Friday, November 30, 2018

Engagements December 2018 at the Quad

This December the Quad presents a 4K restoration of Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice; Alexis Bloom's riveting new documentary about Roger Ailes, Divide and Conquer; Dennis Scholl & Kareem Tabsch's colorful look at a lost era of Miami, The Last Resort, and the 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows

Death in Venice

Opens Fri December 14—U.S. premiere engagement of 4K restoration
Luchino Visconti, 1971, Italy, 130m, 4K DCP
Visconti’s masterly adaptation of Thomas Mann’s famed novella finds celebrated German composer Dirk Bogarde destroyed by his desire for an elusive, unattainable boy vacationing at his hotel on the Lido, the embodiment of his ideal of pure beauty. Totally consumed by longing, he fails to heed the warning signs of a cholera epidemic sweeping through the city. Visconti continues his exploration of physical and spiritual disintegration in this haunting excursion into romantic pessimism. A Warner Bros. release

In English, Italian, Polish, and French with English subtitles

Restoration by Cineteca di Bologna and Istituto Luce - Cinecittà

Rated by The Guardian as one of the best 25 arthouse films of all time

First Run

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes

Opens Fri December 7 — Exclusive NY engagement
Alexis Bloom, U.S., 107m, DCP
How did we get here? This riveting new documentary charts the journey to our current tempestuous political moment through the career of a single massively influential figure: Roger Ailes. A one-time consultant to Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, Ailes would have his biggest effect on American politics once he became chairman of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Director Alexis Bloom probes deep into the formidable right-wing propaganda machine Ailes created, and the culture of misogyny that would lead to his professional downfall. A Magnolia Pictures/A&E IndieFilms release

Official selection: Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival

“Excellent.” —The New York Times

The Last Resort

Opens Wed December 21 — Exclusive NY engagement
Dennis Scholl & Kareem Tabsch, U.S., 70m, DCP
Before Rollerblades and silicone dominated the boardwalk, South Beach was a self-contained haven for a tight-knit community of (predominantly) Jewish retirees. Young photographers Andy Sweet and Gary Monroe were there to capture it all—from the candy-colored swimwear to glamorous New Years’ Eve parties. With narration by the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winner Edna Buchanan and filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, these striking images span a decade to create a vibrant portrait of a lost cultural era.

Audience Award for Best Documentary Film: Miami Jewish Film Festival; Official Selection: DOC NYC

"Sunny and satisfying... a beautiful slice of history.”—South Florida Gay News

With Dennis Scholl & Kareem Tabsch in person at select opening-weekend screenings

Animation Show of Shows

Opens Fri December 28 — Exclusive NY Engagement
Various, 98m, DCP
Now in its 20th edition, The Animation Show of Shows returns to the Quad with 15 stellar shorts from around the globe exploring everything from cosmic love to the magic of everyday objects. Founded and curated by producer Ron Diamond, 38 of the films showcased over the years have gone on to receive Academy Award nominations, with 11 wins and counting—four titles in this year’s program have qualified for Oscar consideration*.

The Green Bird* Maximilien Bougeois, Quentin Dubois,Marine Goalard, Irina Nguyen & Pierre Perveyrie, France
One Small Step* Andrew Chesworth & Bobby Pontillas, U.S.
Grands Canons Alain Biet, France
Barry Anchi Shen, U.S.
Super Girl Nancy Kangas & Josh Kun, U.S.
Love Me, Fear Me Veronica Solomon, Germany
Business Meeting Guy Charnaux, Brazil
Flower Found! Jorn Leeuwerink, The Netherlands
Bullets Nancy Kangas & Josh Kun, U.S.
A Table Game Nicolás Petelski, Argentina
Carlotta's Face Valentin Riedl & Frédéric Schuld
Germany, Age of Sail* John Kahrs, U.S.
Polaris Hikari Toriumi, U.S.
My Moon Eusong Lee, U.S.
Weekends* Trevor Jimenez, U.S

Full Metal Alchemist (2017)

Ed and Alphonse hit the big screen in a live action adaption of the hit manga and anime series. For those who don’t know the film is about two brothers who are working for the government as alchemists. Al is no longer human but a walking suit of armor the result of a sell casting that went horribly wrong. His brother sacrificed his arm in order to attach his soul to the armor. The plot of the film has the boy still trying to run down the philosopher stone which will allow them to cast the spell to get Al his body back however they run afoul of a group of homunculus who want the power for themselves.

Great to looking adventure is a nice adaption of the manga and anime. I’m a huge fan to my jaundiced eye they get it pretty much right. This is how I would imagined it would all look on the big screen.

While the action set pieces on either end of the film are wonderful the film kind of sputters in the middle as there is a bit too much talk. While it builds character and moves the plot it also slows the momentum down. Slow middle or not I loved the film.

Highly recommended. The film is available on Netflix

One of the year's worst Ghostbox Cowboy hits theaters today

With GHOSTBOX COWBOY opening today- here is the non-review I ran at Tribeca. Frankly I have yet to meet anyone who actually liked the film and didn't regret not walking out of the film.

I'm not reviewing GHOSTBOX COWBOY because I walked out of it about a quarter of the way in.

Despite what you may think writers are not required to stick to the end of a film and sometimes the prospect of doing another 90 minutes of bad home movies of China wrapped around intentionally awkward and poorly done narrative bits is too much for a soul to take and we go home.

Frankly watching the film I realized that I could go home and watch the copy of the video of a friend's trip to China which looked infinitely better and was interesting enough that I made a copy for myself when I was transferring it to DVD.

And on top of all of that THE ST BERNARD SYNDICATE covered similar ground so much better

It opens Los Angeles on 11/30, San Francisco on 12/7 and New York on 12/14
Available everywhere on demand and digital on 12/11
But I wouldn't watch it

Thursday, November 29, 2018




(New York, NY November 27, 2018) –THE SPARROW FILM PROJECT, is proud to announce the Museum of the Moving Image(MOMI) Screenings ,The Sparrow Film Project Bar Crawl, and The Sparrow Film Project Awards Gala Ceremony.

The Sparrow Film Project ‘s10th anniversary festivities will highlight all 64 completed films and nominees over three separate events; screenings of all 64 completed films at the Museum of the Moving Image(MOMI) – Bartos Room on Saturday, Dec 1st , screening of all 64 completed films at the Sparrow Film Project Bar Crawl (see below venue info) on Sunday, December 2nd and the 33 nominated films at The Sparrow Film Project Awards Gala at Museum of the Moving Image on Thursday, December 6th at 6:30pm.

The announcement was made today by Founder and Chief Creative Officer Evangelos Roumeliotis, Artistic Director Michael Freeland and Technical Director Sal Milazzo of The Sparrow Film Project.

Starting with this year's 10th anniversary, The Sparrow Film Project is being presented under the Kaufman Arts District. The Sparrow Film Project is made possible with major sponsorship from Kaufman Astoria Studios and is presented in partnership with the Kaufman Arts District (KAD), which creates, supports and presents public arts installations and events in the Astoria community The Sparrow Film Project will culminate with an awards ceremony and gala on Thursday, December 6th at the Museum of the Moving Image, a co-founder of the KAD with Kaufman Astoria Studios and Queens Council on the Arts

The MOMI screenings will take place at the Museum of the Moving Image-Bartos Room on Saturday December 1st, starting at 2:30pm and ending at 8:30pm. The screenings will take place over 6 film blocks.

Tickets: $10 for all of the screening blocks and can be purchased at the below ticket link or at the MOMI Front Desk. Tickets are first come, first serve.

Ticket link:

36-01 35th Ave, Astoria, NY 11106

Directions to Museum of the Moving Image: located off the R train subway- closest is the Steinway Street stop or N, Q – Broadway Stop

Film Voting will be held during the event and the film with the most votes over the screenings weekend will get into the Gala’s Wild Card. The winner will receive 2 tickets to the Red-Carpet Awards and Gala.

The Sparrow Film Project Bar Crawl will take place on Sunday, December 2nd from 2pm to 8pm.

Slapped The Movie (2018)

Slapped The Movie surprised me. Another take on the body switch film it is an amusing take on the genre.

The plot of the film has best friends Alex (director Alex Magaña) who is in-shape and lonely and Matt (Matt Lowe) who is overweight, irresponsible and well-loved switching bodies after encounter with a homeless man. As they realize that the other’s life isn’t what the imagined they have to find a way to switch back to who they really are.

Low brow humor mixes with high ideas in a film that is for the most part pretty good. While some of the jokes were not for me, the cast of characters, especially Alex and Matt are engaging enough that you’ll want to keep watching even. Director Magana clearly wants to do more than just want to take us through the typical twists and turns we see in body switch films.

If there is anything I could quibble about is the two hour run time. Several bits go on a bit too long and a while trimming the film back to say 90 minutes would probably mean the loss of some funny bits but it would make for a tighter film.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Slapped is worth a look.

EUFF (Ottawa) ’18: Rodeo

Imagine the challenges our founding fathers would have faced if the thirteen colonies shared a border with Britain. That was the daunting prospect that loomed over Estonia’s first democratically elected prime minister, after the Baltic nation declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Mart Laar made some very controversial decisions, but in many cases, they were necessary for the reborn republic to survive. Laar’s eventful first administration is even-handedly chronicled in Kiur Aarma & Raimo Jöerand’s Rodeo, which screens during the 2018 European Union Film Festival in Ottawa, Ontario.

When Laar formed his first government in 1992, he was the youngest prime minister ever elected in Europe. He had three critically important goals: formalize Estonian independence, replace the Soviet Ruble with Estonian currency, and force the Soviets to withdraw their troops. The fact that all three were accomplished makes it hard to judge Laar to harshly. In fact, many would argue (ourselves included) that his administration was a smashing success. However, he had to tell a few tactical lies along the way that would ultimately lead to a no confidence vote.

Estonian was and still is one of the best performing post-Soviet economies. Laar’s market-based reforms worked astonishingly quickly, but there was still short-term pain. During the lowest point of the post-independence crunch, Laar made the decision to sell the considerable Ruble holdings stashed for safe-keeping in Estonia’s national bank. However, this transaction had to be kept secret during the testy troop withdrawal negotiations with the Soviets (especially since the buyer was the Chechens).

Depending on your historical perspective, the events chronicled in Rodeo either happened just yesterday or ever so very long ago. In either case, this is some fascinating 20th Century history that was not well-reported on at the time. What Laar and his coalition did was nothing short of remarkable, including the establishment of Estonian military, almost entirely from scratch, and replacing a moribund socialist economy with a dynamic capitalist system. Those are some big projects—and the Estonian experience offers lessons—even for politically and economically mature nations. Capitalism: it works every time.

You can learn a lot from Rodeo, but do not think of it as bitter medicine to swallow. Aarma & Jöerand’s execution is surprisingly lively, incorporating a funky soundtrack and sly wild west analogies to introduce each major political development. It is worth noting Aarma co-directed The Gold Spinners and produced Disco and Atomic Warfare, two similarly entertaining documentaries with which Rodeo shares a kinship. In fact, the film flies by at warp speed, thanks to the punchy editing of Henri Kuus and Matti Näränen.

Regardless, the history and analysis of Rodeo is rock-solid. Major figures like Laar himself and the unusually rational Swedish PM Carl Bildt discuss the events in question at-length and on-camera. Economically and historically-challenged politicians like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump (whose trade policies are not that very different) should be required to watch it. Very highly recommended, Rodeo screens this Saturday (12/1) at the Canadian Film Institute, as part of the EUFF ’18.

Unstoppable: Don Lee Throws Down

If you want to gauge Korean public opinion with respect to the financial services industry, the institutionalized loan-sharking depicted in films like Pieta and For the Emperor should make matters sufficiently clear. Ki-tae’s’ sleazy outfit takes predatory lending to a new low. His real business is trafficking women, many of whom were forced to serve as a prostitutes and mail-order brides to pay off their bad debts. He also kidnaps victims the old school way. His latest victim is Kang Dong-chul’s wife Ji-soo. That was a really bad decision. Kang will administer as many beatdowns as it takes to get her back in Kim Min-ho’s Unstoppable, which opens this Friday in New York.

Ki-tae is a really sick jerk. His preferred M.O. is to abduct a pretty woman and then convince her husband or family to accept a sizable cash payment in exchange for her. However, Kang is not playing that game. He cannot be bought and he is darned difficult to stop. There is a reason Kang was known as the “Bull” during his murky early years. Seriously, Ki-tae would have been better off abducting Liam Neeson’s wife.

With the help of his fish-mongering partner Choon-sik and Gomsajang, an eccentric private investigator, Kang starts closing in on Ki-tae’s accomplices. When he lets his fists ask the questions, they get pretty talkative—and that is basically the gist of the movie. It is uncomplicated, but effective, much like Kang himself.

For obvious reasons, Unstoppable is a perfect star vehicle for the super-busy Don Lee (Ma Dong-seok. He can be cherubically sweet in his early domestic scenes and then slam it down with authority in the action sequences. In terms of chops, size, and charisma, he is one of the few action stars who rivals Schwarzenegger in his prime.

On the other hand, Kim Seong-oh’s Ki-tae could be the most despicable villain of the year—and maybe also the most flamboyant. He came to play, that’s for sure. Alas, Kim Min-jae and Park Ji-hwan are pretty shticky as Gomsajang and Choon-sik, respectively, but Lee helps keep them in check. He also develops some appealing chemistry with Song Ji-hyo, playing Ji-soo.

It is hard to see the Don Lee express slowing down anytime soon, because he clearly has the moves and presence to carry a crowd-pleaser like Unstoppable. It is an unfussy but undeniably satisfying film. Arguably, it is exactly the sort of old school, good vs. evil, scruffy underdog street-fighting film genre devotees crave. Recommended for fans of Lee and red meat action, Unstoppable opens this Friday (11/30) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

Bleach (2018)

One of the fastest selling tickets at this year’s Japan Cuts was the live action adaption of the manga Bleach. The first live action film following several anime series, features and at least 10 stage musicals, the franchise’s legion of fans were chomping at the bit to see it on the big screen. I couldn’t go, I counter programmed but I was very curious to see it.

Word from the screening was mixed. Some of my friends who saw it didn’t like how it messed with the story. Others weren’t thrilled with the finale which is basically the final 45 minutes of the film. It was too much. However there were others who were through the roof. It was wonderful and magical and just big screen wonderment. I had no idea what I would think when I finally saw it.

With the film picked up by Netflix I got to see the film sooner than I expected and I was delighted by what I saw.

The film is the story of a high school kid with high spiritual pressure. He is able to see ghosts around him. When a giant “hollow” grabs his sister and tries to eat her he intervenes but is nearly killed. A young girl called a reaper and who hunts hollows give the young man her power to defeat the hollow. When it’s all done he is not able to get her power back…and complications result.

This supernatural tinged action film is a blast. I have no idea if it really makes sense but it moves like the wind, has awesome actions sequences and left me wanting a sequel. High art? Hardly just great fun. It is sound and fury signifying nothing which will put a huge smile on the face of any action lover.

I loved it.

I know the current programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival hated the film with a passion but they are dead wrong, Bleach is a blast. It’s just a crazy ass motion machine that held me spellbound for two hours, which says a great deal.

Highly recommended for anyone who just wantsto smile while supernatural being beat the crap out of each other.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

More details on Rated X December 14 - January 8 at the Quad

Brace yourselves for an X-rated Xmas! The Quad reveals the initial lineup for our 50th anniversary survey of the MPAA's infamous "X" classification

Featuring over 25 cinematic excursions into forbidden sex (real, simulated, and animated) and uncensored violence. Highlights include: In the Realm of the Senses, A Clockwork Orange, Sebastiane, Snuff, The Evil Dead, Klute, Maîtresse, Salon Kitty, I Am Curious (Yellow), and more!

Fifty years ago the Generation Gap was widening, the Vietnam War was beaming onto television screens nightly, and filmmakers were pushing the envelope worldwide. What was the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade grouping of Hollywood’s major studios, to do so as to better inform anxious parents about which films were suitable for what ages? U.S. President Lyndon Johnson appointed longtime associate Jack Valenti to head the MPAA, and on November 1, 1968 the latter conceived a new industry Code of Self-Regulation and an alphabet-based “voluntary ratings system” to indicate the presence of sexual and/or violent content. The X rating drew a line in the sand: no one under 18 (or, per a 1970 redraft, 17) was to be admitted to a theater showing an X-rated movie. Some felt this didn't go far enough towards eliminating content considered "obscene," while others felt it would lead to draconian censorship.

Since the X rating wasn't trademarked, the burgeoning pornographic-film industry quickly appropriated it to apply to their own product as a disreputable seal of approval and a point-of-pride marketing tool (“triple-X-rated!!!”). After initial cachet and notoriety, Hollywood shied away from X-rated movies, as many mainstream theater owners were squeamish and newspapers wouldn’t accept ads; films initially tagged X were recut to obtain a more commercially safe R rating. The scarlet letter was superseded in 1990 with the less-desirable, more-avoided, and awkwardly monikered NC-17 rating. Since the original rating allowed many a film to let its freak flag fly and many a filmmaker creative freedom, the Quad invites patrons of all ages to fire up the holiday season with a look back at films that occasioned heated debates over what was deemed adult (albeit not always mature) entertainment.

Schedule through January 5 available HERE. Additional titles to be announced.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Russ Meyer, 1970, U.S., 109m, DCP

A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick, 1971, UK/U.S., 137m, 35mm

De Sade
Cy Endfield, 1969, West Germany/U.S., 113m, 35mm

Desperate Living
John Waters, 1977, U.S., 90m, 35mm

Devil in the Flesh
Marco Bellocchio, 1986, Italy/France, 114m, 35mm

The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi, 1981, U.S., 85m, 35mm

Female Trouble
John Waters, 1974, U.S., 89m, 35mm

Fritz the Cat
Ralph Bakshi, 1972, U.S., 78m, 35mm

La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973, France/Italy, 130m, DCP

Last Tango in Paris
Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972, U.S./France/Italy, 129m, DCP*
U.S. premiere of 4K restoration*

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
John McNaughton, 1986, U.S., 83m, DCP

The Hills Have Eyes
Wes Craven, 1977, U.S., 89m, DCP

I Am Curious (Yellow)
Vilgot Sjöman, 1967, Sweden, 121m, DCP

I Drink Your Blood
David Durston, 1970, U.S., 83m, DCP
Lindsay Anderson, 1968, UK, 111m, 35mm
In the Realm of the Senses
Nagisa Oshima, 1976, Japan/France, 109m, 35mm
Joseph W. Sarno, 1968, Sweden/U.S., 81m, 35mm

Alan J. Pakula, 1971, U.S., 114m, 35mm

Barbet Schroeder, 1976, France, 112m, DCP

Myra Breckinridge
Michael Sarne, 1970, U.S., 94m, 35mm

Salon Kitty
Tinto Brass, 1976, Italy/France/West Germany, 129m, 35mm

Paul Humfress/Derek Jarman, 1976, UK, 86m, DCP

T. Amazzo/Michael Findlay/Horacio Fredriksson/Simon Nuchtern,
1975, Argentina/U.S./Canada, 81m, 35mm

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
Melvin Van Peebles, 1971, U.S., 97m, DCP

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Tobe Hooper, 1974, U.S., 83m, DCP

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Tobe Hooper, 1986, U.S., 101m, 35mm

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
Pedro Almodóvar, 1989, Spain, 101m, 35mm

Women in Revolt
Paul Morrissey, 1971, U.S., 97m, 16mm

Opening November 30 at the Metrograh Spike Lee x 6

Lee Appearing In-Person for A Special Screening of BlacKkKlansman 

Series Includes 4 Little Girls, Bamboozled, Inside Man,
Mo' Better Blues, 
and Summer of Sam 

Spike Lee’s been so good for so long that it’s easy to take him for granted, but with the undeniable accomplishment of BlacKkKlansman still fresh in the memory, Metrograph will present a few of the deep cuts in the Lee filmography, a collection of films which encapsulate the various elements of his ongoing artistic practice that brilliantly coalesced in his most recent work: Genre film chops (Inside Man), an anguished sense of duty towards the victims of hate groups (4 Little Girls), an internalized understanding of the national neuroses of the 1970s (Summer of Sam), a stinging satirical sense (Bamboozled), and an affinity for compassionate character study (Mo’ Better Blues). Few American filmmakers have so relentlessly engaged with history, and few in doing so have pointed out such thrilling possibilities for the future of the medium.
BlacKkKlansman (2018/135 mins/DCP)
Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department, has taken on a dangerous, far-out assignment—infiltrating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan through a cold call, with partner Adam Driver providing the white face for further undercover infiltration. A stirring study in the pathology of race hate, with Harry Belafonte stopping by to offer a heartbreaking history lesson. 
Sunday, December 2 - 7:00pm
*Extended Introduction by Spike Lee*

Mo' Better Blues (1990/129 mins/35mm)
Denzel Washington is at his most volcanic and charismatic as Bleek Gilliam, a New York jazz trumpeter and bandleader balancing a turbulent love life and a professional life marred by his deteriorating relationship with his gambling-addict manager, Giant (Lee), and his emerging rivalry with saxophonist Shadow Henderson (Wesley Snipes). Energetically shot and riotously colorful, though with a somber, blue note undertone running throughout, it’s a scintillating, unsentimental study in the monomania of the artistic temperament. 

Friday, November 30 - 10:45pm

Bamboozled (2000/135 mins/35mm)
One of the most audacious movies that Lee ever made, and certainly the most audience-indicting, Bamboozled is a willfully grating media satire, casting an eye toward the digital future of entertainment with its Mini-DV cinematography, while simultaneously looking towards the history of Black entertainers and entertainment in America, imagining a 21st century reboot of the minstrel show. With Savion Glover and Tommy Davidson donning the burned cork to dance for network masters Damon Wayans and Michael Rapaport, both gamely grotesque. 

Sunday, December 2 - 4:15pm

Summer of Sam (1999/142 mins)

It’s another summer and another wave of urban hysteria in Spike Lee’s lookback- in-delirium at the summer of ’77 in the neurotic, hot-pants Italian-American Bronx, where Vinny (John Leguizamo) hits Plato’s Retreat, his old buddy Ritchie (Adrien Brody) imports the new punker style from downtown, a psycho calling himself “Son of Sam” is corresponding with Jimmy Breslin and unloading a .44 (World Series hero Reggie Jackson’s uniform number) on unsuspecting couples caught necking, and then the lights go out city-wide. 
Monday, December 3 - 4:15pm / Wednesday, December 5 - 8:30pm*
*Intro and Q&A with actors Michael Imperioli and Victor Colicchio

4 Little Girls (1997/102 mins)
Long before BlacKkKlansman, Lee was on the case of hate groups in America, here sifting through the wreckage of one of the most heinous Klan-affiliated crimes in history, the September 15, 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which resulted in the deaths of four Sunday school students aged 11 to 14. Reviewing the facts of the crime, as well as the biographies of the victims, Lee creates a profound and poignant picture, one that drives home the unbearable human cost of political violence. 

Monday, December 3 - 7:00pm

Inside Man (2006/129 mins/35mm)
Lee proved himself a superb genre director with this stylish, twist-laden hit thriller, starring his repeat collaborator Denzel Washington as a New York City hostage negotiator who has to match his wits against those of an arch-criminal (Clive Owen) who has, with his team, taken over a Manhattan bank and made hostages of everyone inside. While seemingly a departure for Lee, Inside Man, like so many of his films, poses an insoluble moral dilemma to protagonist and viewer both. 

Monday, December 3 - 9:15pm

Thoughts on Outlaw King (2018)

Huge historical epic has Chris Pine as Robert The Bruce who took back the throne of Scotland after the death of William Wallace.

Opening with a kick ass 9 minute tracking shot the film is exactly the sort of film they don't make anymore. Filled with blood and kings and romance this is a glorious  film that delights on so many levels.

Beautifully acted the film actually works because we get a whole bunch of characters we like. Pine is wonderful as Robert and everyone just follows suit right behind him. I don't think that there is a bad performance in the bunch. I love that the heart of the film is the people. Robert's romance with the queen is absolutely lovely.  I also love the relationship with his men is superb and it all pays off as we go on on in the final quarter of the film as turns and deaths produce real tears.

The action when it comes is brutal and ugly, as it would be. The final battle is almost unbearable in its intensity and realism. Its a sea of crashing bodies  and steel covered in blood, mud and offal. After a while you go numb- as you should.

This is an unexpected joy. I heard mixed things out of Toronto and once it hit theaters and Netflix. What I found when I actually sat don to watch it was something that grabbed me and held my attention from start to finish.

Highly recommended.

Default: They’re from the IMF and They’re Not Here to Help

Blame the central bank. That’s typically the prime (so to speak) suspect during most financial crises. In the case of South Korea’s near bankruptcy of 1997, the Bank of Korea (BOK) was pursuing a contradictory policy. They wanted to keep the won pegged to the dollar, requiring a tight money strategy, yet they also wanted to spur exports with loose money. On top of their Jekyll and Hyde monetary policy, the major banks kept turning over non-performing loans to large enterprises in industries “anointed” by the national government. That did not work either. However, the BOK gets off easy in Choi Kook-hee’s Default, which opens this Friday in New York.

It is a period of semi-wild exuberance, as the story of South Korea’s economic miracle continues to chug along. However, there is a liquidity crunch brewing beneath the surface and only BOK economist Han Shi-hyun sees it coming. At current burn rates, the bank will not have sufficient foreign reserves to maintain its peg and clear the necessary balance-of-payments involved in international trade. Unfortunately, most of her colleagues prefer to keep their heads buried in the sand. The Vice-Minister of Finance is the exception. He welcomes the crisis as a way to force through his package of economic reforms (several of which really were needed).

Nevertheless, the stringent conditions demanded by the IMF director represent some bitter, recessionary shock treatment. Accepting the bailout will also deal a devastating blow to national pride. Han is convinced they can manage the crisis with less invasive monetary policy, but if you know your history, you will not be in suspense regarding the outcome.

The fictional Han is a forceful character to reckon with, but the subplot involving an increasingly desperate small factory owner is just nakedly and clumsily manipulative. Those scenes are so openly propagandistic, they inspire eye-rolling rather than feelings of revolutionary solidarity. On the other hand, the villainous rogue trader Yoon Jung-hak is bit like the dog that never barks, since he never comes into direct conflict with Han and the rest of the emergency response team during the course of his short-selling and bargain-taking. The actual financial intrigue is pretty gripping, but screenwriter Eom Seong-min definitely takes liberties with the root causes and circumstances of the IMF bailout, for obvious political reasons (for the record, right-of-center think tanks like the Heritage Foundation opposed the agreement, on both economic and political grounds).

Regardless, superstar Kim Hye-soo is terrific as Han. It is a smart, compassionate portrayal of a smart, complicated economist (there are some out there). Vincent Cassel’s high-handed scenery-chewing as the IMF director is also jolly fun to watch. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast give broad, clichéd performances as stock-character villains and victims. This is particularly true of Jo Woo-jin’s compulsively sneering Vice-Minister. Seriously, why not give him a handlebar mustache to twirl, in case anyone somehow managed to miss the point?

There are legitimately cautionary aspects to the 1997 “bailout” that should be called out and scrutinized. However, it is always problematic to play it fast-and-loose with the historical record. Nevertheless, the film’s main point—that being the bailout was unnecessary and in many ways counter-productive—is convincingly established. Frankly, there is so much good stuff in Default, it makes us want to take it into an editing bay and unleash our inner Stephen Soderberghs. Its flaws are considerable, but it is still an impressive showcase for Kim. Earning a very conflicted mixed review, Default opens this Friday (11/30) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

The must see United Skates opens Friday

Absolutely wonderful look at the relationship between the African American communities and roller skating. A history of skating in America the film shows how the rinks produced families and communities around them, and how the loss of a roller rink can have a negative effect on the live of the people who used it. The film also illustrated how the rise of Rap and Hip Hop are tied to the rinks which were often the only place which would allow the artists to play.

I know that this doesn't sound like the most exciting film in the world but trust me, this film will move you and put a smile on your face. Filled with great people and great skating this is a film that will open up a whole new world for you. More importantly it is a film that, assuming you ever went to a roller rink, make you nostalgic for days past.

I was standing outside the theater when the film played a pre-festival screening for critics. When the film ended a steady stream of normally gruff and unsmiling people filtered out with big smiles on their faces talking about what a wonderful surprise the film was. Everyone was delighted.

This wonderful confection will make you feel good, despite being bittersweet.

Highly recommended

Making Waves Capsule reviews

Because there are so many films at Making Waves and because I’m coming into the festival late (and because many of the films are very long) I’m going only due some capsule reviews.

One Step Behind The Seraphim
Based on the director’s experiences in a seminary, One Step tells the story of a 15 year boy who hopes to live a good and holy life but who quickly finds the only way to get a head in the religious community is to lie cheat and steal. Bleak, black, often funny and incredibly sad film about the way things work in the real world and how the patriarchy is rotting cherish institutions from the inside. Recommended.

I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians
Good but decidedly over long film about an artist trying to put a performance piece together about one of the less stellar moment in Romanian history. While initially supported, everyone slowly begins to have a change of heart as they realize this is going to dig up things everyone wants to keep buried. While the film is a well-made examination about history, how we view it and how we choose to forget the unpleasant parts, it tends to go on. Worth a look

Free Dacian
A look at how myth becomes “real” through how the ancient Dacians are viewed in Romania today. It’s an intriguing look at how we look back at ancient history and reinvent it for ourselves today.

Belt in boys and girls because this film is going to rock your world. Bleak black and crushing story about the disappearance of a young girl from a crowded park and the ripples sent through the family Decidedly not an upbeat film this is decent into the hell of the parents left behind agonizing over everything that happened. Incredibly well done and recommended to those who want to go to the places this goes to.

Licu - a Romanian Story
Lovely black and white chronicle of a life as a 92 year old man talks about his life. Covering everything imaginable including wars, revolutions, post revolution and simply life. While it may be a little long, it is always engaging we get to know the man and the life he lived. Recommended.

BAM: General admission: $15, Members: $7.50, Students & Seniors: $11. for more information.
Jacob Burns Film Center: General admission: $14, Members: $9. For the opening night screening, followed by a reception, tickets are $10 (members), $15 (nonmembers). for more information.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Heartless (2018) New York City Horror Film Festival 2018

HEARTLESS has an associate at a large firm giving a presentation that goes horribly wrong as an event in the recent past comes back to haunt her.

HEARTLESS vexes me. I'm not sure exactly how to review the film in order not to give anything away and allow the film to be seen on its own good terms.

On its own terms it is an unpleasant (in a good way) bloody horror tale about what some people will do to get ahead. It is a overtly violent reimaining of the way that some people figuratively climb the corporate ladder. Taken as a film unto itself it is a wicked, and wickedly funny poisoned confection that is worth a look.

Unfortunately all of the promotional material for the film mentions the source story for the film. While there is nothing wrong with knowing what the  source material is, it takes the edge off the proceedings because you know instantly how this is going to go, more or less. Because I don't want to give anything away I'm going to leave it here and say- don't read about the film - just see it and you will enjoy the mayhem on screen.

HEARTLESS plays Friday night at NYC Horror Film Festival 9:30 pm EST at Cinepolis Chelsea on 260 W 23rd Street  

The People's Republic of Desire opens Friday

Chinese live-streaming might not have the weird fetish appeal of the Japanese idol industry, but the fake egalitarianism and built-in exploitation make it even more perverse. Popular hosts and singers on the YY streaming platform can make tens of thousands of dollars per month, but the system is still stacked against them. Molecular biologist-turned documentarian Hao Wu dives deep into the YY ecosystem in People’s Republic of Desire, which premiered at this year’s SXSW.

Shen Man is an up-and-coming YY host, who is the sole support of her unemployed father and step-mother. She will be a genuine contender during the annual YY competition, because she has a number of well-heeled patrons and a major YY talent agency backing her. If you read YY’s media kit, it probably makes the platform sound like an egalitarian place, where average folk determine who is successful with their votes and on-line buzz. In reality, they might be able to boost a host from obscurity to a modest following, but once big-dollar patrons start throwing online (but very real) money around the live-caster’s “showroom,” the serfs are effectively frozen out of the action.

Big Li is maybe the last exception. He is considered the “diaosi” (a hard to translate term for a homely underclass male) who made good. He is the last of the unagented hosts who will meaningfully compete in the YY contest. A win will bring online fame, as well as more sponsors and hopefully gifts, but it comes at a price. Agencies will spend hundreds of thousands ofreal dollars on online votes, which they charge back to clients, making second place an expensive disappointment.

Wu follows both hosts through two competitions and a very messy year of scandals and personal strife in between. Wu’s approach is primarily sociological, with a special focus on the disenfranchised diaosi, who become increasingly disconnected from the live-streamers they helped build. There is also a pronounced element of sexism in how female live-streamers are treated. Even top talent like Shen Man must regularly field vulgar comments and many of their patrons clearly expect sexual favors in exchange for financial support.

However, we see enough of the inner workings of YY and major agencies (many of whom seem to be bankrolled by sketchy underworld types) to know this racket is fishy. Frankly, someone should do a full-scale expose of the Chinese live-streaming industry, but there is not exactly a robust tradition of investigative journalism on the Mainland.

Desire manages to make Western social media look less corrosive and divisive, which is definitely quite an achievement. As director and editor, Wu shows a keen eye for human drama, but still gives viewers a good overview of the bigger picture. He vividly illustrates the disparity between migrant workers and the oligarchical patron class, without belaboring the point. Highly recommended as a snapshot of contemporary Mainland society

Monday, November 26, 2018

Making Waves New Romanian Cinema Starts Tonight

This is just a quick not to let you know that MAKING WAVES a festival of new films from Romania starts today at BAM in Brooklyn and at The Jacob Burns Film Center. For the first time in five years I am not doing deep dive coverage of the festival. Its breaking my heart because this is a kick ass festival that proves that the there are some spectacular films from Romania that aren’t the gloom and doom sort that most distributors seem to think we want to see. I will have a few reviews but not nothing like in the past

However the fest is screening some great films, which I have seen and which I heartily recommend. If you click on the links then you’ll see the fill review.


Go see them or anything else that is playing at the festival.

BAM: General admission: $15, Members: $7.50, Students & Seniors: $11. Visit for more information.
Jacob Burns Film Center: General admission: $14, Members: $9. For the opening night screening, followed by a reception, tickets are $10 (members), $15 (nonmembers). Visit for more information.

Isabelle (2018) Blood in the Snow Film Festival (2018)

Larissa and Matt Kane's lives are spun out of control when an evil spirit tries to take over the life of Larissa by swapping existences with her.

Okay horror film has great visual style and moments of real chills but the film suffers  over all from a sense of having been here before.  This is yet another film about a young mother who seems crazy but is hunted by a dark force film that only really shines in some of the creepy moments such as Larissa seeing her dead baby come to life, the evil spirits in the window and similar bits. Its not that the rest of the film is bad, more that the inventiveness shown in the horror moments wasn't really used in the linking material.

I don't hate the film, but I find the pieces are better than the whole because the linking material allows us to chart where this is going way ahead of the characters on screen.

Worth a look, but nothing really special.

Elliot The Littlest Reindeer (2018)

ELLIOT THE LITTLEST REINDEER is the sort of film that most people are not going to look at. An animated Christmas film from a small studio is the sort of thing that most people are going to overlook. Sure the kids might be interested, but since it isn’t from the giant Hollywood hype machines it can’t be any good right?

Wrong. Elliot is a charming little gem of a film that a year, when it is finally discovered by the majority of the world, is going to on its way to being hailed as a classic.

Yes it is that good. I say that as one of the few people who saw A CHISTMAS STORY when it opened in October in an empty theater and had to beg and plead for people to go see it. They finally did when Thanksgiving came and a year later when it hit home video. Consider this me begging and pleading.

The crux of the film has Elliot a miniature horse living at the North Pole wanting to help pull Santa’s sled. Try-outs are coming but, he is believed to be too small…an a bit of a helpful screw-up. Of course complications arise and with the help of his friend, a wisecracking goat he might just have a shot.

That the film works as well as it does it due entirely to the script. Writer /director Jennifer Westcott has crafted a wonderful and heartwarming tale. It’s a story that makes sense. The plot while following an expecte path isn’t all cliché, we want to watch because we really want to see how Elliot makes out. Best of all it has extremely well drawn characters. These aren’t types but people with the result that we really care. The writing is such that it gives actors like Martin Short and Samantha Bee something to work with. There is enough here that the performance is something they care about and isn’t tossed off as if it was a paycheck job.

I put Elliot on begrudgingly, it was animated and I try to review any animated films I get and I instantly fell in love. Half way into the film I was calling my brother telling him that my niece had to see the film. Avery is a smart little kid and doesn’t fall lock step into just any kids film. She hates Frozen and loves Studio Ghibli (which she discovered without my help) and based on conversations with her about her tastes this is the sort of thing she will eat up.

Actually this is the sort of all kids (even the big ones) will love. It’s a wonderful feel good story. Its warm and witty and just great fun. Elliot is one of my great discoveries of the year. It is highly recommended when it hits select theaters on Friday and screening in special one day only screenings on Saturday.

Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai

Four-year-old Kun has no idea when it comes to space-time continuums. He just resents it when his little sister thinks she can boss him and act all mature. However, it is not the new-born freshly arrived from the hospital who gets these ideas. It is her future time-traveling self. She might actually help her little older brother grow up a little, but she will get help from family members past and present in Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai, which opens this Friday in New York and also has several special nation-wide Fathom Events screenings over the next two weeks.

Kun had always been the center of his universe and probably the most important supporting character, in his opinion, was the family dog, Yukko. However, everything changed when he suddenly had to share his parents’ time and affection with Mirai (whose name means “future”). He promised to be a good big brother to her, but his jealousy often got the best of him. However, it will actually be a lapse of memory on the part of their stay-at-home dad that prompts teen-something Mirai’s first visit. It has to do with a ceremonial display that must be taken down by a certain time, or Mirai’s marriage could be delayed by years, at least according to the superstition.

The Mirai from the future finds Kun is even brattier then she realized, but she is pretty resourceful when it comes to negotiating with four-year-olds. Eventually, Kun also takes advantage of the time-traveling power of their back yard, visiting his strict mother when she was just an equally naughty little girl. However, he really starts to getting a bigger picture of the world when he visits his late great-grandfather when he was a dashing post-war engineer and motorcycle daredevil.

One of the charms of Mirai is that it feels no obligation to explain the time traveling. It just expects us to accept it, much like Kun, Mirai, and Yukko do. Each encounter Kun has with family members from different time periods is absolutely charming and many times emotionally resonant. However, Hosoda risks alienating viewers from his central character by so thoroughly and relentlessly establishing his spoiled sense of entitlement. Frankly, a lot of anime fans who will eventually buy this film on DVD will probably regularly fast-forward through the first twenty minutes or so. Still, you sort of have to respect Hosoda for being so up front and honest in his characterization.

Regardless, if you stick with Mirai, it definitely becomes magical during the second and third acts. Hosoda is one of the great master animators working today and Mirai shows him in full command of his powers. Time and again, he turns Kun’s very grounded and realistic environment into something mysterious and fantastical. His characters are also quite sweet and endearing, especially teen Mirai, cocky but big-hearted great-grandpa, and their nebbish father.

It has already been a terrific year for anime, thanks to features like Fireworks, Liz and the Blue Bird, and Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, but for fans, a new film from Hosoda will be a fitting climax. It will not disappoint. This is a film of considerable artistry, originality, and heart. Recommended for anime enthusiasts and slightly older kids (something like eight-and-above), Mirai opens this Friday (11/30) at the IFC Center and screens via Fathom Events on 11/29, 11/30, 12/5, and 12/8.

North Pole, NY hits VOD, iTunes and DVD Wednesday

I was in the middle of the Tribeca film festival when I received an email from a publicist about a film World Premiering at IFF Boston, would I want to take a look? My response to everyone sending me anything during Tribeca was either a flat out no, or if it was for something a reasonable time after the festival I told them to check back after Tribeca. But in this case there was something about it that made me say yes. Call me a sucker, or call me someone who is a id at heart, but I had to see NORTH POLE, NY despite being crushed with other work and I am really glad a did.

NORTH POLE ,NY is a small little film from Ali Cotterill who did UNITED IN ANGER: A HISTORY OF ACT UP. It’s a loving portrait of the small amusement park in upstate New York devoted entirely to Christmas. Once a thriving attraction time and the interstates have whittled away at the crowds. It survives because of the love of the community and a sense of nostalgia that makes families return generation after generation.

What can I say, I sat in my seat with a huge smile on my face absolutely delighted at what I was seeing. This is a nigh perfect love letter to a place that was built not only as a means of making money but also as a means of making people happy. While it’s fortunes have been up and down, the desire to make people happy is what keeps it going even in the lean years.

I absolutely love this delightful confection.

If I might be so bold I would love to see similar films on other attractions. My desire comes from NORTH POLE,NY’s discussion of how it was a part of a larger group of similar attractions in the area. I really would love to know more about the others now long gone. I’m not sure that will happen, so I’m perfectly content to just watch NORTH POLE, NY again (and again).

Do yourself a favor and watch this  this little gem when it hits VOD, iTunes and DVD on November 28th because it will make you feel good like the warm memory of your best Christmas ever.

Fugue (2018) Bood in The Snow Film Festival 2018

Despite playing at a horror film festival FUGUE is not a horror film. Its is a thriller... though one that is nigh impossible to describe and discuss without revealing too much.

The basic plot has Malcolm waking up not knowing who he is. His wife tells him he has had an episode that has wiped his memory. As she begins to tell him about who he a friend drops by and he too begins to fill in details of his life... and then things take a turn...

I don't want to reveal too much. You'll be able to figure bits of the most basic plot from there but its what happens in the details that I'm trying to protect since whether you like or loath the film will depend on how you react to those details.

I will say that this is not a horror film. The only monsters are the human kind. If you go in knowing that what you are getting is more natural than supernatural you'll be fine.

As for me, I like the film. Is it great? No, but it is entertaining and suspenseful which counts for a great deal. That the film works as well as it does is due to the well written script and the performance of Jack Foley as Malcolm. He holds the film together when some of the performances drift in and out.

Is it high art? No but you won't mind taking the time to give the film a go.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Hoard (2018) Blood in the Snow Film Festival 2018

Major misfire mockumentary is neither funny nor scary and entirely too long by at least 75 minutes.

Supposedly cut from the tapes the unaired pilot for the show Haunted Hoarders the film relates the trouble that occurs when a bunch or hoarding experts tries to help a man with multiple dwellings pair down his pile of crap. As they proceed they realize that there is an evil presence haunting one of the locations.

Ill conceived on pretty much every level THE HOARD is a mess. Played for laughs it gives us clowns not characters. Since everything is played for laughs there are no chills. Sticking to the TV show model the film never breaks character where it should to become something else. Personally I found so much wrong with the film I had to stop taking notes because I ran out of paper.

To be honest the real problem with the film is that this should have been a 15 minute movie not a 90 minute one. At 15 minutes it could sustained the laugh/chill ratio. It also would not have pushed the internal logic and reality show jokes past the pint of breaking. As a feature its much too long- since the shows its riffing have episodes that are less than half the running time of this film and in my opinion even that is too long.

I really dislike this film, not just because it's a badly done film, but because I am saddened that the creators of PONTYPOOL, possibly one of the best horror films of the last 20 years, and the director of DEADSIGHT which is one of the best films at Blood in the Snow, were involved in this. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Not recommended, this is ending up on my worst of the year list.

A Last Serving of (almost) Turkeys: Geostorm, Terror of the Barbarians, Crypt of Dark Secrets, Beyond the Caribbean, and Spy Hunt

Gerard Butler has this knack of picking fun but incredibly stupid films- case in point GEOSTORM about a weather control system being used for evil.

There isn't much to say other than Gerard Butler is the good guy who spends most of his time in space while the heavy lifting is left elsewhere. Its a grand evil plot  of course that has to be stopped which is incredibly stupid but does allow for some spectacular destruction. The destruction is why this film exists and the only reason to see this film. I mean the plot is awful and the acting is pay check job quality.

I enjoyed it but lets face it I love bad films.

Not so much bad but rather dull film set toward the end of the barbarian control of Italy. The horde pisses off a muscle bound guy (played by Steve Reeves) when they kill his parents and sack his home. Swearing revenge he brings the horde to their knees.

Good looking historical epic is more talk than action. While not bad it drags something awful with the result you are probably going to nod off half way through.

This is a cheesy drive in film of the sort that filled the drive-ins of the American South during the early to mid-1970’s. Simply put the plot of the film has a backwater witch resurrecting the Vietnam vet she loved when he is killed in order to get revenge on the bad guys who killed him.

It’s a bright and splashy film that is just interesting enough to have survived multiple bookings on numerous double and triple features. A serviceable entertainment it is best viewed in terms of it playing at a drive-in as part of a double feature. In actuality it is best viewed as a part of an evening’s entertainment where other drive-in fare is being screened. (Aim for one of the DVDs on which it appears which have multiple films on them.)

Contrived adventure film made up of footage shot by Andre Roosevelt stitched together by studio shot film about his adventures rescuing a damsel, seeing local color and deep sea diving. The documentary footage is often really good but there isn't enough of it to make sitting through the made up stuff worth it since your interest will wane.

Microfilm is hidden in the collar of one of two black leopards going to Paris. When the car is intentionally wrecked the panthers escape  and are hunted in the wilderness. Solid B movie is entertaining while its on but if it wasn't for the panthers it would be completely forgettable. Worth a look if stumbled across but not worth searching out

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Deadsight (2018) Blood in the Snow Film Festival 2018

Low key zombie film is going to delight many and annoy others with it's realistic take on a zombie like outbreak.

The film plays out in a very realistic way. It begins with a man waking up in the back of deserted ambulance. His eyes are wrapped and he can't really see. Complicating matters is the fact he is handcuffed to a stretcher. He eventually gets free and eventually finds his way to a farm house. At the same time a pregnant police police officer heads off to work. She is unable to reach anyone on her radio. After her own set of adventures she too ends up at the house...they meet and have to stick together to survive.

That may not sound like a great deal but it is. The largely realistic turn of events is an unexpected take on the zombie/plague stories that are now almost a dime a dozen. Where normally things would be geared to the next big scare, DEADSIGHT works to how us what a story like this might entail. Journeys are long, compressed by editing. Pacing is deliberately slow  to give us time to feel and ponder what it would be like in real life.

There is also almost no exposition, things just are. Yes we get some clues late in the game via a found medical chart, and a stray conversation, mostly though the talk is practical. Everything just is and we can read what we want into it. I know not knowing will kill some people,but at the same time it keeps it real since the characters  don't really have to explain to each other, they are in the thick of things.

Yes there are your typical oozing creatures, but mostly there are the two people at the center. Liv Collins as the cop and Adam Seybold as the blind man give solid performances. They are not super human, they make mistakes, like firing too many bullets. We like them,even if we don't know a great deal about them. You may not think there is a great deal to their performances, but you have to consider that for the most part what they are doing is silent. Seybold and Collins don't meet for probably 30 minutes and something has to compel us to watch how things play out and the performances are a big part of it.

The film seems to be full of riffs on other zombie films, like the work of George Romero and TV series like the Walking Dead. Not steals or flashy look at me references, but small passing ones that act as echoes and a short hand of sorts that allow us to more fully understand what is going on and not simply be a list of thigs the filmmakers have seen.

I really like DEADSIGHT a great deal. It is a suspenseful, meaty thriller that doesn't throw logic and reason out the window, but keeps it close and uses it to create suspense in ways that most other films in the genre fail to do.

Highly recommended for any one who is tired of your typical zombie film and are happy with a tweaking of conventions at a leisurely pace.

DEADSIGHT plays Tuesday at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival.