form a defacto family even when the world hates them. The film also is strangely about looking for happiness instead of money since everyone's fortunes rise and fall but as long as they are together they are happy.

Yes I'm being snarky and I'm sorry. It's not because I dislike the film, I really do like it a great deal- more so when you consider that it it manages to generate goosebumps and tears during several musical numbers - This is Me and Rewrite The Stars in particular. My problem is a frustration with the film's plotting which doesn't allow for everything that the film is trying to do shine through such as the subplots such as the one involving racism. The film should be much longer to do it all justice.

The other problem is the show is structured like may middling Broadway shows which are all about the songs and to hell with a notion of a real plot. This might have worked had the songs been uniformly better but as it is they are uneven, and while none are bad, some just sort of lay there.(though at least two of the weaker songs would have been better on stage than on screen)

As it stands the film is a breezy musical tale with a couple of show stoppers that will make you feel good. Just don't look for anything too deep.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Japan Society's First Monthly Classics of the New Year Feature Two Major Works of Postwar Japanese Cinema Responding to Nuclear Catastrophe

Jan. 19 - Recently Rediscovered Anti-War Film Hiroshima

Feb. 2 - Ishiro Honda’s Original, Uncut Godzilla

New York, NY – Leading up to the 7th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Japan Society's first Monthly Classics screenings of 2018 present two powerful postwar Japanese films that ruminate on the effects of nuclear fallout – one a dramatic recreation of the horrors of Hiroshima's atomic bombing based on the stories of its most innocent victims, the other a sci-fi/horror allegory that spawned a pop culture juggernaut and one of Japan's most recognized exports.

Hideo Sekigawa's Hiroshima (1953)screening January 19, is a harrowing drama that recreates the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima based on surviving children's accounts. Rediscovered after decades of obscurity, the film was recently restored and subtitled, allowing new audiences to experience this crucial paragon of anti-war cinema. This will be the first timeHiroshima is shown in NYC since it was originally distributed in an edited version in 1955.

Before it was drastically re-cut, re-edited and tempered by new scenes for American audiences, Ishiro Honda's original Godzilla (1954)screening February 2, was a markedly darker and more politically potent film that reflected Japan's postwar anxiety and gave emotional resonance to the country's devastation. In his video essay comparing the two cuts, Kristian Williams called the film "one of the boldest political statements ever put to film, masquerading as a creature feature." The A.V. Club noted, "Godzilla, then, is an elegant metaphor for the fear of nuclear annihilation. His bumpy hide is reminiscent of burned, scarred skin, and his head is the shape of a mushroom cloud."

"Made less than a decade after WWII, these two films encompass a cinematic spectrum of how the Japanese psyche was coming to terms with the war's decimating conclusion," says Aiko Masubuchi, Senior Film Programmer at Japan Society. "Today, with the specter of nuclear war looming amidst tensions in East Asia and lingering challenges nearly a decade after the Daiichi power plant meltdown, the threat of man-made radiological catastrophe is ever-present. Our hope is that these two films serve as both cautionary tales and a critical moment to examine the force of artistic expression in the wake of devastation."

As an extension of the Godzilla screening, Japan Society presents a talk on February 21 with Steve Ryfle, noted scholar of Japanese science fiction cinema and author of Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, From Godzilla to Kurosawa (Wesleyan, 2017).

Monthly Classics admission: $13/$10 seniors & students/$5 Japan Society members. All films shown in Japanese with English subtitles.

Friday, January 19 at 7 PM
1953, 104 min., Blu-ray, b&w, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Hideo Sekigawa. With Eiji Okada, Yumeji Tsukioka, Takashi Kanda, Isuzu Yamada.
Based on Children of the Atom Bomb, a book of testimonies by children who experienced the bombing of Hiroshima, Hideo Sekigawa's harrowing drama details the destruction and suffering left in the wake of the A-bomb for a group of students, teachers and their families. A direct indictment against nuclear war and the mistreatment of Hiroshima's stigmatized survivors, this independently produced film was funded by the Japan Teachers Union in an effort to "preserve peace" and utilized tens of thousands of Hiroshima citizens as extras, including many survivors.

After being denied wide distribution due to content that was deemed too "anti-American" at the time, the Union independently distributed the film throughout Japan. Although it screened abroad and received U.S. distribution two years later, however, the film became largely forgotten over time.  It was “rediscovered” by producer Ippei Kobayashi, the son of Hiroshima’s assistant director, who sought has led efforts to restore, subtitle and widely distribute the film.

"In a tour-de-force of production design, editing, storytelling and grandiose filmmaking, Sekigawa covers the moment of the bombing into the following days with a heartfelt humanizing of the tragedy." –J-Film PowWow

Friday, February 2 at 7 PM
1954, 96 min., DCP, b&w, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Ishiro Honda. With Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura.
The seminal classic that introduced the world to kaiju eiga and everyone's favorite city-stomping radioactive monster. Directed by Ishiro HondaGodzilla provided the ultimate allegory for post-war nuclear anxiety through the story of a prehistoric sea creature rampaging through Tokyo after being awakened by underwater H-bomb testing. A domestic box office hit that went on to enrapture international audiences and spawn over two dozen sequels and countless imitations, the original film still retains the power to inspire awe in its evocation of humanity's confrontation with the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. 


Friday, February 21 at 6:30 PM
Godzilla, MothraThe Mysterians—Japan’s most celebrated monster movies and sci-fi classics were brought to the screen by filmmaker Ishiro Honda. A long-overlooked talent, Honda is now considered one of the most influential directors of Japanese cinematic history, wowing audiences with fantastical special effects while expressing the anxieties of Japan’s postwar reality. At this talk, Steve Ryfle, noted scholar of Japanese science fiction cinema and author of Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, From Godzilla to Kurosawa, draws back the curtain on the man behind the monsters. Followed by a book signing reception. Tickets: $14/$11 Japan Society members, seniors & students


Japan Society Film offers a diverse selection of Japanese films, from classics to contemporary independent productions. Its aim is to entertain, educate and support activities in the Society's arts and culture programs. For more, visit

Founded in 1907, Japan Society in New York City presents sophisticated, topical and accessible experiences of Japanese art and culture, and facilitates the exchange of ideas, knowledge and innovation between the U.S. and Japan. More than 200 events annually encompass world-class exhibitions, dynamic classical and cutting-edge contemporary performing arts, film premieres and retrospectives, workshops and demonstrations, tastings, family activities, language classes, and a range of high-profile talks and expert panels that present open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia.

During the 2017-18 season, Japan Society celebrates its 110th anniversary with expanded programming that builds toward a richer, more globally interconnected 21st century: groundbreaking creativity in the visual and performing arts, unique access to business insiders and cultural influencers, and critical focus on social and educational innovation, illuminating our world beyond borders.

Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit

Japan Society’s Film Programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund. Additional season support is provided by The Globus Family, Masu Hiroshi Masuyama, James Read Levy, Laurel Gonsalves, David S. Howe, Dr. Tatsuji Namba, Mr. and Mrs. Omar H. Al-Farisi, Geoff Matters, and Michael Romano.

A spoiler filled look at The Last Jedi's problems


I'm kind of surprised to be saying that. The previous film in narrative was okay but it was too tied to the previous films to be it's own thing,.after all how many Death Stars do we need to have destroyed?

Amazingly (for me anyway) the film does provide two truly great movie moments of 2017:

The Rey and Ben battle in Snoke's chamber which is kick ass -until the conclusion. Had Rian Johnson decided to actually follow the surprising turn he could have taken the series into completely and utterly new and unexpected territory- I mean who would have ever seen that coming? Which makes the reverting back to good/bad lines so disappointing.

Of course that would have denied us the second great moment- Luke arriving at the rebel base and walking out to confront Ben. The whole sequence- particularly when he strides out to take on Ben through the burning door - was awesome. It was a supremely heroic moment. Not sure about the ending- but it rocks for most of it.(which seems to be my feeling for most of the film)

In LAST JEDI the new characters step up and arc- mostly. The plot moves things nicely but it is full of holes- worse the film is not the promised middle part of a new trilogy but the end of sequence - which is fine except that if there is another film in "the third trilogy" it's going to effectively have to be a stand alone... or start a new series since things are such that no conclusion can be brought in one film of less than 4 or 5 hours short of cheating... since there is really noting left to conclude.

But I'm getting a head of myself.... Let me throw out some of the problems I have with the film.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Thrilla in Manila

BBC/HBO documentary about the Joe Frazier/Muhammad Ali series of fights that ended in their third battle in Manila, which many people say is the greatest fight ever. The film has a slant toward Joe Frazier since he is in the film and Ali is not.

This is another excellent documentary from HBO Sports via the BBC. It looks at the battle of wills between two fighters and the feud that almost killed them both. Its clear that something special happened when the two men met in the ring since each man was made something greater in the eyes of the public as the result. The talking heads put the battle in to a context of boxing, the human cost when two huge egos crash into each other and the open wounds and rawness of the civil rights movement affected society.

For me the interesting thing is that the film, which is admittedly slanted towards Frazier, makes it clear why many people didn't like Ali. We see and hear of Ali's antics outside of the ring that made his fights more often than not a circus. Ali is stripped of the veneer of being a great humanitarian and seen just as a showman and it is a pointed reminder that he was very much a human and could be cruel. Frazier has never forgiven Ali for what he said about him (he called him a gorilla and said he was an uncle tom) and as I said to my Dad when we were watching it during a recent run on cable, this is one case where I completely understand why Frazier hates Ali and why Ali's efforts to put it right have fallen short. I am a fan of Ali but this film removes some of the air brushing that time has done to Ali's reputation.

If you like boxing, or more importantly want to see an excellent documentary see this film.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows starts Friday at the Quad

Appearing just in time to end the cinematic year on a high note is the wonderful collection of animated shorts THE ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS. It is a finely crafted collection containing some of the best shorts of the year. As with all collections of this sort there is a danger of there being a couple of films that may not thrill you must keep in mind that it's only because they are in among such wonderful others that we end up judging them perhaps a bit too harshly. If you saw any of these films isolated on their own they all would knock your socks off.

This collection is highly recommended especially if you are tired of the typical multiplex animation blockbuster.

I should point out that this film only contains one Oscar Short listed film (DEAR BASKETBALL) which means if you don't see this collection you might miss 14 film that should have been included on that short list (THE HANGMAN is too old to be included). Seriously these films are all kick ass which make this collection an absolute must if you love great filmmaking - never mind animation- most of these films transcend being labels just "cartoons".

Since the show of shows is made up of individual films here are my individual thoughts on them. Keep in mind my reference to some of the films being love it or hate it is not my saying that a film is bad rather a warning that some people may not click with a film, finding it too strange for their tastes.

Can You Do It - Quentin Baillieux, France
Visually kick ass  film takes names and leaves you wanting to disappear into it's world. Its an attention grabbing film that sets the bar almost impossibly high for everything that follows. One of the most overwhelming pieces of animation I've seen all year.

Tiny Big - Lia Bertels, Belgium
This is a haunting film where the simple images hang with you long after the credits roll.

Next Door - Pete Docter, U.S.
Kind of a cousin to the World of Tomorrow films where the vocal stylings of  a young girl provide the voice to the tale of an older man and the young girl who lives next door. Its a wonderful piece (like you'd expect anything else from director Docter?)

The Alan Dimension - Jac Clinch, UK
Wicked film about a retired accountant who can see a few minutes into the future- sadly this makes him unable to see the love of his wife. An off-kilter gem this is the sort of thing that Jim Broadbent would star in if it was live action.

Beautiful Like Elsewhere - Elise Simard, Canada
Experimental dream is a gorgeous film that will connect more with some audiences than others. It is a visual delight.

Hangman - Paul Julian and Les Goldman, U.S.
A restoration of a short film from the 1960's about a hangman who comes to town and begins plying his trade. A lost classic restored. It now plays as a scary warning of Trumpism and the mind set of the far right.

The Battle of San Romano - Georges Schwizgebel, Switzerland
Beautiful art film that imagines the images on a tapestry in motion.

Gokurosama - Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, Romain Salvini, France
Surreal comedy concerns life in a mall before hours and the chaos the results when an old woman gets stuck in one positions ad attempts are made to get her to a chiropractor. Its a laugh out loud jewel.

Dear Basketball - Glen Keane, U.S.
One of the very best films of 2017 of any length. Its a masterpiece of cinematic art. A perfect marriage of image, word and music. It is the perfect summing of a career and a life at the very moment when you know you have to give up the very thing you love most in the world. I've cried every time I've seen it.  If you need one reason to see this collection-this is it

Island - Max Mörtl and Robert Löbel, Germany
Wonderful look at the life on an island over the course of a day that becomes musical. One of my favorites in this collection.

Unsatisfying - Parallel Studio, France
Set to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings this is a list of "fails" that some how becomes both funny and moving

My Burden - Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Sweden
Incredibly weird mini opera is going to be a love or hate it film. A strange stop motion film has odd half animal creatures singing about depressing things. You'll know you're not in Kansas the instant the fishmen sing about hotel rooms, One of the weirdest films you'll ever see- that's a compliment.

Les Abeilles Domestiques (Domestic Bees) Alexanne Desrosiers, Canada
Life framed as if in a beehive repeats and crosses over itself.  I am not sure it completely works but as a piece of art it's amazing.

Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon - Tomer Eshed, Germany
A laugh out loud funny film about the undying hunger of a chameleon

Casino - Steven Woloshen, Canada
Jazz driven abstract film of casino related images.

Everything - David OReilly, U.S
Odd computer generated images illustrate a discussion of everything. Another love it or hate it film

The 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows rocks. Go see it starting Friday at New York's Quad Cinema. For tickets go here.

The LAST JEDI Tweets

Here are the series of tweets I made after seeing THE LAST JEDI- Let it serve as a review until I figure out if I want to do a full one.

I saw THE LAST JEDI and it is pretty okay.
It has two goosebump moments, a couple of chuckles, porgs, HUGE plot holes, a couple of WTF were they thinking moments and a not very good script.

I completely understand why people HATE the film
I completely understand why people LOVE the film.
I find the basic story line to fine it's the plotting beyond that which is a mess and the degree to which you accept the bumps and holes determines your love of the film

I don't think this is the middle of a trilogy but the end of a series of five (maybe six). I could walk away here and never look back
I could do that but the problem is so much has been left out of this film that it feels missing something

As much as I am neutral on the previous film at least that had plot details- this one just has motion and nothing but hope to support it. I mean that because if you think about any of the details the film will break apart

Debating writing a full on review of the film - but I'm not sure I want to waste the time because I would pull the film apart for no real purpose since I don't hate the film. Alternately I don't think anyone would care- or anyone who did would have thought of it already

Ultimately at this point Star Wars as we once thought of it is over and it's time to move on

One Addendum- Kylo Ren is a better character here- but definitely lacking the savvy to actually survive in his new role- he is still a child.

Sunday, December 24, 2017


Excellent look at the Hasidic community through the lives of three people seeking to leave it. Seeking to break with the Orthodox community puts them in target for danger as some members see their leaving as a betrayal. It also puts them on the long road of trying to how to come to terms with the rest of the world since in some cases their education and skills are limited making it difficult for them to function like everyone else. This is a great film that is rightly on the Oscar short list. Its a frank style is eye opening even for someone who has had contact  with the community.

Angelina Jolie's recounting of the Khmer Rogue's raping of Cambodia was tat countries submission for the Foreign Language Oscar. A  kind of child's eye portrait of what happened the film is a vital remembrance of the horrors of a country gone insane. For those who don't know what happened- and many people don't- it's a shocking wake up call.

As good as the film is the film never quite achieves the greatness it's reaching for. Blame it on Jolie's eye which gives the film a bit too much a finely finished quality which takes away from any sense of a lived in quality. The result is we never fully connect with it and while we are moved by events we aren't moved as far as we could go.

Still the film is recommended.

Intriguing film about the murder of Jonbenet Ramsey and the media is not what you think its about.  Nominally a film about the casting of a film about the murder it turns that notion on its head as te people being "cast" instead talk about the media and how it was portrayed in the news and how it affected their lives.

An intriguing think piece about how we view news events and other media stories its film that boomeranged back on me after it was over as I pondered what it ad done. While personally not on my best of the year list I completly understand how several of my friends have raved about it. I also understand why some people don't like it.


Bong Joon-ho's masterpiece film concerns a teenage girl whose best friend is a giant super pig named Okja which she has been raising for a giant corporation. When the company comes to take it back for a media event she gives chase getting mixed up with a group of animal rights activists.

Impossible to fully explain thanks to a narrative complexity that springs up on you and tonal shifts that perfectly and seismically shift from comedy to drama to farce to tragedy, OKJA is a film that sneaks up with you and brains you from behind. This is a film that has both one of the years most beautiful sequences in the use of John Denver as well as one of the most harrowing in a slaughter house sequence that may be the most horrifying concentration camp sequence ever put on film.

This film is a stunner in the truest sense of the word and perfect example of why Netflix allowing filmmakers to have complete creative freedom is a good thing.

I loved it.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Nephew Emmett (2017)

My Nephew Emmett may be the most beautiful of all of the Oscar shortlisted films I’ve seen. A gorgeous haunting visual style adds a kick ass punch to what is already a devastating story. I would be shocked if the film doesn’t end up being one of the final nominees.

The film tells the story of Emmett Till, a black teen who was dragged out into the night and killed because he “whistled” at a white woman. Told from Till’s uncle’s perspective we watch as events unfold before him and take a tragic turn despite his efforts to stop them. This has always been a powerful tale but watching it unfold before us makes it all the more powerful. If you need any proof of why Till’s death helped spur on the Civil Rights movement one need just see this film.

This is a stunning film and one of the best of the Oscar short listed films. Definitely one to search out.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Bright: Will Smith Comes to Netflix

Welcome to a post-racial alternate universe, but human nature still really isn’t so different. In this modern-day fantasy world, all mankind stands unified in their contempt for orcs and their jealousy for elves. Class distinctions are more stratified than ever, but even though we are mere mortals, we stand firmly in the middle, because the orcs threw their lot in with the Dark Lord way back when. They will never shake that scarlet letter, not even when one of their own joins the thin blue line. Daryl Ward does not like orcs any better than the next fellow, but he is stuck riding with Nick Jakoby, mismatched buddy-cop style in David Ayer’s Bright, which premieres today on Netflix.

Ward was not exactly thrilled to partner with an orc in the first place, but he is even less so after getting shot by an orc thug, whom he suspects Jakoby deliberately let slip away. There is not a lot of trust there, even though Jakoby is desperately trying to make nice. Unfortunately, a clique of crooked cops wants Ward to set up his partner. Orc or no orc, that kind of dirty business does not sit well with Ward, but they leave little choice. However, the stakes really start to rise when Ward and Jakoby respond to a call involving magic.

According to screenwriter Max Landis’s system of magic, only “Brights” can wield magic wands. Of course, over 99% of such magic users are elves, but occasionally there is a human Bright. Sorry orcs, next time don’t side with the Dark Lord. As it happens, this might be the next time. Lialeh, the leader of the evil elf clan known as the Infirni aspires to raise the infernal overlord, but her wand was stolen by her remorseful protégé, Tikka. Now there is a mad scramble amongst all LA’s unsavory elements to recover the wand, which really doesn’t make sense, because if any non-Bright touches it, they will basically get atomized. You’d think they’d at least bring some oven mitts from home.

Bright is not the dumpster fire many critics are making it out to be, but it is safe to say internal logic is not its strong suit. On the other hand, Landis creates a compelling mythology, which he establishes without lines and lines of clunky expositional dialogue. Yet, on your third hand, there is no denying Bright gets clumsy and didactic driving home its admittedly well-meaning message of tolerance. We just so get it, after having our noses rubbed in it, six or seven times.

Regardless of all that, Joel Edgerton does some of his best work to date, despite the layers of orc prosthetics, as the painfully earnest Jakoby. It is a shockingly soulful performance, capturing the all the lonely alienation of an orc rejected by his own kind and despised by the rest of the world. In contrast, Will Smith never pushes himself the least little bit as Ward. He seems to think he can get by flashing his grin and cracking wise—and we really start to resent him for it, because he is more or less correct.

As Lialeh the villainess, Noomi Rapace looks like she gets indigestion from chewing scenery. It is too bad Vietnamese superstar Veronica Ngo does not get more dramatic heavy-lifting to do as her hench-elf Tien, considering she only appeared in Last Jedi for about thirty seconds as Paige Tico, but she still totally stole the picture as far as many fans as concerned. At least Edgar Ramírez looks like he is having fun as Kandomere, the Elfish federal Magic Squad agent.

The effects are pretty ho-hum, but Edgerton is terrific as Jakoby and Will Smith is Will Smith as Ward. The world-building is also impressive, but it would be even more effective if the film could go ten minutes without a teachable moment. Given the obvious parallels with Alien Nation it is also almost unforgivably awkward that the orc makeup looks so much like that of the “Newcomers.” It is more fun than you’ve likely heard, but it is not $90 million worth of fun. Recommended for fantasy fans who like their films loud and heavy-handed, Bright is now streaming on Netflix.