Friday, May 24, 2019

MOMA is doing a retrospective of the work of Kazuo Hara (June 6–16, 2019)

From the MOMA email I received on the series:

Rounding out the summer programs at MOMA is a retrospective of the eminent Japanese filmmaker Kazuo Hara (June 6–16, 2019), with the director himself in attendance, as well as documentary filmmaker Michael Moore for an opening night discussion.

The series opens with Hara’s infamous The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987), about an aging Japanese veteran’s monomaniacal efforts to expose the war crimes of his commanders. Hara’s compassionate pursuit of justice for society’s weak and vulnerable is also evident in Goodbye CP (1972), a devastating film about people with cerebral palsy and their struggle to be acknowledged; Extreme Private Eros: Love Song (1974), the story of an independent activist becoming a single mother; A Dedicated Life (1994), in which preeminent postwar novelist Mitsuhari Inuoe remains courageous in the face of cancer; and Sennan Asbestos Disaster (2017), about a dwindling community of former asbestos workers, dying of cancer and other diseases, who sue the Japanese government. Other series highlights include excerpts from Hara’s latest project, Minimata Now, which he intends to finish later this year.

For more information and details go here

The Secret of Stamboul (1936)

The Secret of Stamboul is a solid, if unremarkable, espionage film set in Turkey where an Englishman gets involved with trying to stop a coup.

The script is the weakest thing in this film which chugs along at a good clip hitting a lot of the typical spy/political thriller tropes that the English had honed to perfection in the 1930’s. As much as I like American spy films there is a nice uncomfortable edge to the British thrillers Hollywood rarely managed to achieve. While the plot chugs along at a good clip it doesn’t hit a lot of unexpected notes. Mostly it goes along just as we know it should. That’s not a bad thing but when you have interesting direction and great performances it kind of disappoints.

Despite the run of the mill script the film scores in two important places. First the film has a great cast. Everyone from top to bottom is first rate- including a very young James Mason in one of his first roles. Mason plays the hero and seeing him leap about and spring into action is a revelation. He is not the staid middle aged gentleman he would become. The closest thing I can think of him as is Captain Nemo who lead the attack against the Squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Seeing him in action you can understand why he became a big star.

The other place the film scores is in the direction and editing Andrew Marton'schoice of shots and combination of them with in a sequence are amazing. Watching the film there was times I was amazed at how the cast was moved in and out of the frame. At other times I was thrilled at the shot choices which lifted the film up from run of the mill and made it much more special. The images moved the film along.

While not the greatest thing to come down the pike it is entertaining and worth a look if you run across it.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The 2019 Chicago Underground Film Festival announces Lineup of Films for 26th edition of the fest (June 5-9)

Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer’s EMPTY METAL is the Opening Night selection, and Nicole Brending’s DOLLHOUSE: THE ERADICATION OF FEMALE SUBJECTIVITY FROM AMERICAN POPULAR CULTURE is the Closing Night selection

Chicago, IL (May 22, 2019) – The Chicago Underground Film Festival, today announced the lineup for its 26th edition, taking place on June 5-9. Known for featuring an international slate of innovative, exciting and provocative films and videos, CUFF bookends this year’s film festival with two films that epitomize those three words. Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer’s EMPTY METAL will screen as the Opening Night selection on Wednesday, June 5, and Nicole Brending’s DOLLHOUSE: THE ERADICATION OF FEMALE SUBJECTIVITY FROM AMERICAN POPULAR CULTURE is the Closing Night selection, screening on June 9 – both at Logan Theater (2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
In addition to the 12 features on its slate, CUFF will also screen 12 thematic shorts programs and additional programming featuring 104 films. Underlining the film festival’s draw as a place where new work and talent make their debut, as well as introducing Chicago and Midwestern audiences to new and exciting voices in cinema, this year’s slate includes 10 world premieres, 1 international premiere, 1 North American premieres, 9 U.S. premieres, and 34 Midwest premieres.

Artistic Director Bryan Wendorf, “This year’s exciting group of films came to us through our ever-growing number of submissions and films that truly struck us at other festivals. It is as diverse a slate as we have ever had, with films that will entertain in the purest sense, but also challenge and surprise our audiences whether it be through the stories told or the documentary subjects that are being focused on. As always, we want to introduce everyone to films and filmmakers that gave us a thrill when we first saw their films, and inspired us to re-think what we just saw and perhaps debate about it with our friends.”

Khalil and Sweitzer’s EMPTY METAL will make its Midwest premiere as the Opening Night selection on Wednesday, June 5. In the film, a punk band is ensnared in a murder plot by an indigenous family whose mother communicates telepathically with her meditation companions, a
Rastafarian hacker and a Buddhist whose son is a member of a secret militia. While this motley crew goes about their business, the drones fly overhead, seeing all. EMPTY METAL previously screened at Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real festival, and the screening at CUFF will mark a return to the film festival by Khalil, whose film INAATE/SE/ (which he co-directed with his brother Zack Khalil) won a jury award in 2017.

Closing Night will feature Nicole Brending’s puppet animation satire DOLLHOUSE: THE ERADICATION OF FEMALE SUBJECTIVITY FROM AMERICAN POPULAR CULTURE. The disturbingly entertaining feature film directorial debut of Brending recently won both Best Feature and The Spirit of Slamdance awards at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival. DOLLHOUSE charts the rise and fall of fictional child pop star Junie Spoons as her life story (and the ensuing disasters) unfold, as told by those who knew her. From losing her virginity in a sex tape to 24-hour
marriages to a Patty-Hearst style kidnapping and bank heist to the murder of her mother, the film reveals the hypocrisies of an opportunistic society that preys on the talents and contributions of women, the film is a scathing look at what it means to be female in a modern world. Assaulted by men, women, the media, and a new era obsessed with identity and entitlement, Junie's fall from grace is a cautionary tale about the consequences of denying women their own voice and perspective.

Two notable premieres among the feature films include the North American premiere of Ian Haig’s THE FOAMING NODE, which tells the story of the last remaining observers who were members of a cult of sorts who followed the transmissions and evacuations of the mysterious Foaming Node, whose main project and mission was the distribution of the human body. The U.S. premiere of Marco Porsia’s documentary WHERE DOES A BODY END? focuses on the Swans, from their roots as a post-punk band through their ill-fated bid at mainstream in the 90s indie-rock goldrush, through breakups and chaos to their current status as one of the most accomplished bands in the world.

A number of feature films will be making their Midwest premieres at CUFF. Those films include; Adam Sekuler’s immersive verité 36 HOURS, about a woman’s pregnancy and birthing experience; Emmanuelle Antille’s music documentary A BRIGHT LIGHT – KAREN AND THE PROCESS, which focuses on the 60s enigma that was Karen Dalton; Aaron Schimberg’s CHAINED FOR LIFE, which stars Jess Weixler (TEETH) as an actress who struggles to connect with her disfigured co-star on a film shoot; Kavich Neang’s documentary LAST NIGHT I SAW YOU SMILING, which takes a look at Phnom Penh’s iconic housing block, the “White Building” and the history it has weathered prior to being demolished; Lonnie Martin’s THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS, which follows a counterculture journalist as he investigates Manson followers Sandra Good, Brenda McCann, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme; and Peter Parlow’s THE PLAGIARISTS, about a young couple dealing with emotional fallout from a seemingly fraudulent yet unprovable act done to them. Stuart Swezey’s documentary DESOLATION CENTER, about the punk rock desert concerts and “happenings” during the Reagan-era, will make its Chicago debut.

Included in the impressive slate of shorts screening this year in the thematic shorts programs as well as accompanying features at CUFF are several short films making their world premieres. Those films include; Patrick Müller’s ACTUALLY, THIS IS NOT A FILM; Darrin Martin and Torsten Zenas Burns’ ARK 3: CROSSOVERCHRONICLES; Giuliana Foulkes’ BLACK BOX; Lina Sieckmann, Miriam Gossing, and Nicole Wegner’s CHINA LIGHT; Jake Hart’s COREDEMPTRIX; Robert C. Banks Jr., and John W. Carlson’s DON’T BE STILL; Kate Kapuza’s HUNKS; Ellery Chalmers’ JAMES L THOMPSON CENTER; Monica Panzarino’s MEMORY; and K$K’s WALKED IN.

Festival passes and tickets are on-sale now. For more information, visit ​www.cuff.org​.


2019 Chicago Underground Film Festival Official Selections

FEATURE FILMS

Half a Sinner (1940)


As school winds down Anne Gladden, a single teacher, decides to throw caution to the wind, gets her self all dolled up and heads out to the park. There she is accosted by a rude gentleman and in order to get away takes his car and drives off. She is unaware that the car is stolen and that there is a dead body in the back seat under an overcoat. The coat belongs to the boss of the gangsters and he's not happy that the evidence that could put him away for a long time is now out and about on a joy ride. Soon Anne is not only being chased by the cops and the gangsters but she's managed to pick up a nice man as well.

Suspenseful and silly this is a very enjoyable romp as the ever lovely Heather Angel tries very hard to get out of trouble and hang on to her man. Clearly a program picture this fun film manages to be considerably more especially when Constance Collier as Mrs Brenckenridge shows up and runs rough shod over everyone and everything. The woman is a pisser.

I really liked this a great deal. This is one to keep an eye out for since its an hour of your time well spent. Its available in several collections of old mysteries.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Mysterious Island (1941)


This Soviet produced version of the Jules Verne story has been released by Sinister Cinema without subtitles. Don’t let that stop you since if you’ve seen the Ray Harryhausen version then you’ll be able to follow the plot.

The film tells the story of some American soldiers who escape on a balloon in a storm and end up on the title location. Struggling to survive they are helped by a mysterious benefactor who turns out to be Captain Nemo.

Good looking and reasonably faithful adaption is delight. While I have no idea how the dialog is, I don’t speak Russian, the motion of the plot follows the original story pretty closely. I was hooked and I had no trouble following along. It’s so well done at times I have to wonder if the film found it’s way to Hollywood since some of it appears to have influenced films like Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the 1961 remake and other films.

If you want to see a good film that is genuinely off the beaten track and don’t mind not having an English translation give this film a shot

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

MURDER AT THE METRO


Down on his luck boxer is called by a friend to meet him at a train- where his friend is killed in front of him and everyone around him thinks he did it. On the run boxer has to find out who done it.

Jazz fueled existential murder mystery has some great moody black and white photography with style to burn.  While  it can be a little draggy as our hero plods around the film still manages to maintain suspense and our interest as we genuinely want to know what happens next.

This is a small gem of a film that is wrongly under the radar.

It is available from Sinister Cinema

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Proposal (2018) opens Friday

THE PROPOSAL played the Tribeca Film Festival  last year where it turned out to be one of the best films of the fest. With the film opening Friday here is the review I filed when it played last year.

Director Jill Magid was working on a project involving the work of Luis Barragán Mexico's most celebrated architect. When she asked to see his professional archive, which was purchased by a Swiss company she was told she could not. She soon discovered that the owners of the archive don't let anyone see it and are ruthless in controlling the intellectual properties connected with it. In an effort to secure access Magid went down a long road which ended up with a proposal to have the archive returned to Mexico.

Hidden gem of Tribeca doesn't go where or how anyone expects. You may have read about the case in the papers but I had no clue and thus was completely enraptured by the tale and where it goes. If you don't know I'm not telling. This was the first film of the day and it haunted me during the rest of my time at Tribeca. What a weird little tale.

While I wish we got to know why Barragan matters, the story that has enfolded around him makes this film one you really should see.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Tribeca 2019 Wrap Up

It has been over for two weeks but we have been so exhausted that we are only now getting our festival wrap up posted. For a festival that didn't go as any of the Unseen crew expected this is par for the course. 

What follows is some questions, originally posed by Peter  that were answered by Nate and myself. While the entire crew was invited to participate several people declined simply because they wanted  to move on after five or six weeks in the Tribeca isolation tank (we started watching films in March)

1. What surprised you most about the festival this year? I’m thinking film-wise, but if you want to talk about Q&A’s, events, or snacks, please go ahead.

STEVE: It all seemed rather low key. I was at several of the big events and in a weird way outside of the premiere of YESTERDAY most of the events were not as crazy in years past. There was a muted quality to it. Even the press screenings were really quiet (except for the industry people getting yelled at for being on their phones or taking pictures of the screen).

The other thing was how the Scorsese/DeNiro talk really didn’t work. I’ve seen Scorsese hold court before but the paring of the two friends missed. They desperately needed a moderator to spur the conversation.

2. What films are you telling your non-film-crazed friends or family members about, as in telling them to keep an eye out for (or stay away from) certain releases?


STEVE: GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH. I was talking to everyone about that. I was also talking about MAIDEN, but then again I haven’t shut up about that since I saw it last fall.

NATE: This year the only films I’ve felt compared to recommend have been docs--I wasn’t very impressed with their narrative slate. But among the docs, THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO, AT THE HEART OF GOLD, and ALL I CAN SAY are the stand-outs I’ve been bugging my friends about for a of couple weeks.

STEVE: Yes the docs were pretty much all exceptional this year. The ones I ended up mixed on simply paled in comparison to some of the others

3- Were there any films that you may not be raving about but which you think need a push because with so many films you are afraid it is going to get lost?

STEVE: There are a couple. One of which is SEE YOU YESTERDAY which (which is now) on Netflix, but is a small gem of a science fictions film. The problem not so much that it doesn’t seem to be getting any push from Netflix, but more that it has a really serious edge to it. It starts off as a kind of feel good family film and then goes dark as the time travel becomes a race to save someone from dying...and then dealing with the repercussions. I think many people didn’t know what to make of the film and its serious side. I think some people wanted it to remain like GOONIES with time travel.

NATE: I’m gonna throw Takashi Doscher’s ONLY out there, if only for the imaginary version that exists in my head where all the thriller nonsense is cut out of the third act. Seriously, that imaginary movie is an all-timer. I’d also say Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella’s SOMETHING ELSE. We could always use more off-kilter horror out there.

STEVE: Yea that thiller less romantic apocalypse version of ONLY really would kick ass

4. Did any of the themes/sections in the programming, either intentional or not, work really well—or not?

STEVE: The Midnight Section was rather dead. I think there was maybe one really good film in the bunch (I know most people were partial to SOMETHING ELSE though I liked COME TO DADDY). The rest seemed like they were thrown there just to fill the section. Frankly some of the films in other section, IN FABRIC, for example belonged there more than in other places The films just didn’t have the wonder of past years.

5. Is there a moment that stands out for you, that you’ll remember for quite a while?

STEVE: I loved meeting Tracy Edwards (the subject of MAIDEN), Guillermo Del Toro’s talk with Alec Baldwin was great. Actually all the special events I went to were cool. Running into my friend Sam and getting to talk to him for the better part of an hour with neither one of us  having to run off to a movie was pretty cool.

I loved the conversations that resulted about the films. I got into a heated discussion over, one of my favorite films A PLACE WITH NO WORDS, with a couple of people who truly hated it. I think they are wrong, but it was nice to have a give and take argument that was longer than a twitter tweet.

And of course there was the really heated discussion about Marion Stokes, the subject of RECORDER that literally happened on either side of me. When one critic said liked he film but that he found her difficult as a person and then was accused of being a misogynist. When that kind of didn’t work it escalated into a charge he was a racist...watching the faces of everyone sitting on the bench at Village East was priceless.

NATE: I’ll never forget opening night of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE when the entire audience groaned when one of Linda’s old bandmates said that their monthly rent for a beachside cabin in late 60s Los Angeles was about $80.

STEVE: 80 bucks that they had to split among them because it was too much.

6 Since we all watched a great number of the films as screening links- how has the use of links changed how you cover festivals and a huge fest like Tribeca in particular?

STEVE: The links made it possible to see so many more films than I could have only via screenings. I’m not sure that’s a good thing since it was kind of overloaded. I really didn’t say no to anyone. I also realized the difference between seeing something on a laptop and the big screen when after seeing MAIDEN on my laptop in September, I got to see it on one of the fests biggest screens and was blown away all over again. Or maybe blown away differently.

NATE: More than any of the other years I’ve covered Tribeca, my schedule prevented me from attending many press or festival screenings. Online links allowed me to effectively double my review output.

7. We are all veterans of Tribeca so I have to ask, as the Festival slides towards it’s 20th anniversary how did it compare to other festivals?

STEVE: I think it’s much more low key. Less peaks and valleys in the films. It felt like a placeholder year. I think some of the other years were better. It certainly had less films I was passionate about as being great or awful. This year they were pretty much all okay. Which is fine.

8. Let me throw the hand grenade question- which ties into the last question- what does the festival do right, and what needs to be changed?

STEVE: I love that the festival showcases so many films. I love that when you go you are more likely seeing something no one else has.

Part of of my dislike of the fest is it is so scattered across the city that it is difficult to jump from event to event. More so because of the trouble with the L train (which was not Trbeca’s doing) so going from Village East to the Beacon for the DeNiro Scorsese talk took the better part of an hour. Getting to the HUB or BMCC or the Roxy where most interviews were done required a budgeting of a lot of travel time.

NATE: I really admire how the festival has carved out a space for great documentaries. Now they need to do the same thing for GOOD fiction films. Stop accepting whatever random student films you get from all over the world and actually CURATE your selection for crying out loud.

STEVE: The narratives go up and down. I will say that I do think the one thing they do consistently every year- at least in the last 8 is the shorts. The shorts almost always rock. There is a reason that several people I know pick and choose the features they see but make a concerted effort to see all the shorts.

Fong sai yuk (1993) aka The Legend

Jet Li stars as Fong Sai Yuk in a wild and crazy action comedy that is just a blast.

As the emperor tries to crush the Red Lotus Society,  Fong Sai Yuk goes through his life studying martial arts. Through complications, he falls in love with a beautiful girl and unknowing ends up engaged to her, his mother pretends to be his brother who is loved by his fiancee's mother, and the Emperors man tries to kill everyone.

Fantastic action sequences don't just punctuate the the story but help drive it along. Beautifully acted and amazingly staged this  is a film that is just as good as martial arts films can get. Eveything just works from top to bottom.

Highly recommended

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Cinematic Sleepers- films to put you to sleep

These films will not only put you to sleep but won't register on you consciousness

RENDEZVOUS (1961)
The daughter of a rich magnate is killed and everyone ponders who did it. More soap opera than murder mystery this look at the rich and miserable rambles all over the place. I've tried to watch this film numerous times from the start and fell asleep somewhere about the half hour mark each time. I finally made it through by watching it in bit and piece. Despite the film having George Sanders the film really isn't much.

MAN ON THE SPYING TRAPEZE
Made during the mid-60's spy craze this film about a secret agent going to Lebanon to track down some microfilm has a great deal going on and is completely uninteresting. While  the film isn't bad, its actually rather competently put together, Wayde Preston has no screen presence...and the script doesn't do anything exciting. I watched it because I put it on but somewhere along the way I zoned out waiting for something- anything really exciting to pull me in. Largely its a whole bunch of cliches with nothing to hang them on

JOURNEY INTO NOWHERE
Financially strapped couple agrees to insurance fraud and it leads to tragedy. Okay drama doesn’t really do much beyond what is minimally required with the result that you kind of watch it and kind of wish there was newspaper around to read while it was on.

Friday, May 17, 2019

ISRAEL FILM CENTER FESTIVAL Kicks Off Its 7th Year With An Exciting Lineup Highlighting Diversity and Orthodox Jewish Life

New York, NY (May 7, 2019) -- New York’s leading Israeli film festival is celebrating its 7th edition this June with a powerful lineup of diverse, award-winning, and cutting-edge films and television programs from Israel. The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan (located at 334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street) will present feature films and two television series, including New York premieres, at the 7th Annual Israel Film Center Festival. Showcasing the best new films from Israel’s booming film industry and Q&As with acclaimed Israeli filmmakers after select screenings, the festival will run from June 3-12. Visit israelfilmcenter.org/festival for more information and to purchase tickets.
 
The festival’s Opening Night selection will be Joseph Madmony and Boaz Yehonatan Yacov’s thought-provoking film REDEMPTION (“Geula”). The story of a devout Chassid who must return to his rockstar lifestyle in order to pay for his daughter’s medical bills explores the issue of how to balance one’s religious devotion with art, family, and friendship, all while making peace with the past. The film won both the Ecumenical Jury Prize and Best Actor award (for star Moshe Folkenflik) at the 2018 Karlovy Vary Film Festival, and the Audience Award at the 2018 Jerusalem Film Festival. “Redemption” screens Monday, June 3 at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A with director Boaz Yehonatan Yacov.
 
The festival’s Closing Night film will be the NY premiere of Sameh Zoabi’s witty and warm-hearted TEL AVIV ON FIRE. Making its world premiere at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, where it won the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor (for Kais Nashif), the film’s North American premiere took place at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, and it won the Best Film award at the 2018 Haifa International Film Festival. “Tel Aviv On Fire” will screen Wednesday, June 12 at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A with co-writer Dan Kleinman.
 
Other highlights from this year's lineup include:

Ethiopian-Israeli filmmaker Aalam-Warqe Davidian’s beautiful and haunting debut feature FIG TREE (Winner, Eurimages Audentia Award for Best Female Director at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival & Ophir Award nominee for Best Picture), the New York premiere of Yona Rozenkier’s semi-autobiographical feature debut and intense family drama THE DIVE (Winner, Best Israeli Feature Film, Best Actor and Best Israeli Debut Film at the 2018 Jerusalem Film Festival) and veteran Israeli director Avi Nesher’s latest film THE OTHER STORY (Official Selection, 2018 Toronto International Film Festival), one of this year’s most successful Israeli films.
 
The festival will honor Nesher, a leading voice in Israeli cinema for over four decades,with a retrospective on Friday, June 7, screening two films from his extensive filmography. TURN LEFT AT THE END OF THE WORLD (2004) was the all time biggest box office success in Israel and helped revolutionize new Israeli cinema as a profitable industry, and the newly restored RAGE AND GLORY (1984) which follows a cell of the Stern Gang that begins to fall apart during an attempt to assassinate a senior British officer in pre-state Israel.  
 
As in previous years, the festival will shine a spotlight on Israeli television, which has become an international phenomenon and one of Israel’s leading exports.Included will be the New York  premiere of the first two episodes of STOCKHOLM and the first two episodes of AUTONOMIES. Both will be part of the JCC’s annual free, all-night Tikkun Leil Shavuot event beginning Saturday, June 8 at 10 p.m. and ending Sunday, June 9 at 4 a.m.
 
“Beyond the clear trending of Orthodox-themed films, one can also see the diversity of life in Israel through our selections. Our film themes highlight Arabs, youth at risk, Ethiopians, military, the young, the elderly—a full spectrum of life,” said Isaac Zablocki, Israel Film Center Festival director and founder.
 
The complete program lineup for the 7th annual ISRAEL FILM CENTER FESTIVAL is below:
 

Mission to Venice


Sean Flynn, son of Errol, stars in a surprisingly good thriller set in the legendary city. Flynn is approached by the wife of a friend of deceased father and asked to try and find her missing husband. Told he is a traitor and whatever happened to him was his own doing, Flynn heads off to follow leads in Venice. Once there he finds his life in danger as he realizes there is more than meets the eye to the story.

If you can get past the fact that we never really know why Flynn ends up tasked with finding the missing husband by someone he really doesn’t know, this is a nifty thriller. Playing reasonably realistic it’s vastly different from how Hollywood would handle the story today- where we’d have explosions, chases and illogical action sequences, but here we have leg work and chance and suspense and action and violence of the sort we might actually see. This is more something one of us might fall into.

I really liked this film a great deal. To be certain it isn't perfect, but it is damn engaging- you genuinely want to know what is going on and why. I started the film when I wasn't feeling good, fell asleep on it, then immediately restarted it from the beginning when I got up simply because I liked what I had seen.

An absolute small gem of a film recommended for anyone who likes thrillers and Eurothrillers in particular.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Last Days of Pompeii (1959)

Despite being listed as being directed by Mario Bonnard the real director was Sergio Leone  who took over when Bonnard fell ill. The film is also notable for being the film that introduced Leone and assistant director Sergio Corbucci to the plains of Spain.

Epic retelling of Edward Bulwer-Lyton's novel of the fateful final days of the doomed city is full of delights for the eye. Beautifully shot in eye popping color the tale of love, murder and treachery in 79AD is just great fun to watch.  Soapy interactions are interspersed with the occasional action sequence thus keeping us entertained until the volcano erupts and everyone is sent fleeing.

The final 20 minutes or so is the eruption and it's handled pretty well. Lots of falling ash,and collapsing buildings keep the fleeing masses on their toes. While not as spectacular as some other cinematic versions of the eruption the mayhem is more than adequate with the ground opening up and a bit of lava.

Entertaining on pretty much every level this isn't high art but it is great fun. It is also an intriguing first look at Sergio Leone before he would go on to make is legendary westerns.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Brooklyn Film Festival Announces Lineup for 2019 Edition:

With the Festival’s Largest Presence of Female Directors to Date,
BFF Proudly Opens on May 31st with the World Premiere
of Claudia Myers' Above The Shadows Starring Olivia Thirlby


Brooklyn, NY (May 14, 2019) - Brooklyn Film Festival (BFF) announces today the film lineup for its 22nd edition: THE GATHERING. Over the course of the 10-day festival, BFF presents film programs at Wythe Hotel, nearby returning venue Windmill Studios in Greenpoint and five additional screening venues throughout Brooklyn. To open the festival on Friday, May 31st will be the World Premiere of Claudia Myers' Above the Shadows starring Olivia Thirlby, Alan Ritchson, Jim Gaffigan and Megan Fox.


This year’s festival is comprised of 133 features and shorts from over 30 countries spread over all continents, except Antarctica. The lineup includes 37 world premieres, 15 USA bows, 29 east coast debuts and 34 first-time screenings in NY.  In addition to the 13 narrative features and 10 documentary features highlighted in this release, the festival will present 39 short narrative films, 23 short documentaries, 28 animated films and 20 experimental projects. Individual film tickets will go on sale soon while festival passes are already on sale at http://www.brooklynfilmfestival.org/tickets/.  


“We are calling the upcoming festival: THE GATHERING,” said BFF Executive Director Marco Ursino.  “The theme-statement is essentially a call to all those people who are searching for clarity and intelligent exchanges. On the programming side this year, more than ever before, we wanted to empower all those filmmakers who are thinking and working in critical systems, outside of the box, and against all odds. Understanding that for women the ‘system’ is always critical, and inspired by the acceleration of the women’s movements, this year BFF will feature the largest presence of female directors within a single festival edition to date. I’m also proud to say that four out of our six festival programmers are women and the festival is run mostly by women.”


In a successful effort to broaden the festival’s Latin American horizon in terms of film submissions, BFF has collaborated with several South American film organizations: Proimagenes (Colombia), ChileDocs, IMCINE (Mexico), Universidad del Cine (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Festival Internacional del Cine Buenos Aires (FIDBA). Locally, BFF has been collaborating with Cinema Tropical and Proyector Film Series.


The festival will run from May 31 through June 9 at two main venues: Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg and Windmill Studios in Greenpoint. Additional programming will be presented on June 3 at Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn, on June 4 at Syndicated in Bushwick and on June 7 at UnionDocs in Williamsburg. On June 5 and 8, BFF will present a total of five shows at Made in NY Media Center by IFP in Dumbo, where it will also present the 15th annual kidsfilmfest on June 1. On Thursday, June 6, BFF will  showcase a film program presented by Florida State University (FSU) at Windmill Studios.


On June 8, the 8th annual BFF Exchange (BFFX) program will be hosted by Kickstarter in Greenpoint, for a day of networking and serious chats from 12:00-6:00 p.m. We'll kick off the day at 12:00 pm with our popular Lunching with Lawyers session – free 20-minute consultations with experienced entertainment attorneys available to attendees who sign up in advance or on the day of, space permitting.  Next up at 1:30 pm will be a case study of several Kickstarter campaigns, with Kickstarter's Elise McCave - she'll discuss optimal fundraising strategies with several Brooklyn-based Kickstarter-backed producers. Our Documentary Pitch Session follows at 3:00 p.m., where we'll see five NYC documentary projects screen a portion of their work and pitch their docs to our panel of experts, who will provide valuable feedback. It’s a great chance to see how documentary projects are made, and the tough questions producers and directors have to navigate. Prizes will be awarded! After the pitch session, The Gathering moves onto Kickstarter’s lovely roof garden for a networking happy hour, sponsored by Heineken. All BFFX events are free of charge, but require an RSVP at http://bit.ly/2E65XX4.


This year, BFF features a large number of special events and networking parties. A big indoor/outdoor party will follow the screening at Wythe Hotel on May 31 (Opening Night) sponsored by Heineken. On June 6, a filmmaker reception will be held at the G-Star Raw store in Williamsburg from 6-9pm with complimentary drinks and appetizers. And an after-party will be held at Loosie Rouge, also in Williamsburg, from 10pm-1am. On June 7, there will be a reception at UnionDocs prior to the screenings. On June 8, BFF will organize “The Gathering” DJ dance party at Brooklyn Bazaar in Greenpoint from 10pm-1am. And finally on June 9, after the award ceremony at Windmill Studios, a farewell party with complimentary drinks will wrap the the festival.


BFF’s list of sponsors for 2019 includes WNET, All Arts, G-Star Raw, VER, AbelCine, Heineken, Florida State University, Final Draft, Big Screen Plaza, and for the 7th consecutive year, the “disruption company,” TBWA/CHIAT/DAY, will create the 22nd BFF promotional campaign.


Most of the BFF’s sidebar events this year are organized in collaboration with Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, Brooklyn Documentary Club, Film Shop, The Video Consortium, and UnionDocs.


In each of the six film categories, BFF’s judges will select the Best Film while the festival will select the Spirit Award and the audience the Audience Award winners. Among all the six categories combined, BFF will award one of each of the following: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Composer, Bet Style, Best Editor, Best Cinematographer, Best Screenplay Writer, Best Producer, Best New Director and Best Brooklyn Project. Through the resources of our sponsors, BFF will assign to the winning filmmakers about $50,000 in prizes (products, services and cash).


Below is a partial line-up of films at BFF including the Narrative and Documentary Features sections. To view the full film line up, which also includes Narrative and Documentary Shorts, Experimental and Animated films, visit: www.brooklynfilmfestival.org



NARRATIVE FEATURES:

Corridor Four (2017) is out on VOD and is coming to PBS

Corridor Four is the story of Isaac Ho’opi’i who was at the Pentagon on 9/11. Ho’opi’i survived the attack and then spent the hours afterward trying to rescue anyone who was trapped, despite being warned that the air quality was bad and he should get out. He did so because the firefighters and first responders were having trouble hearing the cries for help because of the breathing apparatus. The film highlights his life and his efforts to come to terms with what happened as well as help the other rescuers who were there as well.

A good film about how one man is still dealing with a national tragedy, the film is an important one because while so much has been produced on the New York portion of the attack as well as Flight 93 which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, there hasn’t been much on the attack on the Pentagon. Corridor Four corrects that and gives us a glimpse into what happened and how those in Washington dealt with what happened. It also gives us an insight as how the effects on that Tuesday in September still effects the lives of the people who were there.

Having seen more than my share of 9/11 docs I found the low key nature of the film slightly disconcerting and refreshing. So many 9/11 films deal with the darkness so the films turn to the light felt slight odd. On the other hand I am so weary of dark films about that day in 2001 that any film that shows that there is life and hope is more than welcome.

Recommended

Corridor Four is currently out on VOD. The film can be  seen on PBS the following markets

WETADT WETA HDTV Sunday 5/12/2019 3:00:00 PM ET
KCETDT KCET HDTV Friday 5/24/2019 2:00:00 PM PT
KHETDT KHET HDTV Saturday 5/11/2019 8:00:00 PM HST
WLIWDT3 WLIW World Monday 5/20/2019 8:00:00 PM ET
WTTWDT3 WTTW World/Create Monday 5/20/2019 7:00:00 PM CT
KUHTDT4 KUHT World Monday 5/20/2019 7:00:00 PM CT
WPPTDT2 World Monday 5/20/2019 8:00:00 PM ET
KAETDT3 KAET World Monday 5/20/2019 8:00:00 PM MT

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Walking on Water (2018) opens Friday

I have a kind of love hate relationship with the artist Christo. I absolutely love the large scale art works he and his wife (now deceased) produce, but I really have no use for the man. Too many people I know had run ins with him during the exhibition of The Gates in Central Park more  than a decade ago that it kind of soured me on his art. It was because I wanted to get look at the man himself that I decided to take a look at the film WALKING ON WATER about his installation Floating Piers in Italy.

Following Christo has be prepares to put a 3 kilometer long walkway across Lake Iseo, the film charts his battles to get the work done the way he feels it should be done and the chaos that resulted when hundreds of thousands of people showed up to "walk on water".

Watching Christo in action over the course of the film I came to loosen my dislike a bit. He is a rich artist who is used to getting his own way, which means he's a cranky old man at times that needs to be shouted at- as several people in the film do. Its all for a good cause, the art, but he really needs to understand he doesn't always know best.

The film itself is an observational record that puts us in the middle of what happened. Very much centered on Christo the film shows us what he saw and did with out being judgmental.  Its an intriguing trip that reveals what goes into making something like a huge plastic walkway covered by fabric. Its an often visual feast since, lets face it, the project was really cool to look at. I liked the early stuff but once we got to Italy and we watch the set up and what happened once it was opened I was riveted.

If you have any interest in Christo and his work or simply the creation of something cool then WALKING ON WATER is recommended when it plays in theaters starting Friday.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Christina M Tucker looks at We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018) which opens Friday

We Have Always Lived in the Castle begins in a once-beautiful manor that has fallen into disrepair. Chronologically, this is the last scene in the film. Mary Katherine ”Merricat” Blackwood (Taissa Farmiga)’s narration introduces us to her family, the Blackwoods. She begins to write down her story, and the film jumps to the events of the previous week, with an intertitle that reads “Last Tuesday,” appearing on screen, a time when things in the Blackwood’s home were markedly different. “Last Tuesday” must eventually lead to “This Tuesday;” these days must eventually lead to the present, to the state of dilapidation we saw at the start of the film. It’s an effective start to a film mostly focused on this very question: how and why do things, people, and families - fall apart?

THE FAMILY

In Stacie Passon’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s 1962 novel of the same name, Merricat and her older sister Constance Blackwood (Alexandra Daddario), live in a large manor, and care for their unstable, wheelchair bound Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). They are the only remaining members of the once-powerful and wealthy Blackwood family, ostracized and feared by the nearby town ever since their family was poisoned five years previously, presumably by Constance herself, who has been acquitted of the crime. When the girls’ cousin Charles Blackwood (Sebastian Stan) arrives with a mission of his own, tense family dynamics are thrown into further disarray.

Merricat Blackwood is a peculiar, superstitious young woman with an interest in spells, curses, potions, and poisons. She has a black cat named Jonas. She has memorized a vinyl recording of Richard III. Most importantly, she is an unreliable narrator, a trait, we discover, runs in the family. Farmiga gives a performance as Merricat that feels fully realized, from her awkward posture to her alert, nervous eyes, she adheres to the quirky, otherworldly feel of the film while grounding the character in some realism.

Constance Blackwood appears wholly put-together, a perfect picture of a mid-century housewife. She is bound to the house and its grounds by agoraphobia, as well as her overwhelming responsibilities to the house and her family. Constance is fabulously acted by Daddario, whose face is plastered with a painfully bright smile as she constantly cooks, cleans, gardens, appeases, and diffuses. She, seemingly used to her painstakingly thorough routine, has no idea how to react when Charles (the weakest character by virtue of being the most transparently motivated of the main cast) re-enters the family’s life.

Crispin Glover as Uncle Julian is eery, his dialogue poetic; he has long, wandering monologues that only add to his unsettling effect. Thematically the story is brought together well by Uncle Julian - we discover that despite his constant poring over details of the night of his family’s demise, gaps in his memory have led him to be an unreliable storyteller as well.

“This is a mad house,” Charles says, and at some points in the story this seems true, that the house itself has cursed the Blackwoods and caused their bad luck. But the family’s curse has wordly, more simple causes: the questionable behavior of human beings. It is cycles of instability, abuse, and emotional manipulation that lead to tragedy and suffering for the Blackwoods, and ultimately destroy the family from the inside.

A somewhat narratively aimless but thematically and aesthetically cohesive film, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a tragic rumination on what destroys families, and what saves them.

THE MANOR
The Blackwood Manor is central to the family’s identity, and the setting in which most of the film’s scenes take place. As such, the manor understandably feels like its own world, beautifully crafted, toeing a line between realistically lived-in and as whimsically decorated as a book’s illustration. There are two distinct states the manor is shown to us - before and after its destruction, and the juxtaposition of these images is beautifully accomplished. The gorgeously furnished hallway, kitchen, and dining room of just a week prior are juxtaposed with the decaying, hollow manor seen in the first and final scenes.

There is a dark but kitschy whimsy in the aesthetic choices, particularly the color palette and musical cues. The yellowed greens and red accents add a unique and interesting visual character without feeling unfit for the story, and also add a sense of cohesion throughout. The score, more heavily used in the first act, is comparatively more heavy-handed, but as the film begins to quiet toward the second half, the select period-appropriate musical cues feel more fitting.

The shot variety is delightful in this film; there are some gorgeous overhead inserts and extreme close-ups that enhance kitschy props and delightful set design, and beautiful editing creates effective momentum in several emotionally heightened scenes. The sound design is detailed, scintillating, as well. Taps of glass and dishware bring attention to the details of the set dressing and props. It’s these details that make the filmmaking choices feel thorough, above all, and contribute to the sense of a fully crafted storybook world.

The elements that mark this film most clearly as an adaptation of a novel are impressively well-incorporated, and make everything feel like a personal entry in Merricat’s diary, linking every scene to the image we saw at the start of Merricat sitting down to write the events of the previous week. The voiceover, illustrations, and intertitles marking the time enhance the themes of unreliable narration and emphasize the nature of storytelling, rather than feeling like adaptational shortcuts.

THE STORY

The dinner wherein the Blackwood family is poisoned is referenced like a myth or folktale by the Blackwoods and others, mistold, misremembered, and twisted to create a sense of frustration and doubt in the viewer. This doubt, that comes from both the failings of memory and deliberate lies, are at the heart of this story, and what makes the mystery of the film confounding and enthralling.
It is these lapses in objective storytelling that create the mystery of the film, not the usual thrill of apprehending a killer or seeking justice. This film is not a classic whodunit or a whimsical story of magic and witchcraft, but rather a slow, almost comically confounding folktale, where the underlying, creeping suspense throughout comes from the tension of the interpersonal interactions. This may frustrate viewers expecting a shocking revelation or twist they won’t be expecting; this film is largely lacking in twists and turns. This film is more interested in exploring the dynamics of a family who has fallen from grace, as well as the stories and lies they tell themselves and others. “I wonder in about a month from now, who will still be here,” Charles says to Merricat, “You or me?” It is this tension that drives interest in the film as it proceeds, the way these destructive, isolated people have destroyed their own family, and the potential they have to do so again.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle has a rough start, its focus initially unclear and its narrative aimless. By the second act, the film begins to more singularly explore,in a way that feels both delightfully literary the remains of a once-powerful American family. A young woman’s retelling of the tragic fall of her family is made more enthralling by strong performances, a unique visual character, and a world that through small but important choices in cinematography and sound design, feels fully realized.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Waldo on Weed (2019) Tribeca 2019

WALDO ON WEED is the story of 6 month old Waldo Dwyer who was diagnosed as having cancer of the eye. Desperate to find something to help their child, the chemo made Waldo violently ill, his parents were directed toward the use of medical marijuana in oil form. It seemed that the oil was helping other kids and controlling if not eliminating similar cancers. The trouble is that at the time Waldo was diagnosed his parents couldn’t legally get the oil in Pennsylvania and so they had to travel to California to get it. The film is made up of footage shot by the family recording their saga well as the current interviews.

Good look at how important the use of marijuana is for some diseases. As the film clearly shows the herb has much to give to us beyond making us high. And it should be pointed out that the chemical distilled in the oil will not get you high. This is something that people who think that the use means everyone is going to be lighting up needs to understand.

As important as the film is, I think it could stand to be a little tighter. I know the film only runs 85 minutes but some of family sequences could be trimmed. Also some of gushing over weeds medicinal uses could be toned down since it’s a bit over kill at times.

Full disclosure – Please be aware that my reaction to the film, and its use of home video footage, was influenced by seeing at least three films at Tribeca which were made up of home video footage. I absolutely did mental comparisons between all the films. When watching all but the first.

Regardless of my reservations  WALDO ON WEED is a must see for anyone pondering the pros and cons of marijuana.

Ariela Rubin on Dreamland (2019) Tribeca 2019

As the director, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte said after the screening of Dreamland that I went to, Dreamland is "Bonnie and Clyde meets Stand By Me". I liked that.

Dreamland is set in the 1930's in Texas. A bank robber named Allison, and played by Margot Robbie, has left 5 people dead, including a small child. There's a reward of $10,000 out if anyone finds her. Eugene, played by Finn Cole, and his friend want to try to find her. They think of what they could do if they had that money. One night, after Eugene is supposed to be asleep, he goes into the barn, to find Allison, wounded from a bullet in her leg. She swears she didn't kill anyone, and he takes the bullet out from her leg.

Is she manipulating him, or is she being honest? Does he turn her in, or do her good looks reel him in?

I don't want to give anything away, but I really enjoyed this film. I'm not into Westerns, but didn't feel that this was your typical Western film. It's only 98 minutes, and it goes by quickly. It's both a drama, and a coming of age story. It's nice that both stars are very easy on the eyes too.

Highly recommended.

Knives and Skin (2019) Tribeca 2019

Misrepresented in the Tribeca to sound like its either a Peyton Place look at a small town or thriller, it is in fact a not very good mystical satire full of dead pan off center humor that will either thrill you or make you run from the theater at the pretentiousness of it all.

The film follows the events that follow the disappearance of a 15 year old high school girl in a town that makes Twin Peaks look normal. As every one rambles on about their own shit they sort of look for the missing girl whose body drifts around the river banks.

Filled with over saturated colors and restrained performances that make Steven Wright seem emotive this is a love it or hate it film. You have to click with the films humor or this is two very long hours in the theater.

And don't get me wrong this film is supposed to be funny but I and the critics I saw this with weren't certain at first- the write up gives no clue about that. For a good portion of the first five minutes I had no idea if they were serious or not, I mean the dead girl's mother wanders around her house with a big butchers knife simply because she always has a knife with her. I suspected it was all a joke when the soon to be dead girl goes on the fateful date in a band uniform, has glowing glasses and carves a glowing C in a guys head. With knowing stabs at being funny, we think a pregnant woman is having a baby only to discover she is getting oral sex by a man dressed as a clown, the high school logo is a beaver shaped both like breasts and a penis and everyone always wearing some sort of uniform, this film flies its "I'm more clever than you" flag proudly. (No, you're not)

Had they played it straight and not gone for something akin to the Alex Cox of Repo Man making Twin Peaks this might have been something, but the knowing deadpan archness, and not very funny jokes makes it unbearable- especially at minutes under two eternal hours.

Aside from a hauntingly beautiful choral version of Our Lips Are Sealed this is one of the worst films I've seen in 10 years of Tribeca