Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Time (2020) NYFF 2020

 


Twenty one years ago Fox Rich dropped her husband off to commit a robbery. He was caught and sentenced to 60 years with out the possibility of parole. Over the next to plus decades Fox fought to get him released.

This is a really good documentary. Blending footage shot by Fox for her husband documenting her and their children's lives, with new material directo Garrett Bradley has fashioned an amazing film. A lovely and loving portrait of one woman and her struggle to free the person she loves this is a film that will move you on many different levels.

What I love about the film is that it brings home the problems with sentencing  people to insanely long terms.  We see the cost levied by those terms on people who had nothing to do with the crime. Should this family be forced to have a to survive with out it's patriarch for six decades? No. Its a sobering and humanizing story.

Best of all this film that hung with me. Days after seeing the film it is still haunting me.

Recommended.

TIME is playing the NYFF and hits theaters October 9th before hitting Amazon Prime

Her Socialst Smile (2020) NYFF 2020

This is an examination of Helen Keller and her thoughts on socialist matters. It focuses largely on the speeches she gave on the subject.

This is a more a pointer than a full on review. I’m doing this because how you react to the film is going to be tied entirely to the presentation. The presentation is a combination of narration and some related images combined with a great deal of the text of Keller’s speeches put on screen for us to read. The text is mostly white text on a black background.

Personally I am intrigued with the film and it’s subject, but I’m not a fan of the presentation. I honestly turned the film off about half way in thinking that this is something I need to revisit another time- though what I really am hoping for is a better presentation of the subject.

If you feel like reading a film for 90 minutes this is worth a shot, all others are going to find this to be a noble miss.

In The Mood For Love (2000) NYFF 2020

Wong Kar Wai's visually stunning romance follows two people as they grow closer and closer as they hash out whether their spouses are having an affair.

Forget it, the film doesn't do what you expect. It doesn't act like you expect, its a film that is ultimately unique and unto itself...its a love story where the lovers really never do anything but talk.

I really like this film. It was my first trip into the realm of Wong Kar Wai and it came at the insistence of Eden who really liked the film. She was right to insist that I see the film since its a film that really helped me break down my expectations about what films should do. I should mention that I had to try to watch this film for the first time on DVD and was annoyed by it's refusal to do anything other than what it was doing.Why aren't these people getting together, why is the film framed the way it is , why is there an occasional insistence on form over content? I didn't know and was fighting it at every turn. Then I talked to Eden who told be to let all my expectations go and just watch the film. Let it be and I would be surprised.

I did and I was.

In it's way this is one of the most romantic films you'll ever see. Why is it that the unrequited or unacted upon romances are the sexiest? My guess would be is that you get to have all of the slow burn and chances to show interest with out all of the smarmy kissy kissy stuff.

For me this is one of those movies where I keep thinking this is the sort of emotion I'd want to feel in my relationship. Its a damn near perfect romance.

In the special features of the Criterion DVD are several deleted scenes, one of which is a sequence which was set many years after the fact where our two near lovers meet again. Its a great sequence, but when it's done you'll be very happy that they left it out of the film. It's not that the sequence is bad, its quite good, it's just that the sequence radically alters everything that happened before and makes a great film an okay one.

As it stands now this is a great film. If you want a real romance with real people give this film a shot, it will amaze you.

Stay AT Home Fest Bonus FIlm: Swords and and Sandals Double Feature

Monday, September 21, 2020

Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival announces the lineup of films, honorees, and special events for this year’s Virtual/Drive-In hybrid edition of the film festival (October 9-17)

 Mary Wharton’s JIMMY CARTER, ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT is the Opening Night selection, Laura Gabbert’s OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES is the Centerpiece and Julia Reichart and Steve Bognar’s 9-TO-5: THE STORY OF A MOVEMENT gets the Closing Night nod

HSDFF Career Achievement honors will be presented to Alex Gibney and Dawn Porter, while Diana Quon and Iyabo Boyd will receive the festival’s Impact Awards

Hot Springs, AR (September 18, 2020) – The critically acclaimed Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival announced the complete lineup of films, honorees, and special events for its 29th edition, a virtual/drive-in presentation taking place October 9-17. Screenings will be led by drive-in screenings of Mary Wharton’s JIMMY CARTER, ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT on Opening Night, Laura Gabbert’s OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES with the Centerpiece slot, and Julia Reichart and Steve Bognar’s 9-TO-5: THE STORY OF A MOVEMENT on Closing Night. HSDFF will present a total of 110 films (40 feature-length, and 60 shorts) representing 30 countries. 

“Now more than ever it is important that HSDFF is a place where everyone feels welcome, where we honor our tradition of gathering around documentaries, and where storytellers take centerstage,” says Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival’s Director of Programming, Jessie Fairbanks. “We are thrilled to present some of the strongest titles of 2020 to the Hot Springs audience. I am especially pleased to present a program where filmmakers of color represent 47% of our feature films and over 50% of the total films presented are directed by women. We are also proud to showcase several regional titles, elevating local directors and the idiosyncratic culture of the South. The films in our 2020 program will inspire viewers, challenge perceptions, and illuminate the urgent realities of this turbulent year,” says Fairbanks. 

The 2020 HSDFF Career Achievement Award will be presented to legendary filmmakers Alex Gibney and Dawn Porter. The 2020 HSDFF Impact Award will be presented to Iyabo Boyd, (Filmmaker and Founder of the collective Brown Girls Doc Mafia) and Oscar nominated producer, Diane Quon. 

The opportunity to present our festival on a both a virtual platform and with drive-in screenings creates an opportunity to reach more viewers right in their living rooms, along with a fun throwback necessitated by these times where audiences can enjoy movies in their cars,” says HSDFF Executive Director, Karina Nagin. “We are delighted to showcase one of our most exciting programs ever, while honoring an all-star lineup of award recipients who have given us great films and have contributed to the filmmaking community by nurturing emerging talent. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s how important it is to look beyond ourselves and invest in our community by lending a helpful hand,” says Nagin. 

GALA DRIVE-IN SCREENINGS

Previously announced, HSDFF will screen it’s three “gala” selections at a pop-up drive-in located at Hot Springs Mall (4501 Central Ave, Hot Springs, AR). Produced in partnership with Visit Hot Springs, The Hot Springs Mall, Low Key Arts, and KUHS, the drive-in film presentations will follow a successful drive-in screening that HSDFF offered last May. “Despite all the curveballs the pandemic threw at us this year, we are proud to continue our long-standing tradition of creating a festive environment to showcase incredible films, says Artistic Director, Jen Gerber. “Our drive-in gala events will provide a safe place for our community to unite around the shared belief that film has the power to connect people and transform our world. While the festival looks a little different this year, our legacy remains firmly intact as a cultural institution within this region,” says Gerber. Each screening will be accompanied by live music and concessions provided by local food trucks and vendors – with social distancing, and all safety measures strictly enforced. 

Friday, October 9 will feature the Opening Night presentation of Wharton’s JIMMY CARTER, ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT. The film focuses on the surprisingly significant role that music played throughout Carter’s life and in his work, including the vital support he and his campaign received from popular artists to give him a crucial boost during the Democratic primaries. HSDFF’s Centerpiece presentation of Gabbert’s OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES will take place on Tuesday, October 13. The visually stunning masterpiece documents the collaboration between world renowned chef Yotan Ottolnghi (Jerusalem Plenty) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as five visionary pastry makers endeavor to construct an extravagant food gala. The Closing Night screening will take place on Friday, October 16 with the presentation of Reichart and Bognar’s 9-TO-5: THE STORY OF A MOVEMENT. The film looks at the group of fearless women who employed outrageous humor to attract the press and shame their bosses into change. The movement, taking the name “9 to 5”, became a national sensation and inspired Dolly Parton’s iconic song and the hit film that followed.

HSDFF Career Achievement Award honoree Alex Gibney is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker whose body of work spans four decades, including TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE (2007), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Documentary and ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM (2005), for which he received a nomination in the same category. He is the founder of Jigsaw Productions, an award-winning production company with a prolific slate of projects. Gibney has proven to be an unstoppable force whose films have helped push documentaries into the cultural zeitgeist. HSDFF will be screening his latest, CRAZY NOT INSANE, which examines the research by forensic psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis who investigated the psychology of murderers. Additionally, a special retrospective of his work, CLIENT 9: THE RISE AND FALL OF ELIOT SPITZER (2010), ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, FINDING FELA! (2014), GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY & THE PRISON OF BELIEF (2015), NO STONE UNTURNED (2017), and TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE will be screened throughout the festival.   

HSDFF’s second Career Achievement Award honoree, Dawn Porter is an award-winning documentarian renowned for her powerful social justice films. She is a tireless advocate for collaboration in documentary production and is known for her willingness to mentor filmmakers, while helming several projects herself. She is currently directing and executive producing an Apple TV multi-part documentary series with Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry, which focuses on both mental illness and mental well-being. HSDFF will screen her recent film, JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE as part of the celebration of her work. Both Gibney and Porter will participate in special conversations on their careers. 

Two more powerhouse women will be the recipients of the 2020 HSDFF Impact Award. Iyabo Boyd is an industry maven whose organization, Brown Girls Doc Mafia, supports 4000 women and non-binary people of color in every phase of filmmaking. A successful filmmaker herself (producer on ME TIME, and SUN BELT EXPRESS), Iyabo continuously gives back to the filmmaking community, providing connections and platforms to BGDM members and colleagues. Diane Quon has followed a prolific career at NBC and Paramount Pictures, with independent productions which included Academy Award nominated MINDING THE GAP (2018), which she produced with Bing Liu. With a focus on emerging filmmakers, Diane brings her extensive skills to nascent projects, ensuring unknown stories shine.

While it continues its respected tradition of screening some of the best documentaries on the film festival circuit, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival will also present the world premieres of three feature films. Lisa Molomot and Jeff Bemiss’ MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY focuses on an oftentimes overlooked aspect of the country’s immigration issues, the remains of missing people. The documentary profiles two families as they try to find their loved ones in Brooks County, Texas. Also making its world premiere will be Nathan Willis’ RAP SQUAD. The film profiles Arkansas students at Helena West-Helena’s Central High School who turn to hip-hop and spoken word as an outlet for their civic frustration and a means to heal their local community.

Larry Foley’s INDIANS, OUTLAWS, MARSHALS AND THE HANGIN’ JUDGE looks at gun violence, racial strife, police brutality and American Indian rights through the eyes of a charismatic federal judge in the 19th Century who sentenced scores of felons.

Additional highlights include an updated cut of Diedre Fishel's WOMEN IN BLUE, which follows three female police officers in Minneapolis and their efforts to transform the police department there. The updated version will include recent events following the murder of George Floyd. Daniel Lombroso’s WHITE NOISE, produced by The Atlantic, is an exposé of the alt-right movement that intimately profiles three infamous personalities—Richard B. Spencer, Mike Cernovich, and Lauren Southern. The film displays hypocrisy and dysfunction within the movement and alt-right ideology seeping into American mainstream politics. Jessica Earnshaw’s JACINTA, a Tribeca Film Festival Albert Maysles Award winner, follows a young woman in and out of prison as she attempts to break free from an inherited cycle of addiction, incarceration, and crime. Alice Gu’s THE DONUT KING has won awards at multiple film festivals including SXSW, Bentonville, and Sun Valley. The film tells an engrossing story of Cambodian refugee Ted Ngoy, who reshaped the Donut Industry as we know it. 

HSDFF will also present a sneak peek/work-in-progress screening of Lucas Sabean and Peter Hutchison’s DEVIL PUT THE COAL IN THE GROUND, a meditation on the suffering and devastation brought on by the coal industry and its decline. 

Tickets and passes will be on-sale September 22nd, 2020. For more information on purchasing and additional details on the Hot Springs Documentary Film festival, please visit: hsdfi.org.

 The 2020 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival official selections:

 

The Riverside Drive-in's Fall 2020 Drive-in Super Monster-rama


 As sign of the apocalypse I went with my brother to the Riverside Drive-in in Vandergrift  near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for their fall Drive-in Super Monster-rama. What this means is that they run four classic drive-in style films with trailers, commercials and intermission clocks in the style of old time-ins. 

Going involved a seven dive hour car ride from Long Island to the far western side of Pennsylvania.  There is nothing wrong with it, but it cut short the first night since by the time we arrived we had just enough time to  check into the hotel, drop our stuff, clean up and head off to the drive in which was a half an hour away from the hotel.


The hotel was literally at the Monroeville Mall which many of you know was the location where Dawn of the Dead was filmed.


To be honest we didn't absolutely have to rush to the drive in as early as we did but we wanted to get there early enough to get a good spot, get the lay of the land and get dinner. The food at the theater was supposed to be great and it was. We ate there both nights meals that included burgers, fries, vegetable beef soup, Chilly Dillys, popcorn and other goodies. We did not have the pizza, which looked awesome or the monstrously huge funnel cakes, but we had most other things. (Diet? What diet?)


There were tables of DVDs, magazines and collectables  set up in and outside the snackbar. We picked up some pins, t-shirts and magazines as well as kibitzed with anyone we ran into.


The first night's selection were the Blood Island films.  The order that the fest ran them was to run the "first" film, TERROR IS A MAN last. And it's understandable since I'm guessing it's the least interesting of the quartet. (It's actually only connected since it is just set on the island)


I made it through BRIDES OF BLOOD and MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND before nudging Joe awake, he fell asleep early in MAD DOCTOR, and saying let's head off. The problem was not only were we tired, but there is so much good stuff before and between the movies that everything goes runs long...not that there is a real scheduled start time. We were heading off after 12 and we were shot.

The next day we were up early for breakfast and shopping before we had lunch with our cousins who we played miniature golf with. 


We arrived back at the theater early we found a line to get in and the place already packed. It seemed everyone wanted to see KING KONG VS GODZILLA on the big screen. (And it was true because a .lot of people left when the film ended). Somehow we managed to get the same spot as the night before.


Bigfoot was running amok in the parking lot.


Joe and I run into Jake and Mike and spent a lot of time talking.Joe talked photography with Jake and Mike told me about the history of the area, clueing me into a lot of stuff I never would have known. It was a blast.

The snack


bar was hopping and we didn't get to eat until the movie started. Joe stayed behind at one point to get the made to order stuff and ended up missing the Bug Bunny cartoon they ran before everything started.


Saturday night was great. We only stayed for two films because the addition of a Mr Magoo Cartoon before the first film and Three Stooges short before the second everything ran really long.  We left around 1230 just as KING KONG ESCAPES ended. We would have stayed for more but we wanted to leave early Sunday to get back home.


We had a blast and a half.  Fun movies, good food and great people made the trip not only worth it but something we have to do again next year- though the plan is to go a day early and leave a day late next year.

What a blast.

For more information go to www.riversidedrivein.com or DVD Drive-in  which is how I discovered it.

Thoughts on MLK/FBI (2020) NYFF 2020

 


Nominally a look at the FBI's monitoring of and dirty tricks against Martin Luther King during the 1960's, the film also attempts to cover other ground as well. It is a good, but unremarkable documentary that is much too scattershot and unfocused to really score many points. 

There are a couple of problems with MLK/FBI which prevent it from really going anywhere. The first problem is that despite being sold as having new material in it, we have been here before. While some pieces are slightly more detailed than in previous films or presentations, if you ave any knowledge of King and the FBI you've run into these stories. There was nothing here I really hadn't been aware of before, the only thing different was what was highlighted.

The other, much bigger problem is the film simply doesn't give s a real sense of anyone or anything. Yes we are given lots of details about what was done to King at certain times, but at the same time we don't get basic details. A lot of talk is about King's associate a Mr Levison, who was a New York attorney who helped King and had ties to the Communist Party. We hear a lot about him but we have no idea who he is. Other people around King are introduced but we are never clued in as to who they are- for example who was the man whose hose was bugged that clued the FBI in to kings affairs? We also don't know what Levison did for King other than he was trusted advisor. Additionally we get no sense of King or Hoover, there simply is an assumption you know who they are.

Worse yet for a film that is supposed to be about the FBI's treatment of King, it seems limited.  Other than bugging the phone and their watching his hotel room trysts and being frustrated hen their dirt is ignored they don't really tell us much. I would have liked to know more than Hoover hated him and bugged his phones and rooms. More was going on. I'm not selling it short but the details are so minimal you wonder why there is a film about it. I mean if you know the basics of King's life, which the film seems to assume you do, you know this already. The details are so lacking that the film keeps dropping the bits to go off to other things before coming back.

Watching the this film, one of my musts of the festival, all I cold think was "This is a NYFF Main Slate film?" Don't get me wrong, it's not bad but it is not something to be held out as exceptional at the New York Film Festival. 

I was disappointed. Despite the promotional material, there isn't much here that anyone who has seen other films on King, or read any books on him hasn't seen before.

NYFF Shorts Section 1: Remains to Be Seen

Hidden
Wading into what is marked as the first section of short films after doing two others I was struck by the notion that whoever collected the films into sections must have been on drugs. While the selection of films may link up thematically they really didn’t work together as a whole. I know it’s difficult to program films that work together but it takes a lot of work to get it right. The arrangement of the films here doesn't work with the result the films in the early films in the section are wiped from your memory once we get to the final film.

After the visually interesting but not adding up to much APPARITION there are three films that marry and repurpose images to a narrative track to explore various ideas. They are very much of a theme and while REVOLT WITHOUT IMAGES, UNTITLED SEQUENCE GAPS and THIS DAY ON'T LAST have moments they kind of blend together. I am not writing on them because the way they were programmed resulted in them being a big blur.

It’s a fact made worse when the final film, Jafar Panahi’s HIDDEN, starts and blows them away. Panahi’s small masterpiece is about the filmmaker and his family going to see a young Kurdish woman who has an incredible singing voice but is not allowed to use it. Traveling to a far off town they get the young woman to sing off camera. It’s an amazing piece of filmmaking that involves for most of it’s running time people sitting in a car talking. It’s a wonderful conversation that just makes everything truly magical. Frankly it’s a small gem and one of the early highlights of this year’s NYFF

Brief thoughts on The Artist's Wife (2020)

Lena Olin stars as the titled character. She is the long time wife of artist Bruce Dern. as the film opens Dern is beginning to show signs of dementia. Olin has to navigate the changing landscape of their relationship, and decide if she should return to the world of art, which she gave up when she married her husband.

Good drama is buoyed by the performances of the two leads. The film begins and ends with Olin and Dern and it is because of their stellar work that we keep watching.  That may sound like a knock against the rest of the film, but it's not really. It is simply that the pair is incredibly good it is hard to talk about, much less notice anything else.

If you want to see two titans of acting at the top of their game then see THE ARTIST'S WIFE when it hits theaters tomorrow.

Stay AT Home Fest Bonus FIlm: League OF Frightened Men

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Hey Jake and Mike- A report on the Riverside Drive-in's All Night Super Monster-rama is coming

 


Hey Jake and Mike- 

It was great to meet you this weekend at the Drive-In Super Monster-rama show. Joe and I had a blast and getting to talk to great people like you are one of the reasons.

I will have a report on what we saw and did just as soon as I am feeling less tired and can sit don to write it all up.

Hopefully we will meet up in the spring.

-Steve



The Calming (2020) NYFF 2020


Lin is a director travels to Japan, China and Hong Kong to present her work. She meets some friends and rides a bunch of trains. 

This mannered and formal film is exactly the sort of artsy fartsy film that the New York Film Festival has programmed since it’s inception. Full of gorgeous cinematography and perfectly composed images this is a film where the deeper meaning of everything can be found in the silences, things unsaid and the loving shots of majestic landscapes rather than in anything our heroine says or does. It’s the lack of any real emotional reaction that kills the film since Lin is little more than a cypher. There is nothing more to her other than a longing for something more which is indicated by her constant staring at snow, mountains, friends. A half an hour in and I was muttering at the screen since very little had happened except lots of traveling and a few moments of meaningless small talk. 

 To be honest I am not now, or have I ever been a fan of this sort of art house film. Clearly the festival organizers are, which is why we keep getting these small beautiful rocks year after year, but at the same time outside of the festival screenings these films are kind of doomed to disappear except in the minds of a few. 

 To be completely fair and honest Song Fang’s film isn’t bad, it is much better than her previous NYFF film Memories Look At Me, however too much is unsaid, too much is in the director’s head to the point the film remains a stunningly beautiful puzzle that we glance at and then walk away from, forgetting what we’ve seen. As much as I am bitching about the film I wouldn’t call it a failure so much as noble miss. I know it is splitting hairs but had we had character who was more than a blank slate this film would have been something more than a film we’ll quickly forget.

Fauna (2020) NYFF 2020

I am going to keep this brief. It’s not that FAUNA is a bad film rather there is a flip or trick in the film and I can’t really discuss the film without going into what happens. I know some of you are screaming at your screens that I’m giving something away- but I’m not. The NYFF write up mentions something about it and how it’s done makes knowing that its there kind of irrelevant. I mean it’s not going to change how you react to the film.

The film begins with a Fauna, her brother and her boyfriend going to her parents home in the country. Once they get there they talk and things happen… and the rest would be telling.

Honestly my reaction to the film was kind of meh for the early going, it was okay but nothing special. Then once we get to a certain point suddenly things get shaken up and what was film I was falling asleep to woke me up and had my attention. I was intrigued and wanted to watch it again just to see it knowing what the ah ha moment was at the start.

A small neat film Fauna is worth a look who look for films that are more than the same old stuff and mess with your perceptions of reality.

Oliver Sachs: His Own Life (2019)Hits Virtual Theaters Wednesday

Ric Burns portrait of the great Oliver Sachs left me both sad and happy. sad that he was gone and happy knowing that I could always revisit the film and hear him talk about his life, life in general and everything in between.

Made for American Masters and opening in theaters in May, OLIVER SACHS: HIS OWN LIFE is a true wonder and the Reelabilities Film Festival is happily previewing the film. It is a portrait of the doctor, teacher and writer largely in his own words. It is a beautiful explanation of the man, his work and all of the things he found interesting.

If you are wondering who Oliver Sachs was he was the person Robin Williams played in the film AWAKENINGS. It was Sach's book of the same name that put him into the public consciousness and the film which shot him into super stardom.

Ric Burn's film is an arc of a life,made in part, in Sach's final days and it affords him a chance to leave behind a record of who he was and what he did. It is his own final statement on what he did and why. His final monologue about his life wrecked me in a good way and it has haunted me in the weeks since I heard it, never leaving me.

I loved this film a great deal. Sue me I am an admirer of the man and this chance to go round the block one more time delighted me. I am even happier that thanks to this film I can revisit the man any time I want to. Apologies if that isn't much of a review but Oliver Sachs as someone who simply was beyond words.

Highly recommended.

Stay At Home Fest Bonus FIlm: The Westland Case

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Malmkrog (2020) NYFF 2020

I've spent a lot of time trying to sort out what to say about MALMKROG.  This is a three and a half hour historical drama where five members of the upper crust talk about god, war and philosophy. When my brother walked by when I was done with the film he asked me what I was thinking and I said mostly that I wish I had seen the film at an actual NYFF press screening with other people because I wanted to hear the whole audience snoring.

Static and incredibly dry, the film is a series of long discussions shot very often in long takes. The camera barely moves. The cast arranged in tableaus. It looks like a frozen stage play written by the driest textbook writer in the world.

I was bored.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the arguments and the discussions, this is in my bread and butter, but they are so painfully written that it's like listening to volumes of a history of philosophy arguing. this isn't people this is ideas. There is no life anywhere in this. 

And I know the hyper intellectual nature of it all is part of the idea- but not for three and a half hours. That's intolerable. You want something like MY DINNER WITH ANDRE or, closer to this film, MINDWALK. Bothe of those films discussed ideas with passion and humanity.

This is great discussions dully told.

Recommended only for those needing a long sound sleep.

RESISTERHOOD (2020) hits VOD on Tuesday

Excellent profile of a half a dozen women who decided in the wake of the current President’s ongoing bad behavior to march in support of women, minorities and repressed groups.

As America fractures more and more thanks to a president who knows he can only rule by telling blatant lies and dividing the country along deeply held hatreds, it’s nice to see a film about people not buying the bullshit. The film is a nice portrait of people who actually care about their fellow human beings. It’s a nice reminder that there are people who are out there fighting the darkness.

If there is any problem with the film it is that is coming just as there are a glut of political films. Everyone is putting out political films in the hope of winning hearts and minds. While this is a hopeful sign because it shows that there is a light in the darkness, it can make small gems like this difficult to see because either they aren’t being pushed or more likely people are too burned out by all the other films.

Do yourself a favor, even if you are burned out on political films, give this film a try. It is not only good time with good people but it will remind you that there is light amid the darkness and hope for tomorrow.

Damnation (1987) NYFF 2020

This film is one that is full of potential meaning, whether the director feels that way or not. To me this is a film where taking the film as the director intended, as a straight forward film, is not the best way to see this film. To me this is one of the few times when the creator 's work is not as he has intended but has instead become something else.

Bela Tarr's mediation on interpersonal relationships (and perhaps, the end of the world) is a simple tale of a man in a small town who is obsessed with a singer in a night club. She's married but doesn't completely deflect his advances. Where it goes is the story as the man pursues what his heart desires.

Dark brooding tale filled with Tarr's patented long takes seems to be set in another world or another time (perhaps it's an after life). It's a hypnotic trip about the nature of obsession and how we view ourselves. If you click with it and its possibilities this is a great rumination on a variety of things, if not it's a pretentious and tedious exercise.

I've read that director Bela Tarr insists that the film (as he insists about all his films) is a portrait of life "as it is" but I would be hard pressed to say that this is any sort of reality except perhaps a reality of the internal. The film's stark and beautiful black and white photography creates a world that seems forever in a mist or rain. It is a place like our own and yet different.

People speak in ways that don't seem wholly normal. Verse is quoted as is the bible. No one speaks that way. Musicians play music but how they play doesn't quite match up with the music we hear. The mine carts that we see over head seem to be moving the damned to and from this place and not ore (indeed we never see either end of the line). Tarr says there is nothing allegorical or metaphoric implied or intended but I would argue that the film doesn't function as a straight narrative. Too much is off kilter, too much fails to connect for this to be real life.

I'm not saying that the story of obsession, of a man doing what he feels he must to obtain the object of his desire doesn't work if it's taken as straight tale, it does, but at the same time the film becomes a battle with tedium. There becomes no reason for the film to run two hours, for the odd passages of dialog or the long takes. Frankly if the film is taken as the director intends it to be, then the film is a crashing bore and a failure on anything but a basic level. The film only works on some other level that isn't straight reporting, certainly the much used term 'apocalyptic' that I've read and heard connected to the film is appropriate in some sense.

Having been a creator of various things I know that sometimes the works we create change or become not what we intend. I understand that the creator of say a film is the one to ask what he intended but at the same time that doesn't mean what he intends is what is there on the screen. I think Tarr thinks he made one thing however I think he ended up with something else instead. I think as a film that is open to our own interpretation, being real world or not, the film is a masterpiece and a trip ripe with possibilities. I think as a straight tale of people locked in a straight forward battle of possession of each other it's a crashing bore filled with WTF moments. As something else, of souls elsewhere or even inside of themselves, it's a trip.

See the film, take it for what it is, or take it however you wish to take it, but see it and be carried away.

Stay AT Home Fest Bonus Films: Weird Coasters and mysterious Disney videos



Friday, September 18, 2020

The Monopoly Of Violence (2020) NYFF 2020

An examination of the use of violence against the police in France (and by extension any "free" country) mixes interviews with police, scholars, protesters and victims with footage of the protests in France.

A horrifying look at how the free societies are becoming more totalitarian is a real gut punch. The heady mix of theory and reality keeps us on edge and off balance, with the result that those watching the film will want to go out and slap some sense into our leaders....

...at least for a while.

As much as I like this film and as important as I know it is, there was a point where I just kind of shut off. Say what you will the film makes it's point and then then some, but on a certain level the film makes it's point early and then just kind of repeats itself...repeatedly.

I'm not saying that the film is bad or wrong only that the film kind of has its say fifteen minutes in and then doesn't go anywhere with it. The film stays the same from start to finish making me wonder why this needed to be 90 minutes.

Definitely an important film and a must see, don't feel bad if you feel the film is repeating itself and you trn it off.



NYFF Shorts FIlms from Section 2 and 8

This year with the short films that are playing the New York Film Festival I am attempting to watch as many of the films as I can. However, as difficult as this sounds, I am not going to be reviewing everything. Three sections in and I realize that some of the films are just not hitting me where I can say more than providing a description and a brief note of it was good bad or indifferent. Because most of the films deserve more than a dispassionate nod (which often makes them sound bad when they are not) I am going to talk about the films that moved me to say something.

I want to begin by saying that Section 2: Free Radicals is a good collection of films that are slightly avantgarde. Sound and images with slight narrative threads. While I liked the collection the nature of the films made me react viscerally more than intellectually. My attempts to really write them up crashed and burned. However if you like heady avant garde films give it a shot.

Section 8: NEW YORK STORIES

OBJECT LESSONS OR WHAT HAPPENED ON WHITSUNDAY
An avant garde mix of material relating to a fatal stabbing , the property and art collection of the later Dean Ott that includes blueprints, newspaper clippings, shots of a lone tree, etchings and other “connected” bits. I was interested for a while however I don’t think things ever came together. I also began to giggle when a shot of a single tree repeated making me think of a Monty Python sketch on how to recognize trees.

SHOTS IN THE DARK WITH DAVID GODLIS
Hands down one of the best films at this years festival and a glorious celebration of 1970’s NYC as photographer Godless talks about how he stumbled into taking street photos at night by going to CBGB’s . This is one of the films that will make you go wow and want to watch it repeatedly.

IN SUDDEN DARKNESS
In 1983 a family goes through a blackout in NYC. It’s a super portrait of a family, good and bad told, essentially through the eyes of one of the daughters. For give me if I don’t say a lot but this is a small gem that is better to see then read about.

THE ISOLATED
I am mixed on THE ISOLATED. A documentary look at a friend of the director’s during COVID the film is a cool record of what it has been like in the city for some. At the same time I feel it’s too early to be considering this type of film, especially when we are still in the middle of the pandemic. Worth a look but I refuse to state if it’s good or bad when ultimately qualitative judgement will be determined when we are long out of this.

Gunda (2020) NYFF 2020

Black and white observational portrait of animals living on a farm focusing primarily a sow named Gunda. We begin watching not long after Gunda has given birth to a brood of piglets. We then revisit her and the piglets over the intervening months.

Before I start to talk about the film I should day this is not your typical nature documentary. There is no narration. There is no music. This is simply life in a couple of moments. I say this because I know some people are going to go in looking for a BBC or PBS documentary. This in't it. This is the camera watching events as they transpire without any sort of imposition stories by unseen voices.

The film begins with Gunda being woken up by her kids. She wants to sleep, they want to eat and they fight to get a shot at the milk bar. It's a charming sequence that illustrates that life isn't a bowl of cherries, mom might roll over on you.  From there we cut between other animals, some chickens and some cows and then back to the pigs.

The images are striking. I would love to have many of the images on my wall.

What really rocks about GUNDA is the soundtrack. A gorgeous and aggressive natural soundtrack puts you right in the thick of things. Its so stunning that if this was in color you would swear you were on the farm- hell while watching the film with headphones on I closed my eyes at one point and drifted off to somewhere green. (I'm uncertain how this is going to play as a drive-in film)

I really liked GUNDA. It was one of my top three must see films on the New York Film Festival Main Slate and it didn't disappoint.

Recommended.

Miracle in the Desert: The Rise and Fall of the Salton Sea (2020) hits VOD, BluRay and DVD Tuesday

A look at the history of the now dwindling Salton Sea and an examination of its future.

The Salton sea was created accidentally when a canal failed and it dumped enough water from the Colorado river into the desert to turn a 30 by 15 mile wide area into a lake 40 feet deep. In it’s heyday it was a major tourist destination. But time and climate change has caused the sea to dry up, returning it to a desert and sending plumes of dust into the air causing not only a health problem for the people leaving near the sea but also across southern California.

This is a good but kind of academic documentary which spends much of it’s first third exploring the history of the sea before shifting gears and exploring what can be done to stop the dust and perhaps bring the sea back. I was interested in what was being said for about half the running time, then my interest waned. Watching the film on my couch I got called away and simply went to see what was needed without thinking to stop the film. Not a good sign. I did back the film up when I returned but at the same time I realized I was going to be finishing the film out of obligation rather than desire.

Recommended for any one interest in the Salton Sea. Optional for anyone else.

Stay At Home Fest Bonus Films: creepy stuff


number 3 is creepy-as is 2 and 1


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Lovers Rock (2020) NYFF 2020

I should say that I am not huge fan of Steve McQueen. I find that I like his films but I don’t love them. I never fully connect to them emotionally…that was until I saw McQueen’s Lovers Rock, a huge ball of emotion – mostly pure unadulterated joy.

The plot is simple in 198- a young woman throws a house party for her birthday. As they set up and begin partying people arrive, dance, try to connect and forget their worries. While not all the worries are kept at bay, it is, for the most part a night to lose one’s self.

Glorious magical and some where beyond words, Lover’s Rock had me crying tears of joy several times. You could feel the life bleeding off the screen and drifting into your soul. It all felt right. There is a tactile quality to the film that makes it more real. Way back in the 1980’s, a few years after this film was set, I experienced a couple similar parties through a friend, and while they were different because of their being in New York not London, there was enough similarities that I really had to wonder how McQueen and his crew got a time machine and went back and filmed an actual party. (I also wonder how this would have been received in early 1980’s had it been released back then)

What I love about the film is that while the film focuses in a number of the party goers, McQueen and his cast actually manage to give the other people a sense of life beyond just being decoration. If you look at the fringes of the frame there is more going on then just dancing. There are moments or pieces of a story. We see actions that could be something if the camera chose to follow someone else.

I need to talk about the music but I don’t know where to start. It is utter perfection. The choices are stunning- even when the music stops and the singing continues. Frankly I don’t have the words to do this justice.

McQueen has fashioned a film that is just an amazing achievement.

I’ve barely scratched the offerings of this year’s NYFF but I would be hard pressed to not say this is one of the very best films of the festival and maybe 2020 as well.

BLEEDING AUDIO (2020) San Francisco Doc Fest

Portrait of the group The Matches, who were formed as The Locals and busted their asses to make a name for themselves before splitting up and then coming together again years later.

Good portrait of a band I had really not run across before, but which I am now very interested in.

Bleeding Audio is a great little film that checks off a couple of things that I look for in music documentary. The first is it has to be interesting enough that I click into the music. I don’t care what sort of music it is, and I’ve seen docs on lots of music genres and some gave me a way into appreciating the artist and some haven’t. Bleeding Audio just grabs you and pulls you in. It’s the cinematic version of a story one of the band’s managers tells of coming into the end of a set, having no idea who the band was, but they knew they wanted to hear more. I wanted to hear more of the Matches’ music. The other ticky box the film checks off is that the film makes clear that the praise the talking heads heap upon the band is not hype. About half way into the film I was haunted by the statement made earlier in the film that one of the bigger producers couldn’t understand why they weren’t bigger. I mean the music is great, the live shows look like a blast and it’s clear that they love their fans, so what the hell happened? I have no idea.

On the plus side we have this film, which is so awesome it’s going to go along way into creating new fans.

Highly recommended

Bleeding Audio closes the San Francisco Doc Fest this weekend.

H Is For Happiness (2020) hits VOD tomorrow

In Albany Australia Candice Phee is a one of kind young lady. No one seems to know how to handle her because she is very much aware of herself and everyone around her.As her life and the lives of the people around her go through the norml ebb and flow, Candice does her best to make everyone's lives better.

Feel good dramedy is an absolute must see. Nominally a family film, H IS FOR HAPPINESS is something considerably more. This is one of the rare films that paints a portrait of life as lived and not as we wish it to be. The film leans into life and embraces it and we are better for it.

I love that the film is aware that people are broken. There are emotional problems, misunderstandings and people hurt.  People and things are not perfect with the result that it all feels real. Yes we know it is always reaching for a feel good ending, but it doesn't matter because while the film is going for something uplifting it doesn't let us forget that there is pain. It's a choice that makes it all the more sweeter.

This film is a stunner. It is yet another film that I only took on because of Covid. Watching the trailer I thought it looked good but a bit more saccharine than I wanted to deal with. However with the film world exploded and films coming and going I decided to bite the bullet and give the film a try. I am delighted that  I did so because when it was done I was reaching out to my friends telling them they need to see this film.

Highly recommended H IS FOR HAPPINESS hit VOD September 18

Alive (2018) hits theaters and VOD Friday

A badly injured man and woman wake up with no memory of who they are. they are watched over by a strange caretaker/doctor who seems to both be trying to genuinely heal them and torment them. Will they be able to figure out who they are and escape?

Good but not great horror film is, for a chunk of it's running time a grand puzzle of a film. What exactly is going on? Neither of the protagonists know, even if they get some sort of flash of a past. We are along for the ride and we will have to wait to find out what is going on until they do.

The film is a bloody mess with the pair wrapped in bandages and frequently oozing from their wounds. There are body parts and rooms filled with blood. its the sort of thing that will make those without a strong stomach ill. What makes it all work is that other than some late in the game grotesqueries the film keeps the gore very real making it hard to pretend it's fake.

There is a great deal to love about the film including a very strong sense of suspense and unease.

There is however a serious problem with the film and that is the fact that the film is really wildly over long for what it is. Yes I know it's all well done, but after say about 20 minutes the film kind of stalls and gets into a repetition of events as the mad care taker tries to "help" the pair and they try to break free. There is a sameness to it all until we get to the denouncement... and I was left to ponder if the payoff was worth the 80 minutes that proceeded it. Yea the ride was good but it doesn't need to take as long as it does to get there. (This would have been great short)

Don't get me wrong ALIVE is not a bad film, more it's this could have been done in roughly half the time.

Good not great it's still worth a look.

Stay at Home Fest Bonus Film: Randomautica

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Pandemic Therapy (2020) by Danielle Solzman

Here is sweet little film that was made by my friend Danielle Solzman. I am presenting the film rather than reviewing it because it’s too short to ruin by babbling on about it. Some films just need to be seen and PANDEMIC THERAPY is one of them.

Pandemic Therapy from Danielle Solzman on Vimeo.

Announcing the 2020 Virtual Edition of Music+Film: Brazil, September 29 – October 5

Announcing the 2020 Edition of Music+Film: Brazil, September 29 – October 5, 2020

The Special Online Film Series Features the North American Premiere of GILBERTO GIL ANTHOLOGY VOL. 1, the New York Premiere of WHERE ARE YOU, JOÃO GILBERTO?,
Plus an Exclusive Tenth Anniversary Stream of BEYOND IPANEMA

Presented by Cinema Tropical, Brasil Summerfest, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University

Cinema Tropical, Brasil Summerfest, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) at New York University, are thrilled to announce a special online edition of the popular series Music+Film: Brazil, taking place September 29 through October 5, 2020 on cinematropical.com.

This year’s exciting lineup, programmed by Mary Jane Marcasiano, celebrates the impact of Brazilian music on foreign audiences and features the premieres of two documentary films on music icons Jõao Gilberto, a pioneering figure of the bossa nova movement, and Gilberto Gil, a luminary acclaimed for his musical innovation as much as his social activism. The series will also feature a special tenth anniversary stream, free to the public, of the ultimate Brazilian music documentary, Beyond Ipanema by Béco Dranoff and Guto Barra.

The virtual film series, available to audiences across the U.S., will present the North American premiere of Georges Gachot’s Where Are You, João Gilberto?, a probing documentary on the enigmatic and legendary Brazilian musician through the inquiries of a mysterious German writer, and the New York Premiere of Lula Buarque de Hollanda’s Gilberto Gil Anthology Vol.1, the first of a three-part series that will lead up to the iconic musician's 80th birthday in 2022.

Since 2008, Music+Film: Brazil has showcased numerous screenings featuring the best of Brazilian music and a who’s who of performers from every corner of the South American country, and the 2020 special online edition of the series is no exception.

Additional support by Helio Campos.

Cinema Tropical's screening programs are made possible with the support of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. They are also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the National Endowments for the Arts, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.


Full Program:

GILBERTO GIL ANTHOLOGY VOL. 1
(Gilberto Gil Antologia Vol.1, Lula Buarque de Hollanda, Brazil, 2019, 73 min. In Portuguese with English subtitles. North American premiere)
The directing-producing team of Lula Buarque de Hollanda and Leticia Monte have been behind some of the most intimate, recent Brazilian music documentaries including The Mystery of Samba, starring Marisa Monte and the Portela Samba School, and Tempo Rei on Gilberto Gil. Their newest, Gilberto Gil Anthology Vol.1, is the first of a three-part series that will lead up to the iconic musician’s 80th birthday in 2022. This installment examines Gil's body of work between 1968 and 1987 through never before seen archival footage. A hit at the 2019 Rio Film Festival, the documentary, co-produced by the musician’s wife, Flora Gil, sheds light on his songs' background through conversations with the musician himself in which he discusses his worldview and expanding creative power at the beginning of his career during this turbulent Brazilian historical moment.
Premieres, Tuesday, September 29 (available to stream for one week)
Tickets: $7

WHERE ARE YOU, JOÃO GILBERTO?
(Wo bist du, João Gilberto? Georges Gachot, Switzerland/France/Germany, 2018, 107 minutes. In German, Portuguese, English and French with English subtitles. New York premiere)
Swiss-born director Georges Gachot has made some of the most beautiful films on Brazilian music, including Rio Sonata on Nana Cayami, Music and Perfume on Maria Bethania, and O Samba on Martinho da Viola. In his latest film, Where Are You, João Gilberto?, acclaimed at over thirty international film festivals including Locarno and Vision du Reel, Gachot follows the footsteps of German writer Marc Fischer's obsessive search for the founding father of bossa nova, Brazilian musician João Gilberto. Fischer detailed his journey in a book, Hobalala, but committed suicide one week before its publication. Taking up the search, Gachot transcends Fisher’s obsession, managing to be delicate and respectful to both protagonists, while with access to Gilberto’s family and friends—including his second wife, singer Miúcha, and fellow bossa nova composers Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal—he offers a portrait of this enigmatic figure.
Premieres, Tuesday, September 29 (available to stream for one week)
Tickets: $7

BEYOND IPANEMA: BRAZILIAN WAVES IN GLOBAL MUSIC
(Guto Barra and Béco Dranoff, Brazil/USA, 2009, 89 min. In Portuguese with English subtitles)
A vibrant musical and graphic experience, Beyond Ipanema explores the Brazilian music experience outside of Brazil and why Brazilian music has captivated audiences worldwide for generations. Directed by Guto Barra and music producer Beco Dranoff (Red Hot + Rio), the film asks and answers the question, why does bossa nova still lure DJs and producers fifty years since its debut, and why is the alternative-rock crowd obsessed with tropicália? Beyond Ipanema, which had its world premiere at MoMA and played in over 50 international film festivals, features interviews and performances by David Byrne, Devendra Banhart, M.I.A., Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Seu Jorge, Thievery Corporation, Bebel Gilberto, CSS, Creed Taylor, and many others. The film’s specially curated soundtrack features Brazilian classics reinterpreted by a new generation of artists—a Dranoff signature producing style. Streaming free for one day in celebration of its tenth anniversary, Beyond Ipanema represents a unique opportunity for U.S. audiences to be swept away by the Brazilian wave.
Streaming for free on Monday, October 5


All films will be available to stream on cinematropical.com.
Q&As with the filmmaker's on Cinema Tropical's Facebook page.

NEWFEST’S 32nd ANNUAL NEW YORK LGBTQ FILM FESTIVAL WILL KICK OFF WITH THE NYC PREMIERE OF FRANCIS LEE’S AMMONITE

Academy Award Winner Kate Winslet will present Lee with the inaugural World Queer Visionary Award at NewFest’s Opening Night Drive-In Screening Event

Additional Drive-In Screenings and Full Program To Be Announced September 23

NEW YORK, NY (September 16, 2020) - NewFest, New York’s leading LGBTQ film and media organization and one of the world's most respected LGBTQ film festivals, announced today that The New York LGBTQ Film Festival will open this year with the NYC premiere of Francis Lee’s much anticipated film AMMONITE, starring Academy Award-winner Kate Winslet and Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan, being released in the US by Neon. Winslet will also present Lee with the festival’s inaugural World Queer Visionary Award ahead of the special drive-in screening, taking place at the Queens Drive-In at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The announcement was made today by NewFest’s Executive Director David Hatkoff and Director of Programming Nick McCarthy.

The 32nd edition of The New York LGBTQ Film Festival will take place October 16-27, 2020, with the majority of the program accessible online to ticket holders nationwide. The first-ever virtual edition of NewFest will include a robust lineup of panels and conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ topics, in addition to its regular programming of new features and short film premieres, and will incorporate virtual live events as well as select drive-in screenings. Key art for the festival, illustrated by queer NYC artist Marcos Chin, was released today. The full Festival program will be announced on September 23.

The World Queer Visionary Award celebrates and honors individuals who have delivered immense contributions to both cinema and the visibility of the LGBTQ community throughout the world. Francis Lee, the first recipient of the award, is a NewFest alum whose debut feature, GOD’S OWN COUNTRY, was the festival’s International Centerpiece in 2017.

"In a year when The New York LGBTQ Film Festival will be available virtually in people’s homes throughout the country, we are thrilled to have found a way to kick off the Festival safely in person with a drive-in event,” said NewFest Executive Director David Hatkoff. “We can’t wait to gather with members of our NYC community to celebrate the beginning of 11 amazing days of local and international queer content by collectively experiencing Francis Lee’s stunningly crafted AMMONITE, and to present NewFest alum Francis with this award in recognition of another landmark contribution to the world of queer cinema.”

“We are delighted to feature AMMONITE’s delicate, textured, and humanistic portrait of two women discovering their passion and authentic selves on the largest screen possible in New York City at the Queens Drive-In,” said Nick McCarthy, Director of Programming. “The Queens Drive-In is adjacent to the New York Hall of Science, which will aptly highlight the scientific study of life that Mary Anning was devoted to, similar to Francis Lee’s artistic search for human truth and connection.”

NewFest’s 32nd Annual edition of The New York LGBTQ Film Festival is presented by WarnerMedia. Hyundai and Ogilvy are the Festival’s Signature Sponsors, with additional support provided by Amazon Studios, Netflix, Gilead, Amida Care and Comcast NBCUniversal. The Queens Drive-In at Flushing Meadows Corona Park was created by Rooftop Films, the New York Hall of Science, and Museum of the Moving Image.

NewFest has presented more than a dozen virtual events this spring and summer, including the virtual premiere of the HBO documentary WELCOME TO CHECHNYA featuring a discussion between The New York Times’ Charles Blow and director David France; the discussion “On Being Black and Queer” in tandem with the HBO series I MAY DESTROY YOU; a Pride Shorts Program in partnership with Vimeo; a Family Movie Night event with the NYC Department of Education; an advance screening of the IFC film SUMMERLAND and the Netflix film LINGUA FRANCA; and screenings of the films PIER KIDS and SO PRETTY.

The complete Festival lineup of feature films and special events will be released on September 23rd, with additional announcements to come in the weeks leading up to the Festival. All-access passes are now available for purchase at www.newfest.org. Details on individual tickets will be released following the full lineup announcement.


Nate Hood on Last Call (2019) which hits VOD Friday

What makes a gimmick a gimmick as opposed to a stylistic flourish is that a true gimmick is used to cover up a lack of substance; it’s a distraction, not an enhancement. Consider the use of cinematic split screen. Great filmmakers have used it for everything from enhancing tension in thrillers (e.g. Brian De Palma) to avant-garde experimentation like the climactic French flag montage at the end of Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927). But more often than not, such gimmicks exist solely to grab curious spectators or to confound audiences with pretensions of intellectual esotericism. (*cough* Number Two [1975] *cough*)

On paper, Gavin Michael Booth’s Last Call seems geared towards the sensationalist side of the gimmick spectrum: it consists of two simultaneous 76-minute single take shots in real-time in different parts of Windsor, ON. The film’s own marketing does it no favors—neither their festival press release nor their website give any actual plot details, focusing almost entirely on how it was made. One could be forgiven for assuming this comes from a distributor nervous about an underwhelming product. But no, in truth this obfuscation seems a more deliberate tactic to keep potential audiences unawares for what’s coming, for not only is Last Call one of the most powerful films of 2019 so far, it’s one that lives and dies by the gradual unfolding of its narrative being uncluttered of expectations of where it’s going. It’s not that it has plot twists or surprises, it’s that it’s about witnessing our own innate humanity in real-time.

The briefest of brief set-ups: while pulling a graveyard shift as a college janitor, young mother Beth (Sarah Booth) answers a wrong number call from Scott (Daved Wilkins), a depressed alcoholic who meant to call the suicide hotline. It’s a few minutes before Beth and Scott work through their initial confusion and realize what’s happening, and this stretch of unintended comedy twists into a harrowing portrait of compassion in the face of crisis as an increasingly frantic Beth tries to stop Scott from killing himself. This film could’ve easily been shot and edited like a traditional drama, but Booth’s Aristotelian conundrum of unified time and action but disunified space gives it a distinctly cinematic character that’s devastating in effect, reminding us that no matter our sins or circumstances, we’re all just human. Here is a true miracle of humanist filmmaking.

Rating: 9/10

Dark Divide (2020) Hits Virtual Theaters Friday

DARK DIVIDE is based on “Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide,” by Robert Pyle. The book is Pyle's  account of his walk through Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest following the death of his wife.

While most of this is a really good  film whose only real flaw is an occasional is an occasional dip into cliche (coming out of the darkness of the cave/doubt to happiness) there is actually little to say about the film except to say that whether you like the film or not will depend on how you take David Cross' performance.

Looking like a slightly heavier Pyle, he manages to get the physicality down. The problem is Cross' vocal performance. Making no effort to do line readings like Pyle we essentially are watching Cross walk through Pyle's life. The result was really mixed for me and I kept thinking this would have been better with anyone else. I say that because no matter what Cross was saying, even if it was something heavy I kept waiting for joke. It really left me wondering if Cross can act at all.

If you are a Cross fan this film is for you. If not proceed with caution.

My Name is Pedro (2020)


Solid portrait of Pedro Pedro Santana who’s unconventional approach to education was so successful on a small scale that he kept getting bumped higher and higher up the chain of command where his ideas met more and more resistance despite being successful.

Definitely worth a look, especially if you care about the future and the education of children. Ths nice little film makes it clear that perhaps we all need to be looking outside the well established box for answers since the kids who cross in front of Santana clearly are achieving more than those still inside the box.

Worth a look.

stay at Home Fest Bonus FIlm: War God

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Seeing JIMMY CARTER ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT at the Port Jefferson Documentary series

It may sound crazy, but six months into the age of Covid I actually managed to go to the movies. No it was not in a traditional movie theater, not was it at a drive-in , rather it was on the lawn in the village of Port Jefferson on the north shore of Long Island where the Port Jefferson Documentary Series had their opening night of the Fall series.

Now before anyone goes berserk we were all properly socially distant. Cones were placed 15 to 20 feet apart from each other and you could put your lawn chairs on either side of each one. Everyone stayed far apart, and remained masked. Wendy Feinberg, one of the organizers and I even remained masked for a photo to record our meeting for the first time after exchanging emails for four or five years. Of all socially distant events I’ve seen Port Jeff‘s screening was the best. They made all the precautions feel unforced and natural to the point you didn’t even think about it.
This is  the spacing of the sold out crowd

And if that isn’t good enough mother nature helped the natural ventilation by having a steady breezy blowing the whole evening. It may have blown the trees and rocked the screen a bit but it just made us aware that we were in a beautiful seaside location.

In all seriousness this is how I want to see movies- I want to go to this park and watch movies at sunset with the water behind us. It made for magical experience unlike any other. I had an absolute blast being there. Yea, the location is about 90 minutes by car from my house but it is absolutely wonderful.
This is what you see when you turn around from the screen

Actually the whole series is great. If you are on Long Island you need to go. It’s worth the trip. The organizers, Wendy included, are marvelous people. They are just great fun and eal film fans. I wish I wasn’t so hungry and dashing off to grab a quick bite to eat before the film because I could have and should have spoken to them more. Everyone was absolutely charming. What was also cool was the audience was fun. Everyone seemed to be talking to each other. This is what festival going should be like.

Seriously if you can go do so. This fall season is stacked with great films. Next Monday they are doing another screening in the park- this time of Barbara Kopple’s Desert One, and you have to go. Trust me the physical being in the park will do wonders for you, and the movie is great too.

Later on the series is going to do some virtual screenings and some real drive-in screenings and I highly recommend you do so. Partly you need to go because the series has a winner every night and partly you need to go because the series can use the support. Covid has reduced the size of the audiences they can host and as a result they are operating right on the margin. You might think that perhaps they should hang it up for a season, but I don’t think they can do that. The people who run and go to the series are a big hearted group of people who know that they can’t be locked away. They know that there has to be some sort of attempt at normal even if it is masked and socially distant.

I know at this point you want to know about the movie – how was JIMMY CARTER ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT?

It’s very good.

The film is not a full on biography of Carter, rather it is a look at the relationship of Carter and the music world. Music was, and is, important to the former President and it was because of his relationship to music that he won over a nation.

The film charts how Carter’s love of music and willing to engage superstars like Willie Nelson, the Allman Brothers and Nigel Rogers won him friends and fans. Bob Dylan was taken aback when he first met Carter because not only was this the first member of the establishment he ran across who genuinely loved his music, but Carter also spoke to him as a person without condescension. They connected as people. It was something that happened time and time again and something that allowed Carter to connect to the fans of the various artists because they could feel the love of the President coming out from the artists.

Full of great music this film needs to be played loud. Thankfully the audio set up in Port Jefferson was great, with the sound never wavering and being loud enough that no one could hear me singing along. I hope the producers can get a soundtrack album out because it’s awesome.

Is the film perfect? No. It only covers certain aspects of Carter’s life which makes its shifting of his being distracted by being president feeling like it could have used a bit more meat.

Imperfections or no this is still a glorious celebration of a great man who continues to this day to change the world for the better.

Highly recommended- see it when ever you can and play it loud and sing along (Jimmy certainly would)

Lastly once more thank you to the Port Jefferson documentary series for a wonderful evening.

Luz: The Flower Of Evil (2020)

This folk horror film is an very much a folk tale. Deliberately constructed on every level, how you react to the film will be determined by how you react to seeing the director's hand.

The plot has the leader of a cult living in the mountains bringing in a young man he thinks maybe the messiah. The problem once he arrives things begin to spiral out of control.

I'm someone who is mixed when it comes to folk horror. Sometimes it works but more times then not the deliberate efforts to mimic a folk tale doesn't always work for me. The problem generally is that I think most directors spend too much effort trying to make the form of the film be what they want with the result that they lose the story.  In the case of LUZ  I think that the need to set the table kind of takes away from the horror. Things take a bit to get going and once things begin to happen we aren't full invested. It's not fatal but the film never reaches the heights its aiming at.

Worth a look for horror fans, all others it's optional.

DTF hits VOD today



Filmmaker Al Bailey follows along for a year and a half as his friend Christian, a recent widow and long distance pilot decides to look for love or at least a lay over via Tinder and other on-line apps. The result is a decent into obsession that threatens to break the friendship.

I am really mixed on this film. While part of me wanted to watch the road accident of the Tinder journey before me, part of me wanted to try and figure out what I was supposed to be getting out of the weird turns on screen other than watching a life go sideways. Frankly I really didn’t care. I was fascinated but I never really cared

I suspect a huge part of my disconnect is due to the conceit of the film, which is to have Christian blurred and his voice altered. How can I connect with a guy I have no visual or vocal clues from. I can’t begin to suss out what he is really about when I have no idea what his expressions are or what his real vocal inflections are. While I understand it had to be done so the film could be shown, it made the film damn near impossible to connect to because we are watching a block of plastic.