Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Unseen Films Podcast: Hot Takes on NYFF 2017: NO STONE UNTURNED

In this second of the NYFF Hot Takes Hubert and I try to discuss Alex Gibney's latest Film NO STONE UNTURNED, a film that he is happy can finally be seen by the public.  The film focuses on the 1994 Loughinisland massacre where two gunman burst into small pub and shot 11 people killing 6. While arrests were made no one was ever charged. And the families have been left hanging for the better part of 23 years for justice.

The podcast is an attempt to discuss the film, which we discover is rather tough because the construction of the film and the ever surprising revelations make it a film that is hard to discuss without spoiling the film.

A full review is coming from both Hubert and myself.

And for those who have been waiting for the film since it was pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival, we discuss the reasons behind it-as far as Gibney will tell us.

The film replays 10/1 and 10/15. For more information go here

L'atalante (1934)- On Further Review NYFF 2017

This piece was written several years ago as part of our occasional series looking at well known films and taking an opposing view point. With L'atalante playing Tuesday at the New York Film Festival I'm reposting it

L'atalante, the final film by director Jean Vigo before his untimely death, is hailed as a masterpiece of cinema.

Vigo left behind only three short films and this feature before dying. Typically all of his films are screened together, because the running time is around three hours and they make a nice evening's entertainment. The UK DVD that I have of the film has a second disc with the shorts on it.

L'atalante tells the story of a barge Captain who marries a young girl and then plies his trade up and down the river. Focusing on the couple and the crew it's the rocky story of a true romance.

The film met with mixed results upon its release and was cut up. Over the years there were attempts to put the film back together, and the film was restored to 89 minutes in 1990, and was then revised again in 2001.

I like the film. I just don't know why this is a frequent visitor on lists of the best films of all time. I've pondered the film ever since I saw it for the first time and I haven't yet figured out why it's great.

Certainly I have my beef with any number of the "classics" of cinema, but more times than not I can walk away from the film and at least understand why someone would argue that say Citizen Kane is a great film, even if I don't feel that way. Here I'm completely at a loss as to explain why it's a great film. I suppose it's all due to how someone connects or doesn't connect with the romance. I never really connected since I never saw what either person saw in the other. Yes, I'm coming from a different time and place, and how I look at romance and even relationships that become marriage is different, but beyond that I saw nothing. For me there was too much to take on faith. The thought that this film is highly rated only because Vigo died upon completion nags at me.

This isn't to say that L'atalante is a bad film; it's not, actually it's a good's just not a great one. If there is anything that is great about the film it's the photography. Shot on location on the barge and the environs around it this film beautifully shows a time and a place. I love how the film looks and how it makes you feel how that you are there. Honestly I can see how people are influenced to want to chuck it all and go live on a barge.

Is this worth seeing? Yes. I don't think it's a bad film, and if you strip away the useless and uncalled for baggage of this being one of the greatest films of all time it's an enjoyable one. See it for itself and you'll have a good time; bringing anything else to the table will only serve to disappoint you.

Pictures from the LAST FLAG FLYING New York Film Festival Press Conference

Here are some pictures from the press conference for LAST FLAG FLYING at the New York FIlm Festival.

Left to right the order of people on stage goes as follows: Kent Jones,Darryl Ponicsan, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, J. Quinton Johnson, and Richard Linklater.

A couple of notes- I have no good single shots of Richard Linklater because he was constantly moving. I have very few pictures of J Quinton Johnson for the same reason. I have many more pictures of Laurence Fishburne but I shied away from putting them up since he seemed to be angry in them which wasn't the case. (and if you are coming to this on the front page of Unseen, remember that there are even more picture past the jump break)

Bryan Cranston
Laurence Fishburne
J Quinton Johnson
Daryl Ponicsan

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Square (2017) NYFF 2017

Discussing THE SQUARE at the NYFF press conference
Reviews out of Cannes was that THE SQUARE was the best film of the year. One reviewer said everyone should just give the film every award there is because it deserves it. Praise levels were through the roof and the hype machine was working over time talking about the film and its effect on viewers.

Sadly, for me the film didn’t live up to the hype.

The plot of the film follows a museum director as he goes through a difficult period of time, It seems no one is coming to the museum and he needs to get people in. His wallet and cellphone are stolen. His efforts to get them back ends up with him being stalked by a young boy whose parents assume their son is a thief. Then there is an unpleasant You Tube Video, and a needy woman who wants more than a one night stand. It is ultimately an exploration of the series of events the director comes to regret…

And after two and a half hours in the dark I kind of regretted wasting my time, not because its bad but more because the film goes absolutely nowhere and only manages to explore themes which are painfully obvious . The film simply throws idea after idea up but doesn’t do anything with them. What are we supposed to feel? What are we supposed to think? I don’t know, not because the questions are difficult rather because I really can’t believe that director Ruben Ostlund is asking such simplistic questions

Ruben Ostlund said that the film is a mediation on regret and the inability to change things. And while that’s true to a degree the director is often such a self-absorbed jerk he kind of brings much of what happens on himself and we really can’t feel for him and his last minute change of heart. How can we side with him when he is often so distant and disconnected?

We have repeated and unending meditations on our attitudes toward the homeless. How many shots of the homeless do we need? Why do we need multiple shots of the homeless guy being ignore while a woman with a clipboard shouting about “help save a life” while someone is in trouble next to her? Ostlund obsession with the homeless and one in particular that it stops being a talking point but literally becomes a joke as we watch one man sitting wrapped in plastic in the rain.

Notions of rich privilege and disconnection to the world runs rampant in the film. Everyone is self-absorbed and not connected. No one of any stature has no idea what is going on and they only see the world in black and white terms. Its so clumsily handled that all I could think was that Ostlund has had his face so stuck to a his cellphone for years that he didn’t realize that what he was showing us isn’t new or deep but obvious to anyone watching the world.

Worst of these is the films deflation of the art world as being ridiculous (piles of dirt as art) isn’t anything knew since the silliness of it all goes back to the Dadaists and only gotten worse. The questioning of arts pretensions in a film as pretentious as this is a severe danger since in a way it seems like Ostlund is telling us even his film is full of it.

The dquare of the title is a piece of art where people are supposed to be safe.  Ostlund repeated a line from the film in the post screening Q&A that we are supposed to make the square a safe place like we make a cross walk a safe place to cross a busy road, but other than tossing a line about it out he never explored the notion in any way. Indeed he co-opts the idea by having a PR firm make a film where a six year olf girl and her kitten are blown up once they step inside it. Its a hell of a viual image but it doesn't help his supposed ideas at all.

I think the biggest problem with the film is that this isn’t really a film but a series of bits rather than a solid narrative. The Square of the title comes from an genuine art installation that is supposed to be a safe place. It was installed in a museum in Sweden. Some how the idea for the film grew out of that. He then added bits of the lives of himself and friends (the threatening notes in the mail boxes and the condom stories are supposedly true) and to them he brought in things like the formal dinner sequence.

All of these bits are good as stand alone blackouts, but they ultimately they are just pieces and don’t connect up to anything really. Worse because Ostlund seems intent on handling the bits with the greatest of care instead the stitching solidifying the narrative, he lets the pieces, such as the letter delivery, go on way way too long.

Some sequences are almost not even connected to the main plot at all.  Sequences such as the dinner happen in a vacuum. The dinner, while stunning to a degree, could be removed and not effect the film at all other than you’d have removed the selling point of the film. Other than it happening in the museum it is never referenced on either side of it. Another sequence which is funny but utterly pointless (and not to mention contrived) is the Tourettes Syndrome one. WHat purpose does it serve other than a cheap laugh.

And because the film has no solid through line all we remember if the bits, the letter delivery, the condom bit, the You Tube video and the now legendary dinner sequence. We remember these rather than the whole thus subverting any point the film was making since a pieces there is no point just moments of great filmmaking that .hang in their unsupported by anything.

To me this is best described as an obvious simplistic mediation on the director's belly button with some really good bits. It is in no way a clever as it thinks it is. And while it may have worked in a form 45 to 60 minutes shorter in its current form it’s just too damn long.

(And apropos of nothing-the press conference scene mirrors a good number of movie press conferences I have attended)

The Unseen Films Podcast: Hot Takes on NYFF 2017: SPOOR and BEFORE WE VANISH

There has been talk of an Unseen FiIms Podcast for a while now but there has been lots of motion but very little progress. However last week after the New York Film Festival Press screenings of SPOOR and BEFORE WE VANISH Hubert, on the clock for Flixist, and I grabbed an audio recorder and ducked into an alcove outside the NYPL Lincoln Center branch and recorded some hot takes on the two films which had just screened.

The recording called NYFF Hot Takes is the sort of thing that happens after most press screenings as we (and more often other friends) discuss the film(s) we had just seen. The recording is raw and off the cuff like our comments. It’s a moment in time capturing the pair of us trying to find the words that would become our reviews.

With the New York Film Festival in full swing we're going to try to do a few more of these, and hopefully drag in a few more friends along the way so keep reading and keep listening because more is coming.

Before We Vanish (2017) NYFF 2017

One of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's messiest film BEFORE WE VANISH is a one of a kind science fiction film (as are all Kurosawa's films). It is a kind of I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE meets THE ARRIVAL but with a comedic edge.

The plot of the film has an alien race sending three envoys to earth and taking over the bodies of earthlings in order to study us and steal concepts from us. They steal the notion of family, work, ect from people they meet leaving them in a psychotic state. One body is that of a teenage girl who wanders alone, one a teenage boy who ends up traveling with a reporter and the third is in the body of a married salaryman whose wife doesn't understand the change that has come over him. The trio must gather their information and then link up so they can call the invasion fleet to wipe out mankind.

What would seem to be bleak tale, the earth is doomed isn't it?, is in an often deadpan funny film about aliens trying to understand humans- and humans forced to try and understand what the words and concepts really mean. What exactly is family? The aliens want to know and you'll be forced to consider what these things mean as well. As an intellectual exercise this film will get you going. (And even emotionally as one turn toward the end had me tearing up).

The film also creates a real split with in the audience members in that we feel for the aliens. We genuinely come to like them so we root for them to be successful in their mission-which means we are hoping they'll wipe us ot. it's a weird weird feeling that leaves us unsettled.

However this being a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film the film is not without its problems...

The first of two problems with the film is that Kurosawa is operating in his "the plot isn't as important as the ideas" mode with the result there are all sorts of plot issues and logic problems that show up. If you need everything to tie together look elsewhere. Kurosawa frequently is not interested in making sure the plot works as he is moving his thematic elements along, and that is the case here. As good as Kurosawa's films are his lack of narrative control is I think is one reason his films often don't get a release in the US.

The other problem with the film is the first hour is rather slow. Yes it's all set up but its also a tad obtuse with the film operating on its on rhythms. You have to hang in until the film finally begins to move.

Personally I like the film a great deal. Flaws and all any Kurosawa film is better than most other directors film simply because he is always trying to do something,even if it doesn't work.

Recommened- though the two NYFF screening were among the first to sell out.

For more information go here

Super Dark Times (2017) opens today

SUPER DARK TIMES premiered at Tribeca this year. Here is JB's review from that festival

At least this violent high school tragedy cannot be cynically exploited by the personal rights-encroaching nanny-state lobby. Perhaps there is a movement to ban samurai swords, but it is hard to see it gaining much momentum, even with this example of the accidental killing of a classmate. The incident emotionally and psychologically devastates two life-long friends, leading to some very bad things in Kevin Phillips’ Super Dark Times, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Zach and Josh have always been inseparable, even though they both carry a torch for the same popular girl in their class. Sometimes they knock about with Charlie and they will reluctantly allow Daryl, the annoying tubby kid, to tag along. One day, Josh takes his enlisted brother’s samurai sword out into the woods to slice up milk cartons with the other three lads. Unfortunately, Daryl is being his usual grabby, pestering self, except maybe worse. One thing leads to another and Josh inadvertently slices Daryl. Thoroughly freaked out and panicky, the three survivors cover his body with brush and resolve to never talk about it again.

Of course, living with this kind of corrosive secret takes a toll on their souls. Zach manages to keep up appearances, but he is reeling inside. In contrast, Josh seems to go numb, retreating into himself and recording extended absences from class. When he returns, he seems cold and distant. Soon thereafter, a classmate he is known to dislike dies under mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. Subsequent events lead Zach to suspect his best bud may have developed a taste for killing.

In this case, how Super Dark is programmed has a direct bearing on whether we can recommend it. Phillips’ film is a selection of the “midnight” section, which implies a certain level of mayhem and attitude. Patrons come to midnight screenings expecting to “have fun” with a film, but Super Dark is tonally much more akin to a film like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. As a result, the regular midnight crew is likely to walk out of it feeling depressed and sucker-punched.

That really does Super Dark a disservice, because it is in fact a film of some merit. It is a tough, honest film that does not resort to cheap sentimentality or lazy takeaways. We cannot ascribe the violence in the film to the influence of drugs or explicit video games. Nor can we blame parental neglect. It is just a function of a sickness in the soul, for which Josh apparently has a greater susceptibility.

Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan are both unremittingly intense as Zach and Josh. However, it is some of the supporting turns that really breathe life into the film. Elizabeth Cappuccino finds surprising depth and subtly in Allison, the “It Girl,” while Amy Hargreaves adds further dimension and maturity to the proceedings, as Zach’s “cool” but loving single mom Karen. Frankly, the fact that she is so oblivious is rather disturbing, precisely because she seems to be doing everything right.

Phillips deliberately keeps the proceedings dark and dour, which certainly suits the film’s grim view of human nature. The genre elements, such as they are, decidedly reflect an austerely naturalistic aesthetic. That makes it a distinctive calling card for Phillips and his ensemble, but not much of a midnight movie. Look, just because you like a film doesn’t mean you should select it for your festival track. That’s why it’s called programming. Regardless, mature audiences should consider checking it out eventually.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Last Flag Flying (2017) New York FIlm Festival 2017

There is a weird split with LAST FLAG FLYING in that it is a very messy film and yet the film will kick the living shit out of you as it leaves you quietly sobbing. This is not to say that it is a bad film, rather it's simply to say that like the men at the center of the film they are deeply broken but still have not lost their humanity or souls.

That the film is broken slightly isn't all that surprising considering its pedigree. The novel was written by Daryl Ponicsan in response to requests to write a sequel to THE LAST DETAIL film. He didn't want to write a second movie so he wrote a sequel novel. However when Richard Linklater decided to make a film of the book he couldn't use the character names so he changed them. He then folded the story to reset it so that he could bring in connections to the Vietnam war. The film then took a decade to reach the screen. According to Linklater and Ponicsan the film is essentially the novel.

The film opens as Doc (Steve Carell)  wanders into the bar owned by Sal (Brian Cranston in a role almost certain to get him an Oscar). Sal doesn't recognize Doc at first, but then suddenly the 30 years melt away and their shared past in Vietnam returns. They spend the night drinking, and in the morning Doc takes Sal to meet up with Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) a preacher in a nearby town. It is then that Doc springs his plan upon them, would they go with him to receive the body of his son who had been killed in Iraq. Thus starts a road trip that might bring closure to all their lives.

Watching the film one can't help but see there are problems with the film. Set in 2003 things appear that that shouldn't be there in that year. There is stilted and awkward dialog about the war in Iraq, about cellphones and some details that ultimately don't mean much. There is a "boo hiss" villain who wants to bury Doc's son at Arlington. And Sal's dialog can be a bit much. The bits are annoying, but if you can see past them there is a deeply moving here.

Operating on multiple levels LAST FLAG FLYING is a beautiful film about loss. Not just that of a son, but of our past. Choices made in the past haunt everyone and as a result everyone has to deal with something they lost, even if it is only their way through life.

There is a wonderful examination of the stupidity of modern warfare and all that it entails. By linking wars past with wars present we see the modern cycle of the destruction of our youth that has haunted the last 50 years. Why are we fighting? No one knows. What does the government really want? Again no one seems to know. While the dialog about the specifics of the present day war sounds awkward, the point isn't the details but the endless cycle.

Running rampant through the film is the notion of myth versus reality. Cranston's Sal always wants the truth to be told.  Doc's son supposedly died a heroic death, but the reality is different. Sal forces the truth out which extends the road trip-but at the same time a side trip along the way forces even Sal to ponder if a lie isn't sometimes better than the truth.

And there are the notions of God and religion that permeate much of the action...

Ultimately though the film works because the cast sells it. Cranston, an almost sure-fire Oscar contender, is big and bold and brash. He is a force of nature and that dominates everything for better and worse. He is a ball of anger, but inside he is a lovely man who just wants to make things right.

Laurence Fishburne is his equal as the man of God, Mueller. Unwillingly dragged on the road he is a beautiful counter balance to Cranston. One can easily forgive Linklater's branding of the pair as a kind of devil angel on Doc's shoulders simply because two minutes in we simply like the pair.

And then there is Steve Carell, the man at the center of the film. His is an incredibly understated performance. It is man lost in his own world, desperately looking for friends. He is largely silent for most of the film, and often off screen, so he isn't noticed but at the same time his occasional lines and deeply internal performance (its all in the eyes) holds the film together and results in our being rocked when he reveals his inner pain.

Through the work of these three fine actors the film reveals itself to have a loud resonate inner truth. We move through the tale not via the details but through the arc of their lives. Watching Carell, Fishburne and Cranston we realize that what we are watching is not the ebb and flow of fictional characters, rather we are seeing the ebb and flow of the humanity of the past half century and on some other level all of it.  The oft repeated line that we all grieve differently is repeated in the film a couple of times. LAST FLAG FLYING is a wake not only for Doc's son but all our children. It is a wake for our pasts, of our choices and our lives. It is a film about who tragedies break us apart- and bring us back together again.

In a weird way the film is on odd mix of big budget (relatively speaking) film and an inde one. The errors in the film are in the flash of Hollywood, while the soul, the truth is something you only see in inde cinema.

I was moved by the humanity and truth at the the core of LAST FLAG FLYING.  Actually I wasn't so much moved but driven to my knees and cried as my heart broke and was healed.

I love this film, flaws and all.

An absolute must see. Also one of the best and my favorite films of 2017

LAST FLAG FLYING opened the New York Film Festival. It opens in theaters November 3

Opening day of the New York Film Festival 2017: THE LAST FLAG FLYING and THE SQUARE in brief

Today was the Opening Night of the 55th Annual New York FIlm Festival and I was in press screenings all day. I will have a full reviews over the next day or two but I just wanted to give you a quick note on the two films I saw today because one is the opening night film and the other plays this weekend.
Daryl Ponicsan, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston at the NYFF Press screening for THE LAST FLAG FLYING

This is probably Richard Linklater's best film and one of my very best films of 2017.

A kind of sequel to THE LAST DETAIL it's based on the novel but has gone through name changes and had ties to Vietnam inserted, the film has Steve Carell rounding up two of his buddies to help him bury his son who was killed during the early days of the Iraq war. Carell is the center around which Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne do Oscar worthy work.

While the film imperfect (one officer comes off as too "boo hiss") the emotional river that runs through the film makes this film one I can't shake. It is alternately laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking to the point of sobbing.

It is a masterpiece and I will have a great deal to say about it.

It is a must see.
Ruben Ostlund at the NYFF press conference for THE SQUARE

My vote for the most overhyped film of 2017, THE SQUARE does not live up to the raves coming out of Cannes.

The film is the story of museum director whose life gets complicated and difficult as his phone goes missing and he tries to get interest directed at this Museum.

Some people loved it, I liked. I found it obvious, over long since I didn't think the film's themes and narratives don't quite hold together.

On the other hand the film is full of wonderful set pieces, including the now legendary formal dinner scene and the soon to infamous You Tube video (if you were in Manhattan this afternoon you probably heard me laughing at an inappropriate moment)

Should you see it? Its worth a shot especially if you can divorce yourself from "greatest film of the year' or "ever" nonsense that's floating around

Reviews of both films are coming soon.

The restored Old Dark House (1932) at the NYFF 2017

The Old Dark House is a send up of old dark house films which had come into vogue in the late 1920's and then never really left.

Based on JB Preistly's book Benighted the film (which Priestly hated) has a bunch of travelers ending up at the Femm house on a dark and stormy night. Mayhem ensues as does lots of very dry and very funny things.

Played completely straight by a glorious cast. Karloff, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Ernest Thesiger, this is a lost classic. It is one of those films where everyone is really into their parts and plays them with relish. Everyone is clearly having a good time.

One of the reasons the film works as well as it does is that James Whale understood the conventions of the old dark house genre so well that he could make a film that works both as a send up and as a straight on thriller. While there are laughs there are chills as well.

Though always floating around in the public domain  the film had left the care of Universal who essentially left it to die. The prints were so bad (Ifirst saw this in a version that made the film look like a radio show) that few people wanted to run the film and even the official DVD looked less than thrilling. Director Curtis Harrington took of the cause which has resulted in a 4K restoration that makes the film far from dark and a must see- especially if you only know the crappy previous versions.

What can I say this is a classic. It is a lost horror great and an absolute must see

The Old Dark House plays Saturday at NYFF and then starts a week long run at the Quad in New York the following Friday.

For details on the NYFF screening go here

For details on the Quad run go here

Gerald’s Game: Mike Flanagan Adapts Stephen King

Only Stephen King would dedicate a book that revolves around S&M sex to his wife and her five sisters. Sure, it is about empowerment, but it is still weird. It was also considered one of the books least favored by King’s fans and the hardest to adapt for the big screen. Rather inconveniently, Jessie Burlingame is all tied up (or cuffed up) and can’t come to the phone in Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game, which starts streaming tomorrow on Netflix.

This was supposed to be a naughty weekend that would help Jessie and Gerald Burlingame rekindle their marriage. However, the handcuffs and rough role-playing just didn’t work for her. First that made her husband resentful and then it made him dead from a massive stress coronary. Unfortunately, she is still hand-cuffed to the knobby four poster bed.

The newly widowed Burlingame slowly realizes she is trapped and nobody will come looking for them in their out-of-the-way vacation home until it is too late. To make matters worse, a Cujo-light stray dog starts nibbling on Gerald’s body. She still has the strength to shoe him away from her, but soon she will be too weak.

This is the perfect time to panic, but her subconscious conjures up visions of a particularly dismissive version of Gerald and an idealistically self-reliant analog of herself to goad and encourage herself to survive. Conversely, the extreme trauma of her situation spurs flashbacks to episodes of molestation and emotional manipulation from Burlingame’s childhood, which are much less motivating. She also starts having visions of a boogeyman she starts to call the “Moonlight Man,” who must surely be a hallucination, right?

To a large extent, Gerald’s Game functions like a memory play, but with a ticking clock and life-and-death stakes. The adaptation penned by Flanagan and Jeff Howard could almost be repurposed as a stage play, but it would be hard for Burlingame to have conversations with the her she always wanted to be. Regardless, they defy expectations with a high-percentile Stephen King movie, ranking with Misery and Cronenberg’s original Dead Zone.

Bruce Greenwood is one of the most reliable character actors working today, but he shows a fiercely malevolent side in Gerald’s Game that we have never had the chance to see from him before. He is quite flamboyantly sinister for a dead man, but Greenwood is also frighteningly believable, leading us to suspect this is closer to the real Gerald Burlingame than his wife ever admitted to herself. Carla Gugino does some of the best work of her career as both Jessie Burlingames, pretty much covering the entire range of human emotion. Of course, Carel Struycken (the Giant in Twin Peaks and Lurch in the Adams Family movies) is perfectly cast as the Midnight Man.

This was supposed to a triumphant year for King, thanks to the one-two punch of The Dark Tower and It. 2017 will indeed turn out that way for the Maine Mangler, but it will be due to the tandem of It (a monster hit) and Gerald’s Game. This could be the first Netflix original film that generates the publicity heat of their original series. Likewise, it should skyrocket Flanagan to the top-tier of horror directors, following his way, way better than it needed to be Blumhouse prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil. The sexual abuse scenes (a suspiciously frequent King motif) might have been trimmed a little, but as it is, Gerald’s Game is quite a smartly conceived, nerve-janglingly tense and claustrophobic horror thriller. Better than It, Gerald’s Game is highly recommended for fans of King and psychologically twisted tales when it launches tomorrow (9/29) on Netflix.

Spoor (2017) New York Film Festival 2017

I saw SPOOR in connection with Fantasia about 8 weeks ago. It was a film that really liked for its first two thirds, but which kind of slid off the table in the final third as it had to both come to a conclusion and make a point. The result was a film that ultimately disappointed. Here is a repost of my brief Fantasia review.

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 (not to mention a reveal thats WTF) 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 at the NYFF on Friday and Saturday. For tickets and more information go here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Girl Flu(2016) is available on VOD (Amazon, iTunes, Google Play) starting Friday

GIRL FLU is the story of Bird‘s worst week of her life. It begins with her getting her first period and then slowly slides off the table as complications with her mom, her friends and life in general pile up.

Sweet and ultimately charming look at a key week in the life a 12 year old young woman with way too much on her plate. Wonderfully acted by a sterling cast the film handily wins us over. Despite being about subjects that are normally raucous gross out jokes in other films, GIRL FLU makes it clear that there is lots of material to be mined both dramatic and comedic in one of life’s misunderstood moments.

As charming as the film is there are problems. Most of them coming from a tendency not to trust the audience and drift into shtick. Bird having tampons and pads explained to her by her mother’s friend is very funny, probably close to some people’s reality, but at the same time is framed as being a tad too silly. Other complications are their more of comic effect or an easy pull of the heart strings and while we react as the director intended the easy path slightly diminishes what should be a near perfect film.

Minor problems aside this is a winning film that is wonderfully unique and its own thing. Even better its good time with good people who will make you feel good.

GIRL FLU will be available on VOD (Amazon, iTunes, Google Play) September 29

HK Cinema at SFFS ’17: Boat People

It was criticized by the Village Voice for being anti-Communist propaganda, even though it was the first Honk Kong film allowed to shoot on PRC territory. Of course, the Communists depicted in the film were from Vietnam, a country that had just spanked Mainland China in a war that is hard for us to imagine today. Regardless, as a humanist who always values human dignity over ideology (in stark contrast to the Voice), Ann Hui scrupulously depicts how the powerless struggle to survive in her 1982 classic Boat People, which screens during the San Francisco Film Society’s annual Hong Kong Cinema series.

During the Vietnam War, left-wing Japanese photo-journalist Shiomi Akutagawa consciously sided Viet Cong, so they are happy to invite him back for a propagandistic life-after-Liberation photo-essay. At least, his minder and her superior in the Cultural Bureau, the French-educated Nguyen, intend it to be propaganda. They carefully orchestrate his visits to Potemkin “New Economic Zones.” Yet, despite their efforts, Akutagawa starts to see cracks in the fa├žade.

When they reluctantly allow him free unescorted passage through the streets of Danang, he starts to see the real Vietnam, including the execution of dissidents, the “registration” of ethnic Chinese, and widespread hunger. He also befriends Cam Nuong, a resilient fourteen-year-old who works odd jobs to support her two brothers and grief-stricken part-time prostitute mother.

Akutagawa tries to help Cam Nuong’s family monetarily, but his attention also brings government scrutiny. However, it is the experiences of To Minh, the lover of the French-style bistro-proprietress that Akutagawa meets through Nguyen who really opens the photojournalist’s eyes. On leave from a more representative New Economic Zone (N.E.Z.), To Minh has been desperately raising boat passage for himself, his mistress, and his best friend. Akutagawa will understand why, when he invites himself along on To Minh’s transport back to his concentration camp-like N.E.Z.

Boat People was not just Ann Hui’s international breakout, it was also one of the first roles to really generate recognition for Andy Lau. As To Minh, he actually looks reasonably Vietnamese. The dangerous charisma and brooding intensity are also already evident. George Lam similarly passes for Japanese quite convincingly, yet the way he quietly but compellingly portrays Akutagawa’s mounting disillusionment and moral outrage is even more impressive. Cora Miao and Shi Mengqi greatly humanize the film as To Minh’s mistress and the world-weary Nguyen, but Season Ma’s Cam Nuong really supplies the film’s heart, soul, and bitter hemlock.

Throughout the film, we can see Hui’s knack for eliciting sensitive performances. It was a big hit in HK, but it was way more truth than the world was ready for. For instance, Cannes rather gutlessly moved it out of competition to placate critics. However, Boat People would not be silenced or spiked.

In fact, its reputation has continued to appreciate over time, for good reason. It is a great film from a master filmmaker. Its screening is particularly timely, coming in the midst of PBS’s seventy-part The Vietnam War mini-series. Like ghostly voices, Boat People’s characters remind us the decision to abandon our allies to a vengeful, oppressive regime had dire moral repercussions. Spend five minutes with Cam Nuong and it will alter your perspective forever. Very highly recommended, Boat People screens this Sunday (10/1) as part of the SFFS’s Hong Kong Cinema.

Bugs (2016) opens today

I saw this film last year at Tribeca. Here is a repost of that review:

BUGS is a HUGE disappointment. This was one of my must see film at Tribeca and five minutes in it was one of the must miss films of the festival.

The film is nominally a couple of guys looking into whether or not insects can be used to feed humanity over the coming decades. We watch as they talk to people, eat bugs and contemplate the future.

What the film is in reality is a mess. A rambling unfocused film that tells us little about anything. We really don't what the guys are doing beyond a basic level since we are never told. They bounce to various countries then back to the food lab where they kind of talk about things before back to new countries.

The problem is that nothing is put in context. Everything just sort of happens and anything meaningful is left to an odd sound byte of is buried in the middle of a technical discussion that we come into the middle of. I have no idea what the what the point of any of it is.

If that isn't bad enough Ben and Josh are far from compelling leads. They kind of are nebishy and don't get their points across. Worse they tend to say exactly the same thing every time they do something. I don't know how many times there are similar combination or words to describe how things taste or what they are trying to do. I wanted to smack them

If things weren't bad enough the film cuts its own throat regarding the rush to find a viable way to feed the masses with insects by stating that not only are we capable of feeding 12 billion people if we wanted to, but that the guys aren't sure how they would feel if insects were a business. If that's the case why are they making finding a food source a priority?

On the upside watching the insects is pretty cool, with the giant wasps in Japan being damn right scary.

Unless you like bugs I can't recommend this film

Some thoughts on some Robert Mitchum films playing at the New York Film Festival 2017

This year the New York FIlm Festival is doing a whole side bar  of 24 Robert Mitchum films. They are screening so many that they essentially make up a whole festival on their own

While I would have loved to gone to every film in the series (come on Mitchum on the big screen is a must) timing was wrong for most- especially for the ones I wanted to see most

While it is still possible that I may wander into a film or two- I have gaps I need to fill-and I may still wrangle a piece or two from one of the other writers, for the moment I'm left with simply scribbling a line or two about some of the films.

Cape Fear (1962)
Mitchum vs Gregory Peck. Mitchum plays one of his quintessential bad guy roles as an ex-con looking to make the lawyer who testified against him pay. Its a tense cat and mouse game with Mitchum perfectly pitted against Peck

Cape Fear (1991)
Mitchum plays a cop in a cameo role in a remake which has Robert DeNiro taking on his old role as Cady. While Martin Scorsese tries his best the film never achieves  the level of the original. Personally hat I like about the film is that Freddie Francis who made numerous gems for Hammer is the DP and on occasion offered advice to Scorsese to kick up the fear. 

Dead Man
Jim Jarmusch's off kilter allegory of life and death has Mitchum in a small role as a factory owner. Its a small treasure in a film that will et your gray cells going as you ponder what its all about

El Dorado
One of two of Howard Hawk's remakes of his RIO BRAVO is one of my favorite westerns. Mitchum teams up with John Wayne and James Caan to take on bad guy rancher Ed Asner. It a sheer delight as everyone just wings it and has a good time. Just get popcorn and go.

A sterling noir melodrama

Farewell My Lovely

Mitchum was born to play Phillip Marlowe. He did it twice in the 70's one modern day THE BIG SLEEP and one period, this one. Mitchum is note perfect in paying a world weary shamus trying to find a missing girl. Its a stunning turn that had it been made in the 40's would have been a series. One f the absolute musts of the series.

Night of the Hunter
Charles Laughton's only directorial effort is a southern gothic nightmare as a man tries to get the fortune of his dead cellmate by marrying his widow. There are complications of course. A great thriller plays even better in a darkened theater where the shadows bleed into the darkness and Mitchum's evil can not be escaped.

Out Of The Past

Remade as AGAINST ALL ODDS with a Phil Collins title tune, OUT OF THE PAST one ps everything as Mitchum and Kirk Douglas butt heads over Jane Greer who makes Mitchum go against his code.  This is just a gripping melodrama and a recent TCM screening had me late for an appointment because I simply couldn't stop watching.

Is a really good western that has Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe fleeing indians. I highly recommend the film since its a really big widescreen film and the chance to see it huge should not be passed up.

The Story of GI Joe
Mitchum stars as Ernie Pyle the iconic WW2 reporter who was much loved by his readers as the soldiers he covered.  WHile Mitchum was a name actor before this I've been told by several people this was the film that cemented him in the hearts of millions

I also highly recommend TRACK OF THE CAT and THUNDER ROAD two great films I haven't seen in years so I'm not even going to pretend to write them up

Tuesday, September 26, 2017



Austin, TX – September 26, 2017 – Austin Film Festival & Screenwriters Conference (AFF), the premier film festival recognizing the writers’ contributions to film, television, and new media, announced today the full schedule of films and panels for the 24th annual event, this October 26-November 2. AFF’s feature film slate includes over 25 World, North American and US Premieres, a robust retrospective series, and highly anticipated marquee titles, including Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, WWII drama The Darkest Hour featuring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, The Upside starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, and Armie Hammer romance Call Me By Your Name.

AFF has also announced Chappaquiddick as its Closing Night Film. A drama recounting Ted Kennedy’s infamous 1969 car accident resulting in the death of his campaign worker, Chappaquiddick will close out the Festival with writers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan in attendance.Chappaquiddick will join already announced Opening Night Film Lady Bird with writer/director Greta Gerwig in attendance and Centerpiece Film The Current War with director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in attendance.

A staple of the Festival, AFF’s retrospective series this year will feature Philip D’Antoni’s 1973 drama The Seven-Ups presented by David Simon and George Pelecanos (The DeuceThe Wire), Jack Fisk’s 1981 film Raggedy Man—a tribute to Sam Shepard—presented by writer William D. Wittliff in partnership with the Wittliff Collections, and seminal 1987 action film Predator presented by Shane Black (Lethal WeaponThe Nice Guys) who is currently working on the film’s reboot. Additionally, already announced Extraordinary Contribution to Film awardee Walter Hill will present his cult classic The Warriors.
In addition to the slate of 150+ films, AFF will present premieres and retrospectives of television programming, including the season 2 premiere ofHulu’s darkly comedic psychic drama Shut Eye with executive producers Mark Johnson, Melissa Bernstein, John Shiban and Amy Berg in attendance, the premiere of YouTube Red’s new comedy series Do You Want to See a Dead Body? with creator Rob Huebel in attendance, and the premiere of the Season Finale of HBO’s drama The Deuce with creators David Simon and George Pelecanos in attendance.

Also confirmed to attend is Dan Rather, who will help present the World Premiere of the documentary Fail State, chronicling the rise of predatory for-profit colleges. Writer/producer Gale Anne Hurd (The TerminatorThe Walking Dead) will also be in attendance for AFF’s screening of documentary Mankiller about barrier-breaking female Cherokee leader Wilma Mankiller.

Other World Premieres include Wild Honey (Francis Stokes’ comedy about a phone sex operator searching for love), Coming to My Senses (a documentary following a man’s journey to regain his mobility after an accident), and Transformer (chronicling the transition of world-renowned body builder Matt Kroczaelski into Janae after being outed as transgender). Making its US Premiere at AFF is comedy Don’t Talk to Irene, which also won AFF’s Comedy Screenplay Award in 2013. Written and directed by Pat Mills, Irene premiered this month at Toronto International Film Festival to a receptive audience.

Austin Film Festival also revealed today their full Screenwriters Conference schedule, which will take place the first four days of the Festival, October 26-29. The Conference features a roster of prominent screenwriters in film and television, including Kenneth Lonergan, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Noah Hawley, Courtney A. Kemp, Lindsay Doran, Misha Green, Michael Arndt, Mark Frost, Michael Green, Sarah Gubbins, Christopher Vogler, Scott Frank, Megan Amram, John August, Eric Heisserer, and many more

The full Film and Conference schedule can be found at

Austin Film Festival’s 2017 slate:

Marquee Features:

Indivisible (2017) opens Friday in LA as it continues in NYC

I saw INDIVISIBLE at this years's Open Roads Italian Film Festival at Lincoln Center. with the film opening Friday here is a repost of my review.

Opening night film of Open Roads concerns two young women joined at the hip who are exploited by their parents. When they discover that they could be separated a chain of events is set in motion that changes their world.

An interesting try the film isn't wholly successful since the film is trying a little too hard to be about something. From the naming the two girls Daisy and Violet (like the legendary pair who were the subject of the Broadway musical Side Show) to the carefully regulated look of the film to a plot progression that screams "this means something" the film never truly feel organic, even if the performances do.

While not bad it's not as engaging as it should be, however for the real film fan or curious the film is worth seeing.

Let's Play Two (2017)

Film record of Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam playing Wrigley Field in 2016

While this film is an absolute must see on the big screen thanks to its amazing cinematography(This is like the very best concert photography come to life), this is going to be tough slog after the first half hour for the non-Chicago Cubs or Pearl Jam fan

A beautifully shot film (this may very well be the best looking concert film I have ever seen) the film alternates between Eddie and friends talking about the Cubs and Chicago and some great music. The trouble is that unless you are a die hard Cubs fan there is a point where you turn off and stop caring. There is only so much gushing about the other guys team a fan can take. At a certain point I just wasn't interested. Additionally despite the best cinematic concert images I've ever seen the editing doesn't do anything to generate interest. Pearl Jam is not a big show group so there is no spectacle to watch and despite being glorious to look at the images never get inside the soul of anyone. Something is missing- a sense of life that the largely static images never convey.

This doesn't mean the LET'S PLAY TO is bad- it's not, it's simply that despite some glorious parts it never achieves the heights that it should be be as glorious a whole.

Recommended for Pearl Jam and Chicago Cubs fans as film. For everyone else think of it as a visual album.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Veronica Ngo’s Tam Cam: The Untold Story

This Vietnamese fairy is a lot like Cinderella, but the slipper is golden rather than glass. There is also more death and reincarnation. As if that were not promising enough, Veronica Ngo (soon to be even more famous as the star of Star Wars: The Last Jedi) adds demons and Braveheart-style battles in her adaptation. The Cinderella step-sister has it particularly hard, but karma will do as it does in Ngo’s Tam Cam: The Untold Story, which opens this Friday in select cities.

Poor Tam is bullied rotten by her nasty step-mother Di Ghe and vain step-sister Cam, but she gets encouragement from a Joel Grey-like Fairy Godfather. There will indeed be a royal ball, open to all, where the disinterested Prince (and acting Regent) will chose a bride. Di Ghe conspires to keep Tam away, but her Fairy Godfather gets her there in time to try on the fateful slipper.

Sadly, even after she marries the Prince, Tam is not allowed to live happily ever after. Prodded by the evil Magistrate, Di Ghe murders Tam and convinces the Prince to allow Cam to care for him, as Tam supposedly would have wanted. However, Tam constantly reincarnates as birds or trees to save the shockingly unintuitive Prince from the Magistrate’s assassination attempts. Unfortunately, all appears lost when the Prince’s trusted lieutenant betrays him in battle, but Tam and the Fairy folk are still looking out for him.

The original tale of Tam and Cam takes a turn that is grislier than just about anything you will find in Perrault, Basile, or the Brothers Grimm. Ngo is probably wise to file down that sharp edge, but she adds plenty of hack-and-slash action and demonic brimstone. Frankly, it is pretty impressive how many narrative balls she manages to juggle, thereby securing a number of featured roles for members of 365, the Vietnamese boy band she produces.

Actually, the boys aren’t bad hacking away at each other. Ha Vi certainly comes across as a sweet innocent as Tam, whereas Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc convincingly plays against type (she was the endearing lottery ticket seller in Jackpot) as the catty Cam, but nobody out vamps Ngo as the wicked stepmother. Forget about Jolie in Maleficent or Blanchett in the recent live-action Cinderella, because they pale in comparison to Ngo’s flamboyant villainy.

She can also direct. Ngo and Diep The Vinh capitalize on Vietnam’s stunning natural vistas (at least as seen from a drone’s eye-view) to give the film a real epic feel. Her war scenes have grit and the CGI is a little wacky, but still better than you would expect.

It is hard to dislike Tam Cam, because it is one of those kitchen-sink kind of film, where crazy stuff is constantly thrown in, for the sake of our entertainment. Arguably, the fact that it maintains a consistent sense of narrative logic is a tribute to Ngo. It is wild, tragic, romantic, melodramatic, sometimes a little goofy, and most importantly fun. Recommended for fans of fairy tales and Ngo, Tam Cam: The Untold Story opens this Friday (9/29) in Orange County at the Regal Garden Grove and in San Jose at the AMC Eastbridge.

literally right before aaron opens Friday

The is a repost of Arielas review from Tribeca

Allison(Colbie Smulders)and Adam(Justin Long) were together 8 years before they split up. Now less than 2 years later, Allison calls Adam and invites him to her wedding. He decides to go. Why? Who knows. He is still completely in love with her and the film shows him remembering times they had together throughout the film. He looks at photos of them together, he cries. But still goes to her dinner party, and then the wedding. His friend, played by John Cho, sets him up with the super quirky Kristen Schall, to take her as his date to the wedding.

It was refreshing in a way to see a guy who's broken hearted, because most movies seem to focus on the woman. The pain that Adam is in is so obvious. I kept wanting to yell "why are you doing this to yourself?!" It seemed so masochistic. I felt so sad for him and he was holding it together fairly well, I kept wondering, when is he going to break?

The film was good, it was sad more than anything(though I didn't actually cry). It's definitely not a must see

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Free State of Jones (2016)

This is nominally the story of Newton Knight who set up the titled area in Mississippi in the middle of the American Civil War. As told here Knight was setting up a free state where all men and women could live freely while battling the confederacy.

Let me start by saying that even with its two plus hour running time the film is not wholly the story of Knight. Even if you do a quick reading on Knight it’s clear that what actually happened and who Knight was not something that could be easily encapsulated. What Knight’s actual motives were are also unclear with some accounts arguing he was a scoundrel others saying he wasn’t.

The film tells the story of Knight as he goes off to fight in the war. Unhappy with the treatment of the men he chafes at the abuse but is willing to put up with it because he feels there might be a reason. He last straw comes when a nephew shows up in camp and is going to be thrown In the meat grinder of battle. When his nephew is killed as he and Knight are trying to escape to safety, Knight deserts in order to bring the boy home. Becoming enraged by the treatment of the civilians he begins to fight back ending up being driven into the swamp before coming out and taking control of a swath of land.

Advertised perhaps a bit too much before it came out (it seemed like the film was running commercials for a good six months before it came out) I know the film suffered from people thinking the film had been released well before it actually showed up. Several people I know didn't go because they thought it was at the end its run and would be on cable shortly.

When the film came out the film reviews were mixed. Most writers I knew were not thrilled with it. Most regular film fans loved it and it s their love that made me want to see it.

An episodic epic covering several years time FREE STATE... is a wonderful film. Its a sprawling tale full of action and suspense. Its a kind of throw back to the epics of the 1950's and 60's. It is a grand historical adventure that's been refashioned for or time.

As much as I love the film my one problem with it is that it is perhaps too episodic and that it should be longer. While there is enough here to drive the story forward, the film does suffer from several plot line seeming rushed or not dealt with. While its okay because of the time jumping nature of the film I would have liked it if things had been allowed to play out a bit more.

Quibbles aside this is a great film and definitely worth a look.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Milwaukee and New York Film Festivals open Thursday- a place holder curtian raiser

Two awesome festivals start Thursdy- the Milwaukee and New York and I am hoping to get full on curtain raisers up in the next couple of days. Bear with me because I have had to delay things because of real world stuff on my part. Until then a couple of quick words on both


The  Milwaukee Film Festival is one of the best programmed festivals you will see anywhere. It is almost perfectly programmed and the perfect place to see great films. How perfect? We have a curtain raiser coming with  about 40 links to the films we’ve already reviewed- most of them highly recommended

For tickets and more info go here.


The New York Film Festival coverage starts toward the end of the week and we’ll be having tons of reports and reviews- and a podcast so keep reading.

NYFF this year is beautifully scheduled and  I have no complaints.

While I don’t have a must a full on must see list (I have only seen a small number of non-revival films so far) I do recommend BEFORE WE VANISH the Kiyoshi Kurosawa film about aliens studying humans before they wipe us out. It’s a the master operating at his high level. The screenings were among th first sell outs but they are worth going standby for.

The more important recommendation is Ena Talakic & Ines Talakic‘s brilliant doc on Edward Jay Epstein HALL OF MIRRORS. A wonderful look at Epstein's life and work, it also follows as he tracks the Edward Snowden case. I can’t recommend it enough. Its something you MUST see at the fest  because the post film talks should be incredible. (The one after the press screening ran almost an hour  and then continued outside the theater as everyone continued discussing the film- I was still talking about it to the point I got on the subway. I’ll be posting the talk down the road because there is so much awesome material in it.)  This is one of the best films at NYFF and perhaps its greatest hidden gem GO BUY TICKETS

For information on the festival go here

44 (2007)

Story of Migs, a kid who just turned 18 who is running his dad's drug business while dad is away in prison. Staying with his Mom, a New York City cop he is forced to try and walk the line between good and bad. Things however get complicated when his father gets out and wants back into the game.

Low budget, low key crime drama that has its limitations thanks to the budget and uneven cast, but the film has a great sense of place and reality that over comes its limitations. Absolutely one of the better "gang banger" low budget films that seem to have been made by people in the know that have appeared over the last few years (actually its one of the better low budget independent films).

While no where near perfect it is good enough to draw you in and keep you interested. Best of all its got an ending that is affecting.

Friday, September 22, 2017

my short review of Bobbi Jene (2017 ) which opens today

This is a repost of my brief review of BOBBI JENE which I saw at Tribeca.

Fly on the wall look at the noted dancer as she leaves Israel to return to the US and begin a new phase of her career. How you react will depend on how much you care about or can connect with Jene. I never connected and after about twenty minutes my attention wandered. Your mileage may vary, but personally I never cared (And I'm left scratching my head how this won multiple awards at the festival when so many other films are soooo much better)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Comin' At Ya!: 3-D on 35mm October 13 - 19 at the Quad

For one week, our repertory screen will be comin' at ya with a selection of genre and cult oddities all in 3-D, all on 35mm

With the World Premiere of a new 3-D print of Frankenstein's Bloody Terror and director Worth Keeter in person to present Hit the Road Running & Rottweiler

With cinema having taken shape amidst such early iconic images as Broncho Billy firing into the camera, a train coming straight for the audience, and a rocket going into the moon’s eye, it was inevitable that features filmed in 3-D would opt for comparable effects so as to show off the wonder of the process. But there were more varied genres explored in the format, and by more eclectic filmmakers from all over the world, than are commonly recalled. With 3-D for today’s movies fully digitized into lockstep with DCP, the Quad takes a look back at some of the more arcane, quixotic, and disreputable uses of the process in the ’80s over-and-under boom, that was heavy on horror sequels, sci-fi adventures, idiosyncratic cult movies, and grindhouse fare. Join us for an all-35mm survey. Programmed by Harry Guerro.

Amityville 3-D Richard Fleischer, 1983, 35mm
A*P*E Paul Leder, 1976, 35mm
The Bubble [original version] Arch Oboler, 1966, 35mm
Comin' at Ya! Ferdinando Baldi, 1981, 35mm
Dynasty Mei Chun Chang, 1977, 35mm
Flesh for Frankenstein Paul Morrissey, 1973, 35mm
Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror Enrique Lopez Eguiluz, 1968, 35mm
World premiere of new 35mm 3D print of the U.S. release version courtesy of Garagehouse Pictures with original distributor Sam Sherman in person!
Friday the 13th Part III Steve Miner, 1982, 35mm
Hit the Road Running Worth Keeter, 1983, 35mm
With director Worth Keeter in person!
Jaws 3-D Joe Alves, 1983, 35mm
Love in 3-D Walter Boos, 1973, 35mm
Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn Charles Band, 1983, 35mm
Parasite Charles Band, 1982, 35mm
Revenge of the Shogun Women Mei Chun Chang, 1977, 35mm
Rottweiler Worth Keeter, 1983, 35mm
With director Worth Keeter in person!
Silent Madness Simon Nuchtern, 1984, 35mm
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone Lamont Johnson, 1983, 35mm
Starchaser: The Legend of Orin Steven Hahn, 1985, 35mm
Treasure of the Four Crowns Ferdinando Baldi, 1983, 35mm

Welcome to Willits: Fighting Aliens in the Emerald Triangle

Tin foil hats—they’re not just for conspiracy nutters anymore. An alien abduction survivor will deck out his terrified niece Courtney in an aluminum foil skull cap as a defense against extraterrestrial mind control. Clearly, Courtney is one of the few sane ones her family, just as Jeremiah is really the only decent dude in the group of college friends camping not far from Uncle Brock’s cabin. These two kids really ought to get together in Trevor Ryan’s Welcome to Willets, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Old Brock has lost it. Who knows, maybe he really was abducted, but the subsequent post-traumatic stress and paranoia have completely unhinged his psyche. Aunt Peggy either humors him or has come to share his delusions. They hope the “aliens” will not bother them while Courtney is staying with them, but when the obnoxious Zack starts prowling around their Emerald Triangle pot grove, it triggers all the wrong responses in Uncle Brock’s head. Soon he starts to suspect the understandably freaked out Courtney is acting under alien influence, so they tie her up and chuck her into the closet.

Surprisingly, the Ryans, director Trevor and screenwriter Tim, do not play a lot of is-he-or-isn’t-he, are-they-or-aren’t-they games. Notwithstanding his flashbacks, it is pretty clear from early on Uncle Brock is just completely off his rocker. Bill Sage, who is no stranger to horror movies, is perfectly cast as the crazy uncle. You could almost call it a throwback performance that is more sadly tragic (and acutely human) than scary.

However, the real highlight of the film is a series of cameo appearances from Dolph Lundgren as a fictional shoot-first-and-then-shoot-again-later TV cop (on the show Fists of Justice), whom the aliens periodically use to issue threats to Brock, at least in his head. As you would expect, whenever Lundgren is on-screen to lunacy cranks up to eleven. In all seriousness, it is time for the Academy to recognize Lundgren’s contributions with an honorary Oscar. He is a survivor, who has made key contributions to the Rocky, Expendables, and Universal Soldier franchises. He fought commies in Red Scorpion and sharks in Shark Lake. He is also a prominent activist in the real-life fight against human trafficking, which makes him more of a humanitarian and a better actor than that screeching, over-acting Meryl Streep, so there is really no excuse to deny him the recognition he is due.

So, anyway, Willets is basically a crazy-hicks-in-the-woods movie, but it has a great cast. In addition to Lundgren and Sage, Rory Culkin probably takes on the role he was born to play as Possum, the drug-addled, conspiracy theory-spouting drifter, who awkwardly tags along with Jeremiah’s shallow pals. Garrett Clayton is spectacularly obnoxious as the entitled Zack, while Anastasia Baranova and Chris Zylka are appealingly earnest and grounded as Courtney and Jeremiah.

The key art for Willets makes it look larky, but it is very much a human-scale genre examination of human foibles—until Lundgren struts on-screen. It is a relatively simple narrative, but it is distinguished by several memorably colorful performances. Recommended for horror fans and Academy members (who should also check out Lundgren in the sensitive demon-hunting drama, Don’t Kill It), Welcome to Willets opens tomorrow (9/22) in New York, at the IFC Center.