Monday, July 31, 2017

An Absurd Accident (2017) Asian American International Film Festival 2017

Impossible to summarize easily pitch black comedy thriller takes a little bit to get going but once it gets going it manages to produce both uneasy laughs and chills as everyone's sins of omission or lies comes back to haunt them.

The film is nominally the story of a hotel owner in rural China. Suspecting that his wife is having an affair he decides to kill her and turns to the quack doctor giving him aphrodisiacs  to get him a hit man. When the appointed time comes the plot begins to unravel as nothing is what it seems and no one is who they claim.

Chinese film noir meets the off kilter sensibilities of the Coen Brothers in a film that is continuously shifting gears. Told in chapters the film shifts styles as well as the more or less straight forward film swerves into literal silent comedy territory with black and white bits that are straight out of the Mack Sennett Studio. Why the film shifts in that direction isn't really clear but it does make the film stand out.

I really like the film a great deal. This is a film that doesn't behave as you think it will. A well made gem of a film AN ABSURD ACCIDENT this is the sort of audacious inde film that makes you sit up and take notice- and laugh.

What an absolute cinematic joy and a hidden treasure.

The film is special enough  that I'm kind of left to ponder how this film didn't end up at the flashier New York Asian Film Festival instead of the AAIFF That's not a knock against AAIFF more a thought that this their loss and AAIFF major gain.

AN ABSURD ACCIDENT is highly recommended when it plays Thursday at 7pm at the Asian Society. For tickets and more information go here

The Kew Gardens FIlm Festival Starts Friday

The first Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema begins Friday and it looks great. It’s got great selection of films (see below for some capsule reviews) and a great vibe. I’ve spoken with a few people from the fest and their enthusiasm is absolutely contagious. They are so excited that one of them has threatened to put me in a headlock if I don’t show up to the fest. (I’m trying to rearrange my schedule to do so)

Being held a literally couple dozen feet from the Kew Garden railroad station the fest is incredibly easy to get to from anywhere in New York. The cinema is also a short walk from the Union Turnpike stop on the E and F subway lines. There are also going to be screenings at other nearby locations such as the Queens Museum so if you can’t get into Kew Gardens maybe you can get to one of the other locations.

Since this is the first year I’m not sure what to expect. Personally ‘m looking forward to some of the special screenings at places like the Queens Museum, and there are a bunch of narrative features I’m interested in. I’ve seen a bunch of documentaries already (see below) and I’m jonesing for some more good films.

Over the last year we’ve seen a number of films screening…. We're previously reviewed

OFF THE RAILS which is playing at special screening at the Queens Museum and is a must see
ALL I WANT which is about a couple on their anniversary
SUPERGIRL which Ariela says is a super film about a little girl who lifts weight

And I’ve seen a bunch of the films in order to get a jump on the festival flood of films. Below you’ll find capsules of a bunch of the films I saw as a run up. Apologies for the berevity but I was chain watching the films and I spent all my time watching instead of writing which is as it should be.

Once you get past the okay narration this is solid portrait of the Pointe-Saint Charles section of Montreal which has come together to battle the gentrification of the area for years. Its a super portrait of people proving that coming together really can make a difference.

Portrait of the farmers on the Indonesian Island of Flores who, with a little help from North America and European  families and friends have managed to lift themselves out of poverty by simply being given a chance to thrive. This is a lovely little film and definitely worth seeing.

12 years in the life a girl named Hoda who was shot in the head while in school in the Gaza Strip becoming blind. Struggling to over come uncertainty and depression she chose to try and over come her injury and get an education. This is  deeply moving film that will leave you exhausted as we are forced to ponder what we would do in a similar situation and come to terms with the realization that sometimes we have to struggle.

Portrait of the Elian School in Poland Maine which for decades used tough love to get troubled kids back on the right track. For some it worked for some it was a living hell. Full of personal accounts this film is a like a cinderblock to the head. How could this sort of thing have gone on for so long? Truly chilling documentary on a real place will curl your blood and your toes. This is a great film but might be a little too long at 122 minutes since the shock and awe leaves the viewer kind of broken.

FIlmmaker Susanne Helmer buys an 1970's hood hair dryer and wonders about the woman on the front of the box. As she tries to track the woman down she ponders who the woman is and what her life has been like. A funny often surreal blending of documentary and speculative fiction (Helmer recreates what she imagines her life to be). This is a one of a kind cinematic trip recommended for anyone who wants off the beaten path

Experimental short film has a man meet a woman in the desert and what happens. Full of intriguing imagery the film will leave you thinking.

Paul Krist's two minute long puzzle will either thrill you or leave you going WTF. It looks great but beyond that totally eludes me

Music video where a man goes into space in a cardboard space shuttle. Amusing

Portrait of Japanese Foreign Ministry agent Chiune 'Sempo' Sugihara who issued over 2000 travel visas to the Jews of Lithuania and managed to get, perhaps, as many as 10,000 people out of the country before they could be picked up by the Nazis. This is a very good film that is hamstrung by a few technical issues such as uneven performances in English.  If you can brush aside the minor flaws, and you should, this is a moving film about a story most people will have no idea about.

Metrograph's September and October 2017 Repertory Calendar Announced

Opens September 1

Gotta Light?

A Film Series Inspired by Episode 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return  
Titles Include Eraserhead, Conner's Crossroads2001: A Space Odyssey, Stalker, and Radio Bikini

David Lynch is that rare artist who unites traditions, often apart or at odds with what is thought to be traditional narrative and avant-garde film. Spurred into filmmaking by a desire to see his paintings move, Lynch’s first efforts were distinctly in the experimental vein. As evidence that the spirit remains alive in Lynch, look no further than Episode 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return, a tangled, visceral multi-megaton blast of invention that brought together personal cosmology and postwar history in a single bravura performance. While The Return continues to unfold, Metrograph selected a program of Lynch’s more far-out productions, alongside a collection of films, non-narrative and documentary, that complement or inform his work.  Titles include Lynch's Eraserhead and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me2001: A Space Odyssey, Stalker, Kiss Me Deadly, four experimental shorts programs, with work by Bruce Conner, Ken Jacobs, Stan Brakhage, Ernie Gehr, Pat O'Neill, and the atomic-age examination Radio Bikini.
Opens September 8

The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun: Psychedelic Surf Films, 1966-1979
Includes Morning of the Earth, Crystal Voyager, and The Endless Summer

Born from the countercultural, back-to-the-land, free-loving Sixties, and its subsequent swells of disillusion, surfing as a sport and lifestyle spread throughout coastal communities around the beaches of Hawaii, California and Australia. Set to psych-rock soundtracks, with stunning, trippy visuals, films like Albert Falzon’s Morning of the Earth and David Elfick's Crystal Voyager found the moment where time and space cease to exist, and the blissed-out surfer became one with the never-ending wave. Other titles include The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun (George Greenough), The Endless Summer (Bruce Brown), Dalmas (Bert Deling), and Palm Beach (Albie Thoms). Guest programmed by Jeremy Rossen, Harvard Film Archives.
Opens September 15

UCLA Preservation Festival at Metrograph
New 35mm Prints of Trouble in Paradise, The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean,
and The Murder of Fred Hampton

So much of film history still remains to be discovered, and this is where the heroic work of the UCLA Film & Television Archive comes in. At long last, the fruits of their labor arrive in New York City, with a bi-annual tour of recent restorations and new prints, including the classic Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch), Hollywood gothic The Lost Moment (Martin Gabel), film noirs from America, He Walked by Night (Alfred L. Werker) and Open Secret (John Reinhardt), and Argentina, Los Tallos Amargos, Laurel & Hardy in Sons of the Desert (William A. Seiter), two from independent writer-director Juleen Compton,The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean and Stranded, in which she also stars, and, most thrillingly, a masterpiece of investigative journalism The Murder of Fred Hampton (Howard Alk).
Opens September 22

New Noir: Chinese Crime Films
U.S. Premieres of Lethal Hostage, The Confirmist, and Ash
The American gangster flick and noir, the British spiv quickie, the German krimi, the French policier, the Italian poliziotteschi, the Hong Kong triad movie and the Japanese yakuza film. In just about every language you can think of in just about every country in the world there’s a word for crime pictures—with one noteworthy exception. In Mainland China, crime depicted on screen is an admission to the existence of discontent in the people’s paradise. Recently, however, a new generation of up-and-coming auteurs, working independently, have been reworking the tropes of the Chinese spy film to address the country’s endemic corruption and violence, with films that portray drifting killers, frustrated police, and lethal beauties, all enmeshed in a web of vice and desire. Beginning with the US premiere of Cai Shangjun’s The Conformist, Metrograph is pleased to introduce a sampling of these hard-hitting fugitive films, little seen outside of the festival circuit either at home or abroad, which taken together signal the appearance of a Mainland school of noir. Lethal Hostage (Cheng Er) and Ash (Li Xiaofang) will also receive US premieres; The Dead End (Cao Baoping) receives its NY premiere; Berlin Film Festival winner Black Coal Thin Ice (Diao Yinan) will also screen.
Opens September 27

Imaginary Chinatown 
Titles Include Big Trouble in Little China, The Bowery, Gangs of New York, Year of the Dragon, Once Upon a Time in America, Gremlins, Alice, and Chinatown
The international Chinatown, accessed through red lacquered gates bearing formidable dragon motifs, has been a vital aspect of both history and myth-making in the West for over 200 years and counting. At once a place of yearning for the far-flung homelands of an ever-growing pan-Asian population abroad and a place onto which the West’s collective fantasy of the Orient can be projected, the exotic exteriors and supposedly mysterious, vice-ridden corridors of Chinatown have never failed to stir the imagination of Hollywood. In popular cinema, Chinatown has been rendered as a hyperbolic fantasy space where anything—even Mogwais—can be bought and sold; where one partakes in copious amounts of opium from what a Broken Blossoms intertitle calls “the lily-tipped pipe”; where car chases collide with extravagant dragon dances; where crime and sin are believed to go unpunished because the locals play by their own rules and “Forget it, Jake—it’s Chinatown.” While far too often trafficking in insidious stereotypes, these were among the first films to create roles—albeit caricatured ones—for pioneering Chinese-American actors (when not featuring white actors). Proudly perched on Ludlow at Canal Street, around the corner from storied the Chinatown Dragon Fighters fire station and across from the historic site of the storied Loews Canal cinema, Metrograph will pay tribute to the complex tradition of Chinatown on film. 
Opens October 1

Philippe Garrel
The Most Extensive Retrospective Staged in North America

The “the child of Cocteau and Godard“ (Rivette), “the proverbial underrated genius” (Assayas), Philippe Garrel began making films at sixteen, fired by a mythopoetic vision and a political fervor that crested and crashed in May ’68, whose turmoil he filmed (the long-lost, newly discovered Actua 1), and re-created from memory (Regular Lovers). In the fallout of this popular uprising the dandy-in-the-underworld Garrel produced a darkly dazzling cycle of what Philippe Azoury called “alchemic and symbolist films, a cinema in suede boots.” Then, beginning with 1982’s L’Enfant Secret (“The secret child of French cinema, Garrel has sent us a sign of life.  Our answer: we hear you loud and clear” – Serge Daney) Garrel became something of the patron saint of narrative minimalists, making pared-down, cloistered works fascinated with the significance of minute gestures and yet also encompassing the wider world affairs both social and romantic. Garrel’s reflective films draw heavily on his autobiography—the women in his life, including the chanteuse Nico, his companion for a crucial decade-long interlude; his addictions and inner turmoil; a family of politically-engaged artisans, incorporating as actors father Maurice, son Louis and most-recently daughter Esther, alongside comrades Jean-Pierre Léaud, Anne Wiazemsky, Pierre Clémenti and Zouzou. This retrospective, the most complete yet in the United States (including restorations of La cicatrice intérieure, Le révélateur, and L'enfant secret, which will receive a U.S. premiere week-long run beginningOctober 11), will provide a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience fifty years of work from cinema’s foremost poet.
Opens October 7

Anna May Wong
Shanghai Express, Toll of the Sea, Daughter of the Dragon, and Old San Francisco 
Screen in Sidebar to "Imaginary Chinatown"

The sidebar to "Imaginary Chinatown" is a tribute to the Empress of Chinatown herself, Anna May Wong. Born in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, Wong’s early days of working for her father’s laundry made her meticulous about dressing. Since her father wanted a boy, she watched her sister wear masculine clothes to appease him, and this would in time inspire her androgynous onscreen presence, a quality she shared with Marlene Dietrich, with whom she would be glamorously paired in Josef Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express. Thanks to her preternatural beauty Wong was modeling fur coats by the age of ten, and by the time she was a teenager she had broken into the movie business—not a time exceedingly receptive to screen testing Asian faces. Throughout her career Wong would bridle at the exoticized roles she was handed, even taking off for Europe when Hollywood disappointed her, but she approached every film with incredible grace and dignity, and what remains of her through the years is a seductive, incredibly chic, and startlingly modern screen presence. 
Opens October 7

Written by Stephen King
Presented by Shudder
Stephen King has ruled popular culture as few writers ever have, a breakout acolyte of pulp genius cult writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Jim Thompson, and Donald Westlake who has kept his mass audience riveted since the publication of his first novel, Carrie, in 1974. Directed with verve by Brian de Palma, Carriewould be a sensation in cinemas as well, and King’s influence on movies has been felt ever since—not exclusively but especially in the horror genre. It is in honor of the fecund, warped mind of the man from Portland, Maine, then, that Metrograph presents a ghoulish parade of cinematic King adaptations. Titles include Christine (John Carpenter), Carrie (Brian DePalma), The Shining (Stanley Kubrick), Misery (Rob Reiner), Maximum Overdrive (Stephen King), and The Dead Zone (David Cronenberg).
Opens October 13

Giallo x 3
When the Sexual Revolution hit the stronghold of Catholicism, there was bound to be a hell of an explosion—and in Italian pop cinema, this explosion was called giallo. The name means “Yellow,” a reference to the color of the covers which traditionally graced cheap paperback mysteries, and it came to refer to an entire genre of indigenous thrillers defined by their dreamlike narrative illogic, bravura cinematography, wall-to-wall scoring, and above all diseased eroticism and sexual hysteria. So slip on the black gloves, stiffen up with a glass of J & B, and come on down to see three of the freakiest entries in a body of film art not exactly known for restraint. Titles include What Have You Done to Solange?(Massimo Dallamano), Your Voice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Sergio Martino), and Death Laid an Egg (Giulio Questi).
Opens October 18

Nanni Moretti
6 Films with Moretti in Person
One of the great international film traditions, the Italian cinema weathered hard years through the late 1980s and 90s, but in the person of Nanni Moretti it has had its great and indefatigable torchbearer. Anxiety over decline—of a leftist resistance, of a non-commercial cinema, of plain old aging and human frailty—is essential to Moretti’s films, which often find him front and center as alter-ego Michele Apicella, but in his hands this becomes the stuff of bittersweet comedy. Documentary and fiction form, ideological seriousness and absolute irreverence—all mix and mingle in these remarkable movies that can only be labelled as “Moretti.” Titles include Palombessa Rossa, Caro Diario, Aprile, The Son's Room, Il Caimano,and the greatest ode to theater operation ever, Opening Day of Close-Up

Throughout September/October

Welcome to Metrograph: U-V
This is the tenth installment in a (now-longer-than) year-long, alphabetically ordered series that offers films the programmers at Metrograph consider must-sees; a pinnacle of a filmmaker’s career or an overlooked, demands-reconsideration masterpiece. Titles include The Unbelievable Truth (Hal Hartley), Vampyres (José Ramón Larraz), Viva La Muerte (Fernando Arrabal), An Unmarried Woman (Paul Mazursky), Vanishing Point (Richard C. Sarafian), Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires), Vengeance is Mine (Shôhei Imamura), Viva Zapata! (Elia Kazan), Vertical Ray of the Sun (Tran Anh Hung), Underworld, USA (Samuel Fuller), Ulzana's Raid (Robert Aldrich), Videodrome (David Cronenberg)and more.

Man With Van (2017) Long Beach International Film Festival

Clunky title aside MAN WITH VAN is really good. It’s good enough that if you’re in the area of Long Beach Long Island on Wednesday you should make a b-line to the Long Beach International FiIm Festival to see it.

Keir is a loving father splitting custody of his daughter with his ex-wife. He is behind in his payments to his wife because his job hasn’t paid him in a couple of weeks. However before any money can come his way the worksite he’s been doing the electrical work on has shut down. With the need for fast cash he is talked into doing an arson job. And another… However when someone dies Keir’s life is in danger and he has to fight his way to get his life back.

A stellar cast of character actors devour the screen in Man With Van. Morgan Spector as Kier gives a moving heart felt performance. As the man at the center of it all he shines in one of the best written decent guy who gets in over his head roles I’ve ever seen. Keir is a guy you generally like, from his early in the game warning of a coworker of the danger of electricity or his scenes with the daughter he adores. Spector makes us love his character to the point where when its all said and done our heart breaks when we see how the journey has changed him. Nick Damici and Mike Starr are also gang busters as Keir’s friend and his boss from the wrong side of the law respectively. While they are both paying variations of other roles they’ve tackled they are adept enough to make us buy them.

DirectorEd Blythe and James Windeler‘s script also needs to be singled out since in addition to giving us a character we really care about, it also keeps us on the edge of our seat as we watch the fall of a good man into darkness and we are moved.

If there is any problem with the film it’s a small one. There are a few moments where the film fumbles the tone of the proceedings. The lightness of some of the scenes with Keir and his family don’t quite mesh with some of the darker crime scenes. I’m not sure why- though I suspect that perhaps it maybe the score, which while fine unto itself but doesn’t always work with the images as can be seen at the final fade out when a serious moment butts right into a light score as the credits roll. It’s not fatal but it keeps the film from being as oppressive as it could be.

The hiccup aside I really like the film. It’s a wonderfully written crime thriller about a man who does the wrong thing for the right reason and has to pay.
For more information an tickets go here.

Fantasia ’17: Lu Over the Wall

When it comes to mer-people, the Celts have their selkie, the Slavs have the rusalka, and Japan tells tales of the ningyo. Those ningyo legends have a darker tone than our Disney and Ron Howard mermaid movies, so it is not so surprising many residents of a coastal Japanese fishing village hold misconceptions regarding ningyos. One compulsively cheerful ningyo will do her best to change their prejudices, starting with a moody Tokyo transplant in Masaaki Yuasa’s Lu Over the Wall, which screens during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Yuasa has been busy, having already released Lu and Night is Short, Walk on Girl in Japan this year. While both feature his “flat” style of character rendering, Lu is clearly intended for a much younger audience. After his parents’ divorce, Kai moves to the harbor town of Hinashi with his father. The moody aspiring electronica DJ reluctantly joins the band led by town princess Yuho and her torch-carrier Kunio, mostly because he is curious to see Mermaid Island, where they practice.

The island was once the site of an ill-fated ningyo/mermaid-themed amusement park, but deserted jutting rock formation always shielded nearby “Mermaid Harbor” from the sun they dread. This is one of the few ningyo legends that is apparently true. They also really enjoy music, especially Lu, who can’t help singing along with the band. As luck would have it, she has a better voice than Yuho, so Lu replaces her as lead vocalist. Of course, this makes things awkward when they actually get live gigs, especially considering the anti-ningyo sentiments of old-timers, like the old granny who blames the ningyo for her husband’s disappearance.

It is indeed true ningyo can turn the land-bound into ningyo with a vampire bite to the neck. However, they only use their powers for good, as when Lu liberates all the puppies in the pound, turning them into merdoggies. She pretty much has everyone in the audience won over at that point. Still, she is a bit young-looking to be hanging with Kai and Kuho. Supposedly, they are in middle school, but their animated figures look more like high school teens, whereas Lu resembles a nine or ten-year-old. Technically, Yuasa keeps things squeaky clean, but when Kai finally admits he has feelings for Lu, it should make everyone feel a little uncomfortable.

Still, Yuasa has an affinity youthful alienation and the rhythms of small town life. It is also nice to see so many presumably minor characters take on greater significance later in the film. The major plot points are all pretty predictable and the environmental messaging gets a bit tiresome, but Yuasa keeps us hooked with all his clever bits of business. Plus, there are merpuppies. Miguel Ortega & Tran Ma’s Ningyo is still more our kind of mer-creature film, but Lu should charm fans of similar films, like Ponyo and Mia and the Migoo. Recommended for young viewers, Lu Over the Wall screens tonight (7/31) and tomorrow (8/1), as part of this year’s Fantasia.

Spoor( 2017) Fantasia 2017

Environmentalist living alone in the woods ends up in the middle of a series of murders when the local bigwigs and hunters begin to die and the evidence seems to point to animals tuning against mankind.

Beautiful to look at film plays for much of it's running time as an ethereal mystery with the sense that anything can happen. While clearly an art film, it manages to get its hooks into genre lovers with a genuine sense that anything can happen.

Unfortunately there is a point somewhere along the way where the deliberate pacing and the shift to the film making a forceful point about the environment and animal rights has the film go off the road like several of the cars in the film.  While the accident isn't a total wreck the film is still off the road and it never manages to get back in time to have a satisfying finish.

Not a bad film but more a good one that disappoints. Worth a look for animal rights people and those who just want to see great images.

SPOOR plays again tomorrow at Fantasia. Tickets and more information can be had here.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Nightcap 7/30/17- It is okay not to love DUNKIRK

There has been a lot of discussion of Christopher Nolan's DUNKIRK running through my life the last two weeks. Much of the discussion has been because I am not absolutely in love with the film and many of my friends are. I've also engaged online with some others who are incredulous (and occasionally downright mean) that I am not as rapturous as they are. There was one person who was so incredulous as to be implying that those of us who aren't drooling over the film are simply being contrarian just to be contrary.

No. The film just didn't click with us the way it did with you. And as was made clear by some of the discussions where "better" films were offered not only do we have  differing tastes but we've seen a many different movies than each other. I'm certain that had we had the same cinematic experiences some of us might have come to the same conclusion as you. Since we are not the same different feelings resulted.

While I do like DUNKIRK I'm not certain that it's the greatest war film that many online writers seem to imply.

Over the last few weeks I've been running into an interesting trend in the cinema corners of the internet where the fans of DUNKIRK have been reacting to some of the negative or at least less than loving reaction to the film with the response "but haven't they read the interviews, that is explained in the interviews" and "they should go read the interviews its all explained there". The film's and Christopher Nolan's fans seem to think that if we all read everything that the director had to say about the film we'd love it just as much as they do.

Its a nice idea but there is a problem there, in that the vast majority of people aren't going to care enough to read one interview never mind multiple. People will read a little, maybe a review or two about a film, and then head to the theater or fire up Netflix or turn on cable. Most people are not going to read tons of interviews, or any interviews (unless its in people or EW) just so they can truly understand why a filmmaker made certain choices. Most people just don't care why Nolan chose not to show blood and gore,  or why any filmmaker did or didn't do something they just want a good movie.

The film fanatics don't understand that no one really cares about the things they care about. I know I've lived it.

I live in this weird twilight world.

While I have been described as a psychotic film fan who watches everything, I am also a writer on film who treats film with a certain amount of respect. I walk this tightrope between the fanboy and the critic frequently falling off the rope into one thing or the other. I can gush about a no pretense horror film one minute while talking up the deeper meanings of a more serious film the next--and vice versa (more often vice versa). I take every film as it hits me and on it's own terms.

What does on it's "own terms" mean? It means I go into a film largely blind, with newer stuff that means with maybe reading a review or two, with world premieres it means without reading the press notes. I go into a film as blind as I can, which with the epic films like DUNKIRK means my blindness is relative.

The idea is that I'm taking the film as the majority of filmgoers are going to see it- with little background information. The reason I do this is because way too often I've run into problems with films (CORPO CELESTE and WHITE WHITE WORLD spring to mind) where nothing the director was trying to express was not in the film but it was all in the notes. I don't want an "ah ha" moment hours after I see a film nor do I want to have to know everything about a film before I see it.

As I have said these last almost eight years of writing Unseen Films MOVIES MUST WORK UNTO THEMSELVES. If they can't work unto themselves then they really don't work.

With Nolan's DUNKIRK , it largely works but there are missteps. I can live with the lack of blood, which was the discussion on Twitter that sparked this piece. But there are other problems, which are problems no matter how much supporters of the film don't think they are.

The first problem comes from Nolan's dropping us into the even with almost no explanation. I have been reading on the evacuation all my life so I understand what the details were. I have had discussions with people who have compared it to films such as LA 92 or  Joseph Wiseman's documentaries. I had a long discussion about Wiseman's esthetic and the film.  I see that and I understand it and completely get it. The problem is I've read some on line discussions and I've had some in person discussions where people didn't really understand the history of what happened. The film has dropped us so  far into the event that unless you know what happened you're going to feel lost.

I know many of  you reading this are going to go "but it's Dunkirk how can they not understand what it is" Well it was 75 years ago and our cultural focus has shifted.

Let me ask you- without looking it up- do you know what Dien Bien Phu is? Aside from a lyric in a Billy Joel Song? How about the Biafran conflict? Gulf of Tonkin? They are closer in time but I'm pretty sure most of you don't really understand them or even know what they are.

The request for context by some people have made a few of the film's fans angry who have called them stupid for not knowing. I find it interesting since when I asked one belligerent fellow person why he knew so much he said that he read up on the battle before the film was released. Clearly he didn't understand that his knowledge didn't spread to the rest of the world nor did he realize some people don't feel the need to do homework on every film they see.

The other place the film has sparked some arguments is in Nolan's lack of characters on the beach. I'm not going to rehash my issues with this, but it has bothered some people and I've even seen some people ask if the Harry Styles character was one guy or many. I know that statement has many of you going "but weren't they paying attention?" Yes they were, and yes I was because there was times when I lost track of who I was looking at as well. (and yes I know it was purely for marketing)

That the questions are being asked by more than a handful of people suggests that however "great" the film is, it is not quite the godsend that many feel. Clearly there are issues that have prevented the film from connecting to everyone with it on face value.

That we should be told to read the interviews or do more research, forgets the notion that the film is not part of a life exam. Additionally it really doesn't matter if we don't like your favorite film of the moment and we shouldn't be asked to do additional study on the slim chance we might agree with you. That many of us aren't wetting ourselves over the film I think says that we have different takes, different experiences and not as some have implied, idiots.

Some of the discussions that I have seen or been part of about DUNKIRK and a few other recent films have kind of shaken me to the point where I'm seriously considering stepping away from some of the film world I travel through. The raging love for some films, and some directors by some film fans has bordered on pathological. The epithets thrown my way, even by people who casually know me is disheartening.

While I've watched the ebb and flow of fandom for decades way too often now people are putting too much of their own personal meaning into something that's beyond their control and not their creation. People don't understand that my not liking something doesn't impact on their liking something or having the ability to be their friend

Guys and girls these are only movies and whether we like them or not doesn't really impact your existence. Personally I am a champion for dozens of films you would spit on but which touch my soul.  I don't attack or belittle people who don't  like my choices. You shouldn't either.

That I don't love DUNKIRK shouldn't make any difference to you- especially since odds are that other than the stray comment that disagrees with your stance you'll never have another interaction with me and only for that  two second reading of my worlds will I mean nothing to you.

Besides odds are in six months something is going to come along and make you think that's the greatest film of the year all over again.

As for DUNKIRK--What I find interesting is that in five or ten years down the road some of the questions of content and why was this done will not be as prevalent because down the road the film will have cheat sheets and it will have a backlog of pieces which they will have waded through long before they ever see the film. When its a "classic" film people will view it differently because of everything  written on it now...

...however those going into it blind will no doubt have the the same confused reactions.

S.U.M.1 (2017) Fantasia 2017

S.U.M.1 is a soldier living in an underground bunker. Humanity has been largely wiped out and has been forced to live underground by the Nonsuch an  alien race that invaded. Allowed above round during a 100 day tour in the military S.U.M. sends his time in a tall tower monitoring the sensors. But staring so much at the screens makes one wonder about things like, what happened to the guy who was here before...

Great looking Spartan film suffers from a severe sense of deja vu. We have been here before any number of time. Feeling at times like some of the live action work of Mamoru Oshii the film is largely S.U.M. wandering around alone, dealing with a couple of people before we get to the end and the revelation. It wouldn't be bad but other than looking utterly spectacular (even with an over se in some sequences of CGI)

Watchable but I hoped for more

Fantasia 17: The Night is Short, Walk on Girl

It’s easy to play up the bittersweet moments in an American Graffiti­-style end-of-an-era night of partying. However, if you can find the best parts in the hangover than you’re really onto something. Buckle up, because it is going to be a heck of a party in Masaaki Yuasa’s The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, which screens during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

It starts with a wedding, but the after-after-party is where it’s at. Than these Kyoto college students are off to enjoy the night life of the nocturnal city that apparently puts both New York and Las Vegas to shame. The Senpai (upperclassman) would like to chat up his crush, an underclassman known simply as “The Girl with Black Hair,” but he is painfully shy, He gets ribbed by his friends, but frankly they are even worse, especially Don Underwear, so-called because he pledged never to change his under-garments until he finds the mystery woman he fell in love with during a brief chance encounter. If the logic of his strategy escapes you, just backburner that thought for now.

The Senpai will follow the Girl with Black Hair as she struts through the college district nightlife like an animated Holly Golightly. It would be a bit stalkerish if he weren’t so ineffectual. They might actually be meant for each other, but first the Girl with will get a lesson in exotic cocktail history, assist the Puck-ish God of the Used Book Market restore cosmic balance to the free flow of used books, and step into the lead role of a guerilla theater troupe’s floating production.

Kyoto looks like a heck of a fun city and the Girl with is an absolutely charming companion to share it with. There is probably more alcohol consumed in Night is Short than a typically sloshed Hong Sang-soo or Thin Man movie, but there is more to it than that. In fact, the wild night catches up with them, sending nearly everyone to their sick beds to nurse colds and flus, except Girl with. As she starts tending to her old and new friends, certain aspects of the night come into sharper focus.

Night is Short is a rarity among animated films, because it maintains a light, whimsical vibe, while not including any objectionable material, but it clearly has an adult sensibility. You need to have lived through a few nights like this, albeit without the surreal flights of fantasy, to fully appreciate the film’s intoxicating vibe.

Yuasa’s style is also rather mischievously flexible. He slides up and down the scale from representationally realistic anime to dayglo candy-colored abstraction, but somehow he maintains a consistency of tone and attitude. It is just a trip to take in all the visual confections.

Like the Girl with Black Hair, Yuasa’s film is an energetic charmer. Night is Short has heart and panache married together in ways we’ve rarely seen. It will make you feel several years younger, so maybe you consider seeing it if you have the chance. Very highly recommended, Night is Short, Walk on Girl screens tonight (7/30) and tomorrow (7/31), during this year’s Fantasia.

Future Imperfect: Dead Man’s Letters

It was produced in 1986, but this Soviet post-apocalyptic drama envisions a world of widespread environmental devastation and a weak central government that still tries to maintain its authority through brutal and arbitrary assertions of power. In other words, nothing has changed for Soviets, except maybe for the millions who died in the nuclear blast. Existence rather than life goes on for a professor futilely searching for his missing son in Konstantin Lopushansky’s Dead Man’s Letters, which screens during MoMA’s ambitious but oddly titled film series, Future Imperfect: The Uncanny in Science Fiction.

The Professor is sort of like a post-apocalyptic Nicholas Sparks character. He essentially narrates the film through ruminative letters ostensibly written to his son Eric, even though he realizes it is highly unlikely they will ever be read by the intended recipient. His wife sort of survived, but she is fast succumbing to radiation sickness, dementia, and who knows what else. They have found temporary refuge in a shelter below a Hermitage-like museum, which explains the high quality of surrounding bric-a-brac and detritus.

In flashbacks, we witness the impact at Soviet ground zero and watch the Professor’s desperate search for Eric in various makeshift hospitals and morgues. Grotesque yet visually arresting, these sepia-toned sequences have the look and feel Hieronymous Bosch. They are some of the most effective passages of the film. However, the high point is undeniably the eulogy the museum director gives to mankind before committing suicide in despair. Rather than condemn man, he praises our tragic outsized ambition and the capacity to love that produced so much great art. Frankly, it is quite a refreshing sentiment, compared to the contemporary eco/outbreak/zombie thrillers that argue humanity is fundamentally evil and deserves to give way to snail darters and cockroaches (looking at you, Girl with All the Gifts).

Both the style and subject matter of Letters largely overwhelms the veteran cast. Nevertheless, as the Professor, Rolan Bykov still manages to project dignity and a profound sense of loss. Physically, he resembles Wojciech Pszoniak in Andrzej Wajda’s 1990 Korczak, especially when the Professor assumes guardianship of a group of outcast children. Yet, it is Iosif Ryklin who truly defines and redeems the film as the museum director (sometimes credited as “The Humanist”). His farewell address is the sole identifiable element that qualifies Letters for MoMA’s Future Imperfect, a series that explores the ways science fiction is uniquely qualified to determine what it means to be human, but it is more than sufficient justification.

Letters’ unambiguous religious symbolism might surprise many, given its Soviet origins. However, the end titles make it clear the film was partly (if not largely) produced with the Western nuclear freeze movement in mind. Clearly, the hope was if the gullible West took a gander at the suffering wrought by nukes, they would force Reagan administration to unilaterally halt the military build-up, cluelessly giving the Soviets time to regroup and rebuild. We now know nobody was more concerned about the potential destruction a nuclear war would cause than Ronald Reagan himself, but he could see deception and manipulation for what it was.

Lopushansky assisted Tarkovsky during the production of Stalker—and it is easy to see the master’s influence. We can also see echoes of Letters in Aleksay German’s Hard to Be a God. Of course, both Stalker and German’s film were based on novels written by the Strugatsky Brothers, Arkady and Boris, the latter also being a co-screenwriter of Letters, so you could say all three films are closely related. As a result, Letters is one of the better Soviet Bloc post-apocalyptic movies, far superior to August at the Hotel Ozone (screening tomorrow). Recommended for those who appreciate strong imagery or are nostalgic for some Soviet duck-and-cover, Dead Man’s Letters screens again today (7/30) at MoMA, as part of Future Imperfect.

Attraction (2017) Fantasia 2017

Fedor Bondarchuk's epic IMAX science fiction film  disappoints.

Damaged by a meteor storm and brought down by Russian fighters an alien spacecraft crashes into moscow. As the military quarantine the area a group of  young adults, including the daughter of the head of the military go into the restricted area and explore.  As the military tries to figure out what to do and contain the situation  the explorers contact he alien.

Soapy film degenerates into a romance between earthling and alien, a father daughter drama, and humans aren't so bad after all parable- all of which we've seen about a thousand times. This all might have worked had the film not tried to be so epic in scope. Filmed to fill an IMAX frame everything is shot to look expansive, even the small human moments.  Its a nice idea but the drama gets lost in the empty spaces of the screen.

While far from a bad film, it is dramatically unremarkable and there isn't enough here to sustain an over two hour film despite some visually amazing sequences.

Worth a look if you run across it on TV but I really can't recommend paying t see it on the big screen which is where the visuals will really impress.


500,000 YEARS
Moody film concerns a traveling film theater that sets up at a shrine in the middle of the forest. A wonderful little confection that would make a wonderful, if eerie companion to CINEMA TRAVELERS.

In the far flung future humans live on as androids. One android makes high heel shoes and strives to make the perfect pair for a customer. More mood and image over content, this is a neat little short that is enjoyable but is a tad too long at 30 minutes for what the pay off it.

Visually overpowering tone poem about a displaced people is a hypnotic trip. It is an indescribable experience but the bigger the image the more over whelming this will be. An absolute must see in a theater on a big screen.

on the island of Rainbow Sooni's boyfriend is a superhero. Cute little film about the trouble f dating someone everyone loves

Years after the monsters created by nuclear was have forced Humans to the sea one fighter pilot thinks he's found an island where people live. Good science fiction tale that makes you think

Stunningly beautiful and powerfully haunting tale of a young mage who can't shake his past wandering into the an abandon village to do battle.

MATASABURO OF THE WIND (2017) Fantasia 2017

One of the best animated films of the year, Hiroki Yamada's short film is a stunning short concerns a a little girl who moves to a new town, loses a hat, gets a feather from a god and makes some new friends.

A stunning pastoral slice of life where animals go to schools with humans this is a lovely and charming a film as I've seen. It is a masterpiece of the highest order and Yamada should be given a feature film ASAP.

How good is the film? Lets just say that Ghibli should worry about what Yamada can do.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Long Beach International Film Festival starts Tuesday

The Long Beach International Film Festival Starts Tuesday and if you are near Long Island it is worth the trip.

Set in one of only two cities on Long Island the festival is films and food and fun on the beach. Celebrities pop in, top chefs cooks and good movies are being shown. It’s a blast and a half and you really need to go- hell a number of the films are screening for FREEEEEEE so can’t say you can’t afford it..

As things stand right now I am making plans to get down to the beach and with luck (and a shift in my dentist appointment) I should be good to go.

As of right now I’ve seen six of the features
Five previously:

And the World Premiering MAN IN VAN which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow.(trust me it’s really good)

I have also seen almost all of the animation block of shorts and they kick serious ass so go see that too.

Do yourself a favor and buy a ticket and go.

A short piece on Atomic Blonde (2017)

The effects of too much brutality on the human form
I will be writing a longer piece on ATOMIC BLONDE as soon as I see it again. How it ends flipped what I thought of  chunks of the plot so I now have to go through again knowing how it ends to see what I really think.

Until then here are some thoughts.

A brutal vicious face unch of an action film. Its a film that leaves a bloodstain on the screen and in the first couple of rows as the violence smacks the audience in the face.

As the film opens it's 1989. Charlize Theron is in an interrogation room with her British superior (Toby Jones) and an agent from the CIA (John Goodman). They want to know what happened when she went to Berlin  to find the list of spies being offered up the a Stasi agent in exchange for asylum. Told to trust no one, she is made by the KGB and other from the moment she lands she has to fight her way to the truth as she deals with German, Soviet, French, Americans and her own British agents

I've been told by several people that the film doesn't make sense, but it does if you pay attention and if you realize that the narrative is flipping. This is a typical you don't know what is happening until the end spy film which most Americans are not used to since Hollywood simplifies so much.

The film is a brutally violent film where the characters bruise and stay bruised. Theron's face at one point swells ugly and if the swelling goes down later in the sequence you have to give them points for showing the ugly side of things. And almost all the violence is ugly as people are beaten and stabbed in horrible ways. Bullets sometimes miss their mark and people bleed out. Its wickedly cool make believe but the real world implications are horrifying.

Theron shines in the lead. Double check she's on the list of greatest living actresses. She makes you feel and she makes you believe what ever she is doing.

The use of music is stunning. The song choices are brilliant from Peter Schilling's Major Tom Schilling to Til Tuesday's Voices Carry or the ironic us of 99 Luftballons (and later sadness), the music drives the film to unexpected heights.

I love this film and I want to discuss it in detail but right now I can'y. What I want to say would be way too spoilery. Additionally I'm still working out the final twists and turns. I'm still not 100% sure of a a couple of things and I want to work them out in a second viewing.

Until then go see the film. Strap in  and take your ride and prepare to be rocked.

It may very well end up near the top of my best of the year list