Monday, December 31, 2018

Angels for the New Year

Please excuse this little story. I felt the need to write another one for Randi

Danny was often asked why angels drank- was it because, as Ben Franklin said God gave us beer because he loved us, or was there some other reason? Danny would always say that he didn't know, but he did. One cannot tend bar for as long as he had with out the ability to glean some information from his patrons.

Angels drank because of the pain. They didn't ever come out and say it, but Danny knew. Yea, they were higher beings. Yea, they knew that in the end it would all be alright, but coming here, coming to earth, required a bit of a change. Pure holy matter became partial material and so they felt pain. Not the pain of existence, they were too holy and too immortal for that, rather the pain of others, of those they helped and comforted. Compassion came at a cost. And even though they knew the pain would pass both for the afflicted and themselves, there were limits. The weight of the world was heavy, but nowhere near as heavy as the pain of one lost individual.

Angels drank to easy the pain of the world that they had taken on themselves.

It was always a long night when the angels showed up. Danny knew they had had a bad night when they came in. They tended not to go to the same place over and over again. They didn't want to be gawked at or challenged. They just wanted to come in and drink and "be forgotten even if they couldn't forget."  Danny didn't know what that meant. An angel had said it to him when he asked them why they kept coming back.  Danny's place let them be forgotten. He suspected that meant something to them, but to him it just sounded odd.

A lot of stuff with the angels was odd and that was just the way it was. He didn't ask and they didn't say. He just let them be and that was why they kept coming back.

It was almost day light on New Year's Day and the angels were still hanging in. They had come in just after midnight and took up at the far end of the bar. They didn't have to order, Danny knew what to bring. He kept bringing it when ever the mood turn dour or the singing became too melancholy. Another round brought cheers and laughs and jokes.

Danny wanted to go home but as much as as the world needed the angels they needed him. He was the one man who let them be and asked for nothing, so they kept coming back, not night after night but now and again, and almost every New Year. They came when the world seemed like shit and their rounds were too much. Too much or just when they needed a friendly face.

It was always toughest on New Years. The world ached to start over- to start fresh- the mass of humanity would throw off their pain and suffering and hope for a better tomorrow. For one night they would let go of the pain and pray that tomorrow was going to be better. It might be, it might not but for that one night the angels would go out and take away the pain, as much as they could. They would help humanity feel at least a little better. They knew they couldn't get to everyone but to anyone they could they would give a fighting chance for a better time to come.

It was a terrible thing to do to one's self but it was what they were born to do. So when the rounds were done they would drink and heal and sing and forget.

Danny didn't envy them, but he loved and cherished them and their friendship. Yea they tipped big, but that wasn't why he stayed open, he stayed because they were his friends and if the roles were reversed he knew they would do the same, not because they were born to but because it was what friends did.

Sometime after the world was awake the angels began to file out.

"Danny, my friend" said one of the host as he headed to the door."Any man who spends New Year's with the angels is truly blessed"

"Is that true?" Asked the barkeep

The angel shrugged "Maybe, possibly. Who knows?"

Danny smiled at the angel, who smiled back.

"What I do know is that any man with at least one good friend is blessed. I would say you have a few."

"And you have at least one."

The angel smiled broader. He then nodded and walked out.

Danny locked the door behind him and then headed home to bed looking forward to what the New Year would bring.

Best of 2018 Part 2- Best Of The Best

These are the top of all the films I saw in 2018. (The first four are the absolute cream of the crop.)

PADDINGTON 2 - pure joy. This film makes you smile and that is all that matters

BENEATH THE INK- I have never been contacted by filmmakers unconnected by a film and had them tell me I had to see a film. Not only filmmakers I was in contact with but other ones I was not. This short film  about a tattoo artist who covers over hateful tattoos which people who no longer believe in hate is, hands down, bar none the best doc of the year and maybe of any film. I wept at the final reveal and I can't recommend it enough. As for the Academy who didn't put this on the short list- you all are dead wrong and should be ashamed of yourselves.(Click the link)

HOLD ME DOWN- day in the life of a single mom who works as a stripper is so perfect a film as to stop being a narrative film or a film of any sort and just be life. It will kick you to the motherf-ing curb. (click the Link)

LOST AND FOUND- hands down one of my favorite films of all time. This story of two friends trying to save each other broke my heart and healed it and reduced me to a sobbing mess. (click the link)

WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET - one of my favorite directors Jeremy Workman turns his gaze on a man walking every block of New York City and reveals that there are  thing we don't know about the places we always go.

US FOREVER AGO- seeing this haunting experimental film was like seeing lightning for the first time. This is a film that has me beyond words.

AT ETERNITY'S GATE- a film about a painter by a painter wrecked me because it explains why I write and create

MAIDEN- the story of one woman who put a crew of women together and raced around the world is one hell of a tale simply told- because it doesn't need punching up.

CARMINE STREET GUITARS- the story of a small guitar store and the people who run it is just great time with great people

CARGO- a father infected by zombies must get his baby to safety before he goes away is as moving a tale of parental love as you can get

DESTINY THE TALE OF KAMAKURA- wonderful fantasy romance of the wonders around us and the course of true love

SATAN & ADAM- the story of friendship and music and it doesn't go as you expect and we are soooo much better for it

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: CODA- portrait of the composer over several years will open your eyes to how there is music everywhere and how nothing is forbidden when creating.

MANILA DEATH SQUAD- wonderful short that is as perfect a short as you can get

EARTHRISE-the story of a picture that never should have been taken and how it changed the world. Wow.

LUZ- not so much a horror film but a love story. A genre bending masterpiece which I will post a review of as soon as they release the damn thing in the US (I am embargoed)

GREENAWAY ALPHABET- Peter Greenaway's wife made a film about her husband that is the most Greenaway like film in years.

WAR OF THE WORLDS THE TRUE STORY- yes I know this is several years old but I only saw it this year and it still out shone so many others. This is the best take on the HG Wells story and just one hell of a ride when compared to any other.

MAN ON FIRE- I was left broken by this tale of a minister who set himself on fire to protest hatred in his community. It is heartbreaking.

MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT- this film reclaims the life and legacy of the great actor through his own words and artifacts- lets just say everything you think you know is wrong.

Mojin: The Worm Valley

Nothing challenges a viewer’s impulse to impose narrative continuity like the three films and three television series based on the bestselling Chinese novel franchise, Ghost Blows Out the Light. The first two films, Mojin: The Lost Legend and Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe were produced by different companies and featured completely different casts. The third film has been positioned as a sequel to Lost Legend, but makes slightly more sense as a prequel (only slightly). It is hard to see how the films could possibly fit together, considering the central relationships vary from film to film. Maybe it all makes sense if you include the TV series (two of the three feature the same cast and creatives). To further confuse fans, there is yet another entirely new cast portraying the popular characters in Fei Xing’s Mojin: The Worm Valley, which opens this Friday in New York.

Eons ago, a despotic queen cursed her unruly subjects and all their descendants with a brand on the back shoulder and an early death. Alas, the curse persists to this day, including for several of the adventurers associated with tomb “borrowers” Hu Bayi and Shirley Yang. The have an expedition planned deep into the heart of Worm Valley to recover an artifact that might lift the curse. Or something like that.

Technically, there are no worms in Worm Valley, but there are giant crabs, scorpions, snakes (close enough), and lizards. If you really want to be pedantic, there are not any ghosts either. Logic is also pretty scarce in these parts as well, but it works pretty well as an At the Earth’s Core-Skull Island-style monster movie. The assorted creature effects mostly maintain the right balance of believability and cheesiness (fans will understand what that means).

Lost Legend was a box office smash in the Chinese-language markets, so it is hard to fathom why Worm Valley brought in an entirely new cast, but the less recognizable names were surely more affordable. Gu Xuan has the difficult task of subbing in for Shu Qi, but she is still the best thing going for the film, making a much more convincing Shirley Yang than Alicia Vikander did as a Lara Croft. Cai Heng is an energy-sapping Gloomy Gus as Hu, but Cheng Taishen adds some maturity and seasoning as Sun Jiaoshou, the academic scholar on the expedition. Yet, it is Chen Yusi who lands the film’s big emotional scene as Zhou Linglong, the cursed daughter of Sun’s senior colleague.

Ironically, Worm Valley is probably less confusing if you have not seen any of the previous Ghost Blows Out the Light films (we can’t even speculate about the TV series). Yet, there is logic to Fei’s strategy. Instead of wasting time with dubious retcons, he has giant kaiju monsters chasing Hu and Yang, early and often. There is a good deal of meathead fun throughout Worm Valley, but it will make the hobgoblins of consistency in fans’ heads explode. Recommended for fans of Lost World and Land of the Lost fantasy-adventure, Mojin: The Worm Valley opens this Friday (1/4) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

OSS 117 (1963) aka OSS 117 IS UNLEASHED

While not the first OSS117 film, that would be OSS 117 IS NOT DEAD (1957), this is the first of the series made in the wake of the James Bond films. Its also a really good film that doesn’t seem like the sort of film that Bond would have spawned.

The plot of the film has OSS agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath traveling to Sardinia in order to find out what happened to an agent who died while investigating a series of underwater caves. The area is ripe with baddies and he’s in danger the instant he hits the island.

While the film has some action, the film is more a talky film closer to the more serious less a spectacular films of the period. de La Bath is actually investigating things by asking questions and breaking heads. It’s closer to From Russia With Love as opposed to Goldfinger. It results in a super little film that has weight and suspense.

The film, like the series, is also kind of anti-bond. A sequence late in the film where de La Bath goes underwater to see where the murder occurred is, aside from an okay audio effects track, almost silent. It’s a sequence that builds suspense via the natural tension in the situation and not through sound effects and throbbing music (ala Thunderball.) Director André Hunebelle also allows the film to play out over time which heightens everything.

This is a solid euro spy film. It’s easy to understand how this spawned a series that stretched on for five films and later spawned two satires with Jean Dujardin in the lead. Actually in going through the series recently I’m kind of shocked that they would spoof the films, especially considering it’s less goofy that the Bond films or some other similar series (Kommisar X for example)

Highly recommended

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Best of 2018 Part 1

As happens every year I have seen too many great films for a simple 10 Best list- to that end here is the first part of my personal BEST OF 2018 List. There is no listing as to which is better than the other- these all kick ass and take names.

LIFECHANGER- horror film as love story as character study about a shapeshifter trying to find the person he loves most again.

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING THIS EVENING- Life as lived beautifully explained.

COMMANDER ARIAN- A STORY OF A WOMAN WAR AND FREEDOM- portrait of a hero and super soldier who just happens to be a woman. If you want to know if women belong in the military aee this film.

LAST STOP CONEY ISLAND- portrait of the artist and his subject is just a series of oh wow moments-more so if you love New York (This is a perfect double feature with THE WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET- which is on the list tomorrow)

LAILA AT THE BRIDGE- moving story of a woman trying to help all of the drug addicts created in the wake of the American invasion of Afghanistan

EVELYN- A family walks in the places their lost sibling loved as they try to come to terms with his suicide. Bring several boxes of tissues and prepare to be kicked to the curb. This isn't just about loss but how we see all of life.

CHERRY GROVE STORIES - the story of a place on Fire Island that gave a haven to the LGBT community gave me a burning nostalgia for a place I've never been and never heard of. Magic.

MY NAME IS MYEISHA- This theater piece on the big screen  doesn't always translate well but when it does it is one of the best films of the year.

SEAMAN and 207- the story of a couple of God who live in their car at the title address and will gladly speak to anyone who needs them at any time of the day. Forget the people who preach from the pulpit these people are as close to God as you can get.

WAR AT HOME- re-release of an Oscar nominated film from the late 70's shakes up everything we thought of the Vietnam War and puts it into proper perspective.

ALL ABOUT NINA- comic on the verge battles herself and her craft in a film that has just gotten better and better since I first saw it. A staggering lead performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead which will criminally be left off the best of the year lists

OF FATHERS AND SONS- vitally important look at the jihadist mindset through an examination of the fathers and sons in the movement.(Its on the Oscar short list)

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID- the best Guillermo del Toro film--except its not by del Toro. A stunning magical realistic fairy tale which will break your heart.

DA HU FA- awesome unexpected animated film that is unlike anything anyone is doing

THETA GIRL- grand old school exploitation done right. 

OKAASAN (MOM) the directors love letter to her mom will make you tear up and want to call your mom.

GHOST OF PETER SELLERS- Peter Medak's examination of Seller's unchecked insanity is a frightening portrait of mad egos and studio stupidity on a grand scale

OLYMPIA- one of the finest portraits of an actor (in this case Olympis Dukakis) ever made

STARS IN THE SKY- a fantastic explanation of why people hunt

EXIT/AFTERWARD- two separate films about explorations concerning why people hate and how we can  turn things around.. The films both played at DOC NYC and they echoed each other to such an extent I linked them when I reviewed them and  now at the end of the year.

UNDER THE WIRE- This doc about recounts the final trip of legendary reporter Marie Colvin. The story it tells is one of the great stories of the year- I just wish it wasn't told in a vacuum and we got to connect more to Colvin and the rest of the people in it.

TITO AND BIRDS - while the film as a whole is a bit too dark and brooding for my tastes the animated sequences are among the most amazing things I've seen all year.

The opening sequence of IN WINTER is just as good an opening shot as films can have

GRIT- The images of the destruction of villages by mud are etched into my brain

SEDER MASOCHISM- I will say very little about this film other than despite my extreme displeasure at the director-whose personal beliefs run counter to what she is saying in this film- this is an artistic achievement-which we should all probably let remain buried.

INTRODUZIONE ALL’OSCURO- Glorious remembrance of a now departed friend by a master director

RV- a stern important warning of what will happen if the far right is allowed to take over

BORN BOURE BORN-  a good film in which the final shot, when taken in context, is as breathtaking an image as 2018 has produced.

BLANK 13-Koji Hashimoto ponders the death of his father and forces us to reconsider how we see all the people in our lives.

CHARM CITY- an incredible portrait of Baltimore that is deservedly on the Oscar short list

ITS A HARD TRUTH AIN'T IT- prisoners in a documentary class defy expectations and make you truly consider what prison is more than any other prison doc you'll see.

716th- awesome science fiction short has to be leading to something bigger because it just is so damn good.

ACCIDENCE- Must be seen as big as possible film about that happens on group of terraces...its just an awesome short

TRACKING EDITH-director Peter Stephan Jungk discovers his aunt was a Soviet spy- and the film is her story. WOW.

THEORY OF SUNSET- one of the most stunning films of the year of any length concerns sunsets and I have been haunted by it since I saw it.

WAY IT BEGINS- two people meet and dance-its one of the greatest musicals of the last few years- and it's only a couple of minutes long

And lastly WHEN LAMBS BECOME LIONS- I am hedging my pick here in that I am a Jon Kasbe fan- I have been talking him up for years and I was dragging people to see this film at Tribeca because he is one of the greatest filmmakers working today (yes, he is, you just don't know it yet). I absolutely love this film to death but I am so in awe of Kasbe that I don't know if I can even feign objectivity-Kasbe's film is a masterpiece to me but I don't know if I can put it on the Best of the Best list and not feel people questioning me (even though most people will have no idea how big a fan of Kasbe's work I am).... That said this look at wildlife poaching will force you- no matter what side you are on - to reconsider you position.  It is one of the tip top films of 2018 to me but because I have been the Kasbe fan club all year pushing the film I have to hedge my bets or feel odd.
(Jon -if you are seeing this - you've made one of the truly best films of the year and I will swear to it.)

Kommissar X jagt die roten Tiger - FBI: Operation Pakistan a.k.a. Tiger Gang (1971)

The final film in the Kommisar X series is also the hardest to find. I know because in deciding to review the entire series it was the one that gave me the hardest time running down. I could get an expensive copy on EBay but I really didn’t want to do that. I could find copies in German but that would prevent my doing a review. I finally stumbled on an awful print on You Tube and after fifteen minutes I realized why the film is so hard to find, it’s so bad no one wants to release it.

The plot of the film has Walker and Rowland getting involved in smashing a secret brotherhood which is running opium out of Afghanistan into Iran, Iraq and eventually Pakistan where it is then sent to the US. Little happens, and none of it is exciting.

A Pakistani co-production the film doesn’t feel like any of the other films in the series. It was one of the first international co-productions with the Pakistani film industry, made to help spark further co-productions. While further films happened it wasn’t because of this film, which frequently forgets the nominal main characters (are they even in this?) in order to highlight Pakistani location and characters. While it wouldn’t be bad if it moved things along, that isn’t the case and things just seem to run on and on to get things to feature length.

More comedy than action film (there is almost no real action) the film takes the worst parts of the series and amps them up. It’s all tongue in cheek and jokey with the result none of it is funny or engaging. It’s so bad that I would have shut it off had not committed to reviewing the film.

What were they thinking?

I guess everyone wanted a pay check. And I really mean this is a pay check film or a paid vacation because everyone looks like they are on holiday at a resort making a home movie. No matter how serious things are supposed to be everyone has a smile or a smirk on their faces. Clearly they had a grand time…

… which is something that doesn’t carry over to the audience- this is just a painful viewing experience. It’s so bad you know why this killed the franchise.

This is a sad ignoble end to a super series. Honestly this is the only film in the entire Kommisar X series that isn’t worth the effort

Avoid this film at all costs.

Once more help PR person extraordinaire Kaila Hier return to the US and bring us all movies

Kaila, Pierre the Lama and Leah Shore
Kaila Heir still can't come to the US and she still needs some help getting unbanned.

Below is a repost of the original appeal I put up in April when it was hoped that Kaila would be able to work things out reasonably quickly but because things have slowed down in part because of the way the government works and in part because Trump's Administration have shifted the rules she's still stuck on the outside looking in.

Because You Caring where her original appeal went down and because more money is required, Kaila has set up a GoFund me page. Because things have changed and this new appeal has gone live I'm reposting the original piece I did in the hope that you will find it in your heart to throw Kaila some cash and thus continue to have really cool films brought to your attention.

I need to take a minute out and ask that you help an acquaintance and more importantly a major connection for my cinematic addition, Kaila Hier. Kaila is a PR person who has been feeding many of us in the Unseen Films family films for several years thanks to her connection to great film festivals such as Fantasia, Final Girls Berlin and the Boston Underground Film Festivals. She has been responsible for our discovering a lot of films which are now near and dear to our hearts. She is a sweet and lovely person and someday I home to meet her in real life.

Kaila, is not based in the United States and because of the nature she goes where the work takes her which is around the world, often working on several projects globally at the same time from a remote location. During a stay in the US which wasn't listed as a business trip she sent off some business emails and the US government took exception and banned her from entering the US country for five years. (You can read the details here). Its bullshit of course, especially in this interconnected world, but as a result she can’t come to the US.

As things stand she has an attorney who said she can appeal the ban but she needs the money to file for the appeal and to pay for the fees required to file the papers. To that end she has set up a You Caring page in order to pay for the costs.

I know that a lot of you like what we do here at Unseen Films. You like that we reveal all of these crazy little films you’ve never heard of. You love that we open your horizons well if you want to make sure we can continue to have as wide a view of cinema as possible we need you to click and give a couple of bucks to help make it so Kaila can be back into the US. Make it easier for her to come here and do what she is really good at which is spread the word on festivals and films we all need to be seeing.

Now I know many of you can’t afford to do anything big time. I'm not asking for a huge donation. I know you are barely getting by, but if I can ask you to just take the cost of a cup of coffee, just one cup, and send it to Kaila you’ll be helping keep Unseen, and thus yourself well stocked with cinematic treasures. Seriously t’s any small gesture, and nothing more from a lot of really good people will result in the long run with lots of new films for you to see and marvel at.(Trust me Kaila is really good at finding really good films to rep and share)

So if you can please take a minute and give a couple of bucks so Kaila can keep sending us movies which will broaden our horizons and make the world a better place.


To donate or to read about what exactly happened and why Kaila was banned go here.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Film Finds 2018

Every year there are a whole bunch of films that are too good not to be remembered but which for some reason just fall short of the Best of the Year list.

BUFFALO BOYS-  A western so far to the west it's set in Asia. Indonesian entry for the upcoming Oscars is just a hellaciously good action film.

MURDER MADE EASY- wonderfully tricky film about dinner and murder---and to say more is telling except it is an absolute blast and I love it.

CHOOSING SIDES- screamingly funny film about the child of a mixed religion couple having to choose a faith-as crazy as it is in real life, this is funnier.

HANAGATAMI-Nobuhiko Obayashi's passion project about youth in Japan during the Second World War is a one of a kind film that only Obayahi could have directed.

NIGHT EATS THE WORLD- One of the best zombie films you'll see has a man waking up after a party to find the world zombified. If it wasn't for one small logic bump it would be on my best of the year list.

I CAN SPEAK- Unexpectedly moving film about a bitch on wheel senior wanting to learn English so she can testify about being a comfort woman during WW2. Funny and deeply moving it is an unexpected joy.

LIGHTHOUSE- Based on a true story film about the madness that encounters some light house keepers during a storm that strands them. Suspenseful and haunting it was not what I expected and a real gem.

GIANT WOMEN MICRO BUDGET-Jason Kartalian, one of my favorite directors, scores with a glorious film about filmmakers making films because they have to. It will make you love the movies even more

MCQUEEN- Portrait of the late fashion designer Steve McQueen is at its best a beautiful marriage of image and music (by Michael Nyman)

CROSSROADS- This portrait of a high school lacrosse team shouldn't work- it hits every cliche in the book- and yet it is as deeply moving a sports film as is possible to make.

TO DUST-wickedly funny buddy film about grief and worrying about when our loved ones will ultimately find eternal peace. It is one of a kind and will touch your heart.

ISLAND OF HUNGRY GHOSTS- this should probably be on the best of the year list but I flinched. This is a fantastic look at how we restrict human migration but will go to great lengths to help some crabs across the road.

EARTHLY ENCOUNTERS- glorious short about a kid trying to save is brother maybe the greatest Spielberg film that Spielberg never made

MORI-ARTIST HABITAT-day in the life of an artist forces us to rethink about how we see the world. What could be better?

BLOOD OF WOLVES-mix of old school yakuza film as and modern buddy films makes for one of the most entertaining films of the year

OUTLAWS- seasoned cop who knows how to bend the rules takes on the Chinese gangs doesn't break new ground but it still kicks ass.

HEARTS BEAT LOUD- magical moving and marvelous story about the ability of music to bring us together. It is wonderful on every level and a must see

INTERPRETERS- damning look at how the US abuses the people who help or soldiers in war  ravaged countries.

TROLL INC-  story of an expert in click bait becoming a target of the government.

ANYTHING Matt Bohmer gives a great performance as trans woman who begins an affair with a widower.  Absolutely lovely and proof of how good Bohmer can be.

SONG OF BACK AND NECK - worst title of the year hides a glorious one of a kind film about a man who is so tense the acupuncture needles in his back and neck sing

COUNTERS- a look at hate speech in Japan is warning to people everywhere.

OUTLAW KING- Chris Pine film about Robert the Bruce is an old fashioned epic that is also a kick ass romance.

SUPERGRID- old school exploitation film about two brothers trying to pick up a package in a dangerous wasteland. Entertaining as they come.

VENUS- just as Sid comes out as a trans she discovers that she has a son. Its 100 minutes with good people.

CROWN AND ANCHOR- raw real family crime drama has some of the best moments in any film I saw in 2018

NIGHT COMES ON-young woman just out of prison wants to reconnect with her ex and kill the person who killed her father. It's not the plot but the people that move you

BULLITT COUNTY- distillery crawl morphs into a quest for stolen money and finally tragedy. Rarely has a criminal falling out been this compelling

BIG KILL- Wonderful western hits all the right buttons and is way better than you think.

VIRGIN BLACK TOP- nostalgic look at some of the first skateboarders and where they are now.

SEARCHING FOR INGMAR BERGMAN- a truly great doc just missed the best of the year cut. This look at why Bergman matters is just awesome.

LIFE AND NOTHING MORE- slice of life that will move you

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WHEN THE WORLDS ON FIRE-one of the best films at NYFF was in the doc sidebar where its look at racial inequality just leaves you broken

SGT STUBBY- nominal a kids film that doesn't shy away from war and becomes something greater than most of the American animated films released today.

BIG BAD FOX AND OTHER TALES- the ERNEST AND CELESTINE crew is back and we are better for it

GUNN- modern film noir done right

Kommissar X-Three Golden Serpents a.k.a. The Island of Lost Girls (1969)

This is the first film in the Kommissar X series I ever saw and it hooked me. the fact that it just starts and goes straight on to the end was such a delight. While not a perfect film it still is an absolute delight for anyone wanting to see a movie that is sound and fury and in no way deep.

After the daughter of a rich woman is kidnapped by a group planning on turning her into a sex slave for their ends she calls in Joe Walker to try and track down where she went. Hooking up once more with Captain Rowland the pair are attacked at every turn by the baddies who fear that they will discover their evil plan. They are so afraid of the pair that they promise to release the missing daughter if Walker and Rowland are sent away.

Full of great locations, its a Bangkok that no longer exists, and pretty much non-stop action. There is zero attempt at explaining who our heroes are, they are the good guys and that's fine since the plot never stops moving and the violence is never more than two or three minutes away. It doesn't make a lick of sense but it doesn't really matter since this film is just so much damn fun.

Watching the film for the first time in several years for this series of reviews I was delighted that the film held up to my earlier feelings, even after wading through all of the other films in the series. If I was just seeing the film for the first time I would have fallen for it because it is, on it's own terms, such an absolute delight.

To be honest the details in the plotting makes zero sense. Things happen just to keep the plot moving. For example one character escapes from the secret island but has no idea where it is despite driving a boat from it. Additionally Walker and Rowland are trying to run down a tattoo  linked to the bad guy but never notice that the lead henchmen carries a scepter in the shape of the tattoo. The lack of sense isn't fatal even if it is funny, because things just keep moving along.

I love this film. It is one of the best in the entire Kommissar X series and a damn fine film on it's own terms. Highly recommended.

The film is available from Sinister Cinema and is free streaming from Amazon Prime.

Venerable W plays MOMA January 4 through the 10

Watching Barbet Schroeder's THE VENERABLE W is like being woken up by having cold water sprayed on you from a fire hose while someone with spiked gloves smacks you into consciousness. It is a film full of the full weight of history and it crushes us with the sense we've been here before (this really is similar to what happened with the Nazis). It is also a film that is a cinematic fire alarm about the road we all could end up traveling down. It shows how words can and will inflame people to the point of genocide. It is a warning to everyone, both now living and future generations that genocide could happen "here", where ever your here is.

Schroeder's film documents the crimes against humanity being committed by the monk known as The Venerable Wirathu in Myanmar. W is turning many Buddhists against the Muslim minority via carefully worded sermons and outright lies. It is a never ending cycle of violence as W's words spark killings which spark revenge killings which then cause more violence and more violence and....

THE VENERABLE W is just down right scary. It is a film that clearly shows what unchecked hatred can do- we see the bodies of the dead and dying. We see how, step by step, W gained prominence and how he gets his message of hatred out. Schroeder gives us video of important events, tracts by W and his followers and commentary by experts. It is a portrait of a truly evil man doing what he can to spread his mindset of unbridled hatred.

Most importantly Schroeder talks to the man himself. Full of certainty and the "right" answers W told Schroeder that he could ask any question he wanted. Knowing that he was going to be fed bullshit Schroeder didn't ask the obvious questions such as how he reconciles the hatred he spews with the Buddhist notion of not hating. Instead he simply lets the man talk and hang himself with his own words.

The combination of words and images presented here is crushing and the portrait of a man of peace having gone so far afield is damning. Sitting in the front row with nothing to separate me from the carnage I felt bludgeoned.I had to look away.

How is that so many seemingly good people can be lead by such a sociopath? Why would a man of peace turn to violence?

There are no easy answers and Schroeder doesn't pretend to have them. In the Q&A that followed the New York Film Festival screening he refused suggest a reason why W preaches hatred. Schroeder refuses to speculate because he doesn't have all the information. Similarly he refused to say outright that W is somehow connected to the military who ruled the country for years and who has tried to wipe out the Muslims themselves for decades. All he would say is that many of the money men who circle the military looking for contracts can be tentatively connected to W via donations to certain monasteries.

Watching the film one can not help but see the parallels to the course of human events both past and present. As I said above what W is doing is very similar to how the Nazi's spread their hate. His quietly fanning any already held prejudices into full on hatred is turning good men and women into bad ones. The horrific violence not only frightens the Muslims but in its way also anyone who would speak against it. It is frightening because the ones committing the acts of terror are not the police or military but friends and neighbors.

As for the future all one sees is how the suspicion and distrust of Muslims is running rampant in the world. It is a false feeling of fear (Schroeder shows us stats) fanned by the media who get viewership by fear. However the danger doesn't need be a turning against Muslims, but any group. Living here in what is now a divided America, one need only watch how the President stokes the fires of hatred toward anyone he and his base dislikes to see that it could happen here (why else suggest building a border wall).

THE VENERABLE W is a film that will leave you broken and angry. It is a film of rare power, and singular filmmaking. Barbet Schroeder has made a masterpiece that will move you to try to do something even if it is to preach it's warnings and make you want to get word ot by talking the film up and pressing copies into the hands of people around you because word must be spread.

It is a singular achievement...

...even more so when you consider that the New York Film Festival screened the film with the short WHAT ARE YOU UP TO BARBET SCHROEDER? about the reasons behind the making of VENERABLE W.

Made for a complete career retrospective of Schroder's films WHAT ARE YOU UP TO... beautifully explains how Schroeder's deeply felt Buddhist beliefs resulted in him needing to go to see how a religion that is about love and non-violence could be perverted into something so black.

What I loved about the film is that in 13 minutes not only does the film explain THE VENERABLE W but it also explains Schroeder's feelings for Buddhism and the religion itself. I have been studying Buddhism for decades and watching the film I had several wonderful "ah ha" moments. I was so moved that I'd love to see Schroeder tackle a full on exploration of Buddhism.

Like the film it is nominally about, WHAT ARE YOU UP TO... is a singular achievement. And like that film it is improved and enhanced when seen with its companion.

THE VENERABLE W and WHAT ARE YOU UP TO... make up one of the most important and vital films of 2017, or any year. They are a cry for help for the Muslims of Myanmar and a warning that must be heard and answered.

See these films for they will change how you see the world.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Genesis 2.0 (2018)

Dual story pondering the future of human existence begins with native Yakuts on the remote New Siberian Islands. They have come to the islands in the hope of finding a mammoth in the permafrost. They all hope to find the large tusks that will fetch tens of thousands of dollars. If they are lottery level lucky they will find a preserved carcass in the ground. This is cross cut with the scientists who are looking to engineer new life forms and to bring back old ones with genetic engineering. Bouncing between the two threads we are forced to ponder what we are doing and where it will lead.

Moody, gorgeous to look at documentary is film of quiet power. This is a film which sucks you in with its images and the mystery of its tale (what exactly are these guys looking for?) and then once it gets us it slowly gives us things to chew on. What are we really trying to do with creating horse/zebra or lion and tiger cross breeds? Why are we really doing it beyond simply that we can?

I’m not sure. To be honest it’s been several days since I saw Genesis 2.0 and I’m still turning it over in my mind. I’m still pondering what it was trying to say and what I think about it. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but in a good way. I love that the film is hanging in my brain and forcing me to think about it. Several days on I still don’t have answers-which is as it should be. Frankly had I not had a deadline I would have waited to write it up- but the film opens Wednesday so there is no time.

Ultimately I really like Genesis 2.0. It is definitely worth a look, more so on the big screen where the images can overwhelm. See it starting January 2nd. For more information go here.

Worst and most disappointing of 2018

Every year no matter how much we'd like there are films that  either work to a point and then peter out or  that just suck. These are my choices for the disappointments and worst films of 2018- or at least were so bad I had to write them down (there were dozens more that I simply committed to the void)

THE DARK- kind of undead monster tale completely falls apart in the second half as the supernatural horror film becomes an allegory about sexual abuse.

BUY BUST where a swat team gets lost in a shanty town maze, is basically an endless action sequence that falls apart because we never get a sense of place. Worse the action is in such close quarters that we really can't take it in

THE HOARDE- what would have been a great fifteen minute horror comedy short is expanded to 100 minutes and collapses as scares disappear and all the jokes fall flat

IN MY ROOM-awful post apocalyptic tale never makes sense on any level. It all looks staged and things just happen because.(Like a blind dog who couldn't see a wall of broken glass leaping up and getting impaled on it or cars that are carefully crashed and turned over)

HER SMELL-this film of five moments in time with the lead singer of a punk band and it asks us to forgive one of the most vile screen characters ever just because. Yea the end is triumphant- but it doesn't earn it because until the final moments she is beyond redemption.

ROI SOIEL- A man dressed as Louis XIV rolls around on a floor for an hour. WHY?

THE CHURCH-Awful horror film that actually seems to be trying to save our souls.

END OF LIFE-Terrible look at the end of the road for several well known people.While some of it works, mostly I had no idea why I was being asked to watch it.

TO KID OR NOT TO KID- I am loath to say a film is full of any sort of self serving entitlement but this look at one woman explaining why she doesn't want children is full of it....and not just entitlement.

SUSHI TUSHI OR HOW ASIAN BUTTED INTO AMERICAN FOOTBALL- Awful football comedy that was made by people who don't remotely understand football... or comedy

BETWEEN NEIGHBORHOODS- terrible split screen look at a Queens New York neighborhood plays like your worst civics lesson

CRISIS JUNG- Terrible animated film/series about a hero in a wasteland gaining power through psycho therapy. It might have worked if it had been more than just vulgar.

AVOCADO- absolutely charming short about office cleaners falls off the table in the final minutes as out of left field one is suddenly deported. Yea life does that but as a short film it sucks rocks.

GHOSTBOX COWBOY- A man goes to China to try and get his invention off the ground. Bad. Just bad

DUCK BUTTER- working in moments this romance goes nowhere other than to the pretentious pit.

GREAT PRETENDER- This film's cleverest moment is when it makes jokes about a man sleeping with his girlfriend before he tells her he has VD.  It never gets better than that

MAINE- Woman takes up with a young man traveling the Appalachian Trail - nothing happens and the film just stops

7 STAGES.....- Couple gets a cheap apartment because people are constantly breaking in to kill themselves in their bath tub so they'll go to paradise. Okay premise goes no where and just repeats itself endlessly. Not funny

Kommissar X – Drei blaue Panther (de) - Three Blue Panthers a.k.a. Kill Panther Kill (1967)

Fifth film in the Kommisar X series is tonally all over the place with the result that despite some great action sequences the film is a chore to get through.

The film begins with a jail break that leaves three police officers dead. It seems that the escapee knows where a cache of stolen jewels are hidden and the guys breaking him out want the jewels. Of course so do other groups including Joe Walker who is working for the insurance company.

Running a very long 89 minutes the film suffers from being padded in numerous places. Part of the padding comes in the form of location footage of a rodeo and partly it's padded in that the film frequently stops so the various characters can chase each other or Walker and Rowland for no really good reason.

The film also develops a rather dumb sense of humor with several gags stretched to the point of breaking and a jokey score which kills any thought of suspense. I never laughed and just kept checking my watch.

On the other hand the film does have a few great set pieces such as the opening escape and the judo school fight which make it kind of worth seeing.

Recommended only for fans of the series.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

Peter Jackson's THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD will rattle around in you head long after you see it. I went to one of today's Fathom Events screenings (The AMC 25 in NYC was running it from opening until close in multiple theaters) and it rocked my world.

Cut from over 100 hours of  film from the trenches and 600 hours from survivors of the First World War (the film bears the credit Shot on location on the Western Front 1914-1918) the film is structured so as be what a a soldier typically would have experienced. It is not supposed to be specific (which drove the historian next to me up the wall) but a representation from signing up to going home of what was experienced.

Beginning and ending in black and white in correct aspect ratio to how it was shot, the middle section is in color and widescreen. All of it has been speed corrected, lip synced (we now hear what was said thanks to lip readers) and put into 3D for a visceral gut punch of a film. For the first time we are there- no really. The friend who I went with, a scholar of the war was rocked by what she saw- for the first time it was right there and in color and not a distant memory protected by black and white carnage.

Jackson and his team have made a monumental achievement because not only have they made a towering documentary which makes the war modern, but they have rescued countless hours of decaying film by cleaning it up and making it watchable again.

You really must see this film- if possible in a theater with great sound and 3D If not you should just see it because it will leave you reeling.

Highly recommended- hopefully it will get a theatrical life beyond the Fathom screenings because it is that good (and the theaters at least in NYC) have been packed.

One of 2018's very best films LIFECHANGER hits US VOD January 1 and Canadian theaters tomorrow

I'm going to go at this two ways.

If you don't want spoilers I'm going to simply say that if you want a great horror film that transcends the typical monster on the loose tale, and goes to that rarefied land where horror films about more than just scares then see LIFECHANGER. Trust me this is a truly great film.

...on the other hand if you want more details and don't mind being told a thing or two keep reading.

The simplest way to explain LIFECHANGER is to say it is about Drew who is a body thief of sorts. Jumping from identity to identity he is on a quest to find the one person he ever encountered who seemed to love him for himself.

Told in a killer voice over with a sterling cast doing amazing work to create one seamless performance, LIFECHANGER is a huge glittering gem of a film. Rarely have so many people come together to create one character. If you are confused by what I'm saying just see the film and you won't be confused any longer, they are all fantastic.

Nominally a horror film LIFECHANGER transcends the genre to become a killer meditation on love, loss, relationships, life and a whole bunch of other things. Director Justin McConnell has found a new way to examine human existence and created a film that not only will move you emotionally on numerous levels but will get you thinking for days.

This is a quiet masterpiece hiding in plain sight. It was a film that sounds like something anyone other than a horror fiend would pass over. I almost did. However because the film was laid at my door as something special. Once I saw the film I knew how why I "had" to see it and then I started emailing my friends who are also covering Fantasia to tell them that they might want to put this film on their coverage list.

I kind of love this film. It is the sort of small film that I love stumbling upon. One where nothing was expected, where it was offered to me to review and I decided to take a chance (honestly until the PR film connected to the fest reached out I was not going to see the film). And having taken a chance I've found a truly special film that, if all goes right, is going to be treasured film for more than just horror fans.

One of the the best films of 2018, it is highly recommended

If you want to read my interview with director  Justin McConnell then go here.
LIFECHANGER hits American VOD New Year's Day and Canadian theaters tomorrow

Kommissar X – Drei grüne Hunde - Death Trip (1967)

Fourth film in the Kommisar X series has lots of action if little sense. It is also one of the best looking films in the series and one of the few ones to really include characters outside of the main action.

The plot of the film has Captain Rowland transport a million dollars worth of LSD to Turkey for the army. The want it in case of an unconventional war. However it is eyed by  group of bad guys who want it for their own purposes. Joe Walker gets sucked into it when a conversation he has in a bar leads the bad guys to think he knows something about the LSD. Mayhem results.

Filled with real characters beyond Rowland and Walker  this is ultimately one of the best in the series.... assuming you just let the plot go where it wants to. All of the sequences are really good, with some great characters, the problem is the plotting that keeps everything linked up really isn't there so trying to make sense of it can be frustrating.

Then again the action sequences in this film are really great, and they get better as the film goes on with two of the best, one in a castle and it's tower and another set in the desert holding our attention  simply because they are just so freaking cool. (I never expected the motorcycle chase to go that way)

I really love this film a great deal and it's highly recommended, especially if you get the gorgeous print from Sinister Cinema.


WALE - Trailer from Barnaby Blackburn on Vimeo.
The fact that WALE has made the Oscar Short List for Live Action Shorts vexes me. It's not that it isn't a bad film, it's quite good for what it is. On the other hand out side of the great look and feel of the film it isn't all that special.

Actually part of the problem with the film is that what the film is supposed to be about, and what it really is about are two entirely different things and almost two different movies.

What the film is billed as is the story of an 18 year old kid with a criminal record who is struggling to start his own business. The thing is that it is a jumping off point for a thriller where the kid is being set up by a husband for the murder of his wife. While that may have worked in a feature in a short it doesn't quite hold together because threads are left hanging. There is a feeling that so much more could have been and should have been said. Frankly this should have either been either the story of trying to set up the business or the set up but not both.

I do like the film as a hole and I absolutely love the camera work, editing and music, but I don't think it's enough to get it an Oscar especially when there are other, better short listed films.

Ultimately it's worth a look but nothing you need search out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018


Teen Titans Go To The Movies
Wickedly funny send up of all things superhero and cinema is an unexpected delight.
Okay yes I suspected that I would like the film because all my friends loved it but at the same time I didn’t expect to be giggling for the entire 85 minutes. I also didn’t expect to immediately want to watch the film again to catch all of the throw away gags that fill the backgrounds. Nominally the story of Robin trying to get his own movie because everyone else has one, the film spins off into unexpected directions with the result we never know what is going to happen next. (I mean Challengers of the Unknown? Who expected to ever see them on the big screen). Highly recommended to everyone, and even more so to anyone who loved superhero/comics.

A Quiet Place
A family living alone in an isolated cabin struggles to stay alive after the world is over run by creatures attracted to sound.
Hailed by many as one of the scariest films in years and one of 2018’s very best, I was kind of left scratching my head . The monsters while looking cool (despite just okay CGI) make zero anatomical sense. Rarely have I ever looked at a movie monster and simply said “no”. There is no way anything would ever look like that. Additionally when we got to the end and we discover the monster’s weakness all I could think was- “no one thought of some form of that earlier?” While I freely admit that I shouldn’t be picking the film apart since it is just a horror film, but at the same time it shouldn’t give me a reason to do so.

Mission Impossible Fallout
Tom Cruise returns to the big screen in a big loud film that is better than most of the recent films in the series but it is still ultimately a wafer thin plot stretched too far between a series of spectacular set pieces. Yea, it all looks great but there is no cost until close to the end. Yea,  it looks great but frankly you know how it's going to go (as several people have said Ethan should have died at the end). I liked it but I was never fully hooked and wandered in and out of the living room even during the exciting bits. Action fans will eat it up, all others less so.

Take Point: Action Under the DMZ

You know things are bad in the DPRK if the Grand Poobah himself wants to defect. In this thriller set three or four years in the future, the “Supreme Leader” is aptly known as “King.” Whether he really wants to defect or not is uncertain, but “Ahab,” a South Korean mercenary, is determined to bring him back safely regardless. It will take a bold move to prevent a catastrophic war and Ahab is just the guy to make it in Kim Byung-woo’s Take Point, which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles and next Friday in New York.

Ahab and his seedy team of mercs are lethally effective, but as foreign nationals, they can be easily disavowed. That is why Agent Mackenzie frequently subcontracts their services. However, this gig was always going to messy and it just got a whole lot more complicated. Ahab’s crew ensconced themselves in the secret tunnels under the DMZ, waiting to whisk away a high-ranking official who supposedly wants to defect. The game gets exponentially more serious when King shows up in his place. Maybe he wants to defect or maybe he doesn’t. Either way, Ahab and his men can collect the enormous bounty on King’s head if they bring him in alive.

The initial snatch and grab proceeds surprisingly smoothly, but everything soon goes down twisted thereafter. It seems Ahab and King were set up by elements in the North Korean government loyal to China, who want to take over the DPRK and embarrass the American government, especially Pres. McGregor, whose re-election numbers have been in freefall. He might end up hoisted on his own Wag-the-Dog petard, unless Ahab and his crew can deliver the wounded King to the rendezvous point. Things look really bad for the colorful mercs, but Ahab finds an unlikely ally in Yoon Ji-ui, King’s personal physician.

Politically speaking, Take Point (the title is a command and also maybe a place) is about as cynical as a film can get. Everyone is betraying everyone else, so you can’t accuse it of playing favorites, but it is safe to say there is some serious moral equivalency going on here. At least there is also some slam bang action as well. Kim really puts poor Ahab through the wringer and paints him into a corner. His prosthetic leg takes more of a beating than the one the Rock sports in Skyscraper.

As Ahab, Ha Jung-woo is a terrific world-weary, beat-to-heck anti-hero. It is also a good deal of fun watching him play off American thesps Jennifer Ehle and Malik Yoba, as Mackenzie and Gerald, Ahab’s field lieutenant. Of course, it is obvious Ahab’s righthand man Markus is questionable, because he is played by Kevin Durand at his shiftiest.

Scurrying through all those underground tunnels could potentially get tedious, but Kim keeps the energy cranked out and the close-quarters combat easy to follow. You have to give him and the stunt team credit, because they keep raising the stakes and topping themselves, every step of the way. Recommended for the action spectacle (rather than as any sort of coherent political statement), Take Point opens tomorrow (1/27) at the CGV Theatres in LA and Buena Park and next Friday (1/4) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

Help Preacher 6 cross the finish line.

You may have seen the guys and girls from the film PREACHER 6 using crowd funding to get their film finished. It's almost there and based on the footage and images they have released it looks totally awesome.

They are in their final stint of fundraising and are in the final stretch to get the last $20,000.So if you if you have a little bit of money and actually want to be part of a film why not give a little

Go here to donate
Here is the film's website.

Kommissar X: So Darling So Deadly (1966)

A step back in the series after DEATH IS NIMBLE DEATH IS QUICK, SO DEADLY SO DARLING feels so much like the first film that one wonders if this wasn't shot second and released third.

This time out Joe Walker and Tom Rowland end up is Singapore trying to help a scientist who has created a lens that will intensify a laser beam. The lens is wanted by the Golden Dragon a hooded bad guy with a huge army.

This is an odd film. The relationship between Walker and Rowland is the well written and mirrors the one they have through most of the series, with witty repartee, however the plotting is a complete mess. Walker and Rowland kind of stagger around and fall into fights which lead them in a direction were another fight happens. Nothing really makes any sense, its just European actors wandering around beating up Asian henchmen.

Its hard to believe that this film comes chronologically after DEATH IS NIMBLE... since it feels it feels like the bridge between that and the first film KISS KISS KILL KILL which had a sort of plot and sort of characters. Additionally a bunch of the actors from the first film carry over here in similar roles.

As messy as the film is, it's actually not bad if you like action films and aren't too demanding. The reason it isn't bad is that the film doesn't stop moving. It is constant motion from fight to place to fight to fight to place to place to fight... There is so much fisticuffs that you can't help but wonder how the heroes manage to keep their shirts spotless and undamaged.

High art this is not- pure popcorn chomping entertaiment it is.

Worth a look if you come upon it or are a fan of 1960's Euro-action

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


Netflixed filmed a performance of John Leguizamo’s Broadway show while it was on tour and we are better for it. As with all of his shows the premise is always the launching point for his ramblings examinations of his family and life. In this case how reported Latino history collides with reality and how that shapes how we see ourselves. Yes Leguizamo is talking specifically about Latino history but as always he is speaking larger truths about everyone. Its very funny and highly recommended.

Billed as a comedy monolog Nannette is a long pained scream at the world and at men in particular. It is a gut punch that is going to split audiences, not so much for what it is but for how it is billed- a comedy. While it is funny at times, more it is pained and painful. The film is Hannah Gadsby discussion of comedy of marginalized individuals by pondering if her turning her life into comedy was more helpful than hurtful.She then flips things in order to make straight white males feel how marginalized individuals do on a daily basis. A deeply emotional show it is recommended for those who feel they are ready for it. For anyone looking for a full on hour of jokes look elsewhere.

Bruce Springsteen’s record breaking show was recorded and is no on Netflix for considerably less than the $600 or more a ticket it cost to see it live. A wonderful deep dive into Springsteen’s life (much of the monolog is lifted directly from his autobiography) it is also the best looking of any Netflix live performance I’ve seen. As much as I like the show the one thing that stuck with me is that Springsteen almost never looks at the audience, instead searching the floor for his words. Regardless the show is worth your time.

Kommisar X: Death is Nimble Death is Quick (1966)

Second of the Kommisar X series  has private eye Joe Walker (Tony Kendall) and NYC police Captain  Tom Roland (Brad Harris) called to Sri Lanka in order to investigate the death of a government official and protect an heiress which are tied to the criminal organization known as The Golden Cats.

I recently came upon a beautiful widescreen copy of this film via Sinister Cinema and decided to dive into the film for the first time in several year. Seeing the film in a beautiful widescreen the film improved greatly from past viewings.  While I have always been a fan of the series DEATH IS NIMBLE always was a mixed bag wit some great action sequences mixed with a bit too much talk.

What is interesting about the film from a historical perspective is not so much the fact it is clearly influenced by the Bond series, rather it's the fact that the killer knows karate. When this film came out martial arts were just  being integrated into western films and to have the fact tat a killer knowing how to kill with just his hands must have seemed fantastic. Now of course it feels kind of quaint. On the other and it does allow for a pretty good show down for in an ancient temple at the end.

After a bang up start and some nice bits along the way (the action, the flesh eating bacteria, the witty repartee) this is not as good as some of the other entries in the series. The problem here is the film has long sections where there is too much exposition. It's not so much that there is exposition rather that the film stops moving during it. Part of the problem is that there are simply way too many side characters to carry the film with two heroes, two girls, multiple secondary good guys, four or five bad guys plus other level characters and they all get quality screen time. It makes for a well rounded group but it slows the progress of the plot way down.

Reservations aside this is a really good series and is highly recommended especially if you are a fan of 1960's action films  and liked films like the Jerry Cotton series or similar films.

Monday, December 24, 2018

A story for Randi on Christmas Eve

This is a Christmas story I wrote for Randi. It harkens back to when she and I were going out and every year I tried to write her a story for Christmas. Some were short stories and some were essentially novels, they usually had something to do with Christmas and sometimes they didn’t. They were not high art just written just to amuse the love of my life. For better or worse some of the best writing I ever did was contained in those stories. I still refer to bits I came up with and the characters that fill them in the fragments I now occasionally scribble in half used notebooks.

You really don’t need to know any of that but it might help to know that the main character, a young woman named Fen (aka Fenchurch) is the heroine of the tales. She is a grand adventurer through time and space more often than not at the whim of time and space itself. I mention this because it puts a stray comment into context. Also in context is the fact I tend to have a repeated motif of angels getting drunk at a bar. If you remember the one other story of mine that appeared here at Unseen involved angels getting drunk at a poetry reading.

The last bit of context and the only thing you really need to know about the story is that the Mark Knopfler song referenced is called The Ragpicker’s Dream. The song can be found here and you should probably give it a listen so you get an sense of the dance at the end.

That is it. And this the story- a small trifle written to amuse a friend and nothing more.

Fenchurch was holed up in a dark corner of the bar nursing a too big double. She hadn’t been expecting to find the bar open on Christmas Eve but there it was so she wandered in, and saw why Danny had chosen to skip midnight mass- a band of angels were ponied up to the bar. As everyone knows Angeles tip big and on this holiest of nights you can’t get much closer to God than his heavenly host, so he stayed open and hummed along to the tunes.

It was a quiet night for the most part. The sound system had Christmas classics playing, mostly Bing and Perry and those sort of things. All low key. It was the sort of night where even Brenda Lee was going to be too rockin'. There were a couple of rowdy college kids at a table to the right of the bar but a withering look from one of the glowing beings had put the literal fear of god into them.

Fen liked it quiet. It had been a crazy holiday season for reasons that eluded her, mostly having to do with other people’s crazy need to create the feeling of false nostalgia you get from holiday songs. Long ago Fen stopped worrying about recreating something that never was. She supposed that she had seen enough in her trips around the universe that she could accept the wonders before her without question-after all she was sitting in a bar in Iowa with a bunch of angels which, if you thought about it, was somehow magical.

Fen took to doodling on he napkin, more abstracts than anything concrete. She found herself humming along to some odd ball Mitch Miller tune as she drew.

Then she looked up. There were raised voices at the bar. A heated argument was getting loud. Fen was a tad confused since while she had seen more than her share of drunk angels she had never seen one raise their voice. The fact that two were speaking very loudly was really strange- she wondered what could have caused it….

And then she caught it, they were arguing the merits of various Christmas Carols. They were trying to, very loudly, as loudly as angel can get, which is loud, convince each other what the best Christmas song was.

Fen was amused.

And then she got up and walked to the bar, and then behind it. Danny didn’t pay her any mind as she unhooked the sound system and plugged in her phone. Danny was too engrossed in the argument happening mere inches from him.  Fen then hit play and the familiar picking of Mark Knopfler filled the room.

“When Jack Frost Came for Christmas
With a brass monkey date...” Knopfler sang and the room went silent.

Fen walked around the bar and took the hand of one of the angels and began to dance with them,  swaying in the waltz time. The others watched for a moment before they paired up and joined them. At the table to right, where the college kids whispered,  the gentlemen bowed to the ladies and then escorted them to the dance floor.

Danny just sat on his stool and smiled. As the song wound down he hit repeat and the dancing continued as he poured shots of the good stuff for everyone. He motioned to the dancers about the drinks but they kept dancing so he hit repeat again and let them dance some more.

As the song finally ended  the dancers broke off and took their drinks- all except Fen and her partner who did one more turn of the dance floor before bowing to the crowd, who applauded.

Danny refilled the glasses “ This may not be the milk of human kindness…”

“But it’ll do.” said a an angel.

“Yes it’ll do. And merry to Christmas to all”

“And to all a good night” everyone said before they downed their drinks and cheered.


Super rich man from Singapore brings his college professor girlfriend home for a wedding and causes all sorts of ripples as his mother doesn’t think she is good enough for him. Big bold and brassy romance among the super-rich is exactly the sort of film that doesn’t normally float my boat - a romance so perfectly constructed as to be artificial. Never mind reservations the end of the film had me getting weepy as it all worked out- I was connected to the basic story and not the super-rich world. Yea it’s a kick ass romance. Is it a good film? Oh hell yea. As I said the end made me cry.
Worth a look.

Even allowing that I wasn’t a fan of the first film (despite being a huge fan of the play) this sequel is nothing special. After the death of Donna (Meryl Streep who cameos as a ghost) Sophie prepares for the birth of her first baby and the reopening of the hotel. Of course all the fathers show up as does her Grandmother (Cher) and a few new characters. At the same time we get flash back to the events of that resulted in the three dads situation. Using a few new songs (Waterloo is now part of the narrative) and a lot of retreads the film clunks along at a good clip. The plot isn’t much beyond an excuse to hang some really good musical numbers on. As to whether it’s enough is going to be up to you- for me it was kind of waste of two hours and I’m going to stick to the London cast recording of the original show.

Well-made but cold and distant telling of the life of Neil Armstrong in the run up to his walking on the moon. I’m a space guy and love this sort thing but I really didn’t care much. Yes the space stuff has a "you are there" quality to it but the rest of it just never worked for me. I’m not sure if it’s my general dislike for Ryan Gosling who I find to have no personality nor screen presence or if the trouble is in the script which just never builds any excitement. Frankly I’m at a loss as to why this got so much Oscar buzz earlier this year when it’s as dull as it is. Actually what I’m shocked at is the controversy the film has generated concerning our not seeing the flag planted when truth be told it brings attention to a film that will be forgotten with in a year

Spike Lee’s latest is director working at the top of his game. The true story of a black police officer who managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a Jewish police officer is deeply moving film. A portrait of the state of America then and now the film is a stunning reminder at how little has changed despite the fact that we’ve moved a small distance from the early 1970’s.The film's reminder of how far we've traveled in the form of video of the events in Charlottesville that that closes the film have some people complaining. They feel it has no place, but they are dead wrong because the ending is the point, we have not moved forward far enough. I was left devastated. This is one of Spike Lee’s best films and is highly recommended.

Kommisar X Kiss Kiss Kill Kill (1965)

First of the Kommisar X films has Tony Kendall as Joe Walker and Brad Harris as Captain Rowland investigating the murder of several politicians and scientists by a band of killer it women controlled by a gold loving madman.

The Kommisar X series were based on novels by Bert F Island (real name Paul Alfred Mueller). Walker was a New York private eye who worked with NYC police Captain Rowland.  The film series was action packed thrill rides were Rowland and Walker cracked wise and beat up bad guys. While the films were made in reaction to the Bond films, they tended to be less spectacular if slightly more action action packed.

KISS KISS KILL KILL is an odd start to the series since it overtly apes the James Bond films, especially GOLDFINGER and DR NO with a villain with a personality of the former and a look similar to the latter.  The huge spectacle doesn't really work here, owing in large part to the lack of a matching budget. It also doesn't really work since the plot plays like a couple dozen other Bond film rip offs of the period.

The film suffers from a certain uncertainty as to what it is. Part of the problem is things are tad rambling, the plot isn't really clear for a least a third of its running time. The film also really doesn't know how to handle the Walker/Rowland dynamic which in later films had the pair as friends if not defacto partners. Here they battle each other as much as they battle the villain.

I will give the film points for not be really specific as to where it's set. While the main characters are supposed to be New Yorkers that clearly isn't the case here. This is somewhere in Europe

While not a bad film, it's enjoyable on its own terms, I think it plays best if you aren't a huge fan of the other films in the series since it doesn't feel like the other films.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Big loud and mindless action film has robbers trying to steal 600 million dollars from a treasury shredder during a hurricane. It should have been easy but one of the guards had the code changed. Impossible to review film is exactly what you think it is- nothing more nothing less- only damn more entertaining. If you want mindless action this is the ticket.

Destined to go down in movie history as an ill-advised release starring Kevin Spacey after the revelation of his sexual misdeeds BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB is going to be noted in the history books instead of fading from view as an unworthy misfire. Equally legendary will be it's box office take, which, since no one actually went to see it, was a couple hundred dollars. The story of an infamous murder, the film plays like a bad network TV movie. Watching the film I had the sense that it all looked good on paper but something happened in the making and what looked good proved to be really bland and pointless. Not worth the effort.

Infamous film that had Kevin Spacey removed from the film and replaced by Christopher Plummer who subsequently was nominated for an Oscar. This story of the kidnapping of the grandson of John Paul Getty and Getty's refusal to pay the kidnappers is a good and well made film, with excellent performances but to be honest about a third of the way in my interest waned. Not because it was bad more because I didn't see any reason to care. Why exactly was I being told this story? I wasn't sure. Sure  it's a good tale but outside of the Spacey nonsense I don't know why it attracted the attention it did.