Monday, July 16, 2018

blank 13 (2017) Japan Cuts 2018

Based on the childhood experiences of screenwriter Koji Hashimoto this little drama will kick your legs out from under you and haunt you for a long time. It is reminder that how we see those we call family- even those we hate - is not always a clear indication of who these people really are.

The film begins at a funeral service. Koji's long MIA father has died and he and his brother are holding a service for him. Unfortunately it is right next door to a temple holding a service for someone with a similar name so there is some confusion of mourners. As Koji waits for the service to start he remembers life with his father, a hardened gambler who spent all his money on the next game of chance. Once the service starts, the friends of his dad begin to tell their life with the gambler and it is very different than what his kids experienced.

Crossing the line between tragedy and comedy BLANK 13 with move you all over the place. At times crushingly sad the film also has moments that are laugh out loud funny. This is life as it is really lived. Funny one moment, sad the next. Some how first time director Takumi Saitoh manages to keep the film entirely grounded as it bounces back and forth between emotions. To say that h does so perfectly doesn't truly explain what an achievement it is since more often than not even the best directors fumble the emotional shift.

The film is a lovely reminder that we really don't know the people around us. We don't know their lives with other people. We also don't know what they do when we aren't around or what means something to them. When the child Koji gives his father an essay and he says he will read it later w assume he would dismiss it and throw it out, little do we suspect that he didn't and that years later he was still talking about it-just not to his son.

I was moved by BLANK 13. I was so touched that in prepping for Japan Cut I had to stop watching films when the movie was done because I was so lost in my thoughts. I can't recommend this small gem enough.

BLANK 13 plays July 20th at Japan Cuts in NYC. For tickets and more information go here.

NYAFF is done

Went to 3 NYAFF films today- reviews are coming. I'm tired so they have to wait.

I love seeing Mondo and his son, Peter, Nate, Chris Bourne, Lee, Sean and Kristieas well as meeting Fnny and Laura. Friends are why I go to the fest.

I am still fuming from from being told we had to leave between the final two films. We we told we could leave our stuff, but when we left we were forced to the end of the huge line, found are stuff was moved (mine and Fanny's) or gone Peter's. We then had to scramble to refind seats in the packed out theater.

I should let it go but its a clear shift in the festival I'll be talking about.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

THE SCYTHIAN (2018) Fantasia 2018

Lutobor is a good soldier who has the misfortune of surviving an attack by a group of Scythians hired to kidnap his wife. Ending up caught up in the political games of his lord, he is allowed to escape to find his wife. Taking Marten, a captured Scythian with him, he heads off to get his wife and child back.

Bleak, black, bloody and bruising  THE SCYTHIAN is cinematic brick to the head.  A violent slice of life on the Russian steppes of several centuries ago, it is a land where the strong survive and no one is safe. This is a film filled with violence and death in truly ugly and realistic ways.

There is a great deal going on here and it makes for a rich little film. The forward thrust of the film is a save the family revenge thriller but at the same time the film expands that to include political intrigue and the changing of the gods. Not only are we off balance because of all the violence, we quickly realize that all sorts of games are afoot as well. There is no safe place and no one we can trust.

One of the things that I love is the film does not behave as you think it will. Trust me on this there are twists and turns that I never saw coming. And then there was a point where I thought we were in the home stretch and I realized that there was still a long way to go. I wondered how it could fill the time only to discover it could do so easily/

And in a way that is one of the small flaws in the film. There is a great deal going on. At some point around the half way point I realized I kind of lost any sense of who some people were.I knew the main characters by sight but the names of people and peoples were lost. I could follow what was going on but I suspect I was missing something. I suspect I will like it ore the second time through

Then again I alternately want to see this film again and I never want to see it again. Undoubtedly a truly great historical action film, it is also a great deal to take in. From the copious amounts of blood and violence to the politics, this is a film that feels more is more, with the result that by the end we feel beaten up. Unlike most other films these days you will want to take a break after you see this.

Reservations and audience abuse aside I love this film. It is a unique and one of a kind film that rattled my cage and made me sit up and take notice. It is one of the best films at Fantasia as well as one of the truly notable films I've seen in 2018.

Highly recommended for anyone who can take the realistic gore and blood.

Crisis Jung (2018) Fantasia 2018

This series of ten seven minute show episodes grows tiring real fast as a loving couple in a pastel world are plunged into a world of hate by Petite Jesus, a video game sort of boss, who tries to keep the couple apart.

Imagine if every fighting anime/manga was mashed together and then given a Jungian overlay (the hero keeps going into therapy to find some hidden strength) and then mixed with lots of animated gore and blood inflicted by men with chainsaw penises, monsters made of anuses and other grotesques. It's amusing for two of the ten or so episodes but then falls apart as you care less and less about the characters and the plot and only hang into see what sick thing is going to show up next.

Well done, occasionally clever, but incredibly one note CRISIS JUNG disappoints and you'll be done way before the series reaches the half way point.

A disappointment at Fantasia

Champion (2018) Fantasia 2018

It takes a brave man to star in an arm-wrestling movie after the face-plant that was Over the Top. Ladies and gentlemen, that man is Don Lee (Ma Dong-seok). He is the one who brawled his way through a train car of zombies in Train to Busan. Believe it or not, his character even references the notorious Sylvester Stallone bomb as his inspiration. Yet, Lee manages to surpass his role model in Kim Yong-wan’s unabashedly earnest family sports drama Champion which player earlier today at Fantasia.

“Mark” Baek Seung-min is big, but shy. He had a hard time of things during his formative years, so it is understandable. His desperately poor Korean mother gave him up for adoption, but his American foster parents died shortly after his arrival in the States, leaving him essentially on his own. Inspired by Over the Top, arm-wrestling became his only passion, but his professional career was cut short in America by a dubious scandal. His only friend, the sleazy (but possibly decent way deep down) Jin-ki has lured him back to Korea with the promise of managing his professional comeback.

To sweeten the deal, Jin-ki also offers up the address of Baek’s birth-mother, but the arm-wrestler soon learns she has recently passed away from cancer. However, he discovers he has a sister (Su-jin), a niece, and a nephew he never knew of. Suddenly, they have someone to chase away the mobbed-up bill collectors and fix things around the apartment, while Baek finally starts to feel a sense of belonging. Of course, his refusal to throw matches at the behest of a crooked sponsor will probably lead to trouble down the line, especially when the scummy sports bettors recruit Punch, a steroid-juicing, psychotic former contender to be their standard bearer, straight out of prison.

Lee, who was born in Korea, but grew up in America, graduating from Columbia State University, clearly understands where his character is coming from. He is acutely earnest as Baek, but he also looks like he could rip Stallone’s arm off. It is easy to see why he has already reached a significant level of stardom in Korea and is poised to do the same internationally when you see him interacting with Ok Ye-rin and Choi Seung-hoon, the young, ridiculously cute thesps playing his niece and nephew. The fact that he is not dramatically up-staged by them, pretty much says it all.

Lee also shares some nice chemistry with Han Ye-ri’s Su-jin and turns some rewarding third act scenes with Kwon Yool’s heretofore annoying Jin-ki. Unfortunately, Yang Hyun-min and Lee Kyoo-ho make rather generic villains, who really are not very enterprising. Plus, Kim’s screenplay manufactures a lot of bogus drama that starts to try our patience. Yet, we can’t help rooting for Baek and his potential new family, because they all look so good together.

So, to recap, if you need a sensitive hulk, Don Lee is your man. As good old Lincoln Hawk says: “The world meets nobody halfway. When you want something, you gotta take it.” To that end, Lee carries this film and thereby grabs leading man status. Nobody should have any illusions—Champion is shamelessly manipulative and sentimental, but it is an indomitable crowd pleaser—with distinctly Korean sensibilities. Recommended for fans of Don Lee and family-friendly triumph-over-adversity sports movies.

Cold Skin (2017) Fantasia 2018

I am not sure what it is, but for some reason COLD SKIN really didn't work for me. I know that it is not that the film echoes several recent films and it creatures that could pass for relatives of the star of THE SHAPE OF WATER. Several other films at Fantasia echo other films and I liked them just fine.

No, there is something else afoot, only I'm not certain what it is.

On the eve of the First World War a young man is dropped off on a remote barren island near the bottom of the world. He is to study and record the weather. He will live on the island for a year until relieved. He is not, however, alone on the island. Across the way there is a lighthouse- which looks more like a fortress in it's construction. It is manned by a curmudgeon of a man who wants nothing to do with anyone. And the island is further inhabited by fishmen who want to eat our hero.

Generating almost no tension COLD SKIN falters by not moving like a thriller. In a weird way the film plays like a drama. Passages seem to be there to further some deeper meaning about human inter-relationships rather than producing scares. If the drama worked better I could probably have forgiven the bumps but it simply doesn't.

The film also doesn't make a sense at times as plot twists either lay there or make you go "wha?" For example sticks are used to make bars for a window-except the island is barren. There are also some time jumps that left me wondering.

By the half way point I stopped caring.  It wasn't that it was bad, more it wasn't done well enough.

A disappointment.

The Unseen Films Obligatory Japan Cuts Curtain Raiser and List of Recommended Films

One of the coolest festivals of the year starts Thursday- The Japan Society’s Japan Cuts. This annual orgy of cinematic goodness plumbs the depths of Japanese cinema to reveal all sorts of goodies. I know that isn’t the most sophisticated way of saying things but Japan Cuts is too cool not to get a little emotional.

While most people in New York got to know Japan Cuts due to the co-presentations and overlap with the New York Asian Film Festival, this year the programmers have ended the overlap and for the first time in a long time it will stand on its own- and we are so much better for it. Having seen most of the films I can honestly say that the ability to see all the films without having to choose ones at a rival fest will allow more people see some truly fantastic films.

This year it looks as though we will be covering every film other than BLEACH because it sold out. And while there is an added screening at 11pm- I can’t cover it without springing from a hotel room in Manhattan.

While I have liked to some degree or other everything I’ve seen- there are some I loved and those are listed below. While films like MORI and BLANK 13 are sold out you may be able to score tickets on the cancelation line

Regardless go to the Japan cuts website and buy ticket (info and tickets here)

And now the films getting the Unseen Films seal of approval:


Blank 13
Is it comedy drama or dramatic comedy? Deeply moving film about the sons of a confirmed gambler who ran out on them 15 years earlier dealing with his return to their life while on his death bed. A magnificent exploration of how we see those we love, hate or deal with in our lives. A stunning achievement and my vote for the best film at this year’s Japan Cuts

Violence Voyager
Unless you’ve seen the earlier Burning Buddha Man you’ve not seen anything like this disturbing face punch about a secret amusement park where visitors must fight mutant monsters or risk being turned into one themselves. Not for most audiences but this manga/anime hybrid will thrill a select audience.

Born Bone Born
Based on a short film by the director this film follows a pregnant woman was she returns home to help wash the bones of her mother. Odd quirky and accasionally moving, it has a deeply moving an unexpected ending which includes what maybe one of my favorite final shots in any movie ever.

Mori:The Artist’s Habitat
Day in the life of a 94 year old artist who is endlessly fascinated by life in all its forms and who has no intention of leaving this world any time soon. Deeply moving, this is a film that will force you to re-engage with life and really see life. The more I think about it the more absolutely love it.

Outrage: Coda
Takeshi Kitano returns in the third film in the Outrage series. Probably the weakest of the three, it still has some great moments as the stupid move of a smart ass yakuza brings down Kitano’s wrath. While Kitano disappears for about half the film his presence hangs over everything. A delight for any Kitano fan.

Hanagatami
Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 40 year struggle to adapt Kazuo Dan’s 1937 novella is done. The result is a one of a kind movie that only Obayashi could have made. Completely and totally a piece of cinema the story of a group of friends on the brink of the Second World War will delight and move you. A film like any other, it is a must see for any fan of film and what it can do.

ARAGNE: SIGN OF VERMILLION (2018) Fantasia 2018

Saku Sakamoto did just about everything in bringing his ARAGNE: SIGN OF VERMILLION to the screen. I have no idea if he was wholly successful, but I do know it is great looking but strange film.

The plot of the film has a young woman moving into a new city. What she thought was going to be a bright and happy place is dark and dank. A serial killer, some call the Savior maybe on the loose.  She is also seeing weird insects, spirit bugs, around dead people and animals.

Moody, expressionistic and often down right creepy  ARAGNE is a film that works mostly on and emotional level. The plot doesn't make a great deal of sense, which in this case isn't a problem since there is enough mood and foreboding to overwhelm a small city. We are in a dream world or perhaps the ind of our heroine so what we are seeing could be suspect. Then again weird giant bugs may have invaded the city.

I like the film a great deal despite having reservations about the plotting. On the other hand after seeing the film close to bed time I found the the music and imagery invaded my dreams- which after you see the film you'll understand not to be something you want to happen.

Strongly recommended for anyone wanting a film that will hang with you forever.

Fantasia's only screening of ARAGNE: SIGN OF VERMILLION is done.

DESTINY: The Tale of Kamakura(2017) Fantasia 2018

In my curtain raiser for this year's Fantasia I mentioned that every year I see films that end up on my best of the year list. This year with DESTINY: THE TALE OF KAMAKURA its seeing one of the films that maybe one of  my favorites of all time.

A writer who lives in the town of Kamakura marries a young woman he has instantly fallen for and brings her home. She is unaware that the town she lives in is magical so creatures, spirits and gods live there as well. Wondrous things happen.

I won't say more other than this is pure movie magic. I want to go live there. Think of this film as a live action version of the magical places in Studio Ghibli films. Actually the film kind of borrows and makes it's own all sorts of bits from films and fantasies else where. Not that you'll mind or notice because by the time you're half an hour in Kamakura will be it's own wonderful place.

Wonderfully simple, yet gloriously complex in its plotting, what you think are toss aways are in fact important or referential to things later on (that night market statue for example). This is a film that is a finely oiled machine and you'll need multiple viewings just to see it. And you'll want to see it and share it which is the best part.

This is a wonderful romance cum fantasy about true love and destiny. In an age where there is so much down beat hatred and disappointment  it is a great joy to find a film filled with genuine love and kindness and real magic. It is such a joyous film that any burps are forgiven because the overall package about love and life outshines the flaws.

Hands down this is one of my most favorite films of 2018 and maybe ever.

The film has finished it's Fantasia screening but I know it will be showing up else where soon so keep an eye out.

The Third Murder (2017) opens Friday at the Quad

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Third Murder is not something you’d expect from someone known for carefully crafted family dramas. Who would have thought he’d suddenly show up with a court room mystery? Then again lurking at the heart of the film are various family dynamics.

Brought in after the defendant has confessed, and everything looking like a slam dunk for the prosecutors, a defense attorney takes the case of man who has confessed to the killing. As he begins to work on a defense, hoping at the very least not to get the death penalty, things begin not to add up. Sure his client could have done it, and there is evidence to point to his doing it, but he can’t tell the same story twice. Every telling has another twist. Worse the background of the man and outside factors make it look less and less likely that he did it.

As with Kore-eda’s best work this is a family film. At its heart are three men, victim, alleged killer and defense attorney, who are all fathers of daughters. It is a relationship that colors how each men acts or acted. It also shades how we feel about everything we see. It’s this additional level that lifts the film up from being a simple run of the mill mystery and makes it worth repeated viewings as you ponder not only what happened but the relationships.

While a tad too leisurely to generate true nail biting suspense, The Third Murder still manages to hold your attention. It’s a film that draws you in and drags you along because you want to know the truth. The truth is a dicey thing in this film since, as one character remarks “no one tells the truth here”. Everyone has an angle. Personally I was so engrossed that when my cellphone went off at the moment of a key revelation I wanted to reach through the phone and kill the caller.

I really liked The Third Murder a great deal. It is highly recommended when  opens Friday at the Quad cinemas in New York.

Summer of 84 (2018) Fantasia 2018

If the Losers’ Club can take on an all-powerful demonic clown like Pennywise and Charley Brewster can face off against a vampire next-door, four nebbish but scrappy eighties kids ought to be able to handle their neighborhood serial killer. However, there is one slight complicating factor. It is not absolutely certain Wayne Mackey is the killer stalking Cape May, but there is no doubt he is a local copper. Of course, Davey Armstrong is not about to be dissuaded by awkward facts like that, but his friends will need constant convincing in François Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell’s Summer of ‘84, which screened during this year’s Fantasia Festival.

It is 1984. The Reagan-Bush ticket is cruising to re-election, college grads actually expected to land jobs, and fifteen-year-olds like Armstrong and his buddies were not nearly as jaded by the media and pop culture as they think they are. Armstrong, Tommy “Eats” Eaton, Dale “Woody” Woodworth, and Curtis Farraday are all preoccupied with girls, but Armstrong also has an abiding interest in lurid conspiracy theories. While most Cape May residents are alarmed by news of the serial killer, he is thrilled by it.

As luck would have it, Armstrong, the paperboy, happens to spy some rather suspicious but circumstantial details around Officer Mackey house while collecting for the month. Aided by his own imagination and his friends’ boredom, he manages to convince the gang to launch an ambitious surveillance operation. The stakes will raise dramatically when the boys inevitably blow their cover. However, Armstrong’s attention will also be somewhat divided when Nikki Kazsuba, the somewhat older literal and proverbial girl-next-door starts paying (essentially platonic) nocturnal visits.

Obviously, Summer of ’84 hopes to ride the 1980s horror nostalgia wave, launched by Stranger Things and It. Be that as it may, Summer happens to be smartly written and skillfully executed. It hits all the right notes, but it is also willing to go to some surprisingly dark places. In terms of tone and aesthetic, Summer is a dramatic departure from the directorial trio’s prior film, Turbo Kid, but it is clear from both works, the tandem knows and appreciates their 1980s genre films.

The four young co-conspirators all look age and era appropriate, but Judah Lewis really stands out as the spectacularly foul-mouthed Eaton. Yet, Tiera Skovbye scores some of the biggest laughs as the sly but sensitive Kazsuba. However, it is Rich Sommer who really makes the film work by maintaining audience uncertainty with a performance of perfectly calibrated ambiguity.

Summer of ’84 is a great deal of fun, because it convincingly evokes the eighties era and suburban milieu. It also proves Simard, Whissell, and Whissell have considerably more range than we might have thought.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Being Natural (2018) Fantasia 2018

Taka spends his days taking care of his sick uncle and his nights sitting outside and playing his beloved bongos. When his uncle dies his world is upset as his uncle has left the house to another relative and then a couple arrives from Tokyo and things go steadily down hill.

Director Tadashi Nagayama's BEING NATURAL is going to challenge audiences. A mix of drama, comedy and magical realism the film seems to be a haunting and moving tale that gets under your skin in all the right ways. The thing is that as the story goes a little dark it suddenly takes a left turn into the twilight zone and becomes something that will make you go "WTF?" Probably out loud.

That I am going to devote my entire piece to the turn is a reflection of the fact that my thoughts on the film hinged on the last twenty minutes. What I thought of the film before them is one thing and what I think after is something else entirely. I do like the sequence but I'm not sure it actually fits with what went before.(I think that is an understatement).

No I will not tell you what happens. (though it may or may not have to do with the promotional material calling Taka a saint). If you're curious you should see it for yourself. I will warn you that over the top gore is involved.

I have no clue. Frankly I'm still processing. That said if you want to see a film that is going to provoke a reaction see BEING NATURAL.

BEING NATURAL plays again on the 16th at Fantasia. For more information and tickets go here.

Boiled Angels:The Trial of Mike Diana (2018) Fantasia 2018

Mike Diana put out an underground comic called Boiling Angels that featured all sorts of nasty things which Diana hoped would push people's buttons and get people thinking about the sorry state of the world. A town in Florida found hat he was doing shocking and they charged and convicted him for obscenity- in 1992.

What happened to Diana should be unbelievable except that it really did happen, he really was charged, he really was convicted and really was ordered not to go near children and never to draw again. We would love to hope that it was a minor blip in the way of the world but the current state of America with simple battles about what is true make is almost a dead certainty that this is going to happen again.

Frank Henenlotter's micro budgeted feature is therefore a needed warning about what did and could happen. Talking to all the people involved, including the prosecution, who get to tell their story (which they are sticking to), BOILED ANGELS is everything you need to know about what happened and why. Because of it's warning the film is a must see.

As important and vital as I think the film is, I wish the film were better put together. While everything we need to know is here, the ordering is not quite the best. Bouncing through time in places the film feels more like a series of digressions. The use of Diana's art has mixed effect with some bits being spot on, and others just sort of laying there. The unevenness of the assembly made this a film I admire more than I like.

A must see because it is vital in a world where free speech is in danger, BOILED ANGELS plays again July 18th at Fantasia. For more information and tickets go here.

MAQUIA: WHEN THE PROMISED FLOWER BLOOMS (2018) Fantasia 2018

Maquia looks to be a mere teenager but is a century or ore old. Her people have a gift and have become immortal. When a evil king invades hoping for the secret to their long life and to kidnap the women for his own purposes, Maquia is cast out into the world. Finding a small child she takes it in a raises it as her own watching hi grow old while she remains young.

I'm not going to lie, I got misty toward the run up to the end credits. I'm sorry the final sequences in the film worked for me and I teared up...

...that said I'm not sure about the rest. While I will say that after the invasion the film picks up, I'm still not sure that it all really worked for me. While there is nothing really wrong with the story, this mediation on the life of an immortal isn't wholly new. We've been here before, just not taken it from the perspective of a mother...

...then again the film made me misty at the end, so take that for what you will.

MAQUIA has has it's one Fantasia screening. It hits theaters on July 20th across North America

Steve on KAKEKOMI and MEN ON THE DRAGON NYAFF2018

KAKEKOMI
Three women seeking a divorce flee to a temple where they will complete two years of religious service and thus be granted their divorce. Love, friendship and danger results. Grand epic tale is great looking and well-acted but over long. Running an unwieldy two hours and twenty five minutes the film is a little too much concerned with being arty as opposed to simply telling the story. There is a good a good tale here, and it is one hell of death to the patriarchy story, but there is a bit too much arty angles and need to be making a point. I’m guessing this is one of NYAFF’s concessions to the art house crowd who fund the Film Society. While I like the film, I really wish that had picked up the pace. Regardless worth a look.

MEN ON THE DRAGON
As their company downsizes four men join their company's dragon boat team in order to preserve their jobs.  Male bonding, mirth and drama result. Good but completely unremarkable comedy hits pretty much every cliche you can imagine with a few new wrinkles, but not enough to make it stand out. While completely enjoyable  it's very little beyond that and will fade from your memory as soon as it's over.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Nate Hood makes THE BIG CALL (2018) NYAFF 2018

Oxide Pang’s THE BIG CALLl may be one of the few times I’ve seen a film sabotaged by its need to flesh out its villains as sympathetic human beings. When we first meet Lin Yahai (Joseph Chang) and his lover Liu Lifang (Gwei Lun-mei), they’re depicted as the cruel, unfeeling, amoral heads of a Thai phone scamming ring defrauding innocent people out of their savings. An early montage sees the two of them literally throwing fistfuls of cash to groupies as their operators—Chinese nationals trafficked into Thailand where their passports are confiscated and they’re forced to work 14 hour days—steal tens of thousands of dollars from gullible seniors while what sounds like an industrial cover of Dies Irae drones in the background. They only get more vicious from there, with Liu going so far as to repeatedly threaten to kill her trafficked girls for disobedience.

The film even opens with a grim portrayal of the havoc they wreak: a police officer named Ding Xiaotian (Cheney Chen) fails to stop an elderly man from killing himself after losing all his savings to Lin and Liu’s ring. But a strange thing happens about halfway through—the film actually tries to get us to sympathize with the two of them. In a horrific twist of fate, their ring accidentally scams Lin’s sister out of her tuition money, causing her to kill herself like the man at the start of the film. (One of the cruelest and subtlest details of the film is that a multi-millionaire like Lin has done so little to support his family that his own sibling would be driven to suicide over losing a few thousand dollars.) And through a series of conversations with Xu Xiaotu (Jiang Mengjie), one of the trafficked slaves from Hong Kong who’s actually an undercover cop for a Sino-Thai joint task force working to bring the ring down, we learn that Liu is miserable in her relationship with Lin whom she suspects of cheating on her.

But by that point, the film has done such a good job of convincing us that they’re unrepentant monsters that these appeals towards the audience’s better nature fall flat. This is all a shame, for otherwise THE BIG CALL is an excellent, pulse-pounding thriller. Pang does an fantastic job building tension as we watch both the task force and the phone ring struggle to stay one step ahead of each other, particularly after Liu starts to suspect that Xu might not be who she says she is. The film eventually climaxes with a Hong Kong-style action scene of considerable merit that nonetheless feels out of place in a film about mind games, psychological manipulation, and intrigue, but no more than the villains’ ill-advised babyface turns. It’s a testament to Pang’s direction that THE BIG CALL manages to weather these miscalculations so successfully.

Rating: 7/10

Nate Hood reads The Empty Hands (2018) NYAFF 2018

The main problem with Chapman To’s THE EMPTY HANDS isn’t that it’s a bad movie, it’s that it should’ve been a short film. Better yet, it should’ve been a short story. Written words allow for a greater tonal and emotional elasticity, one undercut by the requirement of visual images in movies.

THE EMPTY HANDS is nothing if not elastic: it’s not funny, but there are moments of humor; it’s not sad, but there’s a prevailing melancholy beneath it; it’s not an action movie, but there are a handful of gruesomely graphic fight scenes; it’s not a psychological study, but it careful interrogates its characters’ emotional interiors. It veers wildly between introspective naturalism and hyper-stylized carnage on a whim, leaving one with a prevailing sense of whiplash. The film’s schizophrenia is only salvageable only thanks to To’s confident direction and an excellent lead performance from Stephy Tang.

Tang plays Mari Hirakawa, a Japanese-Chinese twentysomething with no real ambitions in life. When her strict father—a local karate instructor—dies, she plans on selling their family dojo and splitting it up into rentable apartments, allowing her to live a carefree life on the rent proceeds. But her dreams of easy street are smashed when she discovers her father only left 49% of the dojo to her and the other 51% to Chan Keung (To), a former pupil who recently got kicked out of the Triads for assaulting his boss when he discovered he was trafficking high school girls. To her horror, she finds that Chan has every intention of preserving her father’s dojo with a new crop of young students. Mari throws a temper tantrum, resulting in Chan giving her an ultimatum: if she can win a single match in an upcoming karate tournament, he’ll hand over the rest of the rights to the dojo and leave. So she trains, rediscovers her childhood love of karate, and fights a disastrous match against an MMA she-beast.

Despite it’s short run-time, the film seems aware that it doesn’t have much plot to speak of, so it fills itself with digressions such as Mari’s relationship with her best friend, a message parlor prostitute, her affair with a local philandering playboy, and numerous silence-soaked trips to a local ramen shop. THE EMPTY HANDS isn’t trying to be ROCKY or RAGING BULL—it wants to be a reflective I’ve-already-come-of-age-and-now-I-have-to-act-like-it story. And while there are meaningful moments, it still feels to unfocused to work as a full-length feature. There’s plenty of meat here, but much too much fat.

Rating: 6/10

La Nuit a dévoré le monde (aka Night Eats The World)(2018) Fantasia 2018

Every single person I spoke with who has seen NIGHT EATS THE WORLD compared it favorably to Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend. While NIGHT is a riff on what we see in the Matheson novel it is not a straight out steal. Other than a man trapped in a world of monsters, things go differently which makes it worth a look.

The film has a young man visiting his ex on the night of a party in order to collect somethings from her that she took by accident when she move out. Finding them in a office he ends up falling asleep when he sits down for a minute. When he wakes up he finds the apartment empty and the world over run by zombies. He then has to find a way to survive.

Largely silent film shows us what might have to be done should something like this ever happen. We also watch as our hero tries to fight off loneliness (he misses the zombies when they disappear at one point) and just find enough food. Its a kind of grand adventure with flesh eating ghouls and completely entertaining.

Because I have to nit pick I have to say the film isn't perfect, there are little problems such we never see any bodies other than those who do themselves in, which makes no sense if zombies break in and tear people apart. However despite the small logic problems the film never falls apart as a result. It simply moves along fast enough that you probably won't'notice since you'll be too caught up in the tale,

Reommended.

Nate Hood ponders SAD BEAUTY (2018) NYAFF 2018

With virtually no women directors in mainstream Thai cinema, the indie and festival circuits have become the sole refuges for their few female filmmakers. Consider actress Bongkod Bencharongkul's second directorial feature SAD BEAUTY--an alternatively pensive and energetic, life-affirming and heart-breaking examination of female friendship. Originally rejected by major studios and facing considerable blowback from producers who wanted it to be a straightforward thriller, the film underwent a tumultuous six-year production cycle necessitating the replacement of the entire production team three times. The film has gathered some minor attention in festivals outside its native Thailand, and its North American debut here at NYAFF allows new audiences to witness this fascinating if inconsistent kaleidoscope that represents a crucially underrepresented facet of Southeast Asian cinema.

It centers on the relationship between Yo (Florence Faivre) and Pim (Pakkawadee Pengsuwan), two co-dependent, diametrically opposite best friends. Tall, beautiful, spoiled, and half-European, Yo is an irresponsible, self-centered fashion model; short, plain, haggard, and pure Thai, Pim doesn't seem to have much of a life outside of taking care of Yo. Though they obviously care for each other, their relationship is clearly toxic: Pim sees Yo as a kind of perfect, angelic being (Yo even catches her admiring her body while taking a shower together); Yo sees Pim as perhaps the one person in her life she can fully control (Yo gets jealous and pissy when someone hits on Pim when they go clubbing together). But their complex relationship is strained to the breaking point following two terrible tragedies in Pim's life. First, she gets diagnosed with eye cancer. Second, they accidentally kill Pim's abusive stepfather with a butcher's knife when he attacks them in a drunken stupor. With the stepfather's body in their trunk, the two go on the lam, both from the police and from their insurmountable personal responsibilities.

The film drifts between hazy drug-phantasms as the two take ecstasy in clubs and smoke weed on the road and starkly, uncomfortably sober moments of dread and tension as they seek someone to help them dispose of the stepfather's body. Eventually it slowly veers towards tragedy in the last act as Yo's inherent selfishness eclipses her capacity to reciprocate Pim's affections. These different tones and techniques don't quite mesh, but they don't not not mesh, either--one gets the sense that the film is a deliberate stylistic collage mimicking the emotional and psychological traumas suffered by its characters. But these formal fireworks occasionally distract from the true heart of the film--the touching, troubling friendship between two doomed women. It is in the quiet moments of silence and washing and driving that Sad Beauty springs to life.

Rating: 6/10

SAD BEAUTY play tomorrow, July 14 at NYAFF. For tickets and more information go here.

Nate Hood and the craziness that is PREMIKA (2018) NYAFF 2018

The first death scene in Siwakorn Jarupongpa surreal splatter-comedy PREMIKA sees a nerdy pervert with a gigantic, hairy wart on his mouth get decapitated with an axe in a bathroom by an undead 15-year old schoolgirl after getting sprayed with a toilet geyser of ghost-blood. Said pervert spends the rest of the film as a kind of zombie herald for the schoolgirl, appearing before and taunting her victims before they're forced to play a life-or-death round of karaoke with a possessed jukebox containing the schoolgirl's butchered heart. Those unfortunate enough to sing off key, sing the wrong lyrics, or get lower than an 80 score are quickly sliced, diced, chopped, and/or sawed to bits, becoming yet another member of the ghost girl's entourage as she picks off the rest of the group of tourists, musicians, and investors unfortunate enough to spend the night at the grand opening of a haunted hotel.

The set-up is hilariously preposterous, the characters deliberately one-dimensional, the effects ostentatiously hackneyed--it's less a film than a live-action Herschell Gordon Lewis Hanna-Barbera cartoon complete with rimshotted punchlines, comedically exaggerated double-takes and zoom-ins (usually at the cleavage of the hotel's well-endowed supermodels), and even a chase scene where multiple characters inexplicably manage to hide behind an undersized tree.

And yet of all the films I've seen so far at this years New York Asian Film Festival, it packs by far the greatest emotional punch. It's easy to forget that ghosts--even vengeful ones who murder pudgy, Danganponpa T-shirt wearing nerds with demonic jukeboxes--only stick around on this material plain because of tragedy, and the backstory of Jarupongpa's middle-school killer is so unexpectedly awful that it grinds the whole film to a screeching halt, brilliantly re-contextualizing all the preceding insanity. Most films can't handle such jarring tonal shifts, but Premika succeeds through the very vehicle of its absurdity: the fatal karaoke songs. Before long we realize that the songs the victims are forced to perform are ironic indictments of their pasts. And when the ghost is finally forced to literally sing her backstory, it hits with an emotional heft all the greater for its unexpectedness.

The film's B-plot follows two cops trying to hunt down the ghost's killer, culminating in a twist the film didn't need and certainly didn't earn. I suspect it was only added to pad the film's 91-minute run-time; one wonders if it could've succeeded more as a 30-45 minute anthology short. But as it is Premika is a delightful, gory treat for audiences looking for something different than this year's festival slate of soul-sucking, nihilistic drudges.

Rating: 7/10

PREMIKA plays tonight at NYAFF

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Nat Hood takes ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (2018) NYAFF 2018

It takes a little time to figure out exactly what’s going on in Shin'ichirô Ueda’s ONE CUT OF THE DEAD. But as the film barrels on, the bits and pieces click into place and one can’t help but smile at Ueda’s cleverness and the sheer complexity of his undertaking. This is a film that works best when audiences go into it completely cold with no preconceptions. But since the phrase “Please go see this movie” is about 395 words short of my minimum for reviews, I’ll have to let part of the cat out of the bag. But only a small part.

The first thirty minutes are presented as a found footage movie about a film crew shooting a cheesy zombie film at an abandoned factory when—surprise!—real zombies attack. Filmed in one long take with a handheld camera, it’s awkwardly paced, irregularly acted, and most crucially, not scary. The whole things reeks of unintentional camp, from a middle-aged make-up artist demonstrating women’s self-defense techniques straight out of Diedrich Bader’s karate class in Napoleon Dynamite to a twist revealing the director went insane a long time ago and deliberately led the film crew to the zombie-infested site so he could film their “real fear.” (This director is responsible for the single genuinely entertaining part of the documentary when he suddenly reappears after seemingly being bludgeoned to death, throwing open one of the side doors of the car the surviving actors are trying to escape in, pushing a zombie into it, and maniacally screaming “Action!”) It finally ends with an amateurish climax where the Last Girl—an actress who’d been berated by the insane director for blowing takes with her mediocre acting skills—confronts her freshly zombified co-star and behind-the-scenes love interest with an axe. She raises it, begs him to come around, steels herself, and pauses as if she forgot her line or that she’s on a roof being attacked by a zombie. She raises it a second time. Again she chokes. A third time, and she finally manages to chop his head off. With the zombies defeated, the camera pulls back into the sky for a bird’s-eye view revealing she’s standing in a giant pentagram of blood. And then the film abruptly jumps a month into the past where we watch the producers, director, film crew, and cast get together to plan the fateful zombie shoot we just watched.

I refuse to spoil what happens next, but please believe me when I say that it’s nothing you might expect. One Cut of the Dead represents everything great about the New York Asian Film Festival: a celebration of bold new talents, unexpected genre mashing, and audacious filmmaking that leaves your mouth on the floor.

Rating: 9/10

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD plays Friday July 13th at the New York Asian Film Festival.(Tickets and info here)
It also will be playing July 29th at Fantasia in Montreal Canada. (Tickets and info here)

Sid and Aya (Not a Love Story) (2018) NYAFF 2018

Actually SID AND AYA is a love story, just not a typical one.

Stockbroker Sid has insomnia. Finding he can hold long conversations with Aya, a young woman who works at a near by 24 hour restaurant shop, he hires her to talk with him all night.

Delightfully atypical the film scores points because we really don't know how it will play out. You kind of can, but at the same time these aren't really your typical movie characters so anything is possible. You can't fill in the blanks which not only holds your attention but makes it a much more real film.

How good is this film? This was not anywhere remotely on my must see list. It was a film I went into purely because I was trying to see as many of the New York Asian films as possible. However where so many of the other films depressed me with their bleak sadness, SID AND AYA delighted me with it's one of a kind approach. Frankly this is one of the few films playing at NYAFF that recalled the halcyon days on a decade ago when every film was a wondrous surprise.

One of my favorite films at this year's NYAFF, it is highly recommended.

For tickets and more information go here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Game Girls (2018) Outfest LA

GAME GIRLS begins with one of the women we will follow for the next 90 minutes,Teri, challenging anyone to fight her. She is wandering the streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row and she is itching for a fight. It doesn't matter with who, she simply wants to mix it up. It is one of the most arresting and in your face moments I've had at the movies all year. It is also the moment that hooked me on the film because I had to see how it all plays out.

The film follows Teri and her girlfriend Tiahna as they try to get their lives together in order to get off the street and away from Skid Row. It is a battle that does not go smoothly since both women are battling not only the world but themselves.

I really like  GAME GIRLS a great deal. This is an in depth look at a part of life that was largely alien to me. That it works as well as it does is thanks to director Alina Skrzeszewska who doesn't seem to take sides and simply reports what she is seeing. She not only reports she also doesn't cut away and let's many sequences play out longer than you might expect so we really feel we are there in the moment. As a result we really get to know the women and like them. We also come to understand why the pair stays together even when things turn bad. And more importantly, on a larger scale the film gives us a clue as to why some people become couples and stay together. Within the relationship between the the two women we can see the relationships we have with the people in our own lives and we are made better for it. It also makes GAME GIRLS a truly special film.

Recommended

GAME GIRLS plays July 15 and 22 at OUTFEST LA
SCREENING TIMES & LOCATION
Sunday, July 15th at 9:30 PM | DGA 2 - 7300 Sunset Bld
Sunday, July 22nd at 1:45 PM | Regal Cinemas LA LIVE C | Downtown

For tickets and more information go here

In praise of C.J. Renner's Gunn (2017)

You want to see C.J. Renner's GUNN.

No, you do. So just do yourself a favor and go over to Amazon or Vudu or what ever streaming platform you use and watch it.

Trust me, I know.  I didn't think I did but I did.

I say this because I got one of my favorite sort of emails earlier today, one from a director which is putting their film on my radar. I have a standing policy to look at anything that a director sends me because if they will fight to get there films seen then I will take a look. I recently discovered the great IN WINTER that way and it was responsible for turning me into a huge fan of the work of Jason Kartalian.

But I digress.

After I received the film I did a little research and a couple of pieces on the film intrigued me because they said that they were hooked the instant the film started. I thought they had to be friends of the director, but then again there was something about what they said that made me curious. Despite having films I am required to see and write up I figured I'd take a quick look at the film and  see if I too was hooked...

... and suddenly I lost a couple of hours as GUNN worked it's magic.

A classic film noir, set in period with gangsters, femme fatales, guns, corruption and everything else you can think of in the genre, GUNN goes off the board stylistically and messes with our expectations by having the whole thing set essentially on a stage. It's a grand ploy to mirror the existential angst the genre is rife with. In theory it shouldn't work but it does. I mean it really does.

The opening scene is three guys in a car going off for a job in the night. Everything is dark and you can't really see the inside of the car. The conversation (did I mention the dialog is top notch?) pulls us in, so a couple of minutes in we are hooked. Then the camera pulls back and we realize the guys aren't really in a car, but a mock up....and for a moment you wonder "what is going on- they are on a stage"... but the scene continues on, not missing a beat... and everything is being played straight and by the time they are getting ready to go through a door to rough up some rival gangsters you don't care there are no real sets, you just want to see what happens.

Talk about movie magic. This is it.  It's kind of like what Lars von Trier did with DOGVILLE except this works better since  you forget the conceit. What Renner did with GUNN is so spot on perfect you're going to wonder why no one thought of trying it before.

I love this film.

I not only love how it's done, I love the plot and the dialog and the acting.... I love that when Renner was crafting the film he didn't try to reinvent the wheel. Yes, he framed the story in a new way, but with the story and the characters he didn't shy away from leaning into the typical cliches.  It is as if Renner knew that the only way to really examine the genre was to use everything we think of when we think of film noir and go with it. He wants us to ponder the genre by giving us "the genre" in a new way. It's a bold move that I don't think the vast majority of writers or directors could ever pull off- but he pulls it off thanks to a killer sense of genre, a wicked script and a top notch cast that could sell ice at the North Pole.

I am stunned.

I'm so stunned that not only did I misdirect two hours when I should have been watching something else to watch the film, I took even more time away to sit down and write it up right after the fact.

You need to see this film because it is just super. You also have to keep an eye on C.J. Renner because this may be the calling card of a superstar.

Look for it on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu and other streaming platforms

Nate Hood on Dukun (2006/2018) NYAFF 2018

It's been twelve years since director Dain Said completed his true crime/supernatural thriller DUKUN, a highly fictionalized retelling of the Mona Fandey case in Malaysia. Fandey, an ex-nightclub singer-turned-shaman, was accused of murdering a politician in 1993 during a black magic ritual intended to grant him invincibility. The rite, shall we say, wasn't particularly successful: he ended up decapitated with the rest of his body chopped into 18 pieces. As if this wasn't suspicious enough, Fandey reportedly went on a shopping spree with the politician's money where she bought a Mercedes-Benz and a facelift. She was eventually arrested, tried, and executed along with her husband and assitant. The trial gained international notoriety, partly due to the sensationalized nature of the case and partially due to the sensationalized nature of Fandey herself: during the trial she acted like a Hollywood celebrity, mugging for the cameras and wearing ostentatiously colorful dresses.

Whether it was for the film's graphic content, its frank examination of female sexuality, its depiction of black magic as a real and dangerous force (reminder: Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country and Islam is highly intolerant of such things), or its drawing attention to an embarrassing legal case, Said's retelling was declared verboten by Malay authorities until earlier this year. But now that it's been released, audiences can finally enjoy this overlooked and bizarre little movie.

You could slice DUKUN in half with a sword and one side would be a tense courtroom drama and the other an effects heavy horror film. On the one hand we have Karim (Faizal Hussein), the appointed lawyer for the Fandey surrogate here named Diana Dahlan (Umie Aida). Karim refuses to take the job until he's forced into it by a superior who offers to expedite the missing person's case surrounding his 17-year old daughter in exchange. The courtroom scenes where witnesses are examined and cross-examined are standard boilerplate and at best suggest an underlying theme of the lengths religious freedom can be taken--are potentially fatal rituals protected under law? After all, Diana claims, the politician only died during the ritual because he failed to follow the right pre-ritual taboos, in essence committing indirect suicide. But Said ultimately fails to explore it, deciding instead to invest the rest of his time and energy on the other half of the film where a team of police officers investigate an apparent conspiracy orchestrated by Diana, a feat involving hidden ritualistic murder sites forming a giant pentagram, possessed teenagers, and a unpleasant surplus of pickled fetuses and wombs.

Whether these two parts of the film mix will depend largely on the temperament of the viewer--those looking for a straightforward experience might be frustrated by the tonal inconsistencies. But those looking for an intense, genre-bending chiller will find DUKUN satisfying. It may not have been worth a twelve year wait, but it's good that this film finally got it's day in the sunshine.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Path of Blood (2018)

PATH OF BLOOD will leave you reeling. It is a film that will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you feel really disturbed.

Made up of found footage shot by jihadists in Saudi Arabia, supplemented with footage shot by authorities as well, the film reveals what 's like to be in side a terrorist group.  We,watch as they train, rant, and kill themselves and others in the name of their cause.

Disturbing because we it makes clear the dichotomy of the terrorists, regular people one minute, obsessive crazies the next this film will make you think and feel about them in ways you've never considered. What does it take to turn someone into such a crazed zealot? We get some clue but still we are left pondering. Personally I had hoped to get some insight into why they do the cruel things they do but after seeing the film I still have a hard time understanding why one would put on a vest bomb never mind putting a bomb into one's rectum.

Not shying away from showing the aftermath of the attacks they plan, we see the blood and the bodies and parts left behind. This is not a film for the faint-hearted, more so of you can work out what happened in the footage we see (such as the hole in the ceiling made by the rectum bomber's head) The film is a stark reminder of the damage and evil visited upon the world by these people hoping to get a quick trip to paradise.

Recommended and required for anyone who thinks they can go into the mindset of terrorists.

NYAFF 2018: Capsules AFTER MY DEATH, MICROHABITAT, SMOKIN' ON THE MOON and MIDNIGHT BUS

AFTER MY DEATH
Bleak hellish tale of a missing high schoolgirl and the firestorm that follows in the wake of the disappearance. This is a prime example of the one of the dark nightmares that the Korean's excel at, namely films that are so full of blackness you want to kill yourself when it's done. Seeing this film was the point where I realized that whom ever was doing the programming hates the NYAFF audience since they filled this year with pain and suffering.

MICROHABITAT
When a woman sees a rise in the price of cigarettes she decides to give up her apartment and crash on the various couches of her friends. The shift changes the way she sees the world as she sees the problems her friends face. Okay comedy drama isn't bad but never really manages to get the balance between comedy, drama and quirk quite right.
(This film also play July 13 and 15th at Fantasia in Montreal)

SMOKIN' ON THE MOON
Form over content film about two slackers who work in a bar and get involved with a yakuza and other trouble. Energetic presentation can't hide the the messy tale. If you can forgive the fact that almost every shot is framed exactly the same way and from the same distance the film could be seen as calling card for those involved, but as something on its own terms it could be missed.

MIDNIGHT BUS
A bus driver on an an overnight route has his life disrupted when an ex-girlfriend ends up on his bus one night Cracks begin to be seen in his neatly organized life. Like it or lump it domestic drama is very well done and very evocative but I'm not too sure that the film can sustain it's two and a half hour run time. While never bad the film tends to go on and as the film wore on I found my interest waned.

Monday, July 9, 2018

I Can Speak (2018) NYAFF 2018

I CAN SPEAK is a surprisingly moving film about a bitch on wheels senior citizen who runs rough shod over everyone so that laws are followed and developers don’t take over her humble home. She runs head long into a young civil servant who is also by the book but also has a strong sense of right and wrong. When she discovers that he knows English and is willing to teach her she begins to thaw.

Bring a hankie because you’re going to get misty- though not for the reason you think. The need for the hankie comes the reason she wants to learn English, dealing with a lost relative and the damage caused by being a comfort woman during the Second World War. Unlike many films that go for cheap emotion I CAN SPEAK earns it’s tears. We’ve made the trip with the characters and we feel for them.

While on some level the structure of the film is par for the course of film like this it really doesn’t matter since the cast puts it over. We like everyone and we want to see what happens to them. There are also enough twists and turns that we are kept interested. It also doesn’t hurt by the fact that this is based on a true story.

What a delight. A hidden gem of NYAFF.

Highly recommended- especially since so many of NYAFF’s films are bleak downers.

For tickets and more information go here.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Belt in folks : FANTASIA 2018 starts Thursday (The obligatory curtain raiser)

Starting Thursday and running to August first is one of the coolest film festivals in existence – Fantasia. For those of you who don’t know Fantasia is a wild and crazy orgy of genre films from around the world hosted by the city of Montreal Canada. It is also a place where I end up seeing some of the best films of the year. And I do mean some because every year two or three or more end up on my best of the year lists. This year for example the festival is screening the Korean film 1987 about the events that led up to a democratic takeover of South Korea. It is one of the best films of the year, balancing both the human story and the epic into a deeply moving tale. It is highly recommended.

Other films that you must see are

DESTINY : THE TALE OF KAMAKURA- What would happen in a live action Ghibli mystical world?  A writer takes his young wife home to live in a town where mystic energy allows sprite, and gods and ghosts live among the living- This is a joy, a delight and one of my favorite films of 2018. Now to go to the Night Market.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID – another film that is currently on my best of 2018 year list. A modern day fable that will rock your world.

NIGHT EATS THE WORLD- one of the best zombie films of the past decade is a wonderful riff on Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND. It is brilliant and delighted everyone who saw it at Tribeca

HANAGATAMI- if you love cinema you must see Nobuhiko Obayashi's 40 years in the planning masterpiece. It is a film only Obayashi could make. It's a look at a group of friends on the eve of World War 2. It will kick you to the curb.

VIOLENCE VOYAGER – will fuck you up. If you saw BURNING BUDDHA MAN you have some idea what to expect- if not be prepared to have your life upended by this disturbed tale of an amusement park like no other.

And HANAGATARI, 1987, and VIOLENCE VOYAGER remind me that at least 15 of the films from the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts cross over with Fantasia. While I will be reposting reviews from Tribeca, Sundance and other festivals, the reviews for NYAFF and Japan Cuts will run timed to those festivals so reviews will run before and after the Fantasia screenings. I will be mentioning and tagging the reviews for Fantasia so you can find them as they post.


As you can tell we’ve seen a festival worth of films before Fantasia even starts- and keep in mind that is only a teeny tiny fraction of all the goodness that the festival has- this is a huge festival.

If you can get to Montreal I highly recommend to go see something- anything. Even if you don’t like it I guarantee it you’ll still find it interesting.

If you can’t get to the festival then keep reading Unseen because you’re going to want to make note of all the cinematic goodness we find in order to catch them when they play at a theatre near you.

For tickets and more information go here.

And now Its back to the darkness to see more cinematic goodness

NYAFF 2018 Capsule Reviews: LITTLE FOREST, THE LAST VERSE, WE WILL NOT DIE TONIGHT and LIVERLEAF

LITTLE FOREST
Sweet and adorable romantic comedy about a woman returning home to the country after spending time in the big city. Wonderful and utterly charming this is a film deserving of much more than this brief write up. Unfortunately the weight of so many other films in the festival pushed this one aside. Perhaps down the road I will give it the longer review it is more deserving of.

THE LAST VERSE
The course of  relationship over time is a well acted drama. Following things from the Halcyon early days on to the relationship's conclusion this is a stark drama that will leave you feeling down.

WE WILL NOT DIE TONIGHT
One of my must sees at NYAFF was a complete bust. A not very good quasi remake of THE WARRIORS has a stunt woman and her friends fleeing some bad people who want to harvest people'sorgans over the course of a night. An okay script and uneven acting mix with action sequences that are shot  in such away as to keep  us distanced and unconnected to them. This resulted in an action film that just sort of lays there. I lost interest early and never cared.

LIVERLEAF
New girl in town is tormented by the other kids in the school. She stoicly takes it until things get out of hand and he destroys everyone who crosses her path like a killing machine. Manga based exercise in cruelty is really well done, but ugly and unpleasant you have to wonder what sort of person would want to watch this. You'll want to shower with lye when this one is done.

Yellow Submarine (1968) returns to theaters starting today

I don’t know about the rest of you but I live in a yellow submarine. I have lived there since I first heard the Beatles song. I took up permanent residence one I saw the film and it changed how I saw film.

The animated film was not supposed to happen. The Beatles were supposed to make a third film as part of deal they signed. They wanted no part of it. The Joe Orton film fell through as did Richard Lester’s take on the Three Musketeers (though that resurfaced several years later with a stellar cast). I believe Al Brodax floated the idea that they could do animated film, all they had to do was provide some songs. Thrilled at not having to do anything the Beatles agreed. The filmmakers went to work. Somewhere along the long and winding road a classic was produced. When the film was just about done it was shown to the Beatles who were so pleased with it that they agreed to shoot the live action segment that closes the film. (They also regretted not being part of the film)

The film itself is set in Pepperland where the Blue Meanies and their Allies, who hate music, have taken over the peaceful land. Fleeing in the Yellow Submarine that brought their ancestors Old Fred goes off to find help. He stumbles upon the Beatles who travel with him to Pepperland to take on the Blue Meanies.

A wonderful witty and gorgeous film filled with eye popping imagery, classic songs and endlessly quotable dialog Yellow Submarine is a an absolute delight. Joyously happy it is a film about fighting back against impossible odds and winning. It is a film that simply makes you feel good and go out of the theater singing.

A semi-lost classic, many people don’t really know the film because it was never really played on any sort of TV. I was lucky living in New York because it played more than anywhere else in the US. I don’t remember it ever being on cable. It wasn’t until hit VHS and DVD that many people I know were finally treated to the film and not images.

I don’t know what to say but this is one of my favorite films of all time. I will put it on and go off and feel good. Several years ago I got to see a restoration of the film at the New York International Children’s Film Festival. It was the first time I had ever seen it on the big screen and it was a blast. Sitting in the Balcony with John, Randi and Bully we found ourselves watching a whole new generation of kids fall in love with the film. They reacted in all the right spots and sang along with the song. Leaving the theater everyone was big smiles.

But don’t think this is a film for kids, it’s not. Written for adults the film is full of visual references and puns that no kids will get. I was in my late 20’s before I understood some of the jokes because I didn’t have the frame of reference. This is one of the most intelligent animated films you’ll ever see. (And it was partly written by Erich Segal who wrote Love Story.)

And now having been restored yet again in 4K the film is back in theaters starting today. Playing in theaters around the country over the month of July Yellow Submarine can now be seen as it should be – big and loud. As good as the film is on TV it is nothing to seeing it on a theater screen where the audience can be sucked in and carried along. Not being able to look away from a huge image of attacking Blue Meanies or watching the original Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band play will bring tears to your eyes. Seeing the film big is a genuine trip to Pepperland.

I love this film. I love it not because of the Beatles but because it is just a great film. This is what animated films should be – visual delights that work on multiple levels.

I can’t recommend this film enough.

If you have never seen it- you have no excuse you must go.
If you have seen it only on TV you have to see it big it will change your opinion of the film for the better.
If you have seen I big you need to go see it again because this restoration is just awesome.

Go see Yellow Submarine.

For more information and a list of theaters and dates go here.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Alec Kubas- Meyer travels to River's Edge (2018) NYAFF 2018

River’s Edge is not real life.

Now, obviously as a fiction film it is not trying to be real life, but I point it out because at times it threatens to be all the same. It’s not the aspect ratio, which is a bizarre-in-2018 4:3 coming from a camera that often feels out of time, or even the completely bizarre documentary-type sections where key characters are being interviewed by an unnamed prompter about their pasts, presents, and futures.

Part of it might be the period 1990s setting, which was more than realistic enough to someone who never went to Japan in the 1990s – though the introduction to the screening by New York Asian Film Festival programmers assured us it was faultless. River’s Edge is based on a manga from the 1990s (inspired by a Keanu Reave’s movie from the mid-80s), so perhaps it had to be set then, but that’s not a particularly interesting reason to do something. I think that director Isa Yukisada (if not necessarily writer Misaki Setoyama) had something else on his mind.

The camera in River’s Edge spends much more time at its namesake location than its characters do. They appear there for critical plot points, but the film itself returns to it as a form of transition: the smokestacks of the factory on the opposite bank and the liquid gushing back from said factory into the river. (If you didn’t realize that the latter was important from the wide shots, one particular transition zooms right on into the twin pipes.)

Early on, a TV plays in the background and talks about the reduction of ozone in the atmosphere. This clearly matters, because it’s the only time in the entire film that dialogue is taken away from its characters.

The toxic environment itself is as much a part of the story as the people living within it. And hoo boy are those people toxic.

In its opening moments, a teddy bear has been burned. Soon after, the closest thing we have to a protagonist, Haruna Wakagusa (Fumi Nikaido), finds a naked boy tied up and trapped in a locker in an abandoned school building. He is unconscious. All I knew about the movie from the introduction was that it was a corpse movie (this taken from the source’s source material), and I thought that maybe that was it. But no, he’s alive. Beaten, humiliated, but alive. He is Ichiro Yamada (Ryo Yoshizawa), and he’s our secondary protagonist, a closeted teen targeted for reasons that aren’t entirely clear and don’t seem to be related to his sexuality.

But we see him beaten again, and it is horrific to watch. One thing that has always stuck out to me in Asian films (Japanese and Korean in particular) is how visceral dramatic violence feels in comparison to the kind Americans typically see. Punches and kicks aimed at this passive victim have an intensity that an English action movie wishes it could match. But here it’s serves not to entertain but to disturb. And it does that in spades.

The violence in River’s Edge is brief. It is presented as spontaneous, though someone who has seen a normal amount of dramatic movies will see things coming. How the violence ultimately plays out, however, they probably won’t. Whether it’s actively laughing at you while defying expectations is hard to say, but it’s certainly not following that expected script. (This is a good thing.)

But it’s not just the violence that disturbs; the sex – which is mostly consensual-ish – is genuinely disgusting. It’s a revolting mix of performance, imagery, and the worst sounds one can possibly imagine played at a level that verges on unbearable. In fact, the audio in general is the catalyst for most of the film’s painful moments. Any sound relating to objects entering or exiting the body – and the mouth in particular – is enough to make you want to join a character in her post-meal purges.

It’s all very real in the worst possible way, but none of it is real life. And you are reminded of this fact with each line of dialogue. No one talks like an actual human. One minor character in particular exists solely to exposit, with every single line serving to just fill the audience in on goings-on; but pretty much everyone has these kinds of conversations. They feel so out of place in the realistic backdrop that you can’t ever really lose yourself in the actions. You are held at arm’s length, watching the drama unfold often dispassionately. Even as horrible things happen to characters, your concern isn’t really for them so much as at them. The depiction is the awful thing and not the event in and of itself.

Oddly enough, this makes the film more effective, because it forces you to think about what’s really happening and how you’re reacting (there’s nothing else to do during those B-Roll factory transitions). If forces you to think about how the characters are reacting, often with a dispassion bordering on psychopathy. When one character happens upon another one having just committed literal murder, the response is not to run or alert the authorities but get a shovel and start digging. Why? Because no one cares.

In those documentary sections I mentioned earlier, character motivations come to the forefront, with particular attention paid to how they relate to their peers. These sequences are divorced from any sort of clear narrative timeline (with one in particular making absolutely no sense whatsoever but serving a devastating – if expected – character purpose), which further confuses things and pushes the viewer away, but they make themselves work in the bigger picture. You just have to accept them; in the end, you’ll feel that they were necessary.

In that way, River’s Edge infects you. It pours its pollutants into your brain as it inundates you with horrible sights and sounds. It grabs you and forces you to look into the void. And you can’t look away.

You don’t want to look away.