Thursday, February 28, 2019

Smaller and Smaller Circles (2017) hits US theaters tomorrow

Two priests are brought into look at the case of a dead boy found mutilated in a garbage dump. Little do they suspect that they have opened a Pandora's box and are now on the trail of a serial killer with at least six victims.

Part mystery, part police procedural, part social commentary SMALLER AND SMALLER  CIRCLES  is one of the best murder mysteries I've run across in many years. This is a bleak little confection that will curl your toes with it's no holds barred portrait of a society where almost everyone is corrupt, if not in actuality then in covering up for those who do bad things. Kiss asses and those who will protect the status quo are promoted despite the cost. And not only are the sins of man on display but the sins of the church as the molestation of kids is theme that runs parallel to and across the main narrative. This is not a tale for the weak of heart.

This is a dark tale for any number of reasons not the least of which is it is perpetually night and raining. If this was made in Hollywood during the late 40's this would have been called a prime example of Film Noir.  Night is everywhere, especially in men's souls. Only those at the center seem not to be battered and bruised or as battered as everyone else. The mystery will be solved almost through their sheer will to solve the crimes alone..

I should warn you that this is not a film for the squeamish. It doesn't shy away from the dark details. No gory details  are spared as the particulars are discussed and we see the mutilated bodies, faces and genitals removed. If you don't like graphic images or frank talk skip this film.

On the other hand anyone wanting a really good mystery that is doing more than just being mysterious should make an effort to see SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES because it's one of the best mysteries of recent vintage.

Opens tomorrow (March 1) in LA and other select theaters before hitting VOD on March 19th

Gordon and Paddy (2017) NYICFF 2019

Gordon is a toad who acts as the police for the forest. Ideally he'd like to retire. When a rabbit comes in claiming his nuts had been stolen Gordon goes to investigate. He discovers a lone mouse, named Paddy, stealing a single acorn. realizing the mouse is not the real thief, Gordon makes her his assistant and the pair begin to look in the theft.

Nice little police procedural for the younger set, GORDON AND PADDY is a charmer. Filled with great characters and a couple of intriguing mysteries, the film delights as it keeps you in suspense. Its the sort of film that is going to make you want to track down the source books so that you can see what other adventures the duo has together.

If  I have to quibble about the film its that the film is being screened at the NYICFF in a subtitled print. While that is fine for older kids, it will cut out a bunch of the younger ones who can't read the subtitles. Forgive me, this is, ultimately an all ages film and I hate that whole bunch of kids who will love it won't get to enjoy it.

GORDON AND PADDY is recommended for mystery lovers of all ages. It plays again at NYICFF this weekend and next. For more information and details go here.

Furie: Veronica Ngo is Furious

In the movies, human traffickers are woefully inept at cost-benefit analyses. In Taken, someone should have decided to quietly return Liam Neeson’s daughter on the condition of no questions asked. That is even more true of Hai Phuong. The former gangster has a pretty lethal skill set of her own, but it is her mama bear protectiveness that makes her so formidable in Le Van Kiet’s Furie, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Hai was once a gangster, which is why she is still estranged from her family. All she really needs is her daughter Mai, who is unwisely snatcher away from her one day in the country market. They had been fighting before her abduction, so Hai is especially distraught. She will doggedly follow their trail all the way to Saigon, where she used to haunt the streets during her earlier criminal years.

Yep, that is about the size of Furie. This is not exactly what you would call a complex narrative structure, but it finds virtue in its simplicity. This is the sort of old school beat-down that defined Hong Kong action movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Kiet sets up the pins and Ngo knocks them down. Why complicate something so brutally effective?

Ngo’s action chops are already well-established, but she performs some of her grittiest, most cinematic fight scenes yet as Hai. She really takes it to the level of Villainess, but the mother-daughter relationship is also quite touching, thanks to the rapport she shares with young Mai Cat Vi, playing her namesake. Viewers will really, really root for Hai to rescue Mai and to dish out the payback the traffickers so richly deserve.

Phan Thanh Nhien is appropriately steely as Luong, the honest copper, but he is a distant second fiddle compared to the ferocious Ngo (and Hai). However, Hoa Tran’s scenery chewing presence and ferocious physicality makes trafficking gang leader Thanh Soi a more than worthy nemesis. Frankly, her character exits too soon—and with too much finality.

Kiet and Ngo deliver some juicy red meat for action fans. This is a lithe, street smart movie that only has one speed: full throttle. So, it’s a simple, straight forward review for an unfussy, gleefully violent film. Highly recommended for patrons of marital arts films and Vietnamese cinema, Furie opens tomorrow (3/1) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

Level 16 (2018)

Opening tomorrow in theaters and on VOD is LEVEL 16 a dystopian tale about a group of girls locked away in sterile industrial "school" raised since they were children by an head mistress who taught them the finer ways of being, and for whom cleanliness and perfection is all. The girls are all passing their way through various levels in the hope of one day getting a family of their own.

Full disclosure I have been trying to see this film since it was on the festival circuit last year. Either problems with the screener or being required to hold off the review until now (I wasn't going to sit on a review for four months) prevented my seeing it. I know having to wait so long to see the film built up impossibly high expectations that the film could never live up to....at the same time even if I had just seen the film way back all those months ago I still think I would have been disappointed.

Playing more like a cinematic version of a dystopian young adult novel LEVEL 16 never quite achieves the hard edge seriousness that a tale like this should have in order to work. While I understand why it isn't as gritty as I would have liked, owing in part the real reason the girls are in this school, it still keeps this feeling more like dress up than real life. It feels like the filmmakers are playing to a set audience instead of recreating real life.

I know part of the problem is that the cast of girls is often uneven. While the leads are fine, some of the other girls are less so. I'm pretty sure that a large part of that is the supporting actresses aren't given a great deal to do. While there are a lot of young women there aren't that many characters with the result the girls kind of flounder and they become window dressing. They aren't given anything to do other than be part of a nondescript crowd and it feel less real then taking a random group of people in a doctor's waiting room or street corner.

While never really bad, it never really thrilled. To be honest other than desiring to find out what the purpose of the school was I stopped being interested by the half hour mark. I had a feeling that the film was going to go through it's gyrations for a certain amount of time until the big reveal. It wasn't all that earth shaking, though a couple of minor ones after that were ore interesting.

Is LEVEL 16 worth your time and money? If you want a good but not great dystopian tale, give it a shot. Also add a plus if you want a girl power tale about friendship take a look.

Double Trouble (2017) NYICFF 2019

Julka is at boarding school while her parents work in France. When her parents forget she is to join them for summer vacation she is forced to stay with her aunt who barely acknowledges her existence. When Julka leaves a door open and thieves steal everything off the walls including some valuable plans, Julka and the son of one of her aunt's neighbors must spring into action and try to track down the stolen items.

DOUBLE TROUBLE is an amusing film that is going to play better for older children than adults. The reason is that there is a lightness of the touch in regard to the happenings and while there is suspense as to what is going on (things are not quite as they seem)  there never really is any doubt that things will be okay. Part of it is the tone of the film and part of it is the narration pretty much says as much right at the start.

For kids who haven't seen a lot of caper films this is going to be a blast since it is both funny and tense. For the adults it will be a amusing but nothing special since the caper isn't a solvable mystery as one that is revealed in left hand turns. It's never bad but this is one for the kids more than the parents.

Worth a look if you're taking the kids.

DOUBLE TROUBLE PLAYS March 2,3 and 16th at NYICFF. For more information and tickets go here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Palace (2019)

Andrew Paul Davis‘s PALACE is a genuine gem of a film. A lovely little multi-character drama it is a grand graduation of a long time short filmmaker to features.

Set around a bar called Palace the film primarily focuses on Chris. A young man who works at auto repair place. He regularly goes to AA meetings but it is something he only pays lip service to since every night he is knocking them back at the Palace. He lives with his girlfriend and he thinks it’s all shits and giggles until she discovers she’s pregnant. Into the mix we have Chuck,an older man, also in AA with health problems and Alexa young woman at a Christian college who has a love and knack for poetry and rap, which are odd things to want to be part of in a dying Midwestern town. While they are the main focus we also get to know the people in their orbits.

I don’t know whether to thank or smack the Duplass Brothers. While I love that they have set fires under the asses of countless filmmakers to simply go out and create, I despise that many of those they inspire give up their own voices in order to ape their heroes. I mention the brothers because when I was sent PALACE it came with notes mentioning how the film came out of a contest they ran in order to secure financing for the winner. I was instantly wary of the reason stated above, but thankfully Andrew Paul Davis has his own voice and the Duplass Brothers should be thanked for instilling the drive to get the film done.

A great looking film PALACE feels like it is set at the end of the world. These are people off the beaten track and the lights are slowly going down. I loved how one early shot of one of the characters driving through the deserted streets of the town instantly set the mood of a world closing in on its self. There are once grand buildings and wide streets and only a car or two. It’s a simple shot. In a way that means absolutely nothing in the bigger picture of the story but it sets the tone and it sets the world than the ten establishing shots a show off director might have chosen.

Davis‘s script speaks volumes about life. There is an aching lived in to the quality to the lives we see on screen. One kind of wonders what sort of wide varied life Davis must have had since the notes of lives that have taken the wrong turn seem dead on write. I see echoes of my own and the lives of the people around me. There is the quiet desperation and sadness of people who want to change but can’t seem to pull it together or too scared to step away from the safety of this pain.

That it works as well as it does is thanks to a killer cast who seem to be living their lives on screen. Of course it isn’t true, but it feels it. Only Todd Bruno as Chris sometimes feels out of sorts. He feels more like he is channeling Jack Black’s devil may care attitude more than himself. Its only a couple of times and while it isn’t fatal it keeps an otherwise flawless film from being perfect.

This is a film you’ll want to see.

Highly recommended PALACE will be playing at the Queens World Film Festival on March 29th. For more information and tickets go here.

Stray (2019) hits VOD and theaters Friday

When her mother is found dead (she is literally petrified)a young woman being sheltered from the world has to come out to fight a dark supernatural force that is trying to destroy  the world.

A dark brooding film that echoes numerous earlier Hong Kong and Japanese films, STRAY is a film never quite matches the films it's echoing.  At times more talk or moody images than anything else I kept on wanting to say "get on with it" even when something was happening. It's not that what is on the screen in bad but more the film feels more like it wants to follow the down on her luck cop investigating the weird happenings more than it wants to stay with the girl with the powers. Yes, she is our way into the story but at the same time there isn't anything to the character as written that we haven't seen before. There is no reason to give the film our full attention when the film seems to be cutting corners.(If you don't show the one with the power you don't need the special effects)

I had kind of hoped that the various confrontations and all the talk would build to something spectacular it never really does. Granted it is probably closer to "reality" than the bigger budget spectacles from overseas, but the lack of "Oh Cool"  makes it less than exciting.

While never bad, STRAY is never full engaging. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Ariela Rubin on Giant Little Ones which opens Friday



(FYI- this review is quoted in the above trailer but the quote is Ariela's not mine- I have tried to correct it but no one got back to me)

I loved this film.

A coming of age film about teenagers dealing with sexuality, friendships,bullying, family, and high school. A movie about two friends who have been best friends for most of their lives until an incident happens at a party.

I don’t want to give away much because I really loved this film. I loved the main star of the film Josh Wiggins, and the sweet unlikely friendship he later has. The film gave a real life portrayal of real teens going through serious events in life. It felt current and authentic.

I thought the film was beautiful. One of my top films of the Toronto Film Festival.

Having attended some Guild and Academy screenings I think I know why Green Book won Best Picture

I was one of the ones upset by Green Book winning Best Picture, but after a discussion with Hubert Vigilla I calmed down and remembered that I shouldn’t have been surprised that something other than Roma and some of the others won because I attended some Academy/Guild screenings in December and I overheard the discussions among the members so I knew what was probably going to happen.

Before you ask, no I am neither an Academy member nor a member of any Guild. I was at the screenings because I was allowed to go because of coverage/interview consideration.

The discussions of the films was to say the least interesting. Much of the talk was centered on how Roma was viewed. While everyone loved the film on a technical level there were deep divides and heated discussions as to whether the film was any good. About half the crowd at one screening loved the film and the other half found it to dull and boring and trying too hard to win awards. Those that didn’t like it complained it had been done before. It was funny to see a couple of seeming longtime friends disagree as to was right about the film. The one thing that everyone agreed on was that it would probably win Best Foreign Language Film, with the naysayers saying that was where arty films like that belonged.

Outside of the Roma discussion the talk about the films was all over the place with a great deal of discussion of Mary Queen of Scots being much better than the critics had made it out to be. (From the discussion it was very weird not to see it get any nominations). And while there was no talk about Green Book, I never heard it mentioned once in any screening I attended, all of the better Oscar nominees were also either not mentioned or down played in favor of some other more middle of the road film. The taste of the films for the largely middle age or older Academy audience was more mainstream than you would think.

The same goes for the Guild screening I attended. That screening had an audience of ages across the board and the taste was still middle of the road. And I should point out that after attending the screening there was never any doubt about Rami Malik and Bohemian Rhapsody being loved in Hollywood because most people who were there had seen the film before and wanted to see it again because they loved the film and because they were in awe of Malik’s performance.

Having attended some special screenings with Oscar and Guild voters I kind of completely understand why the films that win do. Honestly outside of the technical level where the art of filmmaking is clearly seen, the voters are not grand movie lovers with refined taste, but rather the same schlubs as you and me, loving the occasional highbrow piece of work but really preferring the more crown pleasing middle of the road stuff. They want to be entertained like everyone else. They want to vote for the films that please them and not ones that are going to move the bar just to move the bar.

Why did Green Book win Best Picture? Because, for better or worse, it was simply enjoyed more by the voters than the likes of Roma.

Brief random thoughts on Suspiria (2018)


Remake of the Dario Argento classic takes the plot and reshapes it into something else entirely. The nominal plot  has a dancer going to Berlin in order to study dance a prestigious academy. Winning a place she soon finds herself in the middle of all sorts of weird stuff as the school is actually the home of a coven of witches.

Throw back film to the sort of off kilter Euro-horror films of the 1970's and 80's it has a grimy look and feel. Where the original had bright colors everything  this time out is muted and we feel oppressed as a result. Juggling a number of themes about (for a detailed discussion see Hubert Vigilla's take here or Lauren Humphries-Brooks review here)) I personally find the film works best simply as a horror film.  Full of dread and unthinkable nightmares the film chills and drags us along into a weird waking nightmare.

I don't think I need to full investigate the deeper meaning and intellectual horrors when there is enough visceral reaction to raise more than a few goose bumps. Besides I started to pull the threads of the deeper meanings and the film began to be less scary as the mechanics of the chills removed much of the fun.

Is this a great horror film? Maybe? Maybe not? I'm still trying to deal with a film that is an immersion tank of emotion of almost three hours.

Worth a look for the curious.

20th Century Faux starts today

Premiering today 20th Century Faux is a series of comedic short films running anywhere from a few seconds to under four minutes. Mostly titled for big screen features the films are kind of impossible to discuss since doing so would wreck the punchlines of all the jokes. And that is what the films all are cinematic build ups to a punchline.

How are they?

Honestly they run the gamut from really bad and in bad taste to very funny and really clever. Because the films and their humor are all over the place I won’t presume to know what you are going to find funny. I will say that I found the shorter ones better than the longer ones (On Any Given Sunday excepted). I say this because the build ups tend to much too long for punchlines that aren’t up to it (say a dick pic).

Are they worth your time?

Taken as a whole yes. I was gifted and was able to see all 16 films in one sitting which I think worked better since it put me in a head space to appreciate the humor more. The ones that seemed disposable at the first worked better in context of the madness of the whole set.

20th Century Faux premieres today with the release of the first four films and pod cast about them. Four more will be released on each of the next three weeks along with a new podcast. To see them or for more information go here.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Dilili in Paris (2018) NYICFF 2019

Michel Ocelot's DILILI IN PARIS maybe his most beautiful film. A mix of his flat 2 style of animation with computer generated 3 images and real locations it delights the eye with its stunning visuals and eye popping colors.

Set in Belle Epoque Paris, the film follows young Dilili as she teams up wit delivery boy Orel to try and track down a band of evil doers called the master men. They are kidnapping young girls in order to make them their servants and stealing money and jewels at every turn. Along the way the pair get help from a variety of real people such as Marie Curie, Marcel Proust and Picasso.

Stunning visuals give way to a rip roaring adventure. Wild bike chases, submarines and airships are just some of the delights that form the various forms of transport used in the adventure. Its all edge of your seat stuff thanks to Ocelot's excellent story telling. Who would have thought a near silent rescue would result in explosive cheers from an audience. It happened in the later part of the film when Dilili and her friends make an effort to rescue all the trapped girls

Kudos to Ocelot as well for making a film that raises the question of equality between the sexes (the bad guys want to oppress women) and race (Dilili's mother is African and her father is French and she feels she belongs nowhere). While he doesn't resolve all the issues he does make them prominent enough that any good discussion of the film must at least note them as well.

As good and near great as the film is Ocelot has made one error in telling the story and that is loading it with famous faces. You can't go more than a couple of minutes without a a famous person appearing. It's interesting to think that so many famous people could have a piece of the mystery  but at the same time it grows tiresome as we go from famous face to famous face just because. Its not fatal but it takes the edge off things as we try to figure out who will show up next.

One of the joys of this years NYICFF, you really should make an effort to see it big where the images will over whelm you in the best possible way.

DILILI IN PARIS plays the remaining three weekends at NYICFF so buy tickets and go.(Information can be had here)

One quick note- It should be noted, but not held against NYICFF, that the print running at the festival occasionally suffers from frequent moments of white on white subtitles. While not fatal and never readable, the lack of clarity forces us to spend a little too much time focusing on the words instead of the images.

Mapplethorpe (2018) opens Friday

This is a repost of the review I ran after the film played Tribeca last year

Somehow they've made a biography of artist and provocateur Robert Mapplethorpe that renders him utterly bland. How they reduced a guy who changed the the (art) world to just a guy is something that needs to be explored

Beginning just before Mapplethorpe met Patti Smith the film charts his course into the rt orld nd the world of photography. We watch as he tries to find his way in life and art seeing how some his many images came together.

Sadly outside of an Oscar worthy performance by Matt Smith there really isn't much exciting here. The man simply goes about creating but we really don't get any real sense of the larger picture. Last year the similar film TOM OF FINLAND played Tribeca and we not only got a sense of the man but also the place his work blazed trails in and out of the gay community. In that film we get a sense in the shift in the world that I never felt in MAPPLETHORPE despite his being someone who caused a seismic shift in the world. Without that sense there really isn't a reason to watch the film. BEing told he is great is not the same as seeing why that is so.

And as much as I a bitching about the film, it really is no where near a bad film, rather it is simply and uninteresting one.

If you can see Wandering Earth (2019) in a theater do so.

I know that many people have decided that since Netflix recently picked up WANDERING EARTH there is no need to see it on a big screen, but trust me, if it's playing near you make an effort to go because this big crazy WTF film is exactly what movies were made to do- make us dream together.

In the near future it is determined that in a hundred years the sun was going to begin to expand and thus destroy the earth. In an effort to save man kind it is decided to move the earth to another star system 4.2 light years away.  In order to make the trip the earth will have to slingshot past Jupiter. Unfortunately the gravity of Jupiter causes the engines to shut down and earth quakes  before capturing the earth and pulling it into a collision course. What results is a nonstop action film to save the earth from destruction.

This movie give the term "bat shit crazy" a whole other dimension. Who knew saving the earth would involve so many life threatening stunts and crazy chases? Once the plot is set up this film just races blindly to the end at a speed that is crushing. Its one cliff hanger after another as everything that goes wrong can and our heroes battle to save themselves and the planet.

None of it makes a lick of sense (nor is it remotely scientifically accurate) but you won't care because the film just goes like the wind. You'll be more interested in the cool images and wondering who is going to live and die than you will about sense or science. Forget the argument about the mindlessness of Hollywood blockbusters this film has them all beat.

I had heard this film called a "video game film" and i wasn't sure why, but the visual effects often make the film look like a video game. They aren't bad but the crashing ice and speeding transports aren't wholly realistic, which is fine because the wonders the conjure up simply delight the eyes.

While any logical discussion of the film will reveal its a mess on every level, emotionally it's a magnificent thrill ride. You get your popcorn and your soda, belt in and just go. Its an absolute blast and then some.

As a cinematic experience of the highest order where logic and reason pay no part. An absolute must see on a big screen where the enormity of the vistas and the tininess of the people can truly be appreciated (and scene as more than dots).

WANDERING EARTH is currently the highest grossing film in China. It is also in select theaters across America.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Okko's Inn (2018) NYICFF 2019

Based on a series of 20 children's novels which were then turned into a manga and TV series OKKO'S INN if the story of young Okko who moves in with her grand mother after her parents are killed in a car accident. Deciding to help her grand mother run the inn the young girl is helped by the ghosts of her grandmother's best friend from when she was a child and the sister of her rival in life and commerce, not to mention a bell demon who has a knack for bringing people into the inn.

Lovely and charming little film will delight you and bring a tear to your eyes with its honest and heart felt emotion concerning the comings and goings of friends, and the learning that we are never really alone. The audience at the New York International Children's Film Festival that saw the World Premiere of the English language version laughed and cheered and sniffled in all the right spots.

If there is anything really wrong with the film is there are a couple of times in the second half when I had the feeling that there was more to somethings than we were being told. It wasn't that we didn't have enough details but simply some back story to make the moments come fully to life. When I found out about all the previous source material it made perfect sense that things were left out of a 95 minute film.

Regardless of  any quibbles, OKKO'S INN is a charmer of the highest order. You will get misty at times.

Highly recommended.

The film plays one more time at NYICFF on March 10th, but it is currently sold out. However they often release tickets and they do have a standby line so keep checking the website for details.

Additionally the film will be playing as a Fathom Event on April 22 and 23rd. For tickets go here.

Still Burn (2018) Neighboring Scenes 2019

Still Burn is a film I like more in theory than in execution. The film is director Mauricio Alfredo Ovando‘s look at his grandfather, a general who became President of Bolivia via the official record, and the memory of his family and affected by his grandfather’s actions. When the film works it is an interesting look at the collection of history and memory and how our connections to people color how we see the world.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t always work. Part of the problem is that unless you know Bolivian history you will be a bit adrift as events are discussed. More than a couple of times I found I was just going with things because I didn’t fully understand what the discussion meant.

The bigger problem is the film is a little too full of clips odd sources and home movies that give us some sense of the family (when they aren’t fleeting) but really don’t connect up to anything. I think much of the first 25 minutes is made up of home movies where – and his family talk about the fleeting images (“Oh that must have been someone’s birthday” or “There is cousin…”) There is so much that I kind of tunes out. Once we get about a third or quarter of the way into the film it begins to come together, but there is always a sense of disconnect.

Ultimately this is noble miss. It is a film I like more in principle than in actuality.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Buy Me A Gun (2018) Neighboring Scenes 2019

Much too meandering and slightly unfocused film set in the near future where cartels control the country and there are almost no women. The plot concerns a man who runs a baseball field and keeps his daughter disguised so she isn't snatched up and carried off.

Good looking film doesn't know who to focus on. Is this the story of the father whose desperate attempts to remain on the good side of his masters make up a good chunk of the film or is it on the kids who wander through the film?  They should have focused on the lives of the kids because that is where the interesting stuff is. In the brief glimpses we get we get an intriguing look at how kids survive in horrible circumstances. The kowtowing to authority stuff is no where near as interesting.

While never a bad film it  never really engages with our eyes and hearts constantly longing for time with the kids over the adults.

Friday, February 22, 2019

NYICFF 2019 Girls POV

Here are my thoughts on the films in the Girls POV collection from this year's NYICFF. Its a really good collection of shorts with a couple of true standout films

Preschool Poets: Supergirl
Sweet minute long piece about dreaming of being a superhero

Jesszilla
Portrait of Jesselyn Silva a young girl who loves to box. This is great little film about a wonderful young girl who isn't afraid to box (but is terrified of rollercoasters.) This is a glorious film that needs to be shown to girls everywhere so they know there is nothing that they can't do if they want to.

7 Planets
A space obsessed girl is certain a far off planet in habitable. An interesting concept works a little too hard for an okay pay off. This would have been better longer so we could have known a little bit more about Cassie so we truly felt something at the end instead of knowing what we should have felt.

Stories Floating on the Wind
Images that fill the sense in a small coastal town in Japan. Beautiful little film is impossible to describe as image and sound excite all of your senses. Very cool. A must see especially on a big screen where it will truly over whelm you.

Hvalagapet
A young girl ponders what will happen if she says something to the boy she likes. Beautiful, lovely and echoes something we've all been through.

My Body
A young woman has visions of her body changing. A good little film.

The Shadow of Cairo
A young girl tries to retreat into being a superhero after the death of her mother but finds more danger than she imagined. I liked this film and I understand what it trying to do but at the same time I'm not certain the tone is ever right. Is this supposed to be amusing or deadly serious? Then again I don't think I'm the intended audience for this film.

A Field Guide To Being A 12 Year Old Girl
12 year old girls explain what it's like to be a 12 year old girl. This is a very very funny film that tells it like it is. This is an absolutely lovely film. A joy and one of the best films in the collection.

GIRLS POV plays 7 times through the film festival, the first time this Saturday February 23rd. For more information and tickets go here

Neighboring Scenes 2019: Outer Edge and There Will Come Soft Rain

Outer Edge
Ethereal and trippy drama cum romance about two people who meet, fall in love and come apart and the people who orbit them. More form over content film is going to be a film some people love more than others. With its occasional narration, direct addressing of the audience and mystical feel this is not a film that will click with everyone. Personally I enjoyed the ride to the end but when it was done it didn’t make much an impression, being more of a nice scenic trip somewhere rather than a life changing experience. Of course I recognize that there are some people who will love the film so my advice is if the description of the film intrigues you give it a shot.

There Will Come Soft Rain
Excellent science fiction film about what happens to a bunch of kids when one day the adults fall asleep and the kids have to fend for themselves. Mystical, dreamlike (and echoing Ray Bradbury) the film is one that initially takes the subject of what would happen if the kids are suddenly left alone before veering off in unexpected ways. I was strangely delighted by the film which takes a well-worn sub-genre and turns it into something unique. You will forgive my lack of discussion about the film but half way through I realized I need to see the film again because what the film was different than my expectations and I wasn’t as open to it as I should have been. I need to revisit so I can truly see the film for what it is. Regardless this film is highly recommended for anyone who thinks they’ve seen every version of the end of the world genre.

TOKYO LOVERS (2018) Winter Film Awards


Sachiko's kind of boyfriend travels across the globe to spend Christmas with her in Tokyo only to discover she's run off on family business. He then ends up spending time with her cynical roommate. While not an outright love story it is the story of two people becoming friends... and who knows. This is a small scale tale told on the canvas of a city and it warms the heart as we get to see two people warm and open up to each other. It is an utterly charming little film.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Winter Film Awards 2019: A BITTER RECKONING and A SCIENTISTS GUIDE TO LIVING AND DYING

A BITTER RECKONING
The sheriff comes around to Lester's with more questions concerning his father's suicide and it quickly becomes clear that more was going on than he first thought.

Bittersweet drama about children dealing with parents in pain is on okay, if over long drama. While there is much to discuss and ponder when it comes to questions of assisted suicide, the telling of this tale is a tad too leisurely to really work. While it is never bad it simply isn't compelling enough to sustain the 25 minute run time.

A SCIENTISTS GUIDE TO LIVING AND DYING
A young scientist begins to become uncertain about everything after becoming pregnant with her dead husband's child.

Good looking and well made film never quite manages to pull the philosophy together with the family drama on screen. While it's never bad, and while the two parts, the voice over inner monologue and visual drama, are both excellent they never fully came together for me.

However while the film may not have worked for me there is a good chance it may work for you so if the subject matter intrigues you give the film a shot.

In brief: PROSECUTING EVIL: THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD OF BEN FERENCZ

PROSECUTING EVIL: THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD OF BEN FERENCZ is a very good look at the famed prosecutor and activist for justice. Ferencz made his name as one of the Nuremberg prosecutors after WW2 and continuing his battles for justice across the globe to this day. Tracing his entire life from his coming to America as an infant on the open deck of a steam ship through to the present the film presents the man’s life in his words and those of his friends and admirers.

Solid straight forward documentary is a perfect portrait of the man and his life’s work. It is a great way to get to know who Ferencz is and what he stands for and why he fights for justice still. While it doesn't do anything special, it does let the man tell his story and we are better for it.

Recommended.

THE GIFT OF LOVE (2018) Winter Film Awards 2019


Bleak true story of a woman trying to care for her family and sick husband in North Korea who resorts to telling a lie when confronted about the source of her money, thus bringing tragedy on herself and the ones she loves.

This heavy melodrama that is milked for all it's worth was really not my cup of tea. I'm not particularly partial to incredibly sad tales and while I wasn't certain going in I suspected that this might be the case since it involved a lie and North Korea. Watching the situation spiral farther and farther out of control broke my heart and made me wonder why I was hanging in to the bitter end when I knew it wasn't going to be remotely happy.

Well made and well acted this is a film for those who don't mind being reminded how terrible the world is and how the little people will eventually be squashed.

THE GIFT OF LOVE played at the Winter Film Awards this past weekend. For those wanting to see it, it will be playing at the Queens World International Film Festival in March

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Wolf House (2018) Neighboring Scenes 2019

Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León‘s THE WOLF HOUSE is one of the best films you are likely to see all year. I’m still pondering where it stands in the pantheon of animated films. At the same time I’m not sure how big the audience for it will be. The film which is a kind of fairy tale is based on what happened in the the Dignity Colony, a German immigrant community in Chile where abuse ran rampant.

It begins with a live action film about the Colony. A narrator tells us what a great and wonderful place it is and how good the honey is. The film then shifts into an animated tale found at the Colony. It’s the story of Anna, a young girl who is punished for letting three pigs escape. Told she will spend a 100 days without being able to speak with anyone, so she escapes and ends up in a house with two of the pigs. Outside a wolf lurks. As Anna waits for the wolf to go away the pigs morph into a boy and girl. Forming a family, Anna begins to treat the kids as she was taught in the Colony.

Surreal doesn’t begin to describe this ever changing feast for the eye and brain. Using a mix of every type of animation the story and of her charges evolves from moment and moment as reality becomes less certain. It’s incredibly hypnotic to the point that you’ll need multiple viewings to see all the little visual clues and riffs lurking everywhere. I wanted to right down all of the things passing before my eyes but I couldn’t look away because there was simply too much going on. Reality truly is what we deem it to be.

It is all deeply disturbing partly because watching the film in the dark never puts us on any solid ground. Literally nothing stays the same, everything constantly changes to the point where we don’t know what reality is because the images are always morphing. The fairy tale structure further divorces us from reality as does the fact that Anna descends into the cult mindset over the course of the film. There is a kind of creeping madness all through the film and it infects us and our view of reality.

Away from the visceral gut punch there are all sorts of things to ponder, but you'll for give me if I leave you to discover them since I am still processing, and because you truly need to see how they are presented so you understand what and how exactly the film is making its points.

This is one of the best films I've seen this year. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to walk on the dark side and have their heads messed with.

THE WOLF HOUSE plays Saturday night at Lincoln Center as part of Neighboring Scenes. For more information and tickets go here.

Penguin Highway (2018) NYICFF 2019

With PENGUIN HIGHWAY playing at NYICFF this weekend, here is a repost of a review that ran for Fantasia last summer.

How you take PENGUIN HIGHWAY will depend upon how you take Aoyama, the 4th grader at the center. A super smart kid he knows he is going to be great and he knows he will marry the mysterious young woman who works at his dentist's office. What he doesn't know is why there is a flock of penguins in the middle of his tiny town. He is a cock sure kid that made me want to beat the snot out of him.

Yea he's a sweet kid, but he is a real twit. He is kind of like Sheldon from THE BIG BANG THEORY, annoying as all piss which is the reason I avoid the show. He is exactly like a bunch of really smart kids I knew growing up, all of whom I wanted to smack sense into. The fact that I didn't like Aoyama meant that I had a difficult time with the twists and turns involving the rest of the film.

Filled with some wonderful idea, some beautifully rendered sequence and a haunting score PENGUIN HIGHWAY should be a home run but it never really worked for me. It's not just that I didn't like the main character, it is more the fact that the film wants to be more clever than it is. Its trying to be wondrous and instead it is just okay. Yea, the bits look great (I love the penguin hordes), but the story never really works.(And I'm not going to be specific because much of this film is a mystery and the fun is seeing where it goes.)

Worth a look if you like BIG BANG THEORY.

Happy Birthday Unseen Films

Happy Birthday to Unseen Films.

On this date in 2010 I started this website, never expecting it to take me, and my friends (both old and new) where it has...

When I started back in 2010 no one was reading anything we did, nor did they care. Nine years on people seem to think we are something important and that we know what we are doing. I’m not sure we know what we are doing but we have learned to fake it really well.

I can talk about our past glories but instead I want to highlight all of the people who have become part of my and Unseen Films life.

When I started this site it was me in a room with a computer and some DVDs. Over the weeks that followed I roped in my friends into joining me on the quest to highlight films no one was ever talking about.

John and Randi came because they are my best friends and they had to keep me out of trouble.

Ken joined and he pushed me in directions I never thought I could go. He also acted as the de facto editor and social media guru which got us noticed.

Eden Miller came on and then simply said “Why not apply for the NYFF press pass? You’re covering it anyway. What’s the worst that can happen?” and suddenly we were accredited press.

Mondocurry came along because he had a place to write about Asian films and because we were having fun going to movies together.

And from Mondo came Chocko and Mr C. He also put Peter Gutierrez on my radar so when I met him a couple months later I was in awe. Through Chocko came  Ariela

And then there are the friends we made along the way- Joe Bendel, Nora Lee Mandel and Chris Bourne who I literally met on the first day of being accredited press, who scared me because they knew what they were doing and I didn't...it wasn't until sometime later that we actually started to talk and found we weren't that different.

I met Hubert at a New York Asian Film Festival interview of Donnie Yen, and the rest is history. Through him I met Alec. And through NYAFF I made countless friends who aren’t writers but crazed film fans who have broadened my horizons incredibly.

And then there is the Tribeca threads which goes in all sorts of directions but if you want to see how friends introduce friends Lesley Coffin introduced me to Lauren Humphrey Brooks who were there when we stumbled upon Nate Hood, Ben Wallin and Oron Shamir

And somewhere seemingly always there was Liz Whittmore and Nobu…

And everyone introduced everyone to more and more friends.

Of course there are the filmmakers I’ve met along the way such as Jason Kartalian, Patrick Meaney, Dave Palamaro,Ted Geoghegan  and others too numerous to mention

Without the friends I have made along the way I wouldn't keep doing this because having the chance to hang with with all these great people is why I keep putting Unseen together every day.

As we slide toward our tenth anniversary we are going to continue if bringing you reviews of films of all sorts. I can’t say I know what is going to happen or what we will be doing but me are going to keep doing it…

...just at a slower pace. The increasing pace we’ve been keeping has been killing me and I need to back off. Where I used to do long reviews they have grown shorter and shorter because there is always another film. Personally I’m going aim more for what interests me instead of grazing across the board. You might have noticed that our coverage of Film Comment and New York Jewish Film Festival were less than in years past, that’s because I wanted to focus on the things that made me go "oh cool" rather than simply noting every film. Similarly coverage of Rendezvous with French Cinema will be on the light side as well. In the next year I want to give the films a fairer shake than having to jump from film to film.

Ultimately the plan for the next year is to find a sweet spot to make going past the tenth anniversary something that not only will be enjoyable for everyone but also something that will not kill me and allow me to have a life beyond it.

But for now lets not think past today. For day lets go have some cake and cookies and just enjoy the 9 years of Unseen Films.

(The line for cookies is forming to the right- just check with Bully and Shelly....

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Extreme Number (2018) Winter Film Awards 2019

Chechen rebel makes his way into Germany. Captured and put into a prison hospital because he has tuberculosis he makes the acquaintance of a translator who helps him escape. He then is sent on a mission by his superiors in Germany.

Based on a true story  and mixing recreation with footage shot during the war in Chechnya EXTREME NUMBER is a film with a lot on it's mind. Pondering the notions of why people choose to fight and what is acceptable violence the film has a great deal of food for thought. As a result this is a film that is going to hang around in your head for a long time after you see it as you mull what is the right thing to do.

As heady as the film is I found it hard to completely give myself over to the film emotionally. While the actual video allows us to get a good feel for why events happened as they do and they give us a great understanding of the backstory, there i so much that it keeps us at a distance for the films brief running time. Yes, we get to know the translator, but even with the voice over I never felt connected to the soldier.

While an important film in that it will make you think about why people fight and because it helps us understand the war in Chechnya it never manages to connect to out hearts so it remains a very good film instead of a truly great one.

Murder Me Monster (2018) Neighboring Scenes 2019

For most of its running time Murder Me Monster is a nifty police procedural about a serial killer in a rural village in the mountains that feels like David Lynch and HP Lovecraft had an evil love child that was delivered in the third row of the local art house. And then things get weird and I’m not quite sure what I think.

Opening with one hell of an opening shot where a woman stumbles through some sheep and into the frame. Her eyes are searching around for something as blood dribbles off her neck. Her eyes go wide as her head falls back and her head begins to tear off. She then reaches up and tries to put her head back on… From there we get the story of a local cop who tries to sort out who is behind the killings (more people die) and whether his lover’s husband has anything to do with them.

Dark, moody and incredibly brooding this is a film that grabs you and draws you in and takes you into the heart of darkness. Director Alejandro Fadel has a lot on his mind and he is going to get it out in some long discussions that add to the oppressive mood. Fadel plays this as a serial killer flick with supernatural over tones for much of the film. Yes we know there is something in the darkness well before the officials, but the fact that they don’t know colors what they talk about.  And once we all know what the hell is going on it changes everything but still keeps us feeling rather disturbed.

How you feel about the movie is going to be altered once we get a good look at the monster in the darkness. A disturbing beast that clearly crawled out of someone’s psychotic sexual dreams, it’s a beast that is destined to go down in movie monster lore for all time. You may chuckle at it a little bit, I did, but my ultimate reaction was “that’s just fucked up”. And while I am not a fan of the tail, he rest of the beast is going haunt you forever…

…but as good as the monster is on a purely visceral level it makes no sense. There is a point where you realize that what the creature doesn’t really fit with what happens in the film. Don’t get me wrong it looks good, it and the mood created by the rest of the film deeply disturbs but there is going to be moment either during the film or after where you’re going to realize it, and several other things, doesn’t make sense...however the feeling on unease will never leave you.

My quibbling aside Murder Me Monster disturbs, deeply, from start to finish and is highly recommended for anyone who wants to see a deeply visceral highbrow horror film.

Santo vs The Zombies (1962)

I have a weakness for Santo movies, especially the black and white one. Part of it is that they were just weird little treats that would occasionally pop up on New York TV growing up. Later they would show up here and there like on Commander USA’s rotation of movies and I was filled with nostalgia. A large part of my love of the films is that they represent a complete and total disconnect from seriousness. A masked wrestler is fighting monsters. Yes its very comic book, but for me it’s even more simple than that and it’s all reduced to good vs evil in a pantomime sort of way. Actually what I absolutely love about the films is that they absolutely defy any attempt at deeper meaning. Its pure popcorn for the soul

Such is the case with Santo va The Zombie (aka Invasion of the Zombies). The film has Santo battling an evil genius who is turning gangsters into unstoppable zombies. He uses his army of baddies to rob, assault and kill and there is no one other than Santo who can stop them.

An absolute joy this film is just pure fun. You know who the good guys are, you know who the bad guys are. They fight and the good guy wins. Its not high art just 90 minutes of distraction. For however long the film runs we are somewhere else and forgetting the troubles of the world.

Before you dismiss the film as silly realize that this is just one of dozens of films with masked wrestlers in them. Mil Mascaras, the Blue Demon and many other masked wrestlers have also made movies over the years (yes they are still making them). The genre was briefly popular enough in the 60’s that we even got films like the Superargo films which sought to one up the Mexican films. Some of them, particularly the Santo films, are really good beyond the genre.

If you want a great film to try to see if the masked wrestler films are for you Santo vs the Zombies is the perfect place to start

Winter Film Awards 2019: IT'S WINTER NOW and THE VAULT

ITS WINTER NOW
Despite loving each other deeply a father and son have a strained relationship because the son stopped performing Peking Opera to go into business.

Beautifully charting the relationship between family members who can't stop loving each other despite publicly hating each other. The film festival material speaks of it as being something particularly Chinese but it happens in all cultures and IT'S WINTER CAPTURES it perfectly.

This is a small gem of a film.

THE VAULT
First episode of a web series concerns people living in a bunker underground during a post apocalyptic nuclear winter. When out on a scavenging mission they discover man where one shouldn't be able to live.

I normally refuse to review single episodes of web series because it's hard to judge what something is from a single set up show. However the concept intrigued me so I decided to give it a shot.

Based on the slim amount we see, the episode is only 15 minutes long, the show looks good enough that I would be willing to try a couple more episodes to see where they are going. In fairness I can't say more than that since so little happens I can't tell anything beyond that.

Monday, February 18, 2019

ALL I SEE IS THE FUTURE (2018) Winter Film Awards 2019

One of the best films at The Winter Film Awards is the story of Bryant Pearson  Pearson got out of prison with some training as an optometrist. Walking into a clinic on Staten Island he managed to get a job working with licensed optometrist who takes him under her wing. When Pearson is arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time he has to figure out what his path is going to be.

Glorious portrait of a young man who won't et the past stop him. Moving ever forward toward making a life for him and his family, it a shining example of what someone who wants to change and is given the right opportunity can do.

This is a must see. It will renew your faith in mankind and make you feel good.

Highly recommended.