Thursday, January 31, 2019

Slamdance 2019 Short Takes: Eyes At The Specter Glass, Tijuana, and No.3 In the Absence of Angels

Eyes At The Specter Glass
Must see big and loud. This trippy animated experimental film is a perfect marriage of sound and image. Shot at the aspect ratio of 2.76 to 1 this is a reason to go to the movies. Trust me this film will overwhelm you.

A short pilot/proof of concept intrigued me from the moment I saw the trailer. Set in Tijuana just as prohibition begins the film begins with the American wife of the new chief of police as she begins to use her wiles and her husband’s new power to make money running liquor north into America. While the 15 minute pilot does little more than set things up, the series is full of potential. As many of my friends know I don’t watch much episodic television but Tijuana has my attention and should it go to series I would definitely revisit to see how much of the potential is realized.

No.3 In The Absence of Angels
I'm not going to say a great deal about NO. 3 IN THE ABSENCE OF ANGELS other than it is one of the best films at the festival. A kick in the chest that will deflate you. The story of the aftermath of a brutal sexual assault it is  painful and real and will make you want to look away.

THIS TEACHER (2018) Slamdance 2019

French Muslim needing a break travels to New York to visit a friend and is shocked by the changes living in America and dealing with the casual racism  have made in her friend. Feeling out of place she flees to the country but even alone in the woods there are somethings she can't escape.

Good looking, beautifully acted and very deliberately mannered THIS TEACHER is going to be a film that you either fall in love with or find much too calculating. I'm in the later having never fully connected with the film from the first frames when Hafsia Herzi stares into the camera before repeatedly saying "I'm Here" to the person on the other side of the phone. It's a statement of fact for the character and a statement of intent for the film which then paints a portrait of how Herzi is marginalized.

I admire what the film is trying to do, I just never warmed to it's artificial construction.

Sundance ’19: Miles Davis—Birth of the Cool

There are plenty of good reasons why Miles Davis remains one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. He led the jazz parade for nearly every new style developed since Bebop, including Cool Jazz, modal Hard Bop, Fusion, and what you might call 1980s commercialism. If he didn’t do it, one of his famous former sidemen probably did. Rather impressively, Stanley Nelson manages to condense his remarkable career into a nearly two-hour documentary without any glaring omissions. The beauty of his music and the irascible nature of his personality come through clear as day in Nelson’s Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Miles Davis never had the pyrotechnic chops of a Dizzy Gillespie or a Clifford Brown, but he made a virtue of his limitations by developing his own muted, lyrical sound earlier in his career. As his reputation grew, he formed one of the most acclaimed ensembles in jazz history, featuring a then-little-known John Coltrane on tenor. Yet, Davis was only getting started.

Together with his friend and soul-mate-arranger Gil Evans (who gets his due credit in the doc), Davis led the Birth of the Cool sessions, which had a formative influence on West Coast Cool Jazz; recorded Kind of Blue, one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time and a trail-blazing example of modal improvisation; formed his even more exploratory “Second Great Quintet;” kick-started the fusion revolution; and disappeared and then re-emerged with some of his most commercial work ever. Nelson covers all these major turning points, getting all the important stuff right.

Nelson interviewed many who knew Davis well, but the most notable by far is the late Frances Taylor Davis, the musician’s first wife, who is widely considered Davis’s great love and most significant muse, based on published comments. She rarely discussed her celebrated husband after their divorce, so her participation is a real coup. Close friend and frequent cover artist Cortez McCoy also contributes highly personal memories of Davis. Plus, we hear from jazz giants Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Lenny White, Mike Stern, Marcus Miller, and Jimmy “Little Bird” Heath.

It is dashed ironic Nelson’s film took its title from the 1949 and 1950 sessions collected on the Birth of the Cool album, because it represents a rather short-lived period in his career and helped inspire the Cool style, which Davis frequently dismissed with contempt. Of course, the Cool school was largely associated with white musicians, like Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan (who played on all the Birth sessions), whose success rankled Beboppers and Hard Boppers, like Davis. Still, it has the ring of something fresh and grand and historically significant, so here it is.

Regardless, Nelson packs quite a bit into the film. The soundtrack incorporates so many Davis recordings, even hardcore fans will lose track of whether or not their favorites were included. Nelson can’t cram in everything (we have always been partial to his soundtrack and acting work in the film Dingo), but editor Lewis Erskine shoehorns in all the milestones, while maintaining clarity and a brisk pace. Very highly recommended, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool screens again tomorrow (2/1) in Park City and Saturday (2/2) in Salt Lake, as part of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance ’19: Light from Light

Ordinarily, psychics and “paranormal investigators” are con artists by definition, because obviously. However, Sheila is different. For one thing, she does not accept any fees for her services. Furthermore, she readily admits she is not even sure she has any psychic abilities. Nevertheless, she will try to help a grieving widower find some closure, perhaps by contacting his deceased wife’s ghost in Paul Harrill’s Light from Light, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Sheila’s real job is working behind the counter of an airport car rental agency. She has some experience investigating hauntings, but all the gear belonged to her very ex-boyfriend. Nevertheless, she agrees to get back into the game when asked by the kindly Father Martin. He heard her on the radio discussing the possibly predictive dreams she had during childhood and concluded she might be able to help the recently widowed Richard.

After begging and borrowing sensors and cameras, Sheila presses her son Owen into duty as her assistant, but she gets his not-quite-girlfriend Lucy as a bonus volunteer. Together they wire up Richard’s converted country house on edge of the Smoky Mountains, where odd things have been afoot, like flickering lights and objects moving of their own accord. The three not-really-Ghostbusters genuinely hope they can help the earnest fishery warden, but the initial findings will be ambiguous—and complicated.

Frankly, Light is not exactly a supernatural genre film, at least not in a conventional sense, but the ghostly plot points ultimately give it a powerful, bittersweet kick. Yet, minute-by-minute and scene-for-scene, Harrill’s main focus are the fleeting connections humans manage to forge. Every flesh-and-blood character in Light is a good person, whom we come to care about quite a bit. That very definitely includes Father Martin, possibly the most sympathetic man of the cloth to appear on-screen in years. Harrill also penned one of the most touching, yet realistic and grounded mother-son relationships you will see on film in many a blood moon.

Marin Ireland invests the working-class Sheila with genuine grace and dignity. She forges ambiguously poignant chemistry with Richard, played by Jim Gaffigan in what might be his career-best work. It is a quiet and restrained performance, but he makes the widower’s pain and confusion immediately palpable. Atheena Frizzell is shockingly touching as lovesick Lucy, while David Cale gives it all a tinge of compassionate gravitas as Father Martin.

Light is a big, muddy river of a film. It is quiet, but it runs deep. It also looks terrific, thanks to Greta Zozula’s striking cinematography, which captures the mysterious lushness of the Smokies. It is sort of like a rural Personal Shopper, but it is subtler and more humanistic. Very highly recommended, Light from Light screens again this afternoon (1/31) and tomorrow (2/1) in Park City and Saturday (2/2) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A very short piece on The Date (2019)

Curse you Alessio Cappelletti and everyone connected with THE DATE, you’ve made a film I can’t review,other than to say this is a really good film that you should see when it plays at a festival near you.  What's worse is I can’t explain why because of how the story is told.

I can tell you that the film has a man and woman meet in a restaurant… and that’s about it.

No really that’s all I can tell you.

And the reason what happens after that is the film and it’s kind of a ride that doesn’t go where you think. It’s a ride that you need to buy a ticket for and take.

Trust me- its an 8 minute trip that’s worth taking.

Prism of Light (2019)

Two high schoolers have to make amends before they die in a building fire.

Prism of Light poses a problem for me. A well-made film it has some problems that kind of hobble it.

While I have no problem with the basic premise, one teen blames the other for the death of his sister in a car accident, what happens after that doesn’t quite work. Trapped in a school building the pair go into emergency escape stairs and instead of going down they do up. Why they don’t go down doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense (and never mind he stairs are all cinder block so won't burn)  with the result that instead of being moved by the exchange between the boys you end up screaming at the screen.

While I suspect that this partly due to the low budget and needing to shoot the film around the locations at hand, the result is a film that just misses. Having tried to do similar things with several films I several years ago, I understand what happened and why. I also know that sometimes that even being forgiving as an audience member isn’t enough.

That said, on a technical level Prism of Light is very well made. Outside of the narrative problem the film works. It’s good enough that when director Alec Ybarra and his crew do their next film I want to see it.

THE GOLEM (2018) Opens in L.A. Feb 1 and on VOD+DVD+Blu-ray Feb 5

THE GOLEM is a great little horror film. Directed by Doron and Yoav Paz and written by Ariel Cohen the film is a wonderful trip into the sort of horror we don't get any more, horror that is more than just about the blood and gore.

In 1673 Lithuania a village of Jews lives in an isolated community. In the village lives Hannah,the daughter of the rabbi, and her husband. They are a childless couple on the verge of splitting. Years earlier they lost there son thus breaking the couple up emotionally. While both struggle to get by Hannah loses herself in the teaching of the Kabbalah in the hope that it will bring her an answer about the death of their child. When a neighboring town of Gentiles is struck by the plague they go to the Jewish community looking for revenge.When things turn ugly, Hannah, uses her knowledge to try and create a golem, an artificial being, that will protect the village. She succeeds but it has a terrible price since not only did she fashion it out of mud and earth but her fear and hatred as well.

This stunning historical horror is a truly scary film. Gloriously free of the sort of the over used things that most modern horror directors throw at us, mad killers or evil spirits on the loose, THE GOLEM instead spreads fear by building characters and situations and then putting them in motion. First we are frightened by the evil that men do to each other and later by the fact that we are watching fear and hatred run rampant as a mindless beast acts as a vessel for the worst part of our souls. We fear because we are watching real people and not just props for a horror script to move around. This is not really a film about the monster but the people and what fear, hatred and loss can do.

As much as several recent horror films have been praised about being more than just the horror or the gore THE GOLEM is ultimately not really about the monster either. Fashioned as a kind of historical drama the film is more concerned with contemplation the nature of loss, the place of women in society, relationships, the breaking of taboos, antisemitism and several other themes. You could almost remove the golem from the film and still have an interesting discussion of what it is on its mind. This film is so much about ideas that when all hell breaks loose at the end I was kind of disappointed that we were getting a blood bath, even if that is the probably the reason the film got financed.

I love this film. I love that here was a horror film that engaged me on many levels. I loved that the film mad me work with it and not just wash over me. I had to pause and consider what as happening and what that meant. It is a kind of adult horror film about people that will probably disappoint anyone who simply wants just blood and gore and jump scares. Yes you'll get the golem ripping a beating heart from a chest but also considerably more.

If you like more than just blood in your horror films I highly suggest you make an effort to see it.

N. SCOTT MOMADAY: WORDS FROM A BEAR (2019) Sundance 2019

Portrait of Native American author N. Scott Momaday told through his words, his art and the words of his friends and admirers including Joy Harjo, Robert Redford, and Jeff and Beau Bridges.

Solid American Masters film will open your eyes to a great literary and cultural voice. Personally I had never run across Momaday prior to seeing the film so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The man himself is a real charmer. Blessed with a storyteller way for words and voice you'll want to listen to all day this is a film that isn't something you'll think of informative but as simply a great story.

Along the way we see Momaday's influences on popular culture and how me connected the Native American stories of life with the present day. For anyone not Native American his winning of the Pulitzer Prize sudden brought an entire culture to life. Momaday's words opened up possibilities that had never seen before.

While Momaday's words and person make this a must see, I wish the presentation had been a little bit more special. Yes, this is my own foibles, but I wish this hadn't felt like a typical American Masters film.

Regardless of my nitpicking N. SCOTT MOMADAY:  WORDS FROM A BEAR is a must see, more so if you're like me an never encountered the man before.

Slamdance 2019 Short Takes TUNGRUS, LOST HOLIDAY and WE ARE THANKFUL

Part documentary, part narrative WE ARE THANKFUL tells the story of lead actor Siyabonga Majola, playing a version of himself. He lives in a small town and wants to be an actor. When he finds a film is going to be made nearby he travels to the set where he meets director Joshua Magor is working. Very meta film is an interesting piece of docufiction. How you react to it is going to be determined by how you react to the observational portions of the film.

I am not sure what I think of LOST HOLIDAY. Listing as a mystery, the film is more the wanderings of a well off college couple who travel through Washington DC kind of get involved in a kidnapping and stuff. To be honest mostly what I remember is just --- being cranky and quietly pining for an old flame. I lost interest because I really didn’t like anyone so I didn’t have any reason to care or connect.

I am kind of at a loss about what to say about TUNGRUS. This short doc is about a family that is being terrorized by their pet chicken. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem but they live in an apartment and have an insane bird wandering around is handful. The family is interviewed and they discuss the possibility of killing and eating the errant fowl. Running 13 minutes the film is one of those films that is better to see rather than read about. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Jeff Goldblum Retrospective at the Quad

Jeff Goldblum Retrospective + 2K restoration of Between the Lines

Starts February 8
The Quad salutes the irresistibly idiosyncratic Jeff Goldblum with a retrospective on the occasion of a new 2K restoration of Joan Micklin Silver's under-appreciated sophomore feature Between the Lines

Highlights include 35mm prints of The Fly, The Big Chill, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and more

Between the Lines

Opens Friday February 22—New York premiere of 2K restoration
Joan Micklin Silver, 1977, U.S., 101m, DCP
In a time when independent media and journalism are constantly under attack, the sophomore film by the trailblazing Joan Micklin Silver (Hester Street), while over 40 years old, could not be more timely today. Following the lives and loves of a group of staffers at a Boston alt-weekly as they face a possible corporate takeover and unemployment, this rueful multi-character comedy drama is a true lost treasure. Featuring a stellar cast in early roles: John Heard, Lindsay Crouse, Jill Eikenberry, Bruno Kirby, Gwen Welles, and Jeff Goldblum as the paper’s music critic. A Cohen Film Collection release

"Gently perceptive... an appealing, low-key, counter-culture newspaper comedy." —Vincent Canby, The New York Times

The Goldblum Variations

February 8-21
At 6’4” tall, Jeff Goldblum can’t help but draw the eye; his striking looks express level-gaze intensity or offbeat charm while his voice is by turns seductive and quizzical—with diction that’s tuned in to its own private frequency, compelling not only the audience but also his co-stars to lean in closer. While his career extends to theatre (he studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse) and TV, with his brainy wit, loping physicality, and oddball charisma, Goldblum belongs on the big screen. On the occasion of the restoration of Joan Micklin Silver’s Between the Lines, featuring an early scene-stealing deadpan turn from Goldblum, the Quad pays tribute to an icon of idiosyncratic individuality.

Additional titles to be announced:
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
W.D. Richter, 1984, U.S., 103m, 35mm

The Big Chill
Lawrence Kasdan, 1983, U.S., 105m, 35mm

The Fly
David Cronenberg, 1986, U.S./UK/Canada, 96m, 35mm

Independence Day
Roland Emmerich, 1996, U.S., 145m, DCP

Into the Night
John Landis, 1985, U.S., 115m, 35mm

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Philip Kaufman, 1978, U.S., 115m, 35mm

Jurassic Park
Steven Spielberg, 1993, U.S., 127m, DCP

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Wes Anderson, 2004, U.S., 119m, DCP

The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Steven Spielberg, 1997, U.S., 129m, DCP

Mister Frost
Philip Setbon, 1990, France/UK, 105m, 35mm

Next Stop, Greenwich Village
Paul Mazursky, 1976, U.S., 111m, DCP

Nine Months
Chris Columbus, 1995, U.S., 103m, 35mm

THE BEKSIŃSKIS. A Sound and Picture Album (2017) Slamdance 2019

Artist Zdzisław Beksiński recorded his and his family's life with what ever her could. From film, audio tape and later video  tape. He also sent letters and kept diaries and journals. as a result of all this recording it charted his "cursed" families history though mental illness, plane crashes and suicide.

While Beksiński's odd and dysfunctional life was the source of the film THE LAST FAMILY from 2016, this is the unvarnished truth. A full feature of the material that filled the final moments of the earlier film this film is often hard to watch. A little too much is revealed. We don't need to know this much about anyone, even ourselves. The result is a film that is utterly fascinating.

There are observational documentaries and then there is this film which manages to be both subjective and objective. We see the world ordered through Beksiński's choices but it records moments that are life as lived and which almost no documentarian would have or could have filmed. Its  gripping even as we wonder why are we watching this.

While this is not going to be every film fan or documentary fan's cup of tea,  for those who honestly and truly want to see a life as lived, and which goes sideways, this is going to be manna from heaven.

Highly recommended.

Beats (2019) Slamdance 2019

Based on a play by Keiran Hurley BEATS tells the story of 15 year old Johnno and Spanner in the days leading up to the passage of the the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which banned unauthorized gatherings where music with a beat was played. The idea was to stop raves from happening. This is to be the last summer together for the two young men. Johnno and his family will be moving and Spanner faces an uncertain future. As their time together is coming to an end the pair spends their last days together.

I liked BEATS but I don't quite love it. The film has some truly transcendent moments, some great exchanges and a very good score but I never could shake the feeling that as hard as the film was trying to be "great" and be a film that made you fall passionately love with it, it was never going to be more than good and a one time dinner after work sort of thing.

The problem is is that the film hits every coming of age note you think it will. This is the story of one last blast and a thumbing of nose at authority before disappearing into the lives that we are expected to live. While the details vary this is very much like any other coming of age tale. I know that is partly intentional since in the press notes director Brian Welsh talks about how the source play resonated with anyone who saw it. I think for me the problem is that in opening up Keiran Hurley's play  didn't quite work. What worked on stage as essential a monologue with music doesn't translate as well with characters. In a monologue you can get away with a bit of cliche, but that doesn't quite work when actors portray the characters.

My other problem with the film is I really don't like Cristian Ortega as Johnno. Or is it I don't like the character? I'm not quite sure. The problem for me is that as written Johnno is more a reactor than an actor. He is our surrogate and he walks through the film in our stead and while he takes part in the events he more often than not seems to be watching until events simply overwhelm him (the rave). While Ortega is never bad, he is never really given much to do and so he seems more like a lost puppy with his frightened posture and doe eyes.

While I'm not sure it all hangs together there are moments. The rave is exceptional. There are some lovely exchanges between the two friends  and the acting is across the board wonderful. Everyone outside of Johnno seems to be real characters.

I feel really bad not absolutely loving this film. I went into the film with high hopes, owing in large part to the Steven Soderbergh's name which is being splashed across some promotional material you'd swear it was his new film.

Is BEATS bad? No, not remotely. Frankly I do like the film, I just don't love it, which is something it seems to be trying very hard to make me do.

Sundance ’19: We Are Little Zombies

Technically, they are not zombies in the Walking Dead sense. They are zombies like the “She’s Not There” British invasion rock band. Of course, they are a kiddie band, but they have grown up awfully fast. Death has brought them together and death might just be what breaks them apart in Makoto Nagahisa’s We Are Little Zombies, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Death will be their constant companion. As fate dictates, the four youngsters meet at the crematorium hosting their parents’ funerals—that’s right, all eight of them. Yet, strangely, they feel little emotion, which even they find somewhat odd. Instead, they band together, trashing their apartments and taking refuge on the streets. They have contempt for the future, living only in the now.

Of course, their stories are uniquely awful. Hikari Takami’s parents died when their tour bus had a fatal collision. They had been hoping to save their marriage by taking a strawberry lovers’ tour (at least they managed to avoid a divorce). Yuki Takemura’s parents committed suicide to escape their creditors. Shinpachi Ishi’s parents were killed in a gas fire at their greasy wok restaurant. Ikuko Ibu’s ‘rents were murdered by her stalker music teacher, because he thought she wanted him to do it—and maybe she did. Ibu is the oldest of the four, so naturally the boys all develop a crush on her.

Yet, it will be Takami who leads their band, “The Little Zombies,” filtering his Gameboy soundtracks through old school synthesizer modulators. Their street performances go viral, launching them to pop idol status, but you can guess the path of their career trajectory.

Little Zombies is not a horror movie, but it is definitely a massive cult film. With its intrusive 8-bit soundtrack and seizure-inducing rapid-editing, it is like an all-out assault on the senses. It is an exhausting film, but you have to respect Nagahisa’s ability to maintain the breakneck lunacy. Even if it makes your eye-sockets bleed, it is a heck of an accomplishment. As an added bonus, Nagahisa’s screenplay is riddled with clever, postmodern breakings of the fourth wall and self-referential wackiness.

Frankly, it is pretty amazing how deadpan Keita Ninomiya, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura, and Sena Nakajima remain, despite the maelstrom of insanity swirling around them. It is a different sort of performance, maintaining stoic discipline rather than emoting, but they fulfill their duties faithfully. Recommended for fans of Sion Sono at his most out-there, We Are Little Zombies screens again tonight (1/28), Thursday (1/31), and Saturday (2/2) in Park City and Friday (2/1) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance.

Ariela on SHARKWATER EXTINCTION which opens Friday

This is a repost of Ariela's review from the Toronto Film Festival

I went to the world premiere of this documentary which was bittersweet. For those unfamiliar, Rob Stewart, who made this film, passed away while filming last year. He was diving in Florida, and his equipment malfunctioned. With the help of a lot of people, going through hours and hours of videos, they were able to complete the documentary that Rob sought out to make. His parents and sister spoke at the screening.

I had seen his first film, Sharkwater, several years ago. It was a beautiful and sad film. Rob wanted to show the world that sharks are not the killers people make them out to be, and so he went swimming with them to show how gentle they are. He wanted the world to see sharks and feel for them the way people do for other animals. He mentions that when an elephant is killed there’s an outcry, but when sharks are killed no one cares. He mentions that elephants have killed a lot more people than sharks have. While filming Sharkwater, he found out about the shark fin trade and the documentary wound up incorporating that as well.

Sharkwater Extinction is a continuation of that. Rob had found out that while many countries had banned the killing of sharks for their fins since the release of his first documentary, it was still happening anyway, only it had now become an underground operation. He filmed in various places around the world from Costa Rica to Miami to show that the shark fin trade is very much alive and a huge industry.

It was hard for me and others (I saw many turn away when I did) to see sharks being captured, their fins being cut and their carcasses thrown back into the ocean. It’s an eye opener when he tests things people regularly buy, and found that there are traces of shark fins in pet food, regular cans of fish food that people buy, and even cosmetics.

This documentary shows what a hero Rob was. It was heartbreaking to watch knowing his life was cut short too early. You can see what a good heart he had. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. There was a standing ovation and people kept applauding well after the credits ended.

A must see to both be educated on this horrible billion dollar industry, and to see Rob swimming peacefully with the sharks and fighting to save their lives.

MUDANZA CONTMPORANEA (2018) Slamdance 2019

MUDANZA CONTMPORANEA is a hard to describe film. It has something to do with the random things in our lives...and a ghost... I think. I know that much of the film made me laugh out loud as director TeoGuillem dances around in various sheets and stuff.

That may not sound thrilling, but trust me it’s hysterical in the right sort of way as the mix of sound and image are made glorious by stunning editing. From the instant we get a sheet drifting to a vacuum cut to someone dancing in the same sheet I was hooked. It’s wonderful filmmaking.

But it’s not perfect. There are some long passages where we watch a woman on a TV screen which kind of kills the momentum of the film. I’m certain that’s tied to the deeper meaning of the film about the ghost of the past, but it’s nowhere near as much fun.

I am probably missing the point of what the film is about by just focusing on the crazy motion but god damn its great.

Playing at Slamdance MUDANZA CONTMPORANEA is recommended

Who Killed Cock Robin? (2017)

WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN? is Cheng Wei-hao‘s follow up to THE TAG-ALONG about an evil spirit that attaches itself to people. There are no evil spirits here, only bad karma and it’s going to lay waste to everyone.

The plot of the film has a reporter getting into a car accident on the way to cover a story. As a result of the accident he discovers not only was his prized car a rebuild, but was also part of a notorious unsolved hit and run that he witnessed from years before. As he begins to go down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out what exactly happened years before he gets mixed up with a kidnapping that may or may not be related.

COCK ROBIN is a good but needlessly convoluted thriller. Part of the problem is that there is a great deal going on. Give the film points for trusting the audience to be able to follow along, but you have to take some away for some of the things it does such as replaying some events multiple times from various perspectives, which erode interest instead of maintain it. On the other hand it is complex enough to hold your attention, and make you want to know who done it. In an age where thrillers are not thrilling and mysteries aren’t mysterious the feeling of not knowing is kind of euphoric.

Beautiful to look at the film is a visual stunner. The images and editing are first rate. I so fell into the look of the film to such a degree that when the accident occurs at the start of the film I leapt out of my seat. From there the lush visuals and dark brooding tone of the images create a wonderful sense of blood soaked modern noir.

Hitting VOD and select theaters on January 31st Who Killed Cock Robin is worth a look.

Monday, January 28, 2019

023_GRETA_S (2018) Slamdance 2019

Annika Birgel‘s 023_GRETA_S is an uncomfortable masterpiece. Arising out of a casting call the director had, the film lays bare the creepy things that men do to women especially in an “official” job related manner.

The film has Greta go in for an interview with a director for an unspecified role. He then proceeds to ask her a series of personal, and way off base questions. It’s clear from watching Greta’s face that none of this is alright or okay. And while none of it is graphic, the tone and sheer weight of the probing just makes it uncomfortable.

Never having had to endure anything like this I squirmed in my seat. I was incredibly uncomfortable and I desperately wanted to pull Greta out of there. I’m guessing that most women who see this will be screaming at the screen in acknowledgement of what is being shown. Most men, who probably never had to endure anything like this will stare at the screen dumbfounded.

Kudos to Lilian Mazbouh as Greta. She is the whole film, her’s being really the only face we see. Told in painful close up (think of her as a modern day version of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc) she makes us feel everything. It is an award worthy performance and one that will make you wonder why the various big awards don’t include shorts- until you realize that the work being done in these small films more often than not put to shame the work of the big stars in bloated Hollywood films.

In any age and not just the current #metoo one  023_GRETA_S is a must see.

HIEROPHANY (2018) Slamdance 2019

To be honest I don’t know exactly is going on with HIEROPHANY but god damn its magical.

The film tells the story of three young men in the fields around a farm in Florida. They are hunting for rabbits in the hope of making some money. They are watched over by a falcon. Where it all goes and how it goes is the film.

Gorgeously shot in black and white this film is an absolute delight for the eye. Every shot (except one) is perfect in composition and perfect on how it conveys a mood or emotion. This is as good as filmmaking gets.

To be honest I don’t know what it all means but I like it. I like the feel of the film. I love the sense of character. We don’t know a great deal about them but I did get the sense of someone behind the eyes.

I know it maybe a pipe dream but I’d like to see this expanded into a feature- or if not a feature I want to see what director Kevin Contento can do on a larger canvas. If its half as good as this it will b something special.

Happy Face (2019) Slamdance 2019

Alexandre Franchi's HAPPY FACE is a wonderful little film that will put a smile on your face and tears in your eyes.  It is one of the unexpected pleasures of Slamdance.

Stan tapes up his face to appear disfigured. He is trying to come to connect with his mother who is being ravaged by cancer. When Stan's masquerade is discovered he  fights to be allowed to remain part of the group which has become his found family. As Stan helps his friends come to terms with their problems they in term come to help him deal with his fears.

Before you ask, yes the film does hit some of the themes and points you'd expect a film like this to hit. At the same time Franchi does a few things that are unexpected with the result the film never feels like something we've seen before.

Helping a great deal is the fact that Franchi has found a killer cast of actors. Everyone on screen is actually a person with some sort of difference. It may sound like a "no duh" thing to say but the fact that we are watching real people on the screen makes the film all the more real. If you ever need an game set and match reason as to why filmmakers, and all of Hollywood needs to hire real people and not make up artists, bring up this film. Seeing David Roche, Cindy Nicholsen, E R Ruiz, Dawn Shaw and the others adds a layer of humanity that seeing say Angelina Jolie with a rubber face could never duplicate. Seeing all these fine actors on screen makes the film connect us to the story all the more.

I really liked HAPPY FACE a great deal. And by the time Stan offered his mother some french fries and vinegar I was gone, reaching for a tissue to mop up the tears.

While I probably can't call it one of the absolute best films at Slamdance, I will call it one of the great joys and one the great finds not only of the festival but also of 2019.  Ultimately this is a wonderful little film that is marvelously full of life.

Very Recommended.

Boni Bonita (2019) Slamdance 2019

Boni Bonita tells the story of the relationship between a 16 year old girl who meets and hooks up in a years long on again off again relationship with a musician twenty years her senior. As their feelings ebb and flow the relationship morphs and changes over time as we drop in at several points.

Shot on film in 16mm with a focus that shifts depending upon the moods of the characters Boni Bonita is a trip inside the heads of the protagonists. We are parties to their thoughts and feelings and it makes for interesting viewing.

Outside of the technical aspects of the film and the structure of the story telling Boni Bonita didn’t click with me. There is something about its low key approach that never drew me in. I sat outside of the events and was a passive follower. It was not a matter of the film being bad but more that something about the film not hooking or clicking with me. About half way in to the film I had the realization that I could appreciate what the film was doing but I wasn’t invested in it.

While I can say that the film is definitely worth a look if you like tales for a relationships

Sundance ’19: One Child Nation

From 1979 to 2015, there was a regime very much like that in The Handmaid’s Tale, but instead of prohibiting abortions, they mandated them—along with involuntary sterilization (of mothers, not fathers). When China’s notorious One Child Policy was in full effect, the Communist government relentlessly intruded into bedrooms and families’ lives. The draconian mandate has been relaxed to a “Two Child Policy,” but the guilt and emotional pain persists for the parents who were forced to comply. Filmmakers Nanfu Wang & Jialing Zhang expose the resulting trauma, both on a national level and within Wang’s own family throughout One Child Nation, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

As a poor rural family, Wang’s parents were allowed to have a second child, as long as they were at least five years apart, but it was still strenuously discouraged. She quite pointedly remembers the shame she felt in school when it was discovered she had a sibling. However, when Wang had her baby boy, she started to reconsider all the propaganda she had been fed during her youth.

As the New York-based Wang starts to ask questions of her Chinese family, she discovers unknown cousins who were abandoned (ultimately, to their death) and a profound sense of shame amongst nearly all her relatives. Being good documentarians, Wang and Zhang do not stop there. They follow the trail, interviewing the village headmen and family planning apparatchiks who enforced the policy. They also challenge preconceptions of the human traffickers who effectively saved thousands of abandoned infants by “selling” them to orphanages, which supplied the lucrative Western adoption market.

One Child Nation addresses a lot of hot-button issues, including the role of human traffickers in China, the pervasiveness of state propaganda, the overwhelming cultural gender preference for boys (and the inequalities that come with it), and the systematic deception of Chinese orphanages that lied about the background of their charges and often split up twin siblings. Yet, every topic arises organically out of the filmmakers’ investigation. This is a tight, focused film—it just happens to have an awful lot to say.

Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow might just be the gutsiest documentary ever made, so it is a heavy statement to call One Child Nation a worthy follow-up. It might sound like it is old news to the half-informed now that the Communist Party is flogging its Two Child Policy, but she and Zhang make it crystal clear how profoundly the One Child Policy damaged China’s social fabric.

Frankly, this is sometimes a difficult film to watch. The images of cast-aside fetuses and babies will surely break your heart and possibly turn your stomach (wisely, these are incorporated sparingly—just enough to establish the truth). Very highly recommended (especially for Women’s March participants), One Child Nation screens again this afternoon (1/28), Thursday (1/31), and Friday (2/1) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance.

One Night Only (2016) hits VOD January 31

With ONE NIGHT ONLY  hitting VOD on January 31 here is a repost of my review-which is quoted in the trailer above.

Aaron Kwok stars as hardcore gambler who just can't win. When a hooker pushes her way into his room he convinces her to let him use her money for a night of gambling. They do well but there are complications.

A great looking film with some killer performance, Kwok kicks ass as a man seemingly out of luck man as does Yang Zishan as Momo the girl who came to stay for a night. Its a neon drenched romance with a sting in the tail. Yea it takes some well worn melodramatic turns but at the same time it has some kick ass set pieces (The blindfolded race) and an emotional punch in the chest that will bring a tear to your eye. Once this film gets going and settles in this film is a winning emotional rollercoaster. Trust me it gets better and better.

And why the hell haven't I heard of it?

ONE NIGHT ONLY is one of those films that makes you wonder where it sprung from. Why hadn't I heard about this film before getting a cryptic email at 2am? While I understand that with NYAFF, Japan Cuts and The Asian American International Film Festival all taking over the New York film scene this month, and Fantasia burning up the international scene it's understandable that some films are going to get lost if they are being released at this time outside of the fray. However ONE NIGHT ONLY is good enough that I can't believe that someone didn't snap it up for a big New York festival push.

What a wonderful surprise.

This is one of those films you watch and you instantly fall in love with it. Its one of those films that feels like an old friend, partly because it cobbles together bits of plot and characters that seem you to know so can't not help, but also because what it does with the bits is just so damn cool that it fashions something new out of them.

This is a super little gem that you shouldn't let get away. Search this one out.

ONE NIGHT ONLY opens in New York Friday and you must see it.

In brief: Butt Fantasia (2018) Slamdance 2018

Five minute riff on Disney's Fantasia using men's butt to act out various scenarios set to music.

Amusing to a point but this is a film that probably should have played at Cinekink or some other similar festival. While in no way sexy, the film's singular vision doesn't really sustain the "stupid cinema" premise even at five minutes unless one finds bottoms endlessly amusing, I found it "cute, but could we please go on to the next thing" and its "stupid cinema" premise is pushed past the breaking point where I wondered why I was seeing it at a festival such as Slamdance. 

While I normally don't normally question why programmers chose a film for their festival this one has me scratching my head because it's there really isn't anything here.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

KIFARU (2019) Slamdance 2019

The review that follows is by Unseen Films writer Ariela Rubin.  Ariela is taking the lead on this review because when I found out what this film was about I made an effort to see the film with Ariela because she has met the men and rhinos profiled in the film. Since she is more qualified to discuss the film she is taking the lead on the review.

KIFARU is the Swahili word for rhino. This documentary about the last three remaining Northern White Rhinos, was originally called Sudan: The Last Man Standing. This film takes place primarily at Ol Pejeta Conservatory in Kenya, where the last three Northern White Rhinos lived: Sudan, Naji(his daughter), and Fatu(her daughter). This documentary was one I’ve been awaiting to see, and holds a special place in my heart as I went to Kenya and to Ol Pejeta several years ago, and was inspired to go there to meet Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, before it was too late.

The film follows the three main caretakers: James, Jojo, and Jacob (I met James when I was there, and he showed us around). These men spend 10 months of the year there, away from their families, to protect the rhinos. You can see that these men are dedicated to taking care of the rhinos, and really get attached to them. They are true heroes.

This film is a real look at what extinction looks like. We get to see it first hand through Sudan. It’s heartbreaking. Heartbreaking that humans have done this. I hope everyone sees this documentary, it’s such an important film to see, and make sure you have tissues nearby.

Memphis 69 (2019) Slamdance 2019

Memphis 69 is almost certainly going to end up as one of my favorite films of 2019. Made up of the footage shot at the Memphis Birthday Blues Festival in 1969 the film was locked away for 50 years because by the time it was developed by Gene Rosenthal no one was really interested in it. It wasn’t until Fat Possum Records expressed an interest in the audio recordings that things began to shift and work began on finally editing the film.

The film is not a complete record of the festival, stretched over three days where the temperature reached 106 degrees, but a sampling of the artists who played. Running a much too brief 75 minutes the film gives everyone a song or two to shine, and shine they do. This is 75 minutes of glorious music that will move your heart and stir your soul. It is, sonically, one of my most favorite films I’ve run across. I simply want to listen to the music over and over again.

Visually the film is nothing flashy. A record of the performances and the people attending the festival, it just shows us the performers and nothing more. However considering it is reveals to us Nathan Beuregard, the 106 year old blind blues player who connects the time to the Civil War, or Sleepy Eyes Estes and Yank Rachel rocking out, Bukka White kicking ass and taking names or the Bar-kays playing Let The Sun Shine In the simplest approach is best.

I have no words- seriously I have nothing but WOW and OH MY GOD.

Highly recommended for anyone who love great music MEPHIS 69 is a treat of the highest order.

NYC's Winter Film Awards International Film Festival ❄ Feb 14-23

The 8th Annual WINTER FILM AWARDS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL is coming soon! The Festival runs February 14-23 in New York City with a jam-packed schedule of 89 fantastic films from 32 countries, seriously amazing discussion panels, cool networking events and super-fun parties.

We've got something for everyone, with a diverse mixture of shorts and features, animations, documentaries, thrillers, comedies, romances, dramas, horror, sci-fi, music videos and web series! Filmmakers come from 32 countries; 50% of the films were created by women, 53% were created by or about people of color. Hollywood continues to ignore women and people of color, but Winter Film Awards celebrates everyone! “I think that when everybody's story is told, then that makes for better art, that makes for better entertainment. It makes everybody feel part of one family." — President Obama. 

Tickets on sale now!
* Screenings at Cinema Village (22 East 12th Street, New York NY 10003). Tickets are $12.50 in advance, $16.50 at the door for a 2 1/2-3 hour block of films.
* Discussion Panels + Workshops are free, but require pre-registraton
Opening Reception, Feb 14 7-11PM, 21+ w/ID, Free before 10pm
Gala Red Carpet, Awards Ceremony and After-Party, Feb 23 7PM-2AM, 21+ w/ID, Free before 10pm 

Hey! Check out this awesome deal from Festival Sponsor, Final Draft, the industry standard in screenwriting software: Used by such industry giants as J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and Aaron Sorkin, Final Draft automatically paginates and formats your script to industry standards, allowing writers to focus on what they do best – writing scripts. Save 20% off Final Draft with this exclusive discount code. Enter promo code FDWFA18 at checkout. Visit to learn more. Offer expires 1/31/2019. 

About Winter Film Awards 
Winter Film Awards is an all volunteer, minority- and women-owned registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 2011 in New York City by a group of filmmakers and enthusiasts. The program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. 

For more information about Winter Film Awards events and sponsors, visit
For more information about the Winter Film Awards judging process, visit our FAQ

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