Saturday, October 19, 2019

Mommy's Little Monster (2019)

Writer director Patrick Green needs to be wapped upside his head. He's made a little confection called MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER that is difficult to really review without spoiling for a couple of reasons. Partly the difficulty is because how the film is being put out there (as a horror film) is not what the film is (it's something else, like most of the great horror films) and part of it is the fact that if I say too much it kind of gives it all away. As a result I want to wap Mr Green because he has thrown down the gauntlet and dared me to review it and I'm not so sure how.

The film is the story of what happens when a mother and her son flee into the country to get away from something. It isn't really clear what that thing is but we can assume it is probably a person since she is terrified of turning her cellphone on. What transpires is the film.

Nominal horror film is instead something else entirely. To be honest if you go into the film expecting a straight on horror film odds are you will end up being slightly disappointed. There is most certainly a monster, but it is not what you expect especially if you are waiting for something bug eyed.  The monster here is something (or is it somethings?) else and it is one that isn't so far from any of us.

Beautifully acted and often eerily shot MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER is great looking film. It looks and feels like a country set horror film which adds a great deal to the films punch. It is a lovely two-hander where the off screen characters fill out the spaces around those on screen.

Beyond that Ireally can't  say more other than MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER is a super little film. It's a wonderful piece of filmmaking with an "ah ha" moment and ending it earns. So long as you realize that Patrick Green is using the horror form to do more than just scare you are going to have a great time.

MOMMY'S LITTLE MONSTER has been playing at horror film fests all month long it will next appear at Horror Haus October 25-27. For more information and tickets go here

Friday, October 18, 2019

My First And Last Film (2019) Milwaukee Film Festival 2019

Director Tracey Thomas turns 60 and decides that she wants to investigate what it means to turn 60. She then begins to interview various people about being that age. However things begin to change when her partner gets ill and dies things change....

This is a philosophical essay/portrait/documentary / very meta exploration of life, death and everything in between. It's a film that is cinematic quest to find out what it all means and how Thomas is forced to cope with some of the things life unexpectedly throws at her. It is exactly the sort of film that an experienced filmmaker (this really is Thomas's first attempt at making a film) would never do, and as a result is infinitely more profound than we ever could have hoped.

To be certain the film is uneven, but at the same time the fact that the film was made by some one who wasn't playing by the rules means we get unexpected turns. Thomas, or her surrogates, aked atypical questions and shot things that most other people would never think of. The result is we are not watching a film but being part of her grand experiment, but also her life. There are no walls, there just is people and places and it all bleeds off the screen.

I am in awe of this film since it doesn't seem to be a film so much as a living document that we can and will interact with over time, not just the run time, but the time in our lives. Watching the film I was very aware that how the film is seen will be determined by how old you are. I'm not that far removed from turning 60 and I am struggling with some of the issues raised. I can relate to the discussions. However, I suspect that someone younger, like the 30 year old selves discussed in the film will take a different view of the film...and then assuming they are wise enough to revisit the film years down the road will find their thoughts on the film changing as they experience the passage of time themselves.

You will forgive me for not doing a deep dive on the film but I am still processing it. I suspect that the film will be haunting me for days to come. I suspect that I probably should not be reviewing the film  so close to seeing it, but I think that if I wait for the right time, I will be weeks and months down the road. For better or worse MY FIRST AND LAST FILM is a much too important film not to be on your radar, and so I raced to get something up to tie in with the World Premiere.

Frankly I don't know if you will like the film. I don't know what I fully think of it myself, however I know that it has gotten my head going a like a quintuple shot of espresso- which is something few films ever do.  For that alone the film is recommended. And it's also recommended because love it or loath it it is a film you will have to engage with, whether you want to or not.

See this film.

MY FIRST AND LAST FILM plays at the Milwaukee Film Festival at the following times
Friday, October 18 // 7p // Rivoli Theatre
Wednesday, October 23 // 1:15p // Avalon Theatre
Tuesday, October 29 // 1:30p // Oriental Theatre
For tickets and more information go here.

Prayers of a Saint (2019) La Femme Film Festival

Prayers of a Saint is a kind of a conundrum for me. I had gone into the film expecting one thing based upon a press release for the film and instead got something else. The film is supposed to be about a young woman who has run away from her abusive family and while some of that is in the film there, there is a lot more less defined stuff going on, things are not entirely spelled out and I was left wondering what I was supposed to think.

To be honest I was not going to review the film. I emailed the PR person handling the the film to say that I wasn’t sure what I thought of the film and despite liking portions of the film I was going to pass because my reaction to the over all film was going to have me say things that may make it sound like I hated the film, which I don’t.

I walked away and thought no more of it…except that I didn’t think no more of it and for the last few days the acting and the crafting of the film haunted me. While director Santho Goonewardene may have made a film that is narratively a little uncertain, it emotionally packs a punch. Thinking on the film I was kind of stunned to find that the film left me emotionally cracked. I can feel a wound where the film hit me. Additionally I find that the images have haunted me and are dancing around the edges of my psyche. Understand that they are appearing to my inner eye in between the other films I’m screening and writing on. Clearly Goonewardene has made a film of quiet power.

If I maybe so bold as to state that Prayers of a Saint is one hell of a calling card. It is a wonderful representation of a filmmaker who is one to watch. Goonewardene has made a film that quietly knocks on the door and then takes over. To be honest I am still mixed on the film dramatically, but I would love to see a longer version of the story. More importantly I really want to see what Goonewardene does next.

Prayers of a Saint plays October 19th at 2PM, 2019 at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles at the La Femme Film Festival and is worth seeing for anyone who wants to see a interesting voice in film that needs to be allowed to sing in bigger projects.

Butterfly (2019) La Femme International Film Festival

Fashion model who is tired of her life and want change heads out into the desert and meets a loner living in the middle of nowhere after her car runs out of gas.

I am not going to lie, I loved this film up until the closing minutes. The interplay between Jade Lorna Sullivan as the model and Micah Fitzgerald as the loner is perfect. the discussions are heady and the emotions seem to be on target.  It's a beautifully acted and plotted film almost to the end.

The problem for me is not so much the ending, but how it comes about which is so sudden and out of left field. It kind of worked, but at the same time it seemed overly silly.

How the ending plays out in the finale minute aside BUTTERFLY is 22 minutes of kick ass discussion and amazing performances. It is absolutely worth tracking down at the La Femme Film Festival this weekend or where ever it is playing.

For more information and tickets go here.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Every Grain of The Sand (2019) La Femme Film Festival

Every Grain of sand contains two of the best performances you’ll see all year. Tarra Riggs and Regina Williams play sisters with a realness that is so good it is impossible to believe that they aren’t related.. The tension arcs and sparks between them and when they breakdown you want to cry for and with them. They are the powerhouse that drive this small little gem.

The film concerns a moment in the lives of two women living in a trailer in the desert. One has given up her life to move and take care of her dying sister. Tension rise.

As moving as this film is I want to see what went before. This is in it’s way the conclusion of a story- but I want to see the whole story. This is in no way a knock against Every Grain as it stands now, rather it’s simply to say that the film and it’s performances are so stellar that I want more time with these woman. I want to embrace them for two hours not ten minutes. I want to be wrecked by the ups and downs. I also want to see the two women battle it out for the Oscar their performances would bring in a feature.

This is a great little film.

See it this today at the La Femme Film Festival.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

You Can Kiss Me (2019) La Femme International Film Festival

A woman's search for a new lover runs into complications from her marriage.

This is a lovely film about a woman trying to follow her heart but ending up having to deal with the complications of reality is a winner.Boasting a couple of killer performances by Brandi Nicole Wilson and Ylfa Edelstein, the film soars to the heavens purely on their charisma. Honestly the pair send sparks off the screen making you want an expansion of this short or at least a second screen pairing of the two where they can flex their muscles for a feature run time.

I really liked this film a great deal and it's discovery, and particularly the pairing of the ladies is one of the joys of the fall film season.

YOU CAN KISS ME plays Saturday at the La Femme Film Festival. For more information go here.

Ladies Most Deject (2019) LaFemme International Film Festival

LADIES MOST DEJECT is a good short film that should have been a feature. The story of a young girl who must take steps to keep her sisters safe from her addict mother and dealer uncle is much too short to do the subject justice. It's really good  but while the film is clearly willing to deal with such a complex subject such as addiction on a family, the fact that it runs only 15 minutes works against it. (which is probably the film's only flaw)

Don’t get me wrong this is a nicely acted film that looks good and which puts addiction into the neat little homes that look like there isn’t any dark secret hiding inside. It’s a moving tale that needs to be told. However at the same time had the film had more time to build the emotion this would have been a kick ass film.

I want to see director Martha Elcan go back and shoot this a feature. I have no idea whether this is proof or concept or not but if it’s not it should be. While there have been any number similar films there is something about LADIES that stands out and makes me want to see a longer version. Perhaps it’s simply that while the basic tale is similar to others what Elcan and her writers have done with it is not.

(Addendum- after I wrote the review I found out that the film was written in part by Conner Wharton who plays Charlie in the film. Ms Barton was teenager when she wrote the screenplay. Having been subjected to the publicity push for BURNING CANE an over praised first film that was written when the director as 15 and feels like it, I need to say that Ms Wharton is the better writer.  Having created a world of real characters and real situations that bleed off the screen Ms Wharton needs to keep writing. Please Ms Barton keep doing what you are doing and making films and  don't let anyone tell you no. And the same holds true to Ms Elcan whose crafting the film from the page is something special. We need to hear your voices)

As it stand LADIES MOST DEJECT is a good little film that’s worth your time when it plays at the La Femme International Film Festival but it will be worth even more if we ever get to see a longer version.

LADIES MOST DEJECT screens 2pm on Friday, October 18 at the Regal Theatre at LA LIVE in downtown Los Angeles. For more information and tickets go here.

In brief: Doubts (2019) La Femme International Film Festival

DOUBTS is poem by Julie Flanders with animation by Phoebe Cavise. It spells out a warning about the evil doubts that seek to take over our lives.

Lovely short film beautifully and humorously tells us how to handle our fears. Running under 4 minutes it acts as a wonderful balm for that which ails us.

It is a gem and recommended.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Captain: Averting Even More Tragedy in Tibet


Captain Liu Changjian has been likened to a Chinese Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, but his heroic piloting occurred on a flight to an occupied sovereign nation: Tibet. Tibetans have suffered plenty thanks to Chinese imperialism, so at least he managed to save those onboard his flight. Nevertheless, the “optics” are awkward for the Chinese propaganda baked into Andrew Lau’s The Captain, which opens this Friday in New York.

Of course, state censors do not want the public to lose confidence in Sichuan Airlines, so the first twenty-five minutes of The Captain are dedicated to documenting the seemingly endless pre-flight safety checks conducted by the crew. Unfortunately, they are about as dramatic to watch as they sound. We meet several of the passengers, but never in any depth. They range from the predictable, like the panicky Westerner, to the deeply problematic, like the veteran PLA officer, who is returning to pay tribute to his fallen occupying comrades, who died in an avalanche, in what could very well be a case of divine retribution.

The trickiest part of the flight from Chengdu to Llhasa is the stretch over the Tibetan Plateau, where it is impossible to decrease attitude to a safer level should the cabin become depressurized. Alas, that is exactly what happens when the cockpit windshield freakishly shatters. To make matters worse, their course will take them through the center of a massive storm. To save his crew and the passengers in their charge, Captain Liu will have to do some fancy flying.

The twenty minutes or so that depict the crisis itself are nicely done, but everything else that come before it and after it looks and sounds conspicuously like padding. Plus, the patriotic rah-rah ending clangs like a massively discordant note.

Zhang Hanyu has grizzled steeliness to spare, but he still looks like he is disinterestedly going through the motions as the titular Captain. By far, the most engaging work comes from Quan Yuan as Bi Nan, the “in-flight service manager.” (She is in-charge of the other flight attendants.) There are two other members of the flight crew and eight flight attendants, but they are all almost entirely indistinguishable from one another.

There are some nice effects during the near disaster sequences and some of the Tibetan backdrops look appealingly cinematic. However, the pacing is mostly flat and the characters’ personal interactions are often rather stilted. It is basically okay as a television movie or a lazy weekend streamer, as long as you stop it before the singing of Party-approved nationalistic songs. Therefore, those who might be interested should definitely wait. Not recommended as at theatrical ticket prices, The Captain opens this Friday (10/18) in New York.

Debris (2019)

Illegal immigrants working in construction run into problems when one of them is injured in a work accident.

More thriller with social commentary than drama, this film tracks really close to being a horror film as the turns of the tale get gradually darker. If this is based on a true story, I can’t see it as being something that happens everywhere since it would mean that there is a complete darkness across the country. At the same time as an allegorical look at the plight of those who com into the country illegally this makes it’s points and then some. I can quibble all I’d like but this film kicks you in the knees.

A small stunner that’s worth searching out.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Million Eyes (2019)


Teenage boy with a love of photography and little money struggles to stay out of trouble until he makes the acquaintance of neighbor who acts as a mentor to his passion changing how he sees the world.

Nice small scale drama shines thanks to a great cast which manages to push the drama along even if it seems set up to go a certain way. Frankly I'm willing to give the film a pass concerning construction simply because this feels like a short that was made as a proof of concept. I could be wrong but there are enough plot threads woven into the fabric of this solid little film that I could see it being bumped up to feature length.

My quibbles aside this is a lovely drama that you should track down.

Brotherhood (2019)

The eldest son of a family returns home from Syria with his new and 14 year old bride in tow. This precipitates a new falling out with his father.

Beautiful to look at drama is a small slice of life. It is a compelling look at a side of Muslim life we don’t get to see often, specifically what happens when a family is torn apart by differing levels of religiousness. I was intrigued the story to wish that this was longer. I would love a longer discussion of how families cope when beliefs are so different, particularly since the media currently tends to classify Muslim existence as purely good or bad with no grey in between.

Recommended if you get a chance to see it.

Missing a Note (2019)

A high school girl who is trying to get a scholarship visits a well known opera singer in the hope of getting a recommendation letter and finds all is not well.

A wonderful small scale drama about dementia is a winner. Excellent from start to finish this is a small moment in time played to perfection. This is such a lovely little film I’m not really what to say about the film, other than I want to see more. The characters in this film are so perfectly handled I hated to part with them. I wanted to see what happens next. I would gladly pay to see Elaine Page and Ian McElhinney reprise their roles as the older couple facing illness. I have no idea what should come next, as it should be since this film feels like life, but I would like to see it.

Missing a Note has qualified for an Oscar and is worth searching out.

Motherless Brooklyn (2019) NYFF 2019

Edward Norton takes Jonathan Lethem's present day set mystery novel and re-imagines it as a neo-noir set in 1950's New York. It is the story of a detective with Tourette syndrome and a photographic memory, who tries to solve the mystery of what happened to his boss who is killed when a job he was working on goes horribly wrong. The trail leads him into a Harlem jazz club,  the "slums" of Brooklyn and a run in with a power broker modeled on New York's infamous Robert Moses.

Self indulgent and wildly over long, this runs just short of two and a half hours for no good reason, MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN still manages to be a good mystery. Its a compelling story that marches us through the time in the late 1950's when Civil Rights were being fought for, a way of life was disappearing, the Dodgers were leaving Brooklyn and an unelected man was the real power in New York State. How those things come together forms a compelling mystery that doesn't quite go as expect, which gets the film several extra bonus points.

Looking like a film from a couple decades back, the film is full of smokey dives, halls of power and skylines unadorned by ugly skyscrapers. This film is a stunningly made film with a real visual sense that keeps us buried in it's own world.

It is propelled by a good jazz score, which while occasionally intrusive, makes for some wonderful moments such as the dance in the Harlem jazz club. It is do good that after the New York Film Festival press screening numerous people were pondering if a soundtrack album would be released because they wanted copies.

The cast headed by Norton and containing Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Leslie Mann, and Cherry Jones is first rate. And while I didn't think Willis was right for his role at the start, I realized by the end that the role of the man who sets it all in motion needed some one like Willis to give him weight that carried all the way though the films ove long run time.

The rewriting of Lethem's novel, its more a starting point than remotely faithful adaption, is quite good, with the single exception of Willem Dafoe's character who is not so much a person but an exposition machine in human form. While ultimately vital to the plot, more times than not he appears simply to give information to push the film along.

Strangely despite all of my quibbles, and they are quibbles in the grand scheme of things, the one thing truly working against the film is the fact that Edward Norton paced the film much too slowly. If he had picked up the pace of sequences (it's not a matter of cutting scenes) this film could have been a half an hour shorter and thus would have gone from a good film into being a great one. Norton lets the action play out too slackly with the result that our interest waivers and we have time to think about things which we shouldn't think about.

Still despite my reservations I did like the film, and I do recommend it for anyone who wants a good old school mystery.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Ashmina (2019)


Teenaged girl skips out of school to help her family earn money packing parachutes for paragliding tourists in her Nepalese village.

Beautiful small scale film is lovely slice of life revealing what it’s like for the people in the far off places we travel to. As good as the film is, I think this would be better longer because watching it felt like I was spending just as much time with Ashmina as I would if I hired her family.

My desire for a feature aside, this is one to look for especially if you can see it on a big screen where you can really see how special the film is.

Dunya’s Day (2019)

Dunya’s Day had me roaring with laughter. Sitting in my office during a lunch break I put on the film and fell under its spell roaring with laughter so loud that people came from other offices to see what the commotion was.

The film concerns a young woman on the day of her graduation party. A young woman operating in a Saudi society that is class and status conscious she’s become such a hot mess in freaking out that all her staff has run out on her. When her friends arrive she forces them into helping her finish up preparations. It all goes horribly and hilariously wrong.

Funny for all the right reasons, Dunya’s Day is a delight from start to finish. I was laughing from start to finish and while part of me felt sorry for her, another part of me didn’t because she brought it on herself.

How good is the film? Having qualified for the Oscars, I’m hopeful that it will not only be short listed but get nominated.

Track this film down.

a Note on 63 UP which played at the NYFF

I have seen and enjoyed Michael Apted's 63 UP.

Despite not seeing it through official channels, I did not get a ticket through the press office or PR handling the film, and so not technically bound by the request to hold reviews until the film hits theaters next month I am holding off. (I have had too much grief from different PR people with my reviewing films I saw on my dime who insist simply that because I am press that means I have to abide by any rule they set)

I will say it is a wonderful continuation of the series and if you like the previous films then you should very much see this film as well. Also if you haven't, this is a great place to jump in.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Varda by Agnes(2019) NYFF 2019

Agnes Varda’s final film is a bittersweet joy. A lovely explanation of a filmmaker and her entire body of work, it is a grand summing up a creative life. While it is glorious celebration of the world changing work of one person there is a sadness in that there will be no more wonders from Ms Varda.

According to Rosalie Varda, Anges’s daughter and collaborator the project was started in 2015 as a way to record the “masterclasses” that Agnes was holding around the world. Agnes hated the term masterclass, preferring the term conversation. She also didn’t like the way the straight recording of the conversations went and the project stalled as they pair tried to sort out a way to make the film work. Eventually bringing in collaborators the problem was solved and what we are left with is one part lecture, and several trips into the mind of Agnes’s mind.

Beginning as a lecture Varda by Agnes starts somewhere in the middle of Varda’s film work and then jumps around all over the place, not randomly but in what is a wonderful stream of consciousness that is exactly like what happens when you talk to a prolific filmmaker and artist and have the discussion of one thing lead into another. The discussion just seems to happen right before our eyes (despite Varda sometimes reading from notes) as if we are curled up in a beach chair next to her shooting the breeze.

Watching the film I was struck by how much I really need to go back and revisit her work. Partly because what Ms Varda says about the films, but mostly because seeing the clips I realized I have been neglecting some old friends. That’s what I love about the film, it not only reminds us of the wonders she produced but also gave us a key to discover new things I never saw in them before. It is, as Hubert Vigilla said to me when the film ended, a reminder of how many of her films I haven’t seen.

Odds are when the film ends you are going to be left feeling a bit strange. As good as this film is there is an odd feeling one gets when it fades to black (there are no end credits, its all at the start) in that it doesn’t feel like a bold final statement. This is a coda to a great life. The film feels a last coffee with a friend before they go off, it is not a final blow out (that would be FACES PLACES). As the film ended and I knew there was nothing new coming I felt totally content that Varda got to sum up. At the same time I wish that she had left with a flourish instead of a (literal) slow fade.

On the other hand when the project was started no one knew that this would be her last film. Additionally whatever she had to say she left in an almost seventy year long body of work, she owes nothing to anyone. In a weird way the film is like an old school Peter Gabriel concert when he would end with Biko and then walk off leaving the audience to pick up where he left off and carry on the fight.

My feelings at the end discounted, Varda By Agnes is a great film. It is the sort of film every artist would want as a final one- a taking stock of everything they had done which results in the realization that it is still vibrant and alive and informing art and culture even after their passing. (Perhaps this being the final work adds to its greatness)

Highly recommended, this film is a must for fans of Agnes Varda and film in general




American Trial: The Eric Garner Story (2019) NYFF 2019

Unfairly getting lost in the final weekend of the New York Film Festival is AMERICAN TRIAL: THE ERIC GARNER STORY which very probably is the most important film playing at this years festival.

The film is a docufiction  trial of New York City Officer Pantaleo who wrestled Eric Garner to the ground using a choke hold when they he and several other officers tried to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Since Pantaleo was never indicted, so he never went to trial,  filmmaker Roee Messinger assembled a team of former prosecutors and a team of expert defense lawyers to use the public record and actual witnesses to put the officer on trial.  Pantaleo is portrayed by actor Anthony Altieri and his words are those found in the public record.

Allowing that some witnesses who would have been called to trial, (the man who shot the infamous video, the other officers, any other people on the street) AMERICAN TRIAL goes a long way to say that Pantaleo should have at least been indicted. The evidence is there to at least take the case to trial since its clear that within the definition of the NYPD department guidelines and the law what Pantaleo did was not allowed and probably strangulation under the criminal definition even if only for a matter of seconds. Watching the film, which was not scripted by simply the record of the mock trial the full extent of the miscarriage of justice can be seen.

Again in fairness to the fact that we do not get to see all the witnesses that we would have seen at trial, I will hold off saying that Pantaleo would have been convicted at trial, but he should have been indicted. All of the information needed for that is in the public record....

I should also point out that one of the strengths of the film is that it points out that there are things that most of us don't know such as the facts concerning what happened prior to the video such as a fight, not involving Garner (who according to testimony tried to break it up) that took place that brought the police and that ten minutes of unrecorded talk between the cops and Garner happened before the video began which makes it even more curious as to why things suddenly escalated. A full accounting of what happened makes clear at what a tragedy this was.

In fairness I do need to quibble about one or to choices that Roee Messinger makes in the later portion of the film and that is to add flourishes outside of the courtroom proceedings to paint Pantaleo as a bad guy. She hammers home the points that Pantaleo had numerous unsubstantiated reports concerning civilian charges against him. While there is no doubt they are part of the public record, and her use of them outside of the court room portion of the film are merely flourishes to show the officer as not a nice guy, their use and they way they are included, despite being fleeting, will allow those who think Pantaleo was right in what he did to dismiss the film as a hatchet job. Those seconds of screen time make this a film some people can dismiss if they choose to. But that is a quibble.

Ultimately AMERICAN TRIAL:THE ERIC GARNER STORY is a kick in the ass and a wake up call concerning the criminal justice system. It is a must see film.

The film is World Premiering  today at the New York Film Festival at 6pm. Tickets are free. For more information and tickets go here.

Capsule Reviews: JACK JIMMINY: THE STORY OF A PORNSTAR EXTRA, TRANSIENCE and MISOGYNIST

JACK JIMMINY: THE STORY OF A PORNSTAR EXTRA
The a faux documentary on the son of to porn stars who makes his living being in the background of porn films. While frequently pretty funny, the film suffers from being about twice as long as it needs to be

TRANSIENCE
Stunningly beautiful tale about a couple heading toward a break-up. This one is a knockout thanks to the work of Joshua Michael Payne and Timothy Cox who give absolutely lovely and heart felt performances. Screen acting, or any acting doesn't ever get much better than this. Wow.

MISOGYNIST
A perfectionist photographer uses his wife as a muse, however his sanity begins to unravel. Uneven drama/thriller has some great moments and sequences, but is unfortunately hampered by the limitations of some of the locations which forced a stagnant quality to some of the sequences. If you can get past the imitation you'll find that this is good little film by a director with great talent.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Capsule Reviews: WE WANT TO PLAY, THAT TERRIBLE JAZZ and VERA

WE JUST WANT TO PLAY
a men's college rugby team gets into trouble and maybe de-funded when it runs up against an administrator who has it in for them. Funny college sports comedy get better once it gets away from the opening frat scene and gets down to telling the story of where the trouble started. Its funny for all the right reasons and has a great turn by Timothy Cox as the bad guy of the piece.

THAT TERRIBLE JAZZ
Solid homage to film noir about a jazz band hiring a PI to try and track down their missing sax payer. Of course things aren't that simple.  Well done little confection perfectly goes through its motions to it's not quite expected conclusion. It's exactly the sort of thing that any over of film noir will eat up.

VERA
Young Russian woman with no options takes up with an older business man but his sister has suspicions. Well acted three-hander works because the excellent cast,Sofya Nova, Tatyana Yassukovich, and Timothy J. Cox put it over making.what could have been a pat tale something more.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Young Ahmed (2019) NYFF 2019

The discussions in the days following the press screening of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's YOUNG AHMED centered about how it didn't really work. Some people liked it more than others. Most people had problems with the ending, which is kind of odd.  Other people, myself included, had other issues with it. Regardless of the feelings pro or con it was a film that was still being discussed weeks after it screened, which I think means something even if it isn't liked.

The film is the story of teen aged Ahmed who is under going the process of radicalization. Everyone can see it but no one can stop it. While he is heading toward extremism, life and the things it throws at him, such as girls, are acting as bumps along the way. However it doesn't stop him from planning something murderous.

Moving at a breakneck speed YOUNG AHMED is a film on a mission. Clearly the directors have something to say and they are going to say it as fast as possible so we don't have time to think about what we are seeing. Playing like a very well done polemic the Dardennes want us to consider the people who become radicals, unfortunately they really don't give us enough breathing room or time to really to ponder what we are seeing. Running a brisk 84 minutes YOUNG AHMED remains wholly focused on our protagonist and wholly on the points the pair wants to make and nothing else.

My problem with the film is I don't see things as clear cut on any level as the Dardennes do.There should be more shading. Blame it entirely on my steady diet of documentaries that are regular fodder for Unseen Films. There have been at least four films this year on the subject including the excellent ACCEPT THE CALL about a father's efforts to understand how his son could be radicalized. It's a similar story to YOUNG AHMED and the fact that it has hung with me since I saw it in June (it's one of the best films I saw in 2019) colored how I saw this film particularly in the fact that radicalization is more complex than is shown here.

Personally I don't think YOUNG AHMED works. Its well made and all of that but there is something about script that just doesn't pull it together. ..

...then again I really haven't liked the work of the Dardennes, who have always come up with intriguing ideas that never quite work. YOUNG AHMED is a perfect example of that, except it really isn't intriguing enough to really discuss.

Battle of Jangsari


In the Korean War, Jangsari was to Inchon roughly what Calais was to Normandy during WWII. It was a massive decoy away from the Allies’ make-or-break landing point, but in this case, flesh-and-blood Korean soldiers were dispatched to sell the illusion. Even for seasoned troops, it would have largely been a suicide mission, but these were primarily students in their teens with mere weeks of training under their belts. Yet, they fought tenaciously, as viewers can tell from the bloody campaign dramatized in Kwak Kyung-taek’s Battle of Jangsari, which opens tomorrow in New York.

American forces are barely holding the line, so Colonel Stevens can ill afford to send reinforcements to assist the Jangsari landing. At least he feels terrible about it, but war is war. On the other hand, his Korean counterpart appears completely unfazed. Col. Stevens will do what he can, in part because of the badgering of an American war correspondent transparently modeled after Marguerite Higgins, but they will mostly be on their own.

There were over 760-some student-soldiers at Jangsari, but we only really get to known four or five, in addition to their deeply conflicted captain. Even though he knows the commander will be set-up to be the scapegoat, Captain Lee Myung-joon volunteers to lead the mission, for the sake of the green troops. Choi Sung-pil, a refugee from the North, and Ki Ha-ryun, an emotionally abused and neglected teen from the South, initially clash violently, but mutual respect will be forged on the beaches and in the trenches. Jovial-looking Guk Man-deuk is definitely not a fighter, but he will do everything he can to protect Moon Jong-nyeo, a young woman passing for her brother, her family’s sole male heir.

You could say war is Hell in Jangsari, but it ends too quickly for so many soldiers. This is one of the grittiest, least romanticized war movies in years, but it still (rightfully and accurately) suggests the Communist North were the aggressors, while the South and their Allies were the good guys. Although it is not as entertaining as the rip-roaring Operation Chromite, it is considerably superior to even more downbeat and morally equivalent The Front Line.

Choi Min-ho and Kim Sung-cheol are both viscerally intense as Choi (Sung-pil) and Ki, respectively. The scenes in which their rivalry turns to friendship are really quite compelling. It is also quite amazing how convincingly Lee Ho-jung passes for a boy. Likewise, Jang Ji-gun radiates tragic dignity as Guk. However, Megan Fox basically just picks up a paycheck for her dozen-or-so line readings as the journalist, while CSI’s George Eads fares a bit better as the grimly realistic Col. Stevens (but Liam Neeson was much cooler in Chromite).

There is nothing glamorous about war in Jangsari. In fact, there is nothing glamorous about the film at all, besides Fox’s hair-and-makeup, but don’t mind that. Overall, this is a good, solid, technically-accomplished, and appropriately elegiac war drama. Recommended for all fans of the genre or Korean cinema in general, Battle of Jangsari opens tomorrow (10/11) in New York, at the AMC Empire.