Monday, November 18, 2019

The Fare (2019)

Cab driver stuck in the middle of nowhere picks up a passenger. As he drives her to town she suddenly disappears....and then things reset and it all happens again and again... As things play out over and over again he becomes more and more aware  of what is happening...

Forgive me for no saying more but to do so would reveal too much. Honestly I recommended this film to a couple of friends and had to tell them I'm recommending THE FARE to you for reasons which will become clear once you see it-however until you see it I can't tell you what they are. Trust me on this, the fun of the ride is waiting to see how it all plays out.

A good cast and good direction over come the limited budget and over use of computer generated images (don't go crazy its some shots of the cab  and nothing that implies anything else) to make this a compelling little time passer. While not destined to make top ten lists, it is something that you are likely to sit through more than once simply to find all of the clues that you realized were there all along, which is something you probably won't be able to say about most films on top ten lists.

Recommended.

The Fare will be available nationwide November 19th on Blu-ray and Digital HD, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu and more from Epic Pictures.




Blood in the Snow Film Festival Starts Thursday- Go Buy Tickets

The exquisitely programmed Blood in The Snow Film Festival starts Thursday in Toronto Canada and you must go buy tickets. because there is prety much no bad movies...

...no really there really are no truly bad films. Yes, there are some I don't care for but they aren't bad, they are not my cup of tea and I know why they were programmed because odds are if I was doing the programming I would have chosen them too. While I have not seen everything, I still have a few more to go, I have seen most of the films and I can attest to how good the films are.

Our coverage starts in a day or so and it will feature pretty much every film that was made available to the press for screening so expect a lot of pieces over the next week.

If you want a few choices before the reviews start might I suggest the following:

HAPPY FACE- is a great film about a young man who finds a family with a group of people who don't look normal. They have diseases or conditions that make them look different. It is not a horror or any sort of genre film, but a loving and lovely drama that I have been recommending since I saw it January at Slamdance.

THE NIGHTS BEFORE CHRISTMAS is proof that we do need another crazed Santa film. I know you will argue against it, but I say this wicked little gem is the exception to the rule and a must see.

SHE NEVER DIED is a masterpiece. One of the best films of any type I've seen in 2019 it has Olunike Adeliyi in a star making performance as Lilly, a woman who has been alive for centuries and has seen it all.  She is one of the greatest women ever put on film and is so good that you will be jonesing for a sequel.

As for the shorts- they are all worth a look. I am planning on reviewing them all, however because the films have been coming in dribs and drabs, and becuase some are playing with features, I am reviewing them in random grouping instead of in the groups they are being shown. They are all worth seeing.

My favorites so far are:

THE VIDEO STORE COMMERCIAL- which is what happens when the making of a commercial for a video store goes wrong.

ABHORRENT- a horribly unpleasant film about a pregnant woman trying to protect her family.

GILTRUDE'S DWELLING which is a wonderful fantasy which I want to see expanded or continued.

As I said it's all good so see when you can go and buy some tickets. Information and tickets can be had here.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

DOC NYC 2019 Capsule Reviews: GOLDA, RED DOG and ON THE INSIDE OF A MILITARY DICTATORSHIP

Golda
Excellent look at the life and legacy of Gold Meir built around an unseen interview done with her after a broadcast in 1978. In it she is candid and open about her life and career. It is supplemented by interviews with people who knew her or were witness to the various events. For anyone who sees her as the great mother of Israel this film is a revelation. A humanizing portrait that really makes clear why her reputation within Israel is much more complicated then we out side of it think. One of the great discoveries of DOC NYC I can’t wait to see it again.

Red Dog
Musician Luke Dick interviews his mother and those she worked with the notorious Red Dog Bar where her mother worked as a stripper. It’s a wild ride that hold nothing back. While I couldn’t imagine having these sort of conversations with my mom, I really think I probably would have had these sort of conversations with my mother if she was still alive. Actually if my mother was still alive I’d probably force her to see the movie and then track down Dick’s mother so the two of them could hang out.
That’s a rave.
Absolute bawdy fun.

On the Inside of a Military Dictatorship
A look behind the curtain of the government of Myanmar (aka Burma) and at its leader Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the award for standing up against the military leadership but lost the respect of the world for not stepping in and stopping the Rohingya genocide. An eye opening and deeply troubling film that reveals why things are the way the are in the country and how seemingly good people can slide onto the wrong end of history. If you want a clear eyed look at the situation in Myanmar this film is a must.

My First Kiss and the People Involved (2019)

Sam, a withdrawn young woman living in a group home doesn't speak much. When Lydia, one of the caretakers disappears after a party Sam goes to find her and finds her whole world shaken to it's core.

Frankly this is exactly the sort of small film that Unseen Films was set up to highlight, it is  a small flower of a film that deserves to find it’s audience. It’s one of the thousands of small films that is always in danger of disappearing off the face of the earth simply because it is not being pushed by a mega studio, or doesn’t have a big name cast, or isn’t full of exploding robots.

To be honest I don’t know what I think of MY FIRST KISS AND THE PEOPLE INVOLVED. That doesn’t mean that I disliked the film, only that I haven’t fully formed an opinion of it yet. A small delicate, lyrically, beautiful film, it is unlike almost any other film you’ve ever seen. It’s like being dropped into an pastoral painting from the 18th or 19th century but with modern items in the background. The entire visual and aural side of the film instantly creates a mood and tactile feel unlike any other. You can feel smell and taste the images, not just see and hear them. It is a glorious achievement that the Academy would recognize if there was justice in the world.

The performances are killer. Everyone from Bobbi Salvör Menuez on down don’t so much act as inhabit their characters. These are real people going through their paces and we are better for it. They are so good that we let any dinks or dunks that come along because we are convinced that we are watching gorgeously shot moments in time.

And yet I am not sure what I think. As much as I love everything about this film I am not sure about how I feel about the ending. Something about the ending just didn’t quite click with me. Again it is not anything fatal, hell I am strongly recommending the film, rather it means I am going to have to ponder the film a bit and then revisit it. I am going to need to take a second run by it and see how I feel.

Until I do take that second look I suggest that you put the film on your list of films to watch, there is magic with in it that you should experience.

Available now on Amazon Prime

The Longest Wave (2019) DOC NYC

This is a portrait of champion windsurfer/kiter surfer/ stand up paddle boarder and just plain surfer Robby Naish as he tries to find and ride the longest wave.

I must confess my desire to do an incredibly short review had me toying with the simple statement "It's just okay" but I thought that would be rude.

Rude or not the film really is just okay. While not bad, and certain to gain stature on the big screen where the wide vistas will have the audience sighing in awe, it is in fact exactly like any other of the recent docs to have come out over the last ten years- all of which follow the rise of the surfer from when they were a kid up to the present. All have some catch or another to be sure, but all are structured exactly alike which is fine but grows tiresome around the twenty minute mark of all the films.

Honestly I would have expected more from director Joe Berlinger who has made some of the most arresting docs of the past couple of decades.

Worth a look on the big screen, but if you aren't seeing it that way its best for surf fans only.

Weep Not (2019)

Weep Not is a small scale gem. The film is about the power of forgiveness to free us from being eaten alive.

The film is the story of a woman named Journey who forgives the man who molested her as a child. It is a beautifully acted film (Cheray O'Neal as the adult Journey is awesome) that has a kick in the tail. Its one of those films that quietly sneaks up on you and hits you when you least expect it.

If I may quibble just a bit with them film, I wish it was a little longer. I wish the switch from the sequence with Journey’s grandmother to the confrontation was a little less abrupt. I wish there was something to bridge the two. While it isn’t fatal, far from it the film as it stands knocked my feet from out from under me, had there been a bit more this I might have been completely laid out and crushed.

Quibble aside Weep Not is a must.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Anna (2019)

Middle aged single mother desperate for change decides to go to a party where single American men will be to try her luck.

Good small slice of life feels like this is part of a much bigger story. I want to see what happens on either side of this film which is big a ave as you can get.

As great as this film is, and it is duper from top to bottom I have to single out star Svetlana Barandich, who gives one of the great performances I've seen in 2019. This is a towering achievement that makes me want to see her go toe to to with Gena Rowlands who is perhaps the only force of nature who could possible not get lost in her presence. How in the hell has this woman not come on my radar before this?

Yea ANNA is a great film and you'll want to see it because it's so good but when it's done you'll be talking about Svetlana Barandich.

Recommended


Denial (2019)

I like Timothy  J Cox a great deal. We have been talking on line for a couple of years now and I sat down and hell of a conversation with him about acting that I shared with all of you earlier this year. However I have come to realize that he really doesn’t like me much. I say that with love and affection because he has thrown down the gauntlet and had dared me to try and review the 3 minute film DENIAL…which is nigh on impossible to review.

The film concerns a husband and wife and a toilet that won’t flush.

And that is all I can say. No really I can’t say more because the whole film hinges on the end and I can’t discuss it.

I can say that the film is really good and worth seeing…but other than that this is one you need to see for yourself.

DOC NYC 2019 Capsule Reviews: MADAME, THE GREAT GREEN WALL, KATE NASH: UNDER ESTIMATE THE GIRL and BODY OF TRUTH

Madame
Filmmaker Stéphane Riethauser’s portrait of his grandmother who raised him to be the alpha male who took over the family business, however he found he another course in LGBT activism. He tries to unknot the expectations of family and their love in a film that is heart felt and personal. I very good film that speaks volumes about how we see family and how they see us.

Great Green Wall
Malian musician/activist Inna Modja travels across Africa to see efforts to build a great green wall of trees to help the environment and slow climate change. Full of music and stories this is a bubbly film with a serious edge that will get you thinking about things in all the right ways. If the film is a little too flashy at times it’s okay simply because the film is so full of life it can’t help but burst out in song. Recommended

Kate Nash: Under Estimate The Girl
Portrait of British sing Kate Nash who rapidly rose in the music industry only to be suddenly let go by her label. Music filled bio is full of good music and scenes from the life of a rock star (at one point she says she’s only had one day off in the previous year) that acts as a good introduction to the woman and her music. While the film is enjoyable, a little goes a long way with a bit too much polish making this not so much a full on bio but more a promotional puff piece. Don’t get me wrong I liked it but after a while I was full. Recommended for fans

Body of Truth
Portrait of artists Shirin Neshat ; Marina Abramović; Sigalit Landau; and Katharina Sieverding highlighting their work and philosophy behind their art. A stunning introduction to the ladies and their work. While it may not be detailed enough for some people, especially considering that each, has and especially Abromovic have been the subject of several documentaries, it does act as an excellent primer for all their work. Very recommended.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Blessed Child (2019) DOC NYC 2019

Blessed Child is wonderfully unexpected. A look at director Cara Jones' life particularly her relationship with the Unification Church where her parents are big mucky mucks, what I thought was going to be a blistering expose on the church and it’s cult like status turned out to be thoughtful portrait  of Jones‘s family and how the church and her eventual splitting with with it shaped everyone's lives.

I was kind of blindsided by the film. It's my own fault I went in with all sorts of preconceived notions that were based on nothing. I had a picture of what the film was going in  so I was looking at the film kind of sideways for much of the first half of the film. I kept waiting for the film to be what I thought it was going to be (a sensationalistic expose). Then I had an "AH HA!" moment and the film fell together and I could see it for what it is, a really good look at family and religion. 

While the film deals with all sorts of issues and themes what I really liked about the film is how the film explores our expectations. Jones opens herself up to us in discussing the waves of feelings and thoughts she had about the Church and her move away from it.  She was uncertain how leaving the church, which is huge part of her life and that of her family thanks to her parents status, was going to play out. Would this break the family?  She is surprised by how it all goes.

And so are we which is what makes this film so interesting and oddly delightful because we, like Jones find out that this is not a tale about the Unification Church but about a family and it's shifting dynamic. It is a dynamic that makes this a much more universal tale than it had any right to be.

Recommended.

The Queen's Man (2019) DOC NYC 2019

THE QUEEN'S MAN is a wild and crazy story. It’s a WTF story on so many levels that you really need to see this for yourself.

The short version of the story is that this is the story of Steve Talt who is trying to find some missing art for the wife of the Shah of Iran. It seems that several paintings and some artifacts were stolen by the mafia from a warehouse in New York. The robbery was never reported, and no one is quite sure what was taken (though one may have been a Picasso). Almost 40 years later Talt is attempting to run down what happened, what exactly was stolen and where the missing art is.

This is a hell of story with a one of a kind guy at it’s center. Talt is a character and his weird story, which actually seems to be true, holds our attention all the way from start to finish. This is one of those stories that seems to be completely out there but just suck us in and drag us down the road none the less. It's a crazy story that  we want to see  out. 

In fairness I should probably warn you that this is not a story with an ending you're expecting. The whys and hows of it all remain kind of convoluted all the way through and the ending is just as amorphous as the beginning. That said I really wished I had seen this with a friend because there is much to discuss.

But this is not a story about the ending, this is a story about the journey and the storyteller and as such it is a film that you really should see because this is one tale you need to hear from the guy who lived it.

BAFF 2019 Terror Road Short Film Review

A woman (Surely Alvelo) has a nightmarish encounter on her way home from a business meeting. Not knowing what or who she has just met she fights for her life as she’s being terrorized within the confines of her vehicle.
Surely Alvelo’s character was written for her as she has worked with Writer / Director Brian Shephard in the past. Alvelo’s acting credits include Captain America: Civil War, and Sleepy Hollow, the TV Series. Terror Road is only about 5 minutes not including credits and I think Alvelo’s performance makes this short. Her abilities as an actress make you feel as though you are on this journey with her.
Although many boys were tested for the part of The Boy, the part went to actor Brayden Benson. Benson was only 10 years old at the time of filming and I think he did a great job. He was dark, scary, and his performance gave me goosebumps. Brayden’s acting credits include the television series Halt and Catch Fire. I have no doubt that Brayden will grace our screens with his presence in the future.
Terror Road was filmed in Florida over two days and is the first part in a horror anthology by The Skeleton Crew. I’m very curious to see what other stories will be part of this as I’m a huge fan of horror anthologies, most notably Creepshow by horror icons George A. Romero and Stephen King.
Overall I was very pleased with Terror Road. Knowing that it’s the first of many short stories makes this feature even more impressive. This is a great start to the series and I would love to see more from Writer / Director Brian Shephard. I give this short a 10/10. I absolutely loved it. The filming techniques and eerie atmosphere set the tone for this creepy tale. Terror Road is being shown at Buried Alive Film Festival 2019.

BAFF 2019 The Loop Short Film Review


As Mikey (Shane Almagor) wakes from a seemingly harmless nightmare his older brother Tommy (Will Abbott) and his girlfriend Cindi (Grace Westlin) come home with a copy of The Loop, “the scariest movie ever”. Can Mikey survive the night or is this just another nightmare? 
The Loop is brought to us by Writer and Director Rich Ragsdale who’s brother, Kevin Ragsdale plays the films maniacal villain. The villain and the film share the same name which isn’t very common in cinema now, however, it was more common during the 1980’s slasher craze.
Most short films have trouble producing a cohesive story due to a lack of time. This is one of the best uses of practical effects that I have seen within 7 minutes. There is a cohesive storyline, plot, characters, and ending. This is what I look for since these additions are easier to pin point in a short story than a feature film.
The character The Loop reminds me of a hybrid between a Ceno-bite in Clive Barker’s infamous Hellraiser franchise and Freddy Krueger from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street series. The entire film is a throw back to VHS tapes, movie rentals (RIP Blockbuster), and 80’s slashers. I thought this piece was great. If anything I wanted to see more. I give The Loop a 8/10. I wish the acting had been a little more believable but all around I was pleasantly surprised. The Loop is being shown at the 2019 Buried Alive Film Festival and I’m sure it will become a fan favorite in no time.

Nate hood on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray box set of 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

Before his name became synonymous with Marlene Dietrich, Josef von Sternberg was just another filmmaker toiling away in the early days of the Hollywood studio system. After doing journeyman work as an assistant director throughout the late 1910s and helming modest directorial efforts of his own in the mid 1920s, he found a niche at Paramount studios where his uniquely European blend of dreamlike expressionism and sexually-charged melodrama made him one of the most distinctive voices in late silent cinema. Three of his greatest triumphs were released by the Criterion Collection in a 2010 boxset: watershed gangster melodrama Underworld (1927), tragic historical psychodrama The Last Command (1928), and moody chiaroscuro romance The Docks of New York (1928). Now, nine years later, Criterion is re-releasing the boxset with new Blu-ray transfers, priming the pump for a new generation of filmgoers and collectors to rediscover and experience one of the true giants of silent cinema at the height of his powers. True to form, Criterion hasn’t skimped out on the special features, more than living up to its early reputation in the 1980s as being “a film school in a box”: the set boasts six scores for the three films, two supplemental video essays, a Swedish television interview with Sternberg himself, and a massive insert booklet stuffed with original writings on the trilogy alongside other goodies like a lengthy excerpt from his autobiography Fun in a Chinese Laundry.

Though maybe not the most popular or well known of the three films, Underworld has a legitimate claim to being the most influential, as it’s credited with codifying and popularizing many of the visual tropes and themes we now associate with gangster cinema. Adapted from a story by legendary Hollywood scribe Ben Hecht—whose Oscar-winning story treatment is included in the essay booklet—Sternberg nixed the screenplay’s original hard-boiled grittiness in favor of a more lyrical romanticism underscored by an honor-bound machismo that’d been prevalent even in the earliest proto-gangster films like D. W. Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912). The film tells the story of a love triangle between gangster kingpin “Bull” Weed (George Bancroft), his girlfriend “Feathers” McCoy (Evelyn Brent), and his best friend “Rolls Royce” Wensel (Clive Brook), a lawyer-turned-alcoholic he pulled out of the gutter and helped reform. The actual romance storyline feels rushed and almost secondary to the film’s central themes of brotherhood and loyalty, both of which are tested in the third act when Rolls is forced to choose between running off with Feathers or risking his life to rescue Bull from a gun battle with the police after escaping from prison. The film is a marvel to look at, juxtaposing an almost Lubitschian obsession with mannered, manicured surfaces—these gangsters live in smartly furnished city apartments, patron lavish jewelry shops, and attend ticket tape balls where they wear suits, dance, and vote for beauty contests—and a chilling eye for expressionist shadows and darkness. Nowhere are these two tendencies better blended than in a late scene where an on-the-lam Bull feeds a helpless kitten a few drops of milk from his finger while in hiding. It’s a moment that’d make Jean Renoir green with envy. Also of note is the aforementioned gun battle which manages to excite even by today’s standards thanks to its excellent use of montage.

The boxset’s second film, The Last Command, isn’t just the best film of the trilogy in this humble writer’s opinion, it’s also one of the last true masterpieces of the silent cinema medium before it was usurped by sound. (It was released in January 1928, just a few months prior to Bryan Foy’s Lights of New York, the first all-talking full-length film.) It’s also overshadowed somewhat by its reputation as the only surviving American film starring Emil Jannings, one of the greatest performers of the silent era who nevertheless became persona non grata following World War Two thanks to his enthusiastic involvement in the Nazi cinema industry. If it helps, modern audiences can be assured that at the very least the Jannings seen here hadn’t yet become one of Hitler’s faithful. In any case, his performance here equals any he ever gave, even his career-defining turns in F. W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924) and Sternberg’s later The Blue Angel (1930). Here he plays Sergius Alexander, cousin of the executed Russian Czar and former commander of his armies. After failing to stop the revolutionaries, Sergius fled to America where—in a post-modern twist—he gets a job in Hollywood playing himself in a role directed by Leo Andreyev (William Powell), the very Bolshevik who overthrew him.

The film’s crown jewel is the lengthy middle section comprised of a flashback to the revolution where Sternberg’s trademark expressionism transformed the revolt into a nightmare complete with ghoulish crowd scenes, shocking carnage, and Sergius’s acutely sadistic public humiliation. It’s here where the film’s central themes of pageantry and performance fully coalesce. Indeed, it’s not the tenacity of the revolutionaries that ultimately wins the day, it’s the Czar’s foolish insistence on staging an unnecessary offensive for his viewing pleasure that gives the Bolsheviks the opportunity to turn the tide of the war. By playing at war instead of actually fighting one, the Czar doomed himself, Sergius, and Russia. This thematic preoccupation with performance comes full circle at the end where Sergius has a mental breakdown, hallucinates he’s reliving an imaginary final battle, and dies while onset Andreyev’s film. Only the film’s Hollywood-mandated conservatism in depicting the Bolsheviks as rabid monsters and the Royalists as righteous, benevolent depots tempers its greatness as it results in a politically confused climax where Andreyev the Bolshevik eulogizes Sergius the Czarist as a “great man” who “truly loves Russia” despite being surely responsible for countless untold pogroms and purges.

The final film, The Docks of New York, is the most famous of the three and the most blatant triumph of form over function, of style over substance. The film is a love story whose machinations are as ham-fisted and blunt as those in Underworld: a brusque tramp steamer sailor named Bill (played by a returning George Bancroft) falls in love with a suicidal prostitute named Mae (Betty Compson) after saving her from drowning. The two commiserate on their equally desperate and destitute lives, their extensive sexual pasts, and their loneliness before deciding to get married the same night they meet at the saloon near where Bill’s ship is anchored. In the meantime Mae fights off the advances of Bill’s tyrannical superior Andy (Mitchell Lewis), finally shooting him in an act of self-defense. From here the film deteriorates via forced melodrama—one of Mae’s fellow prostitutes takes the blame for the killing (and gets promptly forgotten by the film), Bill ships out only to change his mind at the last minute and return, and Mae swears to wait for him to complete a 60-day jail sentence for an unrelated crime. In any case, the film provides some of the most alluring and hypnotic surfaces of Sternberg’s entire oeuvre, whether it be solemn figures scuttling through pea soup fog or a solemn wedding taking place in the middle of a drunken Dionysian revel. The story may be weak, but the images—oh, the images—are as powerful and unforgettable as ever.

The self serving To Kid or Not to Kid opens today

Maxine Trump takes us inside her decision whether to have kids or not.

How you react to this film is going to be determined by how you react to Trump and the people in the film and the presentation. For me the film was less an exploration of whether to have kids but some how a statement of privilege. Trump's long agonized exploration seems awfully drawn out and while she raises lots of good issues much of it seems self serving (this film seems geared to help her justify her decision). And while I know the discussion about having kids is one that crosses all socio-economic levels, I walked out of the film think that making it was something that only a "rich" white person would do. I find that especially troubling because I never feel the need to comment on something like that.

Not really recommended.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

HEALING FROM HATE: BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF A NATION DOC NYC 2019


Excellent portrait of the group Life After Hate, which was founded by former white nationalists in order to help members who want out of the groups to get out. The thinking is that if they could do it so can anyone else.

There have been several recent documentaries where people have explored the groups from the outside but this is the first feature documentary that I’ve seen where we follow former members trying to get out and deal with all that is surrounded with leaving. As good as the other docs are on setting the table, and as good as recent narrative films such as SKIN have been in covering similar ground, HEALING FROM HATE is head and shoulders above them. Not only do we see the emotional toll leaving the movement takes but we also truly come to understand how inviting the hate filled movements are. For the first time there is a real explanation of why and how people join. It isn't something amorphous and glossed over, we really see how the groups suck people in. And we see chillingly how President Trump and the far right use the same methods to inspire his supporters to hate those different than themselves.

For me one of the biggest revelations in discussing the recruiting of members was one that I should have caught on my own but never did, and that the white nationalism and bigotry comes from a misplaced sense of entitlement. These are largely white young men who were promised a world they can’t be part of or make work. As a result their broken sense of the world looks for a reason they can't function and hating someone who isn't white is an easy way out.

I was chilled.

And I was filled with hope because the film shows us that you can stop hating and rejoin the world. To be certain it isn't easy, but we see people can change. I was moved by a particular discussion around the shooting at a Sikh Temple  where a former believer explains the change will come when you start to change the way you view yourself. The more hatred we spew is related to the amount of feeling of hate and disconnection we have for ourselves. When we connect with ourselves we reconnect with the world.

I was moved somewhere beyond words, by that and many moments in the film.

And what I love about the film is that the neither the filmmakers nor the group Life After Hate do not shy away from dialog. They present the opposing view point and engage with those who hate, for example there is an unplanned discussion with hate  monger Richard Spencer which goes a great deal with keeping the film from being a polemic

Frankly there is so much going on in HEALING FROM HATE that I really need a second or third viewing in order to full grasp everything in it

HEALING FROM HATE is a great film. It is a required viewing for anyone who truly wants to understand the hatred that is running rampant in America and the world.

Cause of Death (2018) Other Israel Film Festival

Ten years after Jamal Barakat's police officer brother Salim was killed stopping a terrorist attack he discovers that there maybe more to the story than he was told and that his death may have been at the hands of someone other than the terrorist. The crushing trip down the rabbit hole that upsets Barakat's whole life comes from a comment from someone who was at the scene who tells him that it was tragic that his brother was shot, Jamal had been told his brother's throat had been cut. This puzzling comment then sets Jamal on the road to find the truth as little comments said to him over the years mix with things to uncover to make him realize that the official story  that his brother died at the hands of the terrorist he stopped from killing dozens of people may not be the entire truth.

Charting both Jamal's quest for answers as well as how his quest changes his relationship with those around him, particularly the police officers who were his brother's friends, CAUSE OF DEATH is heavy film. It is a stunning piece of filmmaking that shows us how one fundamental change in what we think is the truth can send us spinning. While there is no question about Salim's heroism, the fact that his death may have been a mistake is devastating over a decade later. It is a masterful piece of filmmaking that while working on the smaller level of this one incident sets our minds going about what if this happened to us, how would we react?

I was knocked back on my heals. Going into the film I had been told that it was possibly the best film at the Other Israel Film Festival, but I hadn't been warned that it might end up rattling around in my head for days afterward. The whole notion of having a fundamental truth of one's life altered haunted me. I am still pondering the film week on, and I don't think this film will leave me for a long time.

Highly recommended

The film plays Monday at the Marlene Meyerson JCC in Manhattan and Tuesday at the Alamo Draft Housein Brooklyn. For ticket and more information go here.

UNSTOPPABLE: SEAN SCULLY AND THE ART OF EVERYTHING (2019) DOC NYC 2019

Portrait of artist Sean Scully who is a self taught artist who rose up from nothing to be a big name in the art world with his bold abstract paintings

As good as Scully's art is the real story in this film is the man himself. A charming rogue he is open and very frank with his opinions and we are better for it. Also on view is Scully's joyous playfulness which comes out when we see him meeting various people or even messing with the camera crew. As much as I liked learning about Scully's art I had more fun just watching him be.

What a joy.

UNSTOPPABLE plays DOC NYC plays today. For more information or tickets go here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

MAI KHOI & THE DISSIDENTS (2019) DOC NYC 2019

The film opens when Vietnamese singer and songwriter Mai Khoi prepares to leave her home before the release of her latest album. She is leaving because she knows that her battles with the Vietnamese government are going to escalate when the album is released. She is taking a stand against the government which she feels is oppressive. The film then flashes back and becomes a portrait of the singer and how she came to be in that place.

This is an excellent look at one woman's fight for basic human rights being squashed by the government. We watch as she goes from darling to pain in the side of the Vietnamese to the point where they intentionally leave her off the ballots for the Parliamentary seat she was running for. It is an inspiring story about how one person can make a difference.

Best of all if you don't care for the politics you can see this for the music. While I don't speak Vietnamese, I still enjoyed Khoi's music which fills the film from start to finish.

One of the great unexpected finds at DOC NYC the film is worth seeing.

MAI KHOI & THE DISSIDENTS plays again at DOC NYC tomorrow. For more information and tickets go here.

Thoughts on GANDEN: A JOYFUL LAND (2019) DOC NYC 2019

Portrait of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Ganden. The original monastery was a centuries old bastion of Buddhism located high in the mountains of Tibet. However when the Chinese invaded and they were forced to relocate. Director Ngawang Choephel profiles the monks who knew the original monastery and those that know the new to discover its place in their faith.

Heartfelt and at times moving film plays for me like a cinematic prayer. Watching the film unfold I found myself carried along by the words and chants as if I was in a religious service. It was like going to a church or temple to which I don't belong and getting carried away by the word and passion of the people worshiping. While words or "god" may seem different, the fervor of belief was exactly the same and I felt transformed on the other side.

I love that the film is far from showy. Many of the shots are simple camera set ups. Choephel simply points his camera at his subject and lets them talk. He knows that the words are enough. There is no need for bells and whistles when his subjects are so eloquent. Some times less is a great deal more.

In all honesty this is a hard film to critique. As you can tell the film worked for me. I can not know if it will work for you. Not only will the simplicity not work for those who need to be distracted by showy things the subject matter and the philosophy may not be your cup of tea. On the other hand if you can click with it's vibe, this will be something special.

Recommended for those who are adventurous or predisposed.

Breaking Bread (2019) Other Israel Film Festival 2019

Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel was the first person to win the Israeli Master Chef competition. Realizing that the best way to connect people and break down walls is to share a mill she creates the food festival which will bring together chefs who are both Jewish and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli in order to create friendships and connections based on a love of food.

This is a wonderful film. It is a glorious portrait of not only Atamna-Ismaeel but also many of the people whom she invited to the festival. Its a wonderful look into the various chefs' lives and loves of food. This is the cinematic equivalent to sitting in the kitchen of a really good cook and shooting the breeze while they cooked. Unfortunately since they are on the screen we can try what they are cooking.(this needs to screen with a buffett)

Truth be told this film is the best sort of  food porn. Watching the film I found I was getting hungrier and hungrier. I am a notoriously picky eater and yet while watching the film I kept going "I have no idea what that is but I want it". I was so hungry by the end, despite seeing this right after dinner that I ran to the kitchen and made a big second meal. (When you go see this at the film festival plan your eating accordingly)

What a great great film.

I love that this film works on so many different levels, it's a portrait of great people who cook, a portrait of society, it shows us food that we may never have known about and it shows us how we all aren't that different after all.

This film is a quiet little gem that will make your mouth water and stomach talk to you.

Thankfully the Other Israel Film Festival has scheduled it at 4:30 pm on Sunday the 17th so you can make a mad dash after the screening to one of the wonderful restaurants around the Marlene Meyerson JCC where it screens.

For tickets go here (You're on your own with dinner reservations)

DOC NYC ’19: Buster Williams Bass to Infinity


The bass is really quite a fitting instrument for a Buddhist jazz musician. It can create a drone-like effect, especially if played arco. Yet, more importantly, the bass provides the selfless foundation that the rest of the ensemble plays over. Bassists frequently comp under soloists and generally “keep the band together,” to quote the words of Buster Williams. He ought to know. Williams played with everyone and has become a popular bandleader in his own right. Viewers get to hang with the virtuoso bassist in Adam Kahan’s Buster Williams Bass to Infinity, which premiered at this year’s DOC NYC.

Williams played with undeniable legends, like Miles Davis, Nancy Wilson, and Sarah Vaughan. However, his first professional stint came in the ruckus band co-led by “Boss Tenors” Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons. It was quite an education for the young Williams, as viewers learn from his colorful anecdotes and the lively animated sequences that accompany them.

Most of the film is more conventional and laidback, but it slyly builds to a significant point, appropriately delivered by NEA Jazz Master Herbie Hancock, whose Buster Williams story perfectly represents and encapsulates the film. Disappointingly, we do not get to hear Hancock play with Williams (oh well), but we do hear the bassist perform with famous friends, such as tenor-player Benny Golson, vocalist Carmen Lundy, pianists Kenny Barron and Larry Willis, fellow bassist Rufus Reid, as well as his own ensemble featuring Steve Wilson and George Colligan, so that’s definitely something.

Buster Williams is a likable screen presence throughout the film. Oddly enough, Infinity could be the best opportunity to hear Williams on his own, because he never hogs the solo spotlight, even at his own gigs. He really takes the business of “keeping the band together” seriously. But of course, his musicianship is undeniably accomplished.

Kahan’s approach also sneaks up on the audience. Initially, he seems to be trying to capture the vibe of musician hangs and informal sessions. Yet, Infinity turns out to be a highly spiritual documentary. He makes the transition seamless (even stealthy), but he admittedly gets significant assistance from Hancock and Williams.

Great credit should also go to the sound crew, because you really can hear Williams’ bass (miking them can be tricky, as most recordings not led by bassists can attest). It is a good showcase that gives viewers a vivid sense of Williams’ personality and chops. There is a lot of good humor and good music here. Highly recommended for jazz fans and the Buddhist-curious (how perfect is this film for the Rubin Museum), Buster Williams Bass to Infinity screens again tomorrow (11/14), as part of DOC NYC 2019.

Nate Hood's 400 words on on RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT (2019) which opens Friday


It’s quite rare for a film to outshine itself, to offer audiences a glimmer of some greater artistic instinct lurking beneath the surface. In many cases such moments can redeem a film from the depths of awfulness—or even worse, mediocrity. Matt Wolf’s Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, is one such example. Exploring the life and work of Marion Stokes, a Philadelphia civil rights activist who obsessively recorded 35 years of television news coverage stretching from the outbreak of the Iranian hostage crisis to the Sandy Hook Massacre on 70,000 VHS tapes, the film is a respectfully crafted yet remarkably chaste piece of documentary filmmaking.

Wolf’s execution is textbook biographical cinema, charting a troubled youth to a firebrand adulthood to a melancholic seniority, interspersing talking heads interviews with friends and relatives so every time we feel we get a handle on Stokes the narrative shifts beneath our feet. And indeed, her story is a fascinating one—her gradual transition from abandoned foster child to community Communist activist to wealthy reclusive hoarder is engrossing, but Wolf never loses sight of Stokes as a person instead of as a composite of strange eccentricities.

Peppered throughout the chronological retelling of her life are concurrent news clips from her archive, and we’re treated to some of the greatest hits of 20th century news. But things change when we reach the 9/11 attacks. The film cuts to a four-way split screen of the major 24-hour news networks as they go about their usual programming the morning of the attack as one by one, in agonizing synchronized real-time, they’re interrupted by Breaking News Alerts about the North Tower explosion. We continue to watch the four-way coverage until their four clocks strike 9:03 am and a second plane crashes into the South Tower, eliciting gasps and shrieks from the newsrooms. I say with little hyperbole that no other film I’ve seen better captures the real-world panic and surreal, reality-warping terror felt by those who lived through the attacks and the ensuing blitzkrieg of wall-to-wall media coverage. This sequence belongs in a museum as a permanent installation, not just as a testament to the attacks but also to the rise of sensationalized television news reporting, the kind Stokes spent her life distrusting and documenting for future generations. It’s the documentary’s mission statement compressed into five unbearable, unforgettable minutes.

Rating: 7/10