Friday, July 19, 2019

Boxer's Omen (1983) Fantasia 2019

Unless you have spent your life watching Asian horror films I doubt you've seen anything like this. This is one of the most mind blowing or mind bending films ever made. You will marvel at the bizarre twists and turns this film takes, not to mention the on-the-cheap monsters, full frontal nudity, and magical confrontations.

The plot has a young Chinese man seeking revenge on a Thai boxer who attacked his brother after a fight and broke his neck. Heading to Thailand, he ends up falling in with a band of monks. They need the young man to help fight an evil wizard who has killed their leader just as he was about to achieve immortality. It seems the monk (who's disembodied spirit keeps appearing to the boxer) and the boxer were twins in a past life and have some sort of connection, so that what happens to one will happen to the other (a spiritual Corsican Brothers sort of thing). The only one who can fight the evil is the boxer, who agrees to become a monk so that he can save the spirit of his twin, and his own life. What follows are a series of would-be gross-out sequences as the boxer fights the evil wizard, takes on the Thai boxer who paralyzed his brother, and so much more.


Good looking, but with special effects that are a bit silly (when they aren't employing real animal offal), this is a movie that will make you laugh with (and at) it even as it's bending your mind. This is a one of a kind movie that mixes up a variety of genres into a truly unique blend (you may have seen similar things before, but not all in one movie). It's a serious story but with the presence of mind not to take itself TOO seriously. Clearly it knows the effects are less than stellar, and it uses that to it's advantage by playing those scenes a bit light-hearted, as if to say "we know they're cheap, just go with us". And you will WANT to go with it, since the film's anything-can-happen attitude makes this a one of a kind viewing experience.

See this movie. If you like action films or horror films I'd give this film a try. Those looking for unique cinematic experiences need to put this on their must see list.

Total Performance and Miss Freelance are playing in Brooklyn July 25

Cori is an actress who works for a company that hires actors and actresses out to act as verbal sparring dummies for people who are going to have  to go into difficult situations.However complications arise...

Really good little short score bonus points for taking things into an unexpected and natural direction. I didn't really see how this was going to go with the film, which is often the case but where many short filmmmakers create turns for effect and to be noticed,  writer director Sean Meehan instead makes the flow of the story feel natural.


I really liked this film a great deal and recommend it

MISS FREELANCE is a gut punch. Containing a series of sterling performances, it may be the best thing I’ve seen Timothy Cox do by a lot, and it is a soul crushing debut of Maddy Murphy that should put her on the radar of everyone, it is a film that must be seen and experienced.

The film is a series of encounters Murphy has with various men. Most of them pay her for company or sex. She seemingly doesn’t need a normal relationship, or so she tells Tim Cox, giving his best performance, in a heart breaking scene. However since we observe her over the course of the film we realize that might not be the case.

A film of carefully chosen words, silences and old radio shows, MISS FREELANCE is a film that seems simple and straight forward until it’s not. Somewhere about half way in things begin to turn and our hearts melt and break. We realize that we are not in Kansas but the landscape of someone who isn’t being wholly honest to herself. There is more than we first thought and it’s all behind Murphy‘s eyes. I was so shocked at what I was seeing that when I realized what the landscape really was I knew that I would have to watch the film again because I know I missed stuff at the start. The result was even more heartbreaking.

MISS FREELANCE is a small masterpiece. It is a must see. The performances by everyone involved deserve to be studied. More importantly Maddy Murphy needs to be noticed and become a star.

I can’t recommend this film enough.

MISS FREELANCE and TOTAL CONTROL play at Entholigy Film Screenings in Brooklyn on July 25th. Go buy tickets

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (2019) Fantasia 2019

Miguel Llansó the mad genius who made CRUMBS, a post-apocalyptic film that haunts me still, is at it again with JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY, a one of a kind masterpiece that only he could have made.

In 2034 Soviet era computer virus with the titled name and controlled by cyber being Joseph Stalin is attempting to take over the world. Two CIA agents have to deep dive into the cyber world in order to stop him.

Wild and crazy and a one of a kind sense of reality JESUS… is a trip. Riffing on other films and refashioning pop culture to its own ends (in the cyber world people’s avatars are famous people, and some characters run about in 1966 Batman and Robin costumes) this film puts us in a headspace that both familiar and totally alien. Like in life everything is not one unique thing but smashed together. What makes this work is that Llanso creates worlds that are truly real. He takes our world and figures out what will be around in however many years. More importantly Llanso never forgets that people are people. There are small details that may or mean nothing, making pizza as a hobby for example, but they give us a hook and a sense that there is more to the characters beyond what they need do in the film.

This film is a masterpiece and Miguel Llansó is a genius. In a world where everyone is making and remaking films that are a dime a dozen Llanso is making things that are unlike anything out there even if they borrow from everywhere….

…and on that note if there is one filmmaker that Llanso is like it would be Quentin Tarantino who shares his love of cultural riffs. However unlike Tarantino Llanso uses the riffs to tell a greater truth. They are not what his film is about, instead they are window dressing and touchstones that are layered into the fabric of his films so that we can better fall under his spell. Because the references and riffs are friendly we are more open to what he wants to tell us. Also because of how they are used they trick us into believing that the world is real because it is like our own.

Make no mistake about it Miguel Llansó is truly one of the greatest filmmakers working anywhere in the world.

JESUS SHOWS THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY is a must at Fantasia or where ever it plays. Even if you don’t like it you need to see it in order to know the work of a director who is doing something amazing.

Here in the Dark (2019) LA Short Fest

World premiering at LA Shorts Fest HERE IN THE DARK is a short film about a couple that has moved into a new apartment. They got it at a good price, however not long after they move in they are told by a neighbor why they got the price they did, a murder had happened in their home. The knowledge results in --- sleep walking and behaving strangely.

Well made little thriller looks great, is nicely acted but is hurt by a script that paces events too slowly to reach the destination. The problem with the script is that it doesn’t give us enough to chew on so we are distracted from figuring out how it’s going to play out. If you’ve seen a similar story, you know where this is going. This probably would have worked in half the run time but 25 minutes is simply too long.

Screening info:
July 18th 9:55 pm, Laemmle NoHo (as part of the L.A. SHORTSFEST programme)

The Last Callback (2019)

Someone please give Jason Kartalian the money to do a feature comedy. I say this partly because I want to see what he does with a comedic feature, and partly because I am tired of laughing so hard at his shorts that I almost choke to death from having the popcorn go down the wrong pipe.  If he’s going to kill me he should just do it all at once instead of by small, very, very funny degrees.

Jason’s latest attempt at homicide comes in the form of his short THE LAST CALLBACK. The film is the final auditions of two actresses for the role of a crack addicted serial killer prostitute and what follows.

A stunning comedic tour de force for Tasha Tacosa and Rachel Riley, who were the titled giant women in Jason’s documentary and glorious love letter to filmmaking GIANT WOMEN, MICROBUDGET, this film just lets the women go crazy and show what they can do. Watching them go from a straight on reading of the proposed role into what they think the directors want, on to the mania of ripping their competition is a joy. More importantly the shifting nature of their performances reveals them to be so much better than the role they are being offered. I completely understand why Jason would want to make a film with the pair at the center, because they are really funny and work incredibly well together. (Jason, please a buddy film for them)

What delights me about Jason’s short comedies is that he understands how to pace a film. When you see any of his comedy shorts, such as SUBCULTURE or this watch how he builds the comedy. Starting with a premise, say dueling auditions, he builds and inflates the situation, (the women become more and more over the top). He raises the stakes further with a twist, and then twists it again…. And by the end we’re doubled over with laughter, tears streaming down our face.

So few people do that anymore. Most people think a funny line or a non sequitur is the way to go, but Jason understands that building a situation creates greater laugh. It is the way comediennes like Keeton, Chaplin, or Jacques Tati built their comedy.

Jason Kartalian is a genius. He is one of my favorite filmmakers and his film THE LAST CALLBACK is a masterpiece.

See THE LAST CALLBACK at The Seattle Stiff Festival on Sunday July 28, 12noon at the Factory Luxe and at The Gig Harbor Fest in September

Fantasia ’19: Stare

There is a new name in long-haired, slit-mouthed yurei J-horror, but you don’t want to know it, because those who do, eventually wind up dead. It is not a pleasant death either. Basically, their eyes explode. There is a way to survive, but it will not be easy, because it is always hard to escape the wrath of a malevolent Japanese horror entity, especially the one we dare not name in Hirotaka Adachi’s Stare, which had its world premiere at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Mizuki expected to have a laidback lunch with her friend, instead she watched her die from some kind of explosive eyeball aneurism. Soon thereafter, Haruo’s younger brother dies in a similarly grotesque fashion. People just don’t die this way, so Haruo and Mizuki quickly find each other and team-up to investigate. A bit of nosing around leads them to Eiko, a mutual friend of the deceased. Unfortunately, she barely lives long enough to explain how it all started when the three co-workers heard a folk tale about a mystery grudge-holding woman, who killed all those who knew her name.

Alas, she will cry out that name to Mizuki and Haruo while in a state of supernatural agitation. Of course, they pass it on to Mamiya, a journalist investigating the suspicious deaths, who repeats it to his wife. Fortunately, there is a survivor—at least for now—who can explain how he did it (maybe there is a hint there in the title).

Stare is a fun film precisely because of its J-horror excesses. You will shout out loud every time someone utters the unspeakable name, which happens frequently. Sure, it is totally nuts, but the Macguffin, the big tricky gimmick, and the final twist are all deviously clever. Adachi (a.k.a. horror writer Otsuichi) executes the horror business with slickly sinister style. Scare is definitely scary, even if when it doesn’t make much sense (it even acknowledges its biggest logical hole, so you have to just go with it). As Mizuki and Haruo, Marie Iitoyo and Yu Inaba also do their parts, making compellingly earnest and believably scared witless protagonists.

While watching Stare, it is hard not to think about how much money Blumhouse could make with an American remake. Seriously, it has all the elements, plus several fresh wrinkles on supernatural horror. If you can take options on a Stare franchise, snap them up. This has the old J-horror magic of the original Grudge and Ringu—just check your pedantry at the door. Highly recommended for J-horror fans, Stare world premiered at this year’s Fantasia.

A Step Forward (2019) is one of the best films at Japan Cuts- go see it

A STEP FORWARD is one of the must sees at this year’s Japan Cuts. A moving portrait of Yoichi Fujiyabu who runs a suicide help line in the Wakayama prefecture . The town is the location of cliff that is a magnet for people looking to end their lives. The film follows Fujiyabu as he attempts to save the lives of people who feel they are beyond help. Giving them a place to stay, a job and a sense of community he tries to bring them back from edge.

I really don’t know what to say beyond go see this film. A film full of life and humanity, it beautifully shows us how one man is trying to make a difference. I was misty all through the film. It is a film that makes a perfect companion piece to the similar THE DEPARTURE from two years ago about a monk who did a similar thing.

Three weeks since I saw the film I still have no words except you must see this film  when it plays Sunday at Japan Cuts

For ticket and more information go here

Girl in the Hallway (2019) Fantasia 2019

GIRL IN THE HALLWAY will crush your soul. It is so crushing and heartbreaking that I doubt it will end up on the Oscar short list where it belongs. Much like last year’s DETAINMENT, I think people will turn away from it as being simply too bleak and heartrending.

The film an explanation of why a father won’t read his daughter Little Red Riding Hood. He says it give him nightmares and after he explains why it will give you nightmares too. It all has to do with the little girl who often spent time in the hall way of his welfare apartment building. A sweet little girl who was left to flounder by her addict parents, she became prey for the real life monsters in the world.

I was horrified.

Your heart will break.

A stunning piece of filmmaking, told through a monologue and chalk board animation it is a waking real world nightmare of the highest order. It trumps every horror film because it is a true story. Frankly after you see this film the most vile and disgusting horror film ever made will seem like a Saturday morning cartoon.

What is chilling about the film is not only what happens, but what didn’t happen. The failure of not only the system but the micro-society of the building, which kind of tried to keep her safe but failed. You feel the guilt of the storyteller in every word.

One of the best films at Dances With Films and probably of 2019. I never want to see it again, and pray to god I never have to hear anther real life story like it ever again.

GIRL IN THE HALLWAY plays July 20th at the Fantasia Festival

Dreadout (2019) Fantasia 2019

Based on a popular Indonesian video game DREADOUT has a group of teens going to an abandoned block of apartments where a cult once tried to raise the dead. The idea is to raise their social media status by steaming their adventures. Of course things go horribly wrong and a portal to the next life opens up releasing demons and the evil girl in red.

Beginning with a gangbusters opening where a rite goes leaves a room of carnage and then speeding along at a breakneck pace DREADOUT is a film that just grabs you and drags you along never giving you any time to breath. I would be lying to say that we haven't been here before, but at the same time director Kimo Stamboel fills the film with sights and sounds that are guaranteed to put chills into you. Worse he is well aware that we've seen similar films and in a couple of places he uses that information against us.

Normally I would groan at a film such as this which on the face of it seems to be nothing special  however when the film turns out as well made and fun as this I really don't care. Give me black blood and needle teeth and I'm a happy man.

One of the great finds at Fantasia DREADOUT is highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Ode to Nothing (2019) Fantasia 2019

If you want to see a creepy little gem, one that will get under your skin and stay there then see ODE TO NOTHING a dark little tale that is just black.

The film concerns a woman who runs a funeral parlor. Business is so bad she is on the verge of losing everything to loan sharks. When a body comes her way, under less than above board means, her business begins to turn around. She also begins to have an unnatural relationship with the cadaver.

Slow brooding without a lick of blood and gore, yet full of unpleasant feelings, ODE TO NOTHING is a welcome respite for anyone who wants their horror thoughtful yet deeply disturbing. Things happen in due time. A mood is created and tension builds and builds with no jump scare to release it. This is a film that sits with you and makes you feel wrong. Rarely has any horror film ever made me feel so off that I went off to find something else that was light and airy and funny to clear my head. I was disturbed.

A word of warning: This film is more art house than grind house. I say this because a slow and monotonous fifteen minutes pass before events begin to happen. The pacing is deliberate and if you can't go with it you are going to hate the film.  On the other hand if you can go with the slow pace this film will knock your socks off.

Highly recommended for anyone who thinks they can click with its rhythms.

ODE TO NOTHING screens again at Fantasia on July 22. For more information and tickets go here.

Chain Theatre presents the seventh annual Chain NYC Film Festival August 8-18, 2019

Chain Theatre (Kirk Gostkowski, Artistic Director) presents its seventh annual Chain NYC Film Festival, running August 8-­‐18, 2019 at the Chain Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 4th floor, NYC, 10018. Tickets are $10 in advance for each screening block ($12 at the door) and can be purchased online through

“The leaders of the Chain are among the great unsung heroes of cultural New York.” – Richard Price, Academy Award-­‐nominated screenwriter

Chain NYC Film Festival is an annual event dedicated to encouraging the development of quality independent cinema in this fast-­‐evolving digital age by bringing filmmakers and audiences together to connect with each other and experience new cinematic works.

With a rotating schedule of both feature films and shorts ranging from narrative to documentary and even web series, this annual summer festival will screen more than 130 selections over the course of 10 days.

 Highlights of the 2019 Chain NYC Film Festival include the documentary The Billion Dollar Power Station featuring interviews with music icons Bryan Adams, Steven Tyler, Berry Gordy, and Paul Schaffer, as well as the narrative features The Last Witness (starring Alex Pettyfer and Michael Gambon) and Windows on the World (starring Ryan Guzman).

 For 2019, the festival expands to two screening rooms, providing audiences the opportunity to enjoy even more new works, including New York and World Premieres, by both established and up-­‐and-­‐coming filmmakers. Each screening block is followed by a moderated talkback with the writers, directors, and other associated artists. Awards will be given out in a number of categories including a NY Filmmaker Award, dedicated to filmmakers living in one of the five boroughs. In addition to screenings and talkbacks, the Festival will include a special benefit performance of SAY WHAT AGAIN: Pulp Fiction; by the movie parody group The Usual Rejects (@usualrejects) on Saturday, August 10th at 7:30. Tickets for this performance are $15 (2 Free Beers and Raffle ticket included) and can be purchased at Blue Point Brewing Company ( is a proud sponsor of this benefit performance.

Seventh Annual Chain NYC Film Festival August 8-­‐18, 2019 (screening times vary)
Chain Theatre, 312 W. 36th Street, 4th fl.,
NYC 10018 Tickets: $10 per screening block, $12 at the Door
SUBWAY: A/C/E/ or 1/2/3 to 34th Street/Penn Station

About the Chain NYC Film Festival
Chain NYC Film Festival has screened over 800 films in the past 6 years. Past festival participants such as Lady in Apartment No. 6 have gone on to win Academy Awards. “Personal stories. Original ideas. New work.” The Chain NYC Film Festival is a multi-­‐ disciplinary event that serves the NYC community by bringing quality independent film from around the world. Content accepted is work that comes from a personal experience, a new outlook or idea in the world of film, and has been produced within the past 2 years. Each film festival, Chain invites an award-­‐winning giant in the film industry to come and speak about their work. Past guests include Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Behind the Candelabra) and Richard Price (The Color of Money, The Wire). @chainfilmfest

About the Chain Theatre (Producer) Founded in 2009, the Chain is a small but robust arts organization with a focus on film and theatrical programming. The mission of the Chain is to provide opportunities to New York audiences to experience challenging subject matter and universal themes in a safe, affordable, and accessible location through the mediums of theatre and film. Chain has worked with literary giants such as Tony Award-­‐ winning David Rabe (Hurlyburly, Sticks and Bones, Streamers) and the Broadway playwright and Emmy-­‐nominated writer Keith Huff (A Steady Rain, Mad Men, House of Cards). Throughout the company’s history we have received numerous nominations and awards for Best Revivals, Best Directing, and Best Cast by the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. Chain Theatre’s programs are supported, in part, by public funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional support is provided by New York City Council Cultural Affairs Committee Chair Jimmy Van Bramer, Speaker of the House Corey Johnson, FilmFreeway, Museum of the Moving Image, Copyright Slap, and Blue Point Brewing.

Foaming Node (2019)

What in the holy hell is Foaming Node?

Stupid question, I know what it is, I’ve seen the film, but what exactly is the film? Fucked up is the first thing that comes to mind. Deeply deeply disturbing is the second. And while neither of those reactions is original, I’ve read a couple reviews in hope of ending the great unease that has filled my soul, it is the only way to describe the film.

A documentary style film, it is little more than members of a cult talking about their beliefs and their interaction with their comatose leader who foams. The foaming produces alterations to the mind and body…

While seemingly straight forward writer director Ian Haig destroys the brains of everyone in the audience by manipulating the images. Faces contort, images within images create monstrous images. The manipulations both run counter to and blend with the testimony of the cult members. Their carefully chosen and quietly spoken words lay the ground work so that we accept what we are seeing without question. Not only do we accept it, we are drawn into it with the result that we are blindsided by what follows.

I am both disturbed and delighted by what Foaming Node does. I love that it provokes a reaction but I hate the feeling it provokes.

IF you want to see a film that will rattle you, see Foaming Node. Anyone wanting a normal film stay far far away.

Fantasia ’19: Away

Beautiful but forbidding, this island exists somewhere between the natural world and your subconscious. To survive, a young boy must survive the elements and an archetypal monster that could be real or a product of his own unconscious fears—or both. It is only seventy-five minutes, but animator-director-screenwriter-producer-editor-composer Gints Zilbalodis’s Away will likely be one of the most memorable (and possibly divisive) films that has premiered at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

The boy wakes hanging from a tree, dangling by his parachute, when suddenly he comes face to face with the monster. He extricates himself in the nick of time, but the monster follows and follows. Despite his best efforts, he cannot shake the silent hulk, even with the help of the timely warnings provided by the yellow canary, who becomes his traveling companion. At least the scenery is beautiful to behold.

Whether you love it or hate it, give Zilbalodis credit for crafting a remarkably distinctive piece of animated cinema. There is no question, some people will not love it, given its complete lack of dialogue and heavy symbolic weightiness. We never really get to know the boy as a character, but that hardly matters. It is all about the journey and the spectacle (the sight of the giant is especially haunting). Many of have already compared Away to Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle, which is apt, but try to imagine a teaspoon of A Monster Calls thrown into the mix.

If you buy into Away, it becomes a hypnotic cinematic experience. Visually, it is a true stunner. The details of the island’s environment look as if they could be of our Earth, yet somehow the way they are put together feels alien and exotic. Even if you can only engage with Away on a surface level, you should still appreciate Zilbalodis’s artistry.

Away looks awesome, but it also sounds quite striking, thanks to Zilbalodis’s minimalist soundtrack, which could pass for the work of Philip Glass. It is an amazing work of auteurist animation in the truest sense, given how many roles Zilbalodis played. Away really is its own cinematic island. Very highly recommended, Away should be on GKIDS radar following its North American premiere at this year’s Fantasia.

Being Natural (2018) Japan Cuts 2019

This is a repost of my review which ran when the film payed Fantasia last July

Taka spends his days taking care of his sick uncle and his nights sitting outside and playing his beloved bongos. When his uncle dies his world is upset as his uncle has left the house to another relative and then a couple arrives from Tokyo and things go steadily down hill.

Director Tadashi Nagayama's BEING NATURAL is going to challenge audiences. A mix of drama, comedy and magical realism the film seems to be a haunting and moving tale that gets under your skin in all the right ways. The thing is that as the story goes a little dark it suddenly takes a left turn into the twilight zone and becomes something that will make you go "WTF?" Probably out loud.

That I am going to devote my entire piece to the turn is a reflection of the fact that my thoughts on the film hinged on the last twenty minutes. What I thought of the film before them is one thing and what I think after is something else entirely. I do like the sequence but I'm not sure it actually fits with what went before.(I think that is an understatement).

No I will not tell you what happens. (though it may or may not have to do with the promotional material calling Taka a saint). If you're curious you should see it for yourself. I will warn you that over the top gore is involved.

I have no clue. Frankly I'm still processing. That said if you want to see a film that is going to provoke a reaction see BEING NATURAL.

For ticket and more info on Saturday's Japan Cuts screening go here.


A look at  the life and death of filmmmaker Al Adamson  is  a loving portrait of the man who gave use films like SATAN'S SADISTS, BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR and BRAIN OF BLOOD. All his films were made fast and cheap and almost all of them turned a profit, even if the crews didn't always get paid.

Good but nothing special documentary is for most of its run time your typical bio with the friends of the filmmaker talk being interviewed now while old interviews with Adamson are inter-cut with clips of his films. We've been here before but as a primer for the works of the schlock king its can't be beat. If you don't know Adamson or his work this is a perfect place to start before tracking down his films, most of which can be had either streaming or on the bargain DVD market.

The film turns into a kind of cable documentary in the final twenty or twenty five minutes as we watch as Adamson becomes interested in UFOs, has some strange experiences and is murdered by a handyman working in his house. While this is the way Adamson's life went, the turns seem out of left field and in a weird way completely out of place with the first hour plus. I think part of the problem is that until a certain point we don't really get a sense of Adamson's personal life. Yes we do see some of the women he was involved with but there was no sense of his life outside film so the change of focus seems weird. Additionally events play out rather fast and are less detailed than the talk of his work so it all seems rushed.

Quibbles aside I really do like the film a great deal. It gave me better insight into the man and his work. I have a new found respect for some of the films that I didn't have before. If you've never seen an Adamson film or if you are well acquainted with them the film is a must see since it will fill in your knowledge of an influential filmmaker. (though I don't think you'll be as in awe of him as Quentin Tarantino)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Whistler (2018) Comic-Con International Film Festival

Playing at ComiCon at the end of the week is a small gem of a film called THE WHISTLER. When the film played at the Blood in the Snow Festival last November I wrote the following review:

Fairy tale like story of a girl having to find out what happened to the sister she was babysitting. Solid little fairy tale worth seeing. Another feature worthy tale with incredible visuals.

However if I were to write it now I would add that it is even better and more haunting because now some nine months later I am still pondering the film and still have it rolling around my brain, wondering if the film will end up as a feature, even when other more recent films have faded.

Highly recommended the film is playing at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday July 19th, 2019 at 7:20 pm PT at the Marriott Grand Ballroom 6 at the Marriott Marquis and Marina Hotel on 333 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101 with a Q&A panel following so go see it.

A FAITHFUL MAN (2018) opens Friday

This is a repost of the review that ran when A FAITHFUL MAN played the New York FIlm Festival in 2018

Louis Garrel's A FAITHFUL MAN maybe the lightest film I've seen so far at the New York FIlm Festival. There is nothing wrong with that, but I only mention it because so many New York Film Festival films the last few years are very heavy so that its inclusion in the main slate seems like a mistake.

Abel is romantically involved with Marianne. When she become pregnant she marries Paul and Abel walks away from her life. Years later when Paul dies Abel goes to the funeral and he and Marianne begin again. The trouble is her son seems to think his mom killed his dad. Also in the mix is Paul younger sister who has eyes for Abel and wants to make a move to get him.

Wonderfully off kilter romance surprises at every turn. While we can be pretty sure how it will go the film doesn't get there on an easy road- which results in frequent laughs and knowing nods. While far from perfect, the film is only a breezy 75 minutes and could use some fleshing out, it is as entertaining as they come and the audience of critics I saw this with laughed in all the right spots all the way through.

High art? No, but quite possibly the most entertaining film at this years New York Film Festival.

A FAITHFUL MAN opens in theaters Friday

Island of Cats (2019) Japan Cuts (2019)

If you like cats then The Island of Cats is manna from heaven. The story of a cat who tries to find a human companion for its “owner” on the title location is an absolute delight.

To be honest I don’t have a lot to say about this film other than my face cracked open from smiling so much. This delightful film is 90 minutes with good people and great cats and is an absolute delight. It is a film that will make you feel good and smile from ear to ear. Is it the “best film” ever made. Oh hell no. I don’t think it was ever supposed to be. Rather it is a lovely and loving film that is going to be something you put on whenever you are blue.

If you have tickets for the NYC screening that is taking place this weekend you’re in for a treat. If you don’t have tickets try to go score a stand by ticket to the sold out show. If that doesn’t work I’m guessing you should keep an eye out since a film this good is bound to end up getting a US release.

For more information on the Japan Cuts screening go here

Island of Cats plays at Fantasia in Montreal later in July

SHe (2019) Fantasia 2019

SHe (yes the two capital letters and the single lower case letter is correct) concerns a female shoe creature who escapes from the pens where women are kept and masquerades as a man hoping to find some sort of freedom and instead finding things are not as expected.

Wordless and strange beyond words She is a one of a kind film. It is a film that is going to delight many and drive many more to the exits. I don’t mean that as a knock, rather this is just a film that is going to either delight you or be revealed as too weird. I mean this is a film about sentient shoes, ones that create socks and drink stockings.

A masterfully animated film that should be seen just for the technical achievement, the stop motion is so perfect that there is almost no sense of the animator. The animation is so smooth that the creations on screen truly seem to transcend their inanimate existence and take on a nightmarish life.

I personally adore the images and the strangeness. This is a singular work of a unique visionary. At the same time I am fully aware that this is not going to sit well with many people- especially at feature length.

For those looking for the weird, the wonderful and the strange this film is a must. For anyone looking for a vanilla film look elsewhere.

God bless Fantasia for bringing us this masterpiece.

SHe replays July. For more information or tickets go here.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Fantasia ’19: Critters Attack!

How could a franchise so rich in history go twenty-seven years without a new film? Remember, it was Critters 3 that made a star out of a sickly-looking teen named Leonardo DiCaprio—and his career has been going down hill ever since. Happily, the Krites (a.k.a. Critters) are still going strong, having roared back first with a Shudder reboot series and now a new installment in the original film series. The alien fur balls return to chow down on earthlings in Bobby Miller’s Critters Attack!, which had its world premiere at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Alas, poor Drea has had a hard time of it. Ever since her mother died in a traffic accident, she and her little brother Phillip (an alien invasion-conspiracy theory monger) have had to live with their uncle Lewis Haines, a well-meaning but often drunken sheriff. She pines to matriculate at nearby Leroy College, the elite school her late mom briefly attended, but she lacks the necessary connections. Reluctantly, she agrees to baby sit for a natural history professor, hoping she can call in the favor next time she applies. Of course, she will take the neurotic Lacy siblings, Trissy  and Jake, to the park just when the Critters start attacking.

Since Phillip had long carried a torch for Trissy Lacy, he happily came along with Drea. Maybe it is just as well, because he is better able to recognize an alien invasion when one happens, even if it is conducted by round balls of hair and teeth, greatly resembling Animal from The Muppet Show. However, his judgement is somewhat clouded by Trissy’s presence, especially when the precocious pre-teen insists on taking home an injured white Krite, whom she dubs “Bianca.”

Have no fear franchise followers—the Krites attack early and often. Although the latest Critters movie is set in our day and age, it definitely has a late-1980s-early-1990s vibe going on. It is definitely true to the spirit of the original, especially given Dee Wallace’s return the franchise, as “Aunt Dee,” for the first time since starring in Critters Numero Uno.

For fans, it will be great fun watching Wallace in an Ellen Ripley-esque role. However, it is rather surprising how earnest and appealing Tashiana Washington, Jaeden Noel, and Stephen Jennings are as Drea, Phillip, and Uncle Lewis, respectively. Their family drama and dynamics actually play out well on-screen.

Of course, the Critters are just a blast of furry madness. Clearly, everyone involved had great affection for the original films, including raising genre talents Miller (who previously directed The Cleanse), screenwriter Scott Lobdell (best known for penning Happy Death Day), and editor Mike Mendez (director of The Last Heist and Don’t Kill It).

Sure, it looks somewhat low budget, but that is part of its charm. This Critters is all very old school and nostalgic, in the right ways. Highly recommended for fans Critters and hirsute creatures in general, Critters Attack! had its world premiere at this year’s Fantasia, ahead of its July 23rd DVD release.

Luz (2018) opens Friday

This is the review I originally posted in October when LUZ was making the festival circuit. I was asked to take it down until the theatrical release and with that happening Friday I am reposting it.

I am delighted that LUZ is playing so many major genre festivals (Fantasia, Fantastic Fest, Brooklyn Horror) and getting solid critical world of mouth. However at the same time I am very curious what most horror fans are thinking because ultimately the film is not really a horror film, it’s something else entirely. While there are chills, there are no jump scares. While there is some violence it’s not what you think.

The film is about a young woman named Luz. She is a cab driver who as the film begins has walked into a police station. From there it becomes essentially two monologs/stories as a woman at a bar tells a doctor about her friend and then the story that is revealed as Luz is hypnotized and relives the earlier part of the evening. Its low tech and chilling.

And while it does involve a demon it really isn’t a horror film. I can’t tell you why because…well… that would be telling. Yes it has some of the tropes of the horror genre but when you get to the end you’ll realize that the film was going somewhere else.

Its brilliant and probably one of the best films of the year. I say that because over 24 hours after I saw I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t move on. The construction of the film is so damn perfect I kind of wonder why it hadn’t been tried before.

Actually the reason the film works is because of the cast Luana Velis as Luz, Jan Bluthardt as the doctor and Julia Riedler as the girl in the bar are Oscar worthy. They may very well be the best ensemble of the year. They get it right. All of them are as good as you can get. Bluthardt is particularly stunning because he simply has to turn on dime repeatedly. I am in awe. It is a performance that should be studied.

While most definitely a genre story selling it as a horror film is selling it short. There is way more going on here and we are better for it.

I am going to guess that the gorehounds and those expecting a typical horror film are going to be initially disappointed but I am guessing that down the road, when they revisit the film they will see it to be the masterpiece that it is.

LUZ is highly recommended. One of the must see films of 2018. (and now 2019)

The Astronaut (2019) Fantasia 2019

Richard Dreyfuss plays  Angus a 75 year old widower who being shuttled off to an old age home. Always wanting to go to space he signs up for a contest to get a seat on the first commercial space flight. However things don't go as he plans as his health and the discovery of a possible problem with the flight complicate things.

Certain to be in the running for various awards Richard Dreyfuss is the reason to see this film. While most certainly a good film, it is Dreyfuss's emotionally charged performance that drives the film. Not only do we feel all his aches and pains but we see deeply into his heart and come to understand the man. Dreyfuss makes us one with Angus, with the result that every emotion we feel, tear we cry and laugh we make is honest and genuine.

I am deliberately not discussing what happens since the film has a great deal going on and if I say the wrong thing it will make it sound like it is something it is not. I say this because much of the film is focused on what happens when we and our parents grow older. What exactly happens to ourselves, our dignity and most importantly our dreams. If I discuss the growing old crap (which is right on and perfect) you will lose sight of the fact that this is really a film about following your dreams where ever they lead you-for however long it takes to achieve them.

I should probably warn you that this is a drama first and not a science fiction film. It is not about the space flight but about getting there. Saying that a space flight happens is not giving anything away because of what is in the photos, trailers and the very title gives it away.

This is also a low budget film make with and for love so don't expect big flashy effects except from the realm of acting

Recommended (and bring tissues)

THE ASTRONAUT played Fantasia earlier this evening. It will open in theaters at the end of July.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Japan Cuts Starts This Week So Go Buy Lots Of Tickets- A Curtain Raiser

The glorious Japan Cuts starts this week and I have almost nothing to say except “it’s all good-go buy tickets”.

Okay, that’s not entirely true, there are a couple of films I didn’t love (but I did like them), and I still haven’t seen everything, However I know for damn sure why everything is at the festival, which is saying a great deal in an age when so many film fests are full of “what were they thinking” films. Japan Cut is full of films that you will either absolutely love or at worst like but not love, while completely understanding why the film was programmed. I say this because there were one or two that weren’t my cup of tea but were still interesting enough that I was glad I saw them.

But enough of this idle chatter what you all want to know is what should you be getting tickets to- or in a couple of cases what films are worth waiting on the standby line to see (a good number of the films are already sold out)

My choices for the MUST SEES at Japan Cuts based on what I’ve seen areas follows:

ISLAND OF CATS – cat porn drama set on the legendary Japanese island has a cat trying to help his master find companionship. You will want to o buy yourself lots of cats.

BEING NATURAL – is a wild and woolly that is not for all tastes. The story of a man left adrift when his uncle dies leaving him with nowhere to go takes a bizarre and what planet did they get that from turn on the final 20 minutes. If you want weird cinema this is it- just be willing to wait for it.

STEP FORWARD – one of the great films of 2019 concerns a minister manning a suicide hot line. I was moved to the point where I am still struggling to find words to review it. I simply don't have words.

RED SNOW – visually and aurally stunning film concerns a reporter opening a decades old case and wrecking everyone's sense of the staus quo. While things may not be perfectly resolved the ride is magnificent.

NIGHT CROSSING –A thought provoking look at a blind man who wants to make a movie that forces you to reconsider what cinema is, how we see the world and how we communicate with those with differing points of reference.

BLUE HOUR – Closing night film has two friends going home again and finding things they didn’t expect to find. The set up maybe one we’ve seen before the delivery is not with some great characters doing some very real things.

I also highly recommend both KILLING and BULLET BALLET which are playing as part of the festivals tribute to Shinya Tsukamoto who is being honored at the festival. Look for coverage of both films and an interview with the man himself.

And there is more- but those should get you started.

I don't know what to say other than JAPAN CUTS ROCKS- GO BUY TICKETS

For more information and tickets (and information on sold out shows) go here

The (Birthday) Wonderland (2019) Fantasia 2019

A slacker girl goes to visit her crazy aunt who runs an antique shop discovers that she may be the Goddess of the Green Wind, destined to save an alternate reality after her hand perfectly matches a palm print in the store.

Based on Sachiko Kashiwaba's 1988 children's book Strange Journey From the Basement, THE WONDERLAND (or as the title on the print I saw said THE BIRTHDAY WONDERLAND) is a gloriously wonderful adventure. Full of incredible sights and sounds this is a film that will delight the inner child in all of us. There are just so many cool things here that I could spend this whole review waxing poetic about them all. I' not going to do that but instead say that I spent much of this film murmuring "oh that's so cool" over and over again.

While the film suffers from having the basic person drawn into a quest in a magic world plot line for a spine, the skeleton and details that flesh out the story lift the film up from something we might of thought we've seen before, into something we want to see again and again.

This film is a stunner and proof positive that Fantasia is one of the best places to see animated films from across the globe.

Jared King's Jade Leung/Michael Tong Interview on Podcast on Fire

Jade Leung and Michael Tong and their careers in posters
I have a story to tell…

Somewhere on July 3rd word went out that Jade Leung and Michael Tong were going to be appearing at the new York Asian Film Festival on July 5. It was a last minute addition. I was informed by Jared King when I got an email asking if I knew anything, specifically if they would be doing anything for the press. Emails were exchanged and we were informed that they would be  willing to sit for an interview before the screening of Fatal Raid on July 5th, so off Jared went.

After the interview Jared sent me audio and I was delighted.I loved that the interview was more a conversation between a bunch of people having a fun. You could hear everyone was having a good time laughing and talking. I sent it off for transcription figuring it was gold.

The problems started when I got the transcription back and realized it didn’t read as well as it played. Neither Jared nor I liked it. I sent it off to Mr C who didn’t like it either. I figured it could be saved if I mercilessly pared it back… and the result was even worse. Shorn of all of the vocal inflections, crosstalk, laughter and commentary in Chinese the conversation died on the page.

I’m mentioning this because the conversation Jared had with the two stars was something special. It was two stars and their handlers being confronted with a fan who loves them and falling into a conversation even before the recording started. When Jared jokes at the start “I know who you are” it gets a laugh because they know from the material he brought with him he really does. It’s echoed later when Jared says something that causes to Jade to sigh that he know her better than she knows herself.  All the friendliness and delight in everyone’s voices missing from the transcript.

In contemplating how to present the conversation Jared asked me if I had a problem if he gave the audio to Podcast on Fire to run. I did not. Indeed having fought with the transcript I knew it was the only way to go.

To that end here is the talk, I dare not really say interview that Jared did with Jared Leung and Michael Tong on Podcast on Fire J.uly th 2019 at the New York Asian Film Festival
Michael Tong Jared King and Jade Leung

An Absurd Accident (2017) hits VOD on July 18th

Impossible to summarize easily pitch black comedy thriller takes a little bit to get going but once it gets going it manages to produce both uneasy laughs and chills as everyone's sins of omission or lies comes back to haunt them.

The film is nominally the story of a hotel owner in rural China. Suspecting that his wife is having an affair he decides to kill her and turns to the quack doctor giving him aphrodisiacs  to get him a hit man. When the appointed time comes the plot begins to unravel as nothing is what it seems and no one is who they claim.

Chinese film noir meets the off kilter sensibilities of the Coen Brothers in a film that is continuously shifting gears. Told in chapters the film shifts styles as well as the more or less straight forward film swerves into literal silent comedy territory with black and white bits that are straight out of the Mack Sennett Studio. Why the film shifts in that direction isn't really clear but it does make the film stand out.

I really like the film a great deal. This is a film that doesn't behave as you think it will. A well made gem of a film AN ABSURD ACCIDENT this is the sort of audacious inde film that makes you sit up and take notice- and laugh.

What an absolute cinematic joy and a hidden treasure.

AN ABSURD ACCIDENT is highly recommended when it hits VOD on July 18th

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Jade's Asylum (2019) Fantasia 2019

Jade, who is haunted by the abusive ghost of her father, goes to Costa Rica with her boyfriend and his buddies on vacation. There the guys get stoned and pick up some local women. She is annoyed that her beau has been stoned for two days and making out with one of the locals. Tensions grow before twisted humans come from the sea and violence erupts.

With stunning make up effects and great photography and editing Jade’s Asylum should be a great film, but it’s need to plumb the depths of the human psyche with long passages where not much happens and people just sit around and brood  kills the film. Because of the silences we don’t really get to know anyone, with the result everyone kind of blends together. Long silences are broken by too direct statements that mean something. The film more often than not feels like an attempt to make an art house drama rather than a thriller or horror film.

Making everything worse are plot turns that make zero sense. For example we are met with two conundrums at the start which quickly doom things. First why are we entering the action when tensions are high since its clear Jade and her boyfriend  hate each other?  If they don't hate each other then they have so much resentment that they will need years of therapy to make it work. The second point is why is Jade on the trip with all the guys when it was clearly a guys’ trip? The only reason she is there is to instigate the events in the film. Her being there and being in conflict lessens our ability to sympathize with her. Other problems arise with the plotting, but those made me disconnect from the film and not care about the others.

What kills me is that on a technical level the film is truly great. The images are perfect, the editing and sound masterful and I love the mossy deformed men. If this had had a plot that was up to the technical achievements this would have been a truly great film.

As it is now Jade’s Asylum isn’t recommended for anyone other than technical film freaks and monster make up fans.

One of the rare Fantasia misses.

Nate hood's 400 word on Song Lang (2019) NYAFF 2019

For his gorgeously realized, opulently shot feature debut Song Long, director Leon Le takes audiences to 1980s Saigon, a culture in the midst of painful transition. On the one side are the elder generations, survivors of decades of constant warfare and jealous protectors of traditional Vietnamese culture. On the other, the younger generations born into an increasingly pervasive capitalism, unconcerned with the old ways and obsessed instead with money, sex, and consumer goods. On the one side is Ling Phung (Isaac), filial son and performer of cải lương—Vietnamese folk theater. On the other is Dung (Lien Bin Phat), an emotionally deadened debt collector for a loan shark. Their lives are thrown together when Dung pays a visit to Ling’s theater to collect on his mother’s debts, sparking an odd friendship between two young men who have more in common with each other than they might imagine.

Many early critics have praised Song Long for its luscious cinematography—Chen Kaige’s Farewell Me Concubine (1993) seems a common point of reference—and loving depictions of cải lương. But the film is more than a wistful entertainment; it’s a anatomical cross section of a society on the brink of anomie. Notice how Le juxtaposes Dung’s shiftless life as a gangster with those of cải lương performers: whereas every moment of every day is strictly regimented and defined with purpose for the actors, Dung languishes most of his days away in a detached haze, drifting from empty rooftop to empty rooftop in between “collections.” The actors experience the full breadth of life preparing for and performing their art: joy, love, loss, tragedy. But Dung wanders in an anhedonic torpor, showing as much excitement when he makes love or plays video games alone in his apartment as he does when he learns one of his “clients,” the mother of two small girls, killed herself to free her family from her debts. Even Dung’s avowed atheism seems superficial when compared to the prevalent Catholicism and Buddhism surrounding him.

The film could’ve easily leaned towards the reactionary with its celebration of traditional Vietnamese culture and societal collectivism, but Le’s not interested in political proselytization—he’s telling a story first and foremost of two young men struggling to navigate life, tragedy, and heartbreak in the only ways they know how. It’s this blending of subtexts, narrative, and undeniably pictorial beauty that makes Song Lang an auspicious debut.

Rating: 7/10

Joe Bendel on We Are Little Zombies (2019) Fantasia 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Frankly, it is pretty amazing how deadpan Keita Ninomiya, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura, and Sena Nakajima remain, despite the maelstrom of insanity swirling around them. It is a different sort of performance, maintaining stoic discipline rather than emoting, but they fulfill their duties faithfully. Recommended for fans of Sion Sono at his most out-there, We Are Little Zombies screens July 16th at Fantasia.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Not a review of Sabu's Jam (2018) NYAFF 2019

This is purely a place holder. I wanted to simply say that I saw Sabu’s JAM which played at the New York Asian Film Festival, but I don’t know what to think. This uncertain reaction is not what I expected from a Sabu film since every film of his has produced some sort of emotion—even if only in the end when the plot threads came together in an ah ha moment.

Beginning at the end the film follows three people as their lives end up converging in a single moment where, they literally crash into each other. And I really don’t know.

A couple days on I’m still pondering it. I know I should watch the film again but I’m torn, especially since I’ve been told that the film is getting a sequel. Perhaps down the road, linked to another film it will make more sense, or provoke a reaction that I can put into words.

For now I just want to say that I’ve seen the film and full review is coming. Until then here is Nate Hood’s review.

Joe Bendel on The Gangster, The Cop and The Devil (2019) Fantasia 2019

There are two basic strategies serial killers can opt for to select their prey: obsessive observation and stalking or pure randomness. The latter has the advantage of following no discernible patterns for the police to trace. The downside is a potential target like Jang Dong-su. The beefy gangster is really hard to kill and he has an army of foot soldiers to search for his mystery assailant. Frankly, the killer would probably be better off if the ethically ambiguous national copper Jung Tae-seok finds him first in Lee Won-tae’s deliciously twisted The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil, which tomorrow at the Fantasia Festival.

Jang is played by the mighty Don Lee (Ma Dong-seok), so nobody in their right mind would mess with him. Of course, that is precisely the case with the psychotic “K.” He thinks he has the drop on Jang with his usual minor fender-bender M.O., but it takes more than a few stabs to kill the Paul Bunyon-esque crime lord.

Initially, Jang’s gang assumes the attack was the work of a rival faction, but he calls off the war when he comes to. Not surprisingly, he is inclined to solve the matter personally rather than cooperate with Jung’s investigation. However, they forge a tentative alliance to coordinate intel and resources to track down the killer. They start betraying and double-crossing each other almost immediately, but they still keep returning to their basic agreement, for the sake of preventing further murders and scoring some stone-cold payback, so, yeah.

South Korea has always demonstrated a clear comparative advantage when it comes to producing serial killer thrillers, but GCD takes the genre to new sinister heights. Lee Won-tae came up with the mother of all high concepts and his execution barrels forward with the energy of a runaway freight train. Plus, it is just jolly good fun to watch Don Lee and Kim Moo-yul scheme, fight, and bicker together as Jang and Jung, respectively. Lee could very well be the only man in the world who could credibly play Jang, who we can easily believe would survive multiple stab wounds to the torso. Train to Busan already made him a star, but GCD should definitely be a next-level-up movie for him.

Yet, maybe the biggest surprise is how well Kim hangs with him. He is spectacularly sleazy and nakedly self-serving, but we also believe he genuinely wants to stop the murders. As K, Kim Sung-kyu is undeniably creepy and coldly clammy, but he is somewhat overshadowed by the larger-than-life flamboyance of Lee and Kim Moo-yul.

GCD is so wickedly clever, the American remake rights have already been snapped up. Unfortunately, it was Sylvester Stallone who nabbed the hot property, which doesn’t inspire much confidence anymore. On the plus side, Don Lee is already attached to reprise his portrayal of Jang, which is cause for cautious optimism. Regardless, there can be little doubt the original will be the better film—and it is the one opening this week. Very highly recommended, The Gangster, The Cop, the Devil plays tomorrow at Fantasia.

Dance on Camera ’19: Échappé (short)

Ballet is an elite performing art, enjoyed by kings and czars, but the USSR’s propaganda masters tried to exploit it for their benefit, holding the graceful dance up as an example of Soviet superiority and appealing to its traditional significance for the Russian people. You knew when there was trouble, because state TV would suddenly broadcast Swan Lake. However, their ballet strategy backfired when high-profile dancers defected to the West. It wasn’t just Nureyev. There was also Baryshnikov, Godunov, Makarova, Panov, and the Koslovs. A rising prima ballerina is deeply concerned her brother intends to join their ranks and even more fearful of what steps their handler might take to stop him in Allison Mattox’s short film, Échappé, which screens during this year’s Dance on Camera.

It is 1970. Cold War tensions are mounting, so the stakes are high for the ballet company’s “good will” tour. Nikolai Andreyev is probably their biggest star, but his sister Vera Andreyev’s reputation will probably soon eclipse his. She is also considered much more politically reliable than the long-suspect Nikolai.

Rather awkwardly for Ms. Andreyev, her brother is about to become a victim of her success. Believing her prestige is now sufficient to carry the company, Lionidze, their KGB escort intends to send Nikolai home to prevent any further international incidents (you know, to give one of those private command performances for the Kremlin). This creates a crisis of conscience for motherland-loving ballerina.

Even though Échappé is set during the beginning of the polyester 1970s, it looks terrific thanks to the exquisite lensing of cinematographer Beth Napoli. Frankly, this is one of the best looking films this year, of any length. Beyond questions of cinematic aesthetics, it also helps showcase Martin Harvey’s choreography in a favorable light (so to speak), which patrons of Dance on Camera will surely appreciate.

Leads Olesya Senchenko and Pavel Shatu certainly both look like glamorous dancers, but they also respond well to each other. On the other side of the spectrum, Nikolai Tsankov is deeply sinister, in a slavishly apparatchik kind of way, as Lionidze. Indeed, Échappé is a well-crafted film in all respects, including Mattox’s screenplay. Instead of merely echoing White Crow, Échappé very definitely has its own identity, which really comes into sharp relief when the intelligent ironies of its conclusion are revealed. Very highly recommended for fans of dance and Cold War films, Échappé screens with the documentary Three Dances this Sunday afternoon (7/14), as part of Dance on Camera 2019.

Come to Daddy (2019) Fantasia 2019

I can only talk about the set up for COME TO DADDY which is good and bad. It’s good because I won’t give anything away. It’s bad because there volumes to say about the film and I don’t discuss it lest I ruin it for those who haven’t seen it.

The plot of the film has Elijah Wood going to see his long lost dad on the coast of California. Wood hasn’t seen his dad in decades and he has been summoned by his dad in an effort to build bridges. Or so he thinks, because once he gets there dad (Stephen McHattie) isn’t what he remembers and is acting very oddly.

And I’m leaving it there because what happens is the movie. It’s also a not what I expected.

Part comedy of discomfort, part thriller, part horror film and part “WTF were they thinking” COME TO DADDY surprises you every five or ten minutes with turns and shadings that are completely unexpected. It’s a film where you think you know what’s going on until you don’t. This is a film that is very much taking place in the moment. We are not given any sort of clues as to anything beyond what we are seeing until something happens or is said in the normal conversation; and that flips everything that has gone before without mess plot twists. It is a ploy that most film directors don’t use, they want to tell you way too much, but Ant Timpson brilliantly doesn’t do that and instead uses the way life really works against the audience. The turns are such that you’ll want to see the film again just to see how it all plays out now that you know what is going on.

I really like COME TO DADDY. While not perfect, there are a couple of bumps along the way, I love that it’s a funny film that forces the audience to stay on their toes and talk at the screen as things shift and change with a mere line.

A wickedly poisoned delight you'll want to see more than once..