Sunday, September 30, 2018

Not really a review of Fire Music (2018) New York Film Festival 2018



I have been pondering if and how to review FIRE MUSIC since I saw it. Part of it is I don't have a great deal to say about it, and part of it is the fact that during the Q&A that followed the first New York Film Festival screening it was revealed that the film is going to be changed and lengthened to add more material because more funding came in (see the Q&A below).

FIRE MUSIC is Tom Surgal's look at avant garde or Free Jazz. This is the sort of wild and crazy improvisational free form jazz where all of the musicians can be playing their own harmonies at the same time. For some it it noise for others it is bliss. It is a forcible wrestling with the music to see where it can go. The film highlights  the music of Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman,Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers and others.

I think fans, such as those that made up the audience at the New York Film Festival, and who have a fuller appreciation of the form and the people who play it are going to love it deeply. This is a film with all the right people telling the right stories since I could see people around me reacting as if Surgal got it all right  for the person in the know.

This poses a problem in that the film is an attempt to bring the music to a wider audience and win converts  but I'm not sure, at least in it's present form, if it is going to make converts of a lot of people because If you don't know a great deal you may feel a little at sea, which is how I felt at times.

To be honest I like the film but I don't love it. While I like jazz and have some understanding of the history and the styles, I am not verse in Free Jazz and I often felt lost watching the film because I simply didn't have enough background to make all the necessary connections. I could appreciate the music and what was being said but past a certain level, I was completely lost. Frankly as a novice I was overwhelmed.

Please don't let me frighten you away from seeing FIRE MUSIC. As it stands it is a good, if way too short (it only runs 70 minutes), look at the music. It is a film that has been made with love by people who care deeply for what they are showing us. It's clear that any problems with the film come from Surgal and his team knowing their material so well that they seem to have not really allowed a way in for those unfamiliar with it to experience their joy. They assume we are all on their level, which some, myself included, are not.

That said, I would gladly see promised later longer now cut of the film since it's clear that Surgal is onto something.

As for fans of jazz and free jazz or avant garde jazz it is an absolute must.


Thoughts on why I really don't like They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (2018) NYFF 2018

Morgan Neville introduces THEY'LL LOVE ME WHEN I'M DEAD at the NYFF while Kent Jones looks on
Morgan Neville's THEY'LL LOVE ME WHEN I'M DEAD is a about the making of Orson Welles' long unfinished THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND as told by archival material as well as the surviving members of the staff and crew.

When I walked out of the New York Film Festival screening of THEY'LL LOVE ME... I was kind of mixed. Here was a film that (kind of) tried to explain where the film came from, how it got mostly made and how it ended up unfinished by cutting together everyone's version with clips of the film to forma film that mirrored the film itself.   Frankly I liked parts, disliked parts and was uncertain why Neville really didn't make any sort of effort to make it a clearer tale (the film make reference to the fact that things are confused). As I walked out I turned to Nate Hood and said the best part of the whole film was Henry Jaglom's story about John Huston wanting to see the footage he shot of Welles for SOMEONE TO LOVE. It was near the very end of the THEY 'LL LOVE ME..and it was a moment that brought me to tears. Nate said that he too had been moved.

The exchange hung over me as I ran to my next movie and then through the rest of the day and evening. It was, as I was walking my dog that I realized that, ultimately, that as much as I think THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is a mess, I liked it better than this making of. Sure the OTHER SIDE is all over the place, but there kind of is a through line. You can tell that Welles was going for. On the other hand Neville is equally all over the place, but in the end you don't know what he is trying to say. Yes, he is telling the story of the film, but at the same time he throws in all sorts of other things that kind of come to the fore before being cast aside- notions like did Welles not want to finish some projects, his inability not to sabotage himself, why Welles hate the Euro-cinema he was sending up,  his relationship with Peter Bogdanovich and others are brought up and abandoned.

Frankly I came out of the film feeling like I knew less about the film and Welles than I did before.

Is it a bad film, not really, but at the same time its not as informative as one would have hoped. To be certain it will be worth a look on Netflix in connection with release of OTHER SIDE, but I doubt you'll ever look at it a second time. I won't.

Sorry Angel (2018) NYFF 2018

Set in 1993 Christophe Honoré's SORRY ANGEL is about a well known gay writer is mourning a dying an ex-lover from AIDS, a disease that is living inside him. As he tries to navigate what maybe his waning days he meets and falls in love with a college student.

Good romantic drama  has a great cast, some wickedly funny one liners and more than it's share of touching moments. Taken on its own terms it is a solid little time passer.

Unfortunately the film has two things going against it. The first is not really a problem of the film itself but rather the fact that it is playing at the New York Film Festival. It is very similar to the film BPM which played the fest last year, something that every writer I spoke to after the NYFF press screening noted when I spoke to them about it. While that is completely unfair it is unavoidable since both films are AIDS films set in roughly the same time period and played at the same festival. Sadly SORRY ANGEL suffers by the unfair and unavoidable comparison.

The other problem is the fact that much is unsaid. While it's clear that everyone knows and inhabits their characters there is something missing. We don't really get to know any of the characters past a certain point. They don't bleed off the screen but simply inhabit the time they are on screen. It is, as the mother of our hero's son says, "he keeps his life compartmentalized." Everything in this film is compartmentalized and  as a result I never fully connected since I kept feeling that I should have known more about the characters other than exactly what we see on screen.

Don't get me wrong I like the film, but I wanted to love it, hell there is almost enough here that I should love it, but it never cross the line into a full blown romance.

Quibbles aside, there is enough here that if the interests you I recommended it.

End of Life (2018) NYFF 2018

END OF LIFE is exactly that, the time very close to the end for five people, Sarah Grossman, the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, Carol Virostek, Doris Johnson, and the artist, writer, and performer Matt Freedman. They discuss life, death and carry on in their final days.

Decidedly not for all audiences, the minutes long takes where nothing much sees to happen are going to bore some, while others are simply not going to want to go to a place where death is hovering. Yes, the people on screen are very much alive but it's clear that their time is limited. And even if you don't mind seeing the film you may find yourself reliving, as I was, the death of a loved one. Ultimately END OF LIFE is challenging viewing.

And yet for all that it shows, or tries to show, I'm not sure if it achieves what it wants or what it's purpose is. What exactly am I supposed to get out of this film? I really don't know. The film is put together in such away as to imply that it is going to impart some great wisdom about dying but I see nothing other than pretentious framing of some of the final moments of five people.

The write up for the festival talks about the film showing the "actual work of dying" but having seen the film I'm still not certain what that term means. Is it the coming to terms with death, as Ram Dass discusses or fighting, as Matt Freedman does by performing and discussing or is is simply laying in a hospital bed waiting for the end? I'm not certain. The write up talks about "the communions with the mystery of being enacted by the dying" which would seem to imply that some secret will be revealed, but if it there was I never saw it.

I suspect that I am coming off as pretentious myself, inferring that I am somehow above it all, but I'm not. What I am trying to say is that what should have been and could have been a document about how people face their end has been rejiggered and redressed to try and make something "meaningful" and in a way mysterious. I don't see the meaning just long sequences that didn't really seem to have a point. When you get down to it I didn't see much in this film that I hadn't gotten in other, better, films.

I'm sure that the film will have it's champions, but I'm not going to be one of them.

In My Room (2018) NYFF 2018

I'm trying to decide why this film is playing at the New York Film Festival. Actually, I'm trying to figure out how anyone could choose to screen this film anywhere. There is nothing in the film that would make me think that any rational person could actually like it since it involves sequence after sequence that makes makes no logical sense on any level. While the NYFF write up describes this as "disarmingly realistic" this is probably the most unbelievable film I've seen all year and I say that after seeing some really WTF films. It is beyond stupid with a series of events from the first frame that tries your patience and sanity.

The plot of the film has a TV cameraman, Armin, who can't run a camera ending up as the last an on earth after something happens and leaves him, for a while anyway, all alone.

DOA from the opening sequence when he manages not to record the events he was sent out to record by turning off the camera when it should be on, the film then goes through a series of sequences that don't make a great deal of sense on any level.

While I was lost to the film with the stupid camera bit, the film lost me as  events happened that made no sense. Things as simple as how cars and motorcycles after the disappearance are neatly "crashed" with no signs bent metal made me shake my head. Worst of all Armin never ever questions what happened he just instantly acts as if he knows whats going on. Really?

Then there were whole sequences  like the gutting of a blind and deaf dog on a jagged piece of glass in a broken door that had me wanting to scream at the screen. It wasn't just the off screen animal cruelty, it was that for it to happen the dog would have had to walk across broken glass (which would later severely cut our hero's feet) and then try to leap over a piece of glass it couldn't see it need to leap over. There are time shifts that make no sense as Armin sees the dying dog, then walks next door to where the dog lived with it's owner, a hunter, to get a gun in the early part of the day and returns at night with the gun- where did the day go?

Of course Armin's behavior makes no sense as he finds that everyone is gone so, without really looking any where, goes upstairs and tries to kill himself with pills. He wakes up the next morning, cleans himself up then sets the house on fire and drives off...WTF?

Nothing makes any sort of sense if you think about any of it.

I've read reviews that have liked the film but I can't see anything they talk about in the film. It's supposed to be about being disillusioned and wanting a new life and getting it, but where is the disillusioned bit? Where is the  nightlife he is tired of? Its one scene. I'm convinced that anyone who liked the film read some press notes which explained it all for them. Whatever it is that people have responded to positively is not on the screen.

Even more messy than the director's film SLEEPING SICKNESS which went off the rails  repeatedly, this is a film that probably played best when it was still in the directors head..which is where it should have stayed.

IN MY ROOM is not recommended to anyone for any reason except as an example what happens when a film has no internal logic.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Slows (2018) NYFF 2018

Nicole Perlman’s THE SLOWS is a good science fiction film.

Set in a future where normal reproduction has been replaced with a scientific method where children are accelerated to adulthood, THE SLOWS follows an reporter who goes to the last place where people reproduce naturally. Once there she is forced to ponder what we have lost by not doing it in the old fashioned way.

While THE SLOWS is a solid little film, it breaks no real new ground. odds are any scifi fan worth their salt will have run across any number of similar post-apocalyptic tales  or ones that ponder what it is to be human. Despite not breaking new ground it is an entertaining short film that tells it’s story compellingly.

Worth a look.

Tom Surgal introduces and discusses his film FIRE MUSIC September 29th 2018 at the New York Film Festival 2018


Here, Surgal, Lin Culbertson, John Northrup, Dave Burrell and Dan Braun are interviewed by Kent Jones after the screening

Director Morgan Neville introduces his crew before THEY'll LOVE ME WHEN I'M DEAD NYFF 2018

In Brief: Student Athlete (2018)

Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's STUDENT ATHLETE is a look at the multi-billion dollar college sports industry from the position of the students who don't get paid, and are taken advantage of by the school who rake in boat loads of money.

A good primer on the really bad situation, many students live below the poverty level and the alluded to stepping stone to the pros really isn't there, since almost 100,000 people play college athletics but only just over 300 people made it to the NBA or NFL. This is a film that will piss you off big time.

On the other hand if you've seen any of the spate of inde films about the abuse of student athletes (such as Bob DeMars's THE BUSINESS OF AMATEURS) you'll have seen much of what is covered before. That isn't to say that STUDENT ATHLETE is bad, it's not, it's simply that if you've seen other docs you know what you are going to get.

What is important to note that while I have seen several other similar films, all of them played on the festival circuit or played small independent theaters where not a lot of eyes could see them. The fact that STUDENT ATHLETE is on HBO makes it vitally important because it is the first time many people will really be made aware of how the colleges are taking advantage of their students. to that end if you've never seen anything on the crisis- see this film.

STUDENT ATHLETE plays for the first time on HBO October 2nd at 10pm

Steve on Her Smell (2018) NYFF 2018

The word out of Toronto was not good regarding HER SMELL. Yea, some people liked it, but most writers, including Unseen's own Ariela Rubin hated it. While pretty much everyone said that the film did improve in the final half hour or forty minutes, most people said it was too little too late.

I mention the bad word out of Toronto because I went into the NYFF press screening with zero expectations. I was expecting a road accident- and on some level the film delivered that. On the other hand knowing it was a mess made me more forgiving. The film is a mess, but it kind of pulls it together in the end for an ending that is emotional, but which you hate because it never earns anything you feel.

Elizabeth Moss plays one of the most monstrous characters ever put on film. A horrifically self centered nut job, Moss runs over very one  she comes in contact.  She is cruel violent and nasty.  She starts as  monster and gets worse.  Over the course of three or four extended sequences we watch as her piss poor behavior drives everyone away and breaks her.  We then get two sequences that head toward a kind of redemption.

There are a lot of problems with the film and I could talk about them for several hours  but I'm not going to do that. What I do want to talk about three major problems.

The first problem is there is no clue as to why anyone would put up with Moss. She shits on everyone and everything to such a degree that there is no clue why anyone would put up with it. Its not because of her sterling character because she doesn't have one. Its not because of money because she is being sued by everyone and hasn't had a record in years.  No one would put up with the level of crap thrown at them by Moss. She is so horrible that we really don't want to watch her. I mean there is nothing there to make us want to watch her.

The second is Moss's performance. Yea she is great at playing batshit crazy. And yea she is affecting in the final scene but there is no modulation. There is no degree. Its all eleven. Yes its a show role that might nab her an Oscar nom, but honestly its a crap performance.  Its not just one note, or maybe two note, but it is also very calculated. You can see Moss not so much acting, but trying to work out how to go even crazier.  There is nothing behind her eyes other than a calculating actor trying to win her Oscar.

The last and most damning thing wrong with HER SMELL is the structure. Essentially five moments in time we know nothing other than what happens in them.  We get three scenes of a raging bitch on fiery wheels and then we get two scenes of redemption. The problem is Moss is so monstrous there is nothing there to suggest a reason why we should care. Why is she deserving of the love of everyone she dicked over? We never know.  Are we simply supposed to suddenly like her after she's raked her friends, family and the audience over the coals? Apparently.

While there is no doubt emotion in the final moments it is never truly earned. Yes we get a reason in those final minutes but to really feel good about accepting it  requires that we ignore everything else that happened, much like a when a child who brutally kills its parents turning around and asking for sympathy for now being an orphan. Its bogus and bull shit and it wrecks the film.

Should you see the film? If you want to be abused and tricked and shit on yes. And while I will grant you the final sequence works, everything else doesn't. I would skip it.



Maria by Callas (2018) NYFF 2018

The life of opera singer Maria Callas in her own words and recordings.

How you react to MARIA BY CALLAS will depend on what you want from the film.If you want a detailed biography of the great singer with all the little tidbit strung together in a perfect package then you are going to be disappointed. If you go into the film wanting to get  a general idea of the arc of her career and and to listen to her glorious voice then you will be delighted.

This is a wonderful collection of Callas  at the top of her game. Aria after aria is simply glorious. If you ever wanted to know why she was so adored this film, especially when seen with perfect sound, will reveal it to you. I was in heaven and I wanted to applaud after each piece.

As a biography this film is simply okay. Way too much is left out or glanced over. I understand this is all Callas' words but this film really could have used more details - I mean there is no mention of her siblings, or her mother's disappointment that Maria wasn't a boy and how that set her on the path to musical stardom. I really wanted more, especially since the film runs a solid two hours so there was no reason not to go into more detail.

And I do have to quibble with the decision to colorize a some but not all of the black and white footage. While not completely distracting it is annoying because everything is the same shade of yellow, blue and pinkish red.

In the end I like MARIA BY CALLAS a great deal but I am disappointed that I didn't love it. While great for what it is, it could have and should have been so much more.


Family Tour (2018) NYFF 2018

Based on director's Ying Liang's own experiences, FAMILY TOUR  tells the story of  a an exiled film director and her family who travel to Taiwan nominally for a screening of one of her films. In reality the trip is so they can shadow/meet her ailing mother who is on a trip with a Mainland Chinese group, without their being and suspicion.

A well done drama that hits all the right notes still kind of disappoints. Not because it's bad but because the film hits all of the thematic elements you expect it to exactly as you think it will. Being a long time fan of Asian film and a follower of Chinese politics I pretty much figured out how this was going to go and what it was going to say before I sat down to watch the film.

To be honest had the film not been playing the New York Film Festival I wouldn't have thought anything about it. but considering it is at NYFF and it is playing at the same house where the New York Asian Film Festival happens I'm left to wonder why the game wasn't raised. NYAFF's selections were much more challenging and thought provoking. NYFF should have one upped its sister at every turn.

My petty quibbles aside if you have a hankering FAMILY TOUR is quite good

Friday, September 28, 2018

Other Side of the Wind (2018) NYFF 2018

Orson Welles' THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is a mess. There are some brilliant moments in the film, and it kind of falls together as it goes on, but it's "attack" Hollywood doesn't really amount to much.

The film is supposed to be a kind of found footage film of the last night in the life of a famed director who died in a car crash. The footage was shot by all sorts of fans and press who were invited to his birthday party where the titled film, his latest project still unfinished due to the lead actor walking off, would be screened for them.

The film attempts to lay waste to the studio system, film fans, sycophants, actors, European films and everything else that was annoying Welles.

I honestly don't know what to say about the film because after a single viewing I really haven't gotten a handle on it. I know that people who have seen the companion film THEY'LL LOVE ME WHEN I'M DEAD have liked it more because that film acts as a keystone for understanding OTHER SIDE. Seeing it without the keystone the film is a jumble of ideas and scenes that work in fits in starts but never fully come together.  I've been told that Welles was trying to bash European cinema of the late 60's  but I don't think it worse since the film plays as a kind of American riff on 8 1/2 with a perfect aping of the style. If it's a bash it doesn't work because one of the things I really liked was Welles aping of the style to make a film that wasn't entirely his style.

The problem with the film is it is a lot of clips and snippets of conversations that kind of tell the story of the party and the attempt to figure out how to finish the film. The problem is some pieces are better than others as are some of the performances. You can tell that bits were pulled from all through the years long shooting since Rich Little keeps showing up in scenes. For those who don't know Little was originally cast in Peter Bogdanovich's role so his appearance becomes a tad surreal.

I do have to say that as much as the film is a mess, I do weirdly like it. There is an intelligence at work and the film is clearly an attempt to be about something. Yes it is frozen in the late 60's early 70's sensibilities but at the same time there is a genuineness to it. There are also some wicked exchanges and discussions that are raw and naked and very funny.

Is the film worth seeing? Yes. More so if you can see it on a big screen where the aspect ratio changes can really be felt. Just remember that the film is more an interesting footnote than a lost masterpiece.  Honestly, cast aside, had this not been an Orson Welles film we would never have seen this at all.

The Favourite (2018) NYFF 2018

Two cousins attempt to win favor and control Queen Anne of England in Yorgos Lanthimos’s THE FAVOURITE, which opens the New York Film Festival tonight.

The film has Emma Stone making her way to the court of Queen Anne in order to ask her highly placed cousin Rachel Weisz for a job. Stone’s father has fallen into ruin (he lost her to a German gambler on a bet) and she is hoping that her cousin will take pity on her. At first Weisz gives her a job as a scullery maid, but as circumstance presents itself Stone climbs up the ladder winning the ear of the queen and ultimately replacing her cousin in a place of power.

Filled with bitchy lines and wicked turns of plot (and based on history) the film is a kind of 17th century version of THE WOMEN, only meaner. The dialog is so good that I suspect that numerous lines will end up being quoted from here on out. Equally good are the three leads (Stone, Weisz and Olivia Colman as the Queen) who play a grand game of one upsmanship pushing each other in to the realm of Oscar contention and more importantly into cinema legend.

While the darkly comedic film is being touted as a sure fire Oscar contender for Best Picture I think people are putting the cart before the horse. While there is no doubt the film is very good, it’s a little too idiosyncratic to fully win the hearts and minds of the whole Academy and, for that matter, many average film goers. This is a film that critics love but which leave most others shaking their heads at all the love. I think Hubert Vigilia’s description of the film as Monty Python’s Barry Lyndon is strangely apt.

Personally I like the film but I don’t love it. To me it’s a film that it much too calculating to wholly work with some intentional anachronisms in language and behavior (not to mention disco dancing) thrown in randomly for no really good reason other than to provoke a laugh. I also have severe problems with the plotting (especially in the third act) which has too much happen much too fast. Stone’s drunken turn into a monster overnight just doesn’t work as does most of the plot turns which seem to be dropped in a desperate need to keep the film at two hours. For me the film has the feeling of a lightweight Peter Greenaway film with it exploring themes of power and privilege he covered in films like BABY OF MACON or GOLTZIUS AND THE PELICAN COMPANY (or even NIGHTWATCHING).

Is it worth seeing? Yes. There is much in the film that is as good as you’ve no doubt heard. On the other it’s not quite the complete triumph that the other critics are proclaiming from the ledges that they have gone out on.

Domain

It is sort was sort of like winning the ultimate reality TV survival game, except maybe winners weren’t so lucky. After the doomsday plague broke out, 5,000 lottery winners were placed in sealed bunkers and connected to six other survivors via the communication system known as the “Domain.” Survival has been more of a mental challenge for Phoenix and her six fellow lucky drawers, but they might start to face physical issues as well in screenwriter-director Nathaniel Atcheson’s Domain, which opens today in Los Angeles.

Phoenix is stuck with a really motley group of survivors. Somewhere, along the way, they stopped using names and started referring to each by the city their bunker is located in. Orlando is an aggressively obnoxious jerk, who recently confessed to his criminal past. He is definitely the worst of the group, but Chicago has also been exhibiting anti-social tendencies. At least she has Denver, with whom she has commenced a seriously long-distance relationship. That has caused a bit of jealousy in Boston, who takes his position as their ostensive leader very seriously.

Over Phoenix’s objections, the group votes to disconnect Orlando from their feeds. Presumably, this is a massive violation of protocol, but Denver’s hacking prowess makes it possible. Unfortunately, bugs start developing in the system shortly thereafter, suggesting they may have upset the Domain’s equilibrium. As the glitches become progressively more serious, Phoenix and Denver start considering the possibility of escape.

The first two-thirds of Domain are quite cleverly conceived and tightly executed. These (for the most part) six bunkers feel like a real living environment, as well as a hermetically sealed ecosystem unto itself. However, Atcheson sort of writes himself into a corner, which forces him to fall back on a derivative cop-out third act reveal.

Brit Lower is terrific as Phoenix, balancing strength and vulnerability in equal measure. She develops some remarkably potent (though necessarily chaste) chemistry with Ryan Merriman’s Denver. William Gregory Lee also portrays the risk-averse Boston with surprising depth and dimension.

Even though the laws governing their situation do not make a great deal of sense, but Atcheson scrupulously observes them—and in some cases explanations will be revealed later. Yet, the film really works best when things are murky and mysterious. Recommended as an interesting near-future, slightly-dystopian film (one that is more about the social and psychological implications of extreme situations), Domain opens today (9/28) in LA, at the Laemmle Music Hall.

What You Gonna To Do When The World's on Fire? (2018) NYFF 2018

It begins and ends with the preparation for Mardi Gras. We begin and end kind in the same place where some things have changed but not a lot, and little of it for good. And in between we spend a stark year with a group of people trying desperately to not only get by but also stay alive.

One of the opening images is of brothers Ronoldo and Titus in haunted house trying to convince themselves not to be afraid. It is an image of the boys where their masks slip and the make believe horrors over take their ability to remain stoic. It is the sort of image that many will claim is kind of cliche and obvious, and it is, but at the same time there are times when "cliches" are so perfect that you have to use them because they carry a great deal of weight. Here is speaks volumes about what we are going to see.

WHAT YOU GONNA TO DO WHEN THE WORLD IS ON FIRE? is the story of several people in New Orleans trying to not just survive but thrive in a world where people are dying and the system seems/clearly is rigged against them. There are the two teen brothers and their mom who are trying to stay alive in a neighborhood where shootings are regular and as the film starts five people were shot just down the block. There is Judy, who is trying to keep her family afloat and save her bar before it’s snapped up by the creditors who have it in for her. Kevin, who is trying to keep the traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians alive. And there is the local Black Panthers, trying to fight the rampant racism and turn the community around.

Getting better as it goes on, WHAT YOU GONNA TO DO.... is rude wake up call for anyone who isn't living the life depicted...which is going to be the vast majority of the people seeing this film (especially at the New York Film Festival which has a much too expensive ticket for anyone in the film to see). If you are not person of color living in financially desperate circumstance this film is going to be a jarring because you really don't know what it's like-- no matter how many TV news stories you've watched, New Yorker think pieces you've read or previous documentaries you've seen.

Five minutes in to the film it was clear we are nowhere near any sort of look at race and poverty in America that has come out previously. Yes there have been other films, some observational, some political,but there have been very few as immersive and as powerful as this. We are in the lives of these people for better and worse. There are no grand triumphs just the endless fight to remain safe.

Truthfully I am beyond words. Partly because of the films power and largely because I don't feel that I have any right to say anything about the film. I am a white male, thus part of the problem. What right do I have to say anything about what is in the film?  Even saying I am a film writer does not give me the sort of credibility to say anything other than "Just see this film".

See this film not just because it is good but because if you are a caring human being you need to know how wrong things really are.

One of the most important films at the New York Film Festival and of 2018.

(Hopefully the people in the ivory towers who can afford to see this at NYFF will actually try to do something instead of simply saying that was nice before moving on to the next film.)

Memphis Belle (1944) New York Film Festival 2018

My first viewing of Memphis Belle was when the feature film came out in 1990. With every girl I knew running off to see the Hollywood big screen historical epic the original documentary that in spired it was making the rounds on TV and on home video. I found the film to be a very good look at the war and the men who fought it. It was for me very much of the time.

While I will never one to rave about the film I understand that my viewing of the film the first time, some 45 years after the fact colored how I saw it. I have the weight of history pressing down on me. I’d seen hundreds of documentaries on the war and read dozens of books. I had a steady stream of images from the war coming in to me….

…which is not how audiences originally saw the film. Sitting at home in America most people only saw photos in the papers and maybe a fleeting image or two in the news reels. Seeing what was technically a feature film (it runs 45 minutes five minutes longer than the Academy’s cut off for shorts) about their sons and brothers flying into harm’s way rocked their world. There was no way they were prepared for what they saw. No wonder the crew was turned into instant heroes.

It would be easy to bitch and moan about the exploitation of the flyers for the governments end but honestly we were at war- and the guys were truly heroic.

You’re probably wondering why I’m pondering Memphis Belle, simple, it’s playing the New York Film Festival this year along with THE COLD BLUE which was cut from Wiliam Wyler’s leftover footage. As I write this I haven’t seen the new film, only the original classic film so I can’t tie them together. I can only ponder a film I’ve seen probably a half dozen times and try to come up with something to say to make you want to see it at NYFF. I really can’t come up with anything new to say just that its really good and if you’ve never seen it you should. While that may not sound like much of a reason, once you see the film you’ll be glad which will be enough of a reason to go.

Memphis Belle screens this Saturday and Sunday at NYFF

Thursday, September 27, 2018

American Dharma (2018) NYFF 2018

Errol Morris sits down to talk to Steve Bannon about his life, politics and movies.

Infuriating portrait of former Brietbart editor and Trump adviser Bannon will have you talking to the screen. At the press screening I attended numerous people talked back to the screen on numerous occasions. Morris lets the man talk and explain himself and the result is a film that is much grayer than anything you'll see in any of the news reports you'll see.

I went into the film absolutely despising the man,  but kind ended up giving him some respect for what he says he is trying to do. The problem is he  really never explained how he was going to achieve it. Worse, Morris never specifically challenged him as to why if he was for the little guy he was on the side of big business and modern robber barons like the Koch brothers.

As a film on it's own terms it is good but nowhere near great. Morris' presentation is too scattershot and unfocused to completely work. There is no progression simply just allover the place discussion. Its interesting but never wholly satisfying.

I don't know what to say beyond that. Any decision to see the film is going to have to be based on your own personal views and not really the quality of the film

Touch of Zen NYFF 2018

Three years after it last played the New York Film Festival a Touch of Zen is back screening as part of the Pierre Rissient side bar. Because I’m actually going to try and get to see the film at the festival this time and because I think you should too here is the piece I did three years ago arguing as to why you should see the film at the festival.

Female fugitive on the run is pursued by the agents of the men who killed her family. Hooking up with a painter and a monk she struggles to get revenge

When King Hu made A TOUCH OF ZEN I doubt very much he thought he was changing the world forever. I'm very serious, for better or worse changed the world.

Why?

Quite simply A TOUCH OF ZEN is the film that pretty much codified the historical wu xia film as we know it. All of those films from the 1970's and 80's came from this film. There is a through line or at least a dividing line, films before and films after. You have real settings, characters that re more than cartoons, fights that enhance the plot, and the film was technically a notch above everything else. It upped the ante and showed everyone what could be done. People copied it and in so doing started to revamp a genre that would influence culture the world over.

Yes I know that this is a wild over simplification, so don't send me nasty letters. I'm trying to get people to go and see it not to provide the be all and end all historical record.

The film is a trip... and it's also really long. The film is 200 minutes. Its a breezy 200 minutes so don't worry.

If you've never seen this you need to make an effort to do so

The Negotiation


We’ve all seen enough movies to make us think we could be hostage negotiators too. All you have to do is keep them on the phone talking, right? There’s probably a little more to it than that, like special psychological training for when a hostage is brutally murdered in front of you. Inspector Ha Chae-yoon could never get used to that part, so she tried to tender her resignation. Instead, she is assigned to hostage crisis with touchy political sensitivities in Lee Jong-suk’s The Negotiation, which opens this Friday in New York.

Cha was supposed to be on vacation during the tragic opening standoff, but she duly hurried back. She will take an extended leave afterward, but neither Captain Jung or their Superintendent, Ahn Hyuk-soo is willing to accept her resignation. She therefore has little choice when summoned for another hostage crisis, but this time she will be dealing with the hostage taker remotely from the NIS operations center.

Notorious arm dealer Min Tae-gu has taken at least two hostages: Captain Jung and Lee Sang-mok, a muckraking reporter investigating Min’s operations—at least that is what Inspector Ha is told. However, it quickly become clear the NIS is covertly involved in Min’s drama, in ways that would embarrass the agency if made public. Even though the NIS and top government officials are clearly lying to her, the Inspector will try to keep Min talking for fourteen hours, until the strike force reaches his Southeast Asian hideout.

Frankly, The Negotiation makes The Negotiator (with Kevin Spacey) look downright Pollyannaish by comparison. Thanks to its unapologetically cynical portrayal of the national government and security services, it could practically pass for a sequel to Woo Min-ho’s Inside Men. Obviously, Koreans have little to absolute zero faith and confidence in their current government, because that is vividly reflected in their recent thrillers, most definitely including The Negotiation and Inside Men.

Regardless, the film is a grand slam showcase for Son Ye-jin, who is terrific as Inspector Ha. She brings out all of Ha’s insecurities, while still maintaining her intelligence and grit. Hyun-Bin also does some of his best work to date in what is being billed as his first portrayal of a villain. Of course, Min quickly becomes a rather ambiguous figure, but he is totally riveting nonetheless. Kim Sang-ho still has his crazy Einstein look going on, but he plays Superintendent Ahn mostly straight, with only a little bit of put-upon shtick. Lee Shi-A is also quite compelling as Yoo Yeon-joo, the tragic mystery woman, whose fate looms large over the burgeoning crisis.

Yes, there is a reason why dark thrillers are one of South Korea’s top exports, along with Hyundai cars and Samsung smart phones. They are nearly always tight and tense, but distinguished by strong characters and a fatalistic sensibility. In this case, Son and Hyun-bin really power it along. Enthusiastically recommended, The Negotiation opens this Friday (9/28) in New York at the AMC Empire.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

NEWFEST, NEW YORK'S LGBT FILM FESTIVAL, ANNOUNCES FULL LINEUP FOR THEIR LANDMARK 30TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL

New York, NY (September 21, 2018) – Following the announcement of their Opening Night Film, Yen Tan’s award-winning AIDS drama 1985, NewFest today announced the full lineup of their 30th annual celebration of the year’s best LGBT films from around the world. The program of more than 140 narrative features, documentaries, episodic series and shorts runs from October 24-30 at the SVA Theatre, Cinépolis Chelsea, and The LGBT Community Center in New York City.

This year’s NewFest will feature several other galas and special screenings, including the New York Centerpiece screening of Ondi Timoner’s MAPPLETHORPE, starring Emmy®-nominee Matt Smith (“Doctor Who”, THE CROWN) about the iconic queer artist; and the U.S. Centerpiece screening of Joel Edgerton’s BOY ERASED, starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Flea and Xavier Dolan.

Other gala presentations include the International Centerpiece and New York premiere of Wanuri Kahiu’s groundbreaking love story RAFIKI, which screened at Cannes and was originally banned in its home country of Kenya for depicting a relationship between two young women, and the New York City premiere of Documentary Centerpiece film DYKES, CAMERA, ACTION!, which will be followed by a conversation on female representation in the film industry and lesbian visibility in cinema.

The festival will close on October 30th with the New York premiere of Robert Clift and Hillary Demmon’s documentary MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT, which is co-directed by the late Hollywood star’s nephew and features exclusive archival footage and audio interviews from the family’s archives.

“Looking back at our history and the voices which shaped our community over 30 years is as important as focusing on emerging filmmakers and stories,” said NewFest Executive Director Robert Kushner. "This year's slate of films, from anniversary screenings to the powerful lineup of contemporary cinema from international and domestic filmmakers, all serve as beacons of representation along our journey from the AIDS crisis in the 80's to the current geo-political challenges--and ultimately the next 30 years where full representation and acceptance of our community is in place."

“As an art form, film has always illuminated the world around us and has been an integral part of our progression as a society,” said Director of Programming Lucy Mukerjee. “LGBT content creators are continuing to use their vision to help build a more inclusive world. We are so proud to bring together this exceptional showcase of work for the 30th anniversary edition of NewFest.”

This year's edition continued in the tradition of receiving submissions from around the world, with films and episodic programming coming from 32 countries. In addition, 60% of content is by and about underrepresented voices (Women, People of Color, Trans, Bi and Differently Abled). Overall, the festival will screen 46 feature length films (including over 80% of feature works from first-time feature filmmakers, such as, Caroline Berler Tchaiko Omawale and Jonah Greenstein), 89 shorts and 9 episodic series, including the French Canadian production FÉMININ/FÉMININ by Chloé Robichaud, for a total of 144 selections. The US Narrative, International Narrative and Documentary Feature sections will include 10 films in each group, with 18 countries represented, including new works from Canada, Brazil, Germany, Finland, Norway, Peru, Switzerland, Colombia, South Africa, Paraguay, Uruguay, France, Kosovo, Spain, Sweden, Kenya, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“The ever increasing vibrancy of international LGBT filmmaking elevates us all and this year’s festival entries are a strong statement that the issues of representation and inclusion are being addressed by our community all over the world,” said NewFest’s Programming and Operations Manager Nick McCarthy. “With so many international filmmakers tackling social, political and personal issues in their own cultures, it’s thrilling to be able to expose our New York audience to these important and life-changing stories and invite them to experience new perspectives through the power of cinema.”

The International Narrative Features section includes the New York premieres of Anne Fontaine’s Venice Film Festival Queer Lion winner REINVENTING MARVIN (featuring a turn by Isabelle Huppert as…Isabelle Huppert) and 2018 Berlinale Teddy Award for Best Feature winner HARD PAINT from Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon (NewFest alums for 2016’s “The Nest”), as well as 2018 Berlinale Teddy Award for Best First Feature winner RETABLO from Alvaro Delgado Aparicio. Other premieres include the New York premiere of two films submitted for next year’s Academy Awards®: Marcelo Martinessi’s THE HEIRESSES from Paraguay and Blerta Zeqiri’s Kosovoan entry THE MARRIAGE; as well as Jamie Patterson’s TUCKED, another New York premiere, which picked up multiple awards at this year’s Outfest, including the Best Narrative Audience Award and the International Feature Grand Jury Prize which it shared with HARD PAINT.

This year’s Documentary Features section is particularly strong and features some of the best new trans and non-binary stories from the U.S. and around the world, including T Cooper’s MAN MADE, about trans fitness models, which picked up the Best Documentary Feature Audience Award at Outfest 2018, Kiko Goifman and Claudia Priscila’s BIXA TRAVESTY, about the political activism of black Brazilian transgender singer Linn da Quebrada (Teddy Award for Best Documentary/Essay Film, Berlinale 2018), and SIDNEY & FRIENDS, Tristan Aitchison’s look at an underground network of trans and intersex people fighting to survive on the edge of Kenyan society.

Also featured are the North American premiere of Gustavo Sánchez’s I HATE NEW YORK (Spain, 2018), which features New York nightlife luminarie Amanda Lepore; the East Coast premiere of Matt Alber and Jon Garcia’s ROOM TO GROW about what it means to be an LGBT teen in today’s world, and Jeff Kaufman’s EVERY ACT OF LIFE, a profile of multi-Tony Award®-winning playwright Terrence McNally, featuring appearances by Meryl Streep, Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski, Bryan Cranston, Patrick Wilson, Angela Lansbury and Rita Moreno.

A hallmark of every NewFest is the bringing of new work to New York audiences, highlighting the emerging voices of queer cinema and 80% of the films in this year’s U.S. Narrative Features section are either New York, East Coast, or World premieres, and 9 of 10 films are from first or second-time filmmakers. In addition, in keeping with this year’s emphasis on inclusion, diversity and representation, 4 of the 10 films have female directors and 6 feature female leads.

NewFest’s commitment to bringing new films from around the world to New York audiences has never waivered and this year’s edition is no different. With the ever decreasing cost of technology and ever increasing reach of the Internet, previously underrepresented countries and communities are finding their voices like never before. As a result, more and more films like Wanuri Kahiu’s RAFIKI, a story (written with Jenna Cato Bass) about the first love between two women in Kenya are seeing the light, as well as films like Christiaan Olwagen’s South African Apartheid-set musical CANARY and Ruth Caudeli’s EVA + CANDELA (Colombia), to name but a few.

Of course, no NewFest would be complete without a few frightfully scary queer offerings and this year’s HalloKween sidebar is no exception! Featuring the New York Premiere of Drew Bolton’s KILLER UNICORN, a satirical stab at the slasher flick featuring a bevy of Brooklyn drag queens; NewFest alum Yann Gonzalez’s Cannes competition entry KNIFE + HEART (starring Vanessa Paradis); and the New York premiere of CARMILLA: THE MOVIE, based on the lesbian vampire web series sensation.

Continuing its long tradition of working with many New York City organizations, this year NewFest partnered with over 100 organizations across the city to bring audiences some of their most exciting programs, including HIP TO BE QUEER: Youth Shorts, presented by the NYC Department of Education and in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment; a Spotlight Screening & Conversation of Dir. Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson’s multiple award-winning TRANSMILITARY presented in partnership with GLAAD, and a screening of CONVERSATIONS WITH GAY ELDERS: DANIEL, a new film from NewFest alum David Weissman (WE WERE HERE, THE COCKETTES), presented in partnership with The Generations Project.

See the full lineup below:

2018 Indie Memphis Film Festival Announces Full Slate


Images from IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, CABIN BOY, MR. SOUL!, BETTY: THEY SAY I’M DIFFERENT, ENTRIALGO, JOBE’Z WORLD (Clockwise from Top Left)


2018 Festival to Screen Five World Premieres, In Addition to Excitingly Diverse Roster of Special Events


(September 25, 2018 | Memphis, TN) Indie Memphis Film Festival is pleased to announce the full slate of films for its 2018 incarnation, spanning from November 1st - 5th, 2018. This year’s festival promises to be a very exciting and wildly varied one, featuring five World Premiere screenings and one U.S. Premiere screening, as well as Special Presentations such as CABIN BOY with Chris Elliott in attendance and Barbara Loden’s feminist masterpiece WANDA presented by Amy Seimetz (Showtime’s “The Girlfriend Experience”), as well as a retrospective of the recent films of filmmaker Hong Sangsoo.

The Opening Night film is Melissa Haizlip and Samuel D. Pollard’s MR. SOUL!, a documentary chronicling Ellis Haizlip, the host of a groundbreaking weekly TV show called SOUL! that aired from 1968-1973, Barry Jenkins’ IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK as the Centerpiece Presentation, and Andrew Bujaski’s SUPPORT THE GIRLS as the Closing Night selection, followed by Bujalski presenting the “Indie Memphis Actor of the Year” award for an unforgettable role by a promising new performer to one of the film’s stars, Shayna McHayle (aka Junglepussy). As previously announced, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU filmmaker Boots Riley will be the festival’s keynote speaker for the Black Creatives Forum as well as presenting BRAZIL (1985, Terry Gilliam). The festival also includes 165 short films and over 50 music videos.

"The 21st edition of Indie Memphis Film Festival marks considerable growth for our organization, as we continue to build programs that support the development of filmmakers,” says Indie Memphis Executive Director, Ryan Watt. “Miriam Bale and Brighid Wheeler have formed arguably the richest festival slate in our history. I'm so excited to talk with the audiences and artists during this year's Indie Memphis experience."

This year’s festival should prove to be a very diverse one, as fifty percent of the films in the Narrative Competition are directed by female-identifying filmmakers and fifty percent are directed by people of color; in the Documentary Competition, forty-three percent are directed by women and seventy-one percent by people of color. In addition to films from the United States, the festival also boasts titles from Spain, France, South Korea, Israel, Germany, Australia, Zambia, United Kingdom, Portugal, Canada, and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Senior Programmer Miriam Bale says, “I’m really proud of this lineup put together by our screening committee and our all-women programming team. We made an effort to seek out films that were a little wild or challenging, or that offered something we hadn’t seen in films. We also aimed to decolonize the festival film, seeking out filmmakers who were exploring their own communities whenever possible.”

The 2018 slate was unveiled publicly on the evening of September 25th at the venue Rec Room in Memphis, TN. For more information, please visit http://indiememphis.com/.


The full roster of 2018 Indie Memphis Film Festival is below

2018 Indie Memphis Film Festival Slate
Alphabetical by Category


OPENING NIGHT

MR. SOUL! (Dirs. Melissa Haizlip, Samuel D. Pollard)

Before Oprah - Before Arsenio - there was Mr. SOUL! Ellis Haizlip makes television broadcast history with SOUL!, America's first "black Tonight Show." Featuring archive footage of Sidney Poitier, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Harry Belafonte, among others. Filmmaker Melissa Haizlip in attendance.
2018, 90 min, Documentary


CENTERPIECE

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (Dir. Barry Jenkins)

After her fiancé is falsely imprisoned, a pregnant young woman in Harlem sets out to clear his name and prove his innocence.
2018, 117 min, Drama


CLOSING NIGHT

SUPPORT THE GIRLS (Dir. Andrew Bujalski)

The general manager at a highway-side ''sports bar with curves" has her incurable optimism and faith, in her girls, her customers, and herself, tested over the course of a long, strange day. Filmmaker Andrew Bujalski will present “Indie Memphis Actor of the Year” award to Shayna McHayle (aka Junglepussy).
2018, 94 min, Comedy


NARRATIVE COMPETITION

CLARA’S GHOST (Dir. Bridey Elliott)

Set over the course of a single evening in the Reynolds family home in suburban Connecticut, Clara's Ghost tells the story of Clara Reynolds who, fed up with constant ribbing from her self-absorbed showbiz family, finds solace in and guidance from the supernatural force she believes is haunting her. Filmmaker Bridey Elliott in attendance. Actors Abby Elliott, Chris Elliott, and Paula Niedert Elliott in attendance.
2018, 98 min, Comedy/Drama

JINN (Dir. Nijla Mumin)
A shape-shifting, pepperoni-loving, black teenage Instagram celebrity explores her identity and sexuality in the midst of her mother's conversion to Islam. Filmmaker Nijla Mumin in attendance.
2018, 92 min, Drama

JOBE’Z WORLD (Dir. Michael Bilandic) - World Premiere
Jobe is a roller-blading delivery dude in NYC who, one endless night, delivers drugs to his favorite actor, Royce David Leslie. Filmmaker Michael Bilandic in attendance.
2018, 67 min, Comedy

NEW MONEY (Dir. Jason B. Kohl)
A struggling woman abducts her estranged father after he cuts her out of his will.
2018, 85 min, Drama/Thriller

SEPULVEDA (Dirs. Jena English, Brandon Wilson)
An existential urban road movie about three best friends who decide to drive L.A.' s longest street. Filmmaker Brandon Wilson in attendance.
2016, 82 min, Comedy/Drama

SHOOT THE MOON BETWEEN THE EYES (Dir. Graham Carter) - World Premiere
Jerry and Carl have conned their way from one small Texas town to another. The plan for their final con goes haywire when one of them falls in love with Maureen, all while there’s a bumbling P.I. out for vengeance and hot on their trail. Filmmaker Graham Carter in attendance.
2018, 73 min, Comedy/ Drama /Musical/Romance

SOLACE (Dir. Tchaiko Omawale)
A 17-year-old orphan named Sole is shipped off to her estranged grandmother (Lynn Whitfield from EVE’S BAYOU) in Ladera Heights, Los Angeles. Sole plots her escape to New York while navigating a foreign environment, new friendships and a hidden eating disorder. Filmmaker Tchaiko Omawale in attendance.
2018, 127 min, Drama


DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

The Golden Job: The Young and Dangerous Cast Gets Fast and Furious

Just imagine if Vin Diesel were betrayed by a member of his “family” in the Fast and the Furious franchise. That is about what happens to the other four sworn brothers who make up an elite free-lance team of mercenaries with vaguely criminal roots. It also happens to be a reunion of cast-members from the Young and Dangerous HK films series in its prime, but this is an entirely unrelated narrative. A heist will go down really, really wrong in Chin Ka-lok’s The Golden Job, which opens this Friday in New York.

After an assignment for a big pharma company ends in disaster (possibly because the plan is utterly inexplicable), the Fab Five stop sub-contracting for the man and go back to their indie roots, answering only to Cho, their “Papa” in whatever it is they do. Their first operation on their own will be a pro-bono gig, knocking over a truckload newly developed super-medicine, so their leader Lion can deliver it to Dr. Chow, the NGO doctor working in Africa he has been intermittently romancing.

The job went off without a hitch, but when they look in the back of the truck, they find gold bullion instead of medicine. Clearly, leaving the intel and logistics to Bill, the roguish corner-cutting bro, was a mistake. Lion, Calm, Crater, and Mouse all express their disappointment. Inevitably, their confrontation turns into a slam-bang gun fight that seriously wounds Papa Cho. Bill absconds with the gold, which he uses to set himself up as a crime lord in Montenegro. Alas, the rest of his brothers are left holding the bag, but we know there is no way they will leave things that way.

One thing is undeniable, Chin likes to drive fast. Golden Job is not exactly a staggering work of originality, but it aims to please with plenty of energetically staged car chases, shootouts, and multiple old school fight sequences. The action is high octane all the way, with Chin choreographing a number of neat stunts.

As Crater, Jordan Chan broods with ferocious intensity, while Michael Tseng’s Bill chews the scenery with outsider relish. Jerry Lamb’s hacker Mouse is nearly as underwritten as Charmaine Sheh’s Dr. Chow, but who cares? Ekin Chan is still quite charismatic and has mucho action chops as Lion and Calm’s specialty (as played by Chin) is getaway driving, so what more do we need? Plus, Eric Tsang tones down the shtick as Papa Cho. As a bonus, veteran Japanese character actor Yasuaki Kurata gets an unlikely action showcase as Cho’s elderly but still steely Japanese neighbor.

You need no familiarity with the Y&D films to enjoy Golden Job, but you had better enjoy old school throw-downs. It might be an angsty time of betrayal for the “brothers,” but it is a lot of fun to watch. Recommended for fans of classic HK action films, The Golden Job opens this Friday (9/28) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

INTRODUZIONE ALL’OSCURO (2018) NYFF 2018

With INTRODUZIONE ALL’OSCURO director Gastón Solnicki becomes one of my favorite filmmakers. Like his previous film, Kékszakállú which played the New York Film Festival two years ago, Solnicki has made a film that requires you to take a step back and ponder not only the subject, in this case his friend Hans Hurch but also the nature of film itself.

When Solnicki learned of his friends death  he traveled to Europe to visit all of the places and things that meant something to him.  Adding in recording of Hurch's voice the film becomes something other than a typical biography. This is not a catalog of events, but an attempt to kind of recreate the feeling one got from being with the person. Yes a person did certain things but what we remember as friends are not the things but the sensations we got from them,say from just seeing their handwriting or going to a place they loved. Hurch was something much much more to Solnicki than events and as a result with INTRODUZIONE ALL’OSCURO, he tries to make us feel what he did.

I don't think I've ever quit seen a film like this before. Certainly I've not seen a cinematic biography where I've walked away from it feeling as though I've gotten to know a person without really ever getting to know someone. Solnicki has done something that is rare in cinema or even biography and made a film where we walk out of the film and feel as though we've just hung out with the person profiled. There is this tactile quality to the film that it leaves us feeling as though we have been in the room with Hurch.  No, we don't get to know everything there is to know about the achievements of the writer, but we get, more importantly I think, a sense of who the man was as some one to interact with. This is the man who lived not the man who achieved.

I am kind of in awe of what this film has done, which is rewrite what you think biography should be. Should we just concentrate on the subject's achievements or should we try to find out who they are or were? I think in many cases knowing the second is more important because it explains and sort of contradictions in lives. By knowing the person we see them as not gods or figureheads but human beings, which I think is much more important.

INTRODUZIONE ALL’OSCURO delights. It is one of the best films at this years New York Film Festival because it opens your eyes and makes you see the world in a new way.  That the film is being shunted off to a side bar showing is kind of a sin because this is a film that needs to be seen and discussed.

The film is playing one time this Sunday at the New York Film Festival and is highly recommended.
For more information and tickets go here.

The Red House (1947) NYFF 2018

I first saw THE RED HOUSE by accident.

Way back when there were only VHS tapes and not DVD Bluray or digital down loads I would travel the length and breadth of Long Island to find the movies I was looking for. One day I was in some mom and pop store miles from home I rented a stack of films and one of them was not supposed to be The Red House. Unwilling to schlep back to the store for one film I sucked it up and watched it. Not surprisingly I enjoyed it, so much so that I’ve seen it a couple of time in the almost 30 years since I saw it and certain shots remain burned in my brain.

The plot is potboiler having Edward G Robinson and his sister raising his adopted daughter far from the neighboring town. While there is nothing outwardly wrong, they are still cautious especially about the red house located deep in the woods which they try to keep away from prying eyes. When the red house is discovered by the daughter’s beau, and curiosity gets the better of everyone, the sins of the past appear to be close to being discovered.

Actually selling it as just a potboiler is wrong since this is really a film noir dressed up as gothic potboiler. All the tropes are here with crimes gone wrong, karma coming back to get the hero and all the arty darkness. It’s a sordid little tale and you may want to take a bath afterward.

I really like the film a great deal and as I said at the top this is a film I return to time and again.

Highly recommended- more so since the film is playing on the big screen at the New York Film Festival Saturday where its dark goodness will get a screening worthy of a survivor of 70 years.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Jean Rollin Retrospective + Cinema's Sapphic Vampires at the Quad October 18 - November 1

This October the Quad salutes the lurid eroticism of Jean Rollin with a retrospective including Fascination, Requiem for a Vampire, and Lips of Blood

Plus a survey of sapphic vampire films indebted to Rollin's aesthetic with titles including The Hunger, Lust for a Vampire, Daughters of Darkness and more!

Très Outré: The Sinister Visions of Jean Rollin

October 18 – 23
French film history has more than its share of mavericks, but it has a special place for those few who worked in the realm of le cinéma fantastique. While Jean Cocteau and Georges Franju defined and dominated this realm, their poetics never fully succumbed to the horror genre’s call of the wild—and it fell to Jean Rollin, their rightful but underrecognized heir, to take the next step with his dark, oneiric oeuvre. Women were at the center of Rollin’s cinematic universe, anchoring deliriously gothic scenarios of lust and bloodlust couched in a lush and disturbing visual style. At a time when French censorship was easing, the director had free rein to work through his sex-and-death obsessions with unprecedented explicitness, imbuing his images with a gorgeous eroticism that can lull—at least until teeth are bared, whether metaphorically or literally. His dreamlike, seductive visuals and haunting tableaux have surely influenced subsequent filmmakers who favor horror that’s as serious as it is sensual. Just in time for Halloween, the Quad showcases a dozen of Rollin’s unique excursions into the surreal and uncanny; we will also be screening, in an accompanying series this month, movies that share and acknowledge his aesthetic.

The Demoniacs
Jean Rollin, 1974, France/Belgium, 77m, DCP

Fascination
Jean Rollin, 1979, France, 80m, DCP

The Grapes of Death
Jean Rollin, 1978, France, 85m, DCP

The Iron Rose
Jean Rollin, 1973, France, 86m, DCP

Lips of Blood
Jean Rollin, 1975, France, 88m, DCP

The Living Dead Girl
Jean Rollin, 1982, France, 86m, DCP

The Night of the Hunted
Jean Rollin, 1980, France, 87m, DCP

The Nude Vampire
Jean Rollin, 1970, France, 90m, DCP

The Rape of the Vampire
Jean Rollin, 1968, France, 95m, DCP

Requiem for a Vampire
Jean Rollin, 1971, France, 95m, DCP

The Shiver of the Vampires
Jean Rollin, 1971, France, 95m, DCP


A Woman’s Bite: Cinema’s Sapphic Vampires

October 26 – November 1
The Quad’s Jean Rollin Halloween parade is complemented with a bonus bevy of badass female vampires. Although the titillating concept of lady bloodsuckers had long captured the imagination of authors, it took the movies a couple of decades to catch on to what should have been an early-and-often component of the horror genre; in the U.S., female vampires were generally relegated to subsidiary appearances (if at all) in support of male overlords. It fell to European helmers to finally recognize the storytelling potential—and scour the historical and literary archives—for women driving their own narratives as princesses of darkness. And since male vampires had preyed on their share of male victims onscreen it stood to reason that same-sex distaff encounters would be exponentially more compelling. Quickly making up for lost time, throughout the 1970s and beyond genre moviemakers exploited both prurient and suspenseful dramatic interest in just how these lesbian couplings would play out. The resultant films showcased actresses on both sides of the vamp/prey divide, fascinating audiences of all genders and sexual orientations—and in the process became landmark depictions of sapphic desire and sexuality onscreen.

Blood and Roses
Roger Vadim, 1960, France/Italy, 87m, 35mm

The Blood-Spattered Bride
Vicente Aranda, 1972, Spain, 100m, 35mm

Daughters of Darkness
Harry Kümel, 1971, Belgium/France/West Germany, 87m, 35mm

Dracula’s Daughter
Lambert Hillyer, 1936, U.S., 71m, DCP

The Hunger
Tony Scott, 1983, UK/U.S., 97m, DCP

Lust for a Vampire
Jimmy Sangster, 1971, UK, 95m, 35mm (original UK version)

Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary
Juan López Moctezuma, 1975, Mexico, 101m, 35mm

Nadja
Michael Almereyda, 1994, U.S., 93m, 35mm

Vampire Ecstasy
Joseph W. Sarno, 1973, Sweden/Switzerland/West Germany, 103m, DCP

The Vampire Lovers
Roy Ward Baker, 1970, UK/U.S., 91m, 35mm

Vampyres
Joseph Larraz, 1974, UK/Spain, 87m, 35mm

Vampyros Lesbos
Franco Manera (Jess Franco), 1971, West Germany/Spain, 89m, 4K DCP

Poppies (2018)

A business man is seated next to an older Chinese woman. He simply wants to get his work done, however she wants to talk. As she relates her stories he falls into her tale  and over the course of a flight finds the power of stories to keep the people we love alive.

This is a beautiful small scale epic about life and how stories affect our lives. Acted to near perfection by Matthew Knowles and Cindera Che they grab your shirt pull you close and then make you get misty in the end.

I absolutely love this gem of a film.

Highly recommended.

POPPIES played this past weekend at the Canada China International Film Festival

It will play again at:

27 September at the Sacramento Film and Music Festival

29 September 2018: Edmonton International Film Festival at 1:00 pm

6 October 2018: San Pedro International Film Festival at 7:00 pm

12 October 2018: LA Femme International Film Festival at 12:00 noon

All About Nina (2018) opens Friday

This is a repost of my review from when I saw the film at Tribeca earlier this year.

Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is an acerbic comedian who is on her way to the top while her personal life implodes. Her relationships with men are truly awful and she is being stalked by an abusive married cop. Deciding to make a break she leaves New York and goes to LA to try to follow up on a chance for a big comedy show. Amazingly she also meets an open and honest good guy (Common) who scares the crap out of her but presents the possibility for happiness.

ALL ABOUT NINA surprises at every turn. What seems to be a typical look at a comedian trying to make it instead presents it self as a stunning character study. There is some very heavy material being presented here, often in a humorous fashion with the effect that by the end we are blindsided by how we feel as it all plays out. I was left feeling moved and slightly shell shocked at the rawness of some of the emotion revealed.

That the film works as well as it does is due in large part to the cast especially Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common who make their characters real people we really like. Winstead should be singled out and up for numerous awards with a performance that is deceptively simple (a comedian with issues? Piece of cake right?) but in fact reveals itself to be filled with very real and very raw emotion. She is not the typical by the numbers movie girl but one many of us know or are ourselves.

To be honest while this was on my list of films for Tribeca I was not in any rush to see it, however the PR person handling the film insisted that I needed to see the film sooner rather than later, and she was right. ALL ABOUT NINA was one of the best of films I saw at Tribeca and maybe 2018 as well .It is highly recommended

Monday, September 24, 2018

Ken Foster (2018)

Ken Foster is a Vancouver street artist who has been compared to Vincent Van Gogh. A mentally ill man with a drug addiction he paints some truly amazing pictures at a prolific rate. Foster’s prolific rate of production is a matter of survival since he needs the money to buy food, supplies and his next fix.

Charting Foster’s life over an 18 month period the film is a warts and all portrait of the man and his life. We see him painting, selling, and discussing his life. We also get to hear about the man from his family (Mother and daughter), friends, buyers and doctors. It’s a rough and raw portrait of a man somewhere past the edge. Everyone, including the man himself, would love Foster to be able to get clean and function but there are issues and problems, not the least of which is the fact that the antipsychotic drugs he’s on kill his ability to express himself creativity. That may not sound like a problem until you realize that for some people being able to create is everything. I’ve met several people over the years who have gone off their mental illness meds because they had to create and feel.

While Foster’s life can be seen as being similar to Richard Hambleton who was profiled I the film SHADOW MAN, Foster is a much more an agreeable sort of fellow. He’s a nice guy and it’s clear why he has friends and family who care about him. This is a film that is a walk on a side of life most of us don’t know nor want to know the film reveals the work of a great talent. Director Josh Laner' does our appreciation for the man and the artist a huge favor by showing us as rounded a portrait as possible. The fact we see all sides of Foster makes us like him for who he genuinely is. It also rips our hearts out because we know he shouldn’t have to live that sort of a life.

And then there is the art work. Fantastic portraits and stunning landscapes that delight the eye. That Foster turns them out with such ease is truly mind blowing. It kind of bogles the mind that he can create so much glorious art- that is something more than the typical factory art work of people like Thomas Kincade who use a style to just sell paintings without heart and soul. Foster’s art have a soul to them and an arresting quality. I love that Josh Laner shows us dozens and dozens of his paintings because while many are similar they are all unique.

KEN FOSTER the film is a wonderful portrait of an artist. While it’s gritty you are there style is not going to be for everyone, for those who click with it are going to be thrilled… so thrilled they may try to make a trip to Vancouver to buy some of his art.

KEN FOSTER is released on VOD and DVD Tuesday September 25.

306 Hollywood (2018) opens Friday

Evidence of the 1950s and 1960s was visibly apparent throughout Annette Ontell’s house. In contrast, you can see the influence of uber-postmodern aesthetics throughout the documentary her grandchildren made about her. Much of the film probably would have baffled Ontell, but she surely would have been proud of the sibling filmmakers anyway. Elan and Jonathan Bogarín consider their grandmother through the prisms of archaeology and fashion, while struggling to catalogue the resulting clutter in the Bogaríns’ 306 Hollywood, which opens Friday in theaters.

306 will be quite a programming challenge for many subsequent festivals. Ontell is an audience-pleasing kind of figure. For years, she put up with her husband, while building a reputation as an ultra-exclusive dress designer. Generally, she made only two of each chic frock—one for her Park Avenue clients and one for herself. They lived modestly, but comfortably in Newark at 306 Hollywood Avenue for decades. The Bogaríns also had the foresight to film her extensively during the last ten years of her lives. However, when it came time to box up the old house on Hollywood, the sibling filmmakers and their mother, Marilyn Ontell, were at a loss.

Every dress told a story and every knick-knack seemed to hint at a wider narrative. Their dilemma took on spiritual-metaphysical dimensions when told by various experts the souls of the dead linger in their homes for eleven months. The family decides to keep the house during that time, so they can commence a psychological excavation of everything Ontell accumulated. As part of the process, they solicit commentary from pop culture physicist Alan Lightman, funeral director Sherry Anthony, and fashion conservator Nicole Bloomfield.

The Bogaríns also incorporate a great deal of the footage they shot of Ontell in her late eighties and early nineties, some of which she would have probably preferred not to over-share. When a stray audio cassette is discovered, they even resort to using actors to lip-synch the scene. Yet, it is their representational collages that really would have made Ontell shake her head in confusion. They have cited Wes Anderson and Agnes Varda as influences, which definitely makes sense, that puts the film on the rather playfully experimental end of the spectrum, exactly where those most inclined to identify with Ontell will feel decidedly uncomfortable.

Yet, this is such a rarified work unto itself, it is impossible to identify anything that does not belong. Frankly, this is the sort of film that ought to be preserved in a terrarium, much like the dioramas it features. Indeed, its colorful stylistic eccentricities are refreshing to those of us who have done our time with Marker and his followers.

There is a lot of family love in 306 Hollywood that all viewers ought to be able to recognize and appreciate. There is also quite a bit of craftsmanship, some of which might be lost on its presumed target demo. If Ontell were not such a warm, motherly figure, we would definitely tag it as a better fit for experimentally minded documentary festivals like RIDM and DOXA, rather than Sundance. Recommended for viewers inclined to be both adventurous and sentimental.