Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Fukushima 50 (2020) Japan Cuts 2020

SetsurĂ´ Wakamatsu's FUKUSHIMA 50's  first ten minutes is as nerve jangling as anything you will see all year. Depicting the massive earthquake and following tsunami that took out the Fukushima nuclear reactor it will make you want crawl under your chair and hide. It's not that it's graphic, rather it makes real one of the very worst nuclear disasters in history.

After the killer opening the film settle down to tell the story of the men and women who fought to keep the reactors from gong completely out of control. It's a tense tale of people facing oblivion and the choices they are forced to make. Indeed one of major plot point is whether to follow orders and stop cooling the reactors or to keep going because it's the only way to even remotely save the world. It's a ride that will force you to do a lot of thinking.

Wakamatsu's film is interesting in that it is kind of more straight reporting of events rather than a film filled with who is to blame. This is the story of what happened and while the distance of time would make you think that some blame throwing would be in order, Wakamatsu takes the stance that these are people just trying to survive so that what they are doing is not black and white of hindsight but the grey of living in the moment. That may not sit well with those looking for heroes and villains, but life isn't always clearcut.

I should point out that in telling the tale Wakamatsu has changed the name of everyone other that Ken Wantanbe's Masao Yoshida. That is not a flaw in the film, rather an acknowledgement that there were too many people responsible for stopping the nightmare to name them all. Yoshida on the other hand was the guy everyone new and he was the one who made many of the fateful decisions carried out by his teams.

I absolutely loved this film a great deal.

Highly recommended, FUKUSHIMA 50 plays at the virtual Japan Cuts starting Friday and playing until July 30. (Tickets here)  One piece of advice the film can only be accessed if you are in the US.
Additionally there will be a video introduction by the stars. And on July 27th there will be an award presentation. (The introduction and awards ceremony are free)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Blessed Child gets a digital release July 17

Blessed Child is wonderfully unexpected. A look at director Cara Jones' life particularly her relationship with the Unification Church where her parents are big mucky mucks, what I thought was going to be a blistering expose on the church and it’s cult like status turned out to be thoughtful portrait  of Jones‘s family and how the church and her eventual splitting with with it shaped everyone's lives.

I was kind of blindsided by the film. It's my own fault I went in with all sorts of preconceived notions that were based on nothing. I had a picture of what the film was going in  so I was looking at the film kind of sideways for much of the first half of the film. I kept waiting for the film to be what I thought it was going to be (a sensationalistic expose). Then I had an "AH HA!" moment and the film fell together and I could see it for what it is, a really good look at family and religion.

While the film deals with all sorts of issues and themes what I really liked about the film is how the film explores our expectations. Jones opens herself up to us in discussing the waves of feelings and thoughts she had about the Church and her move away from it.  She was uncertain how leaving the church, which is huge part of her life and that of her family thanks to her parents status, was going to play out. Would this break the family?  She is surprised by how it all goes.

And so are we which is what makes this film so interesting and oddly delightful because we, like Jones find out that this is not a tale about the Unification Church but about a family and it's shifting dynamic. It is a dynamic that makes this a much more universal tale than it had any right to be.


Available July 17 on iTunes, Amazon and Google

The Beholder (2020)

One of my favorite directors Shaun Clark entered a 15 second film contest and ended up with extra footage. He put it together into THE BEHOLDER a roughly minute and a half long retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's Tell Tale Heart and the result is glorious.

Okay so Shaun isn't 100% faithful to the letter of  Poe, but who could be in under 2 minutes? What Shaun has done is to get the spirit right. He has made a film that makes us feel the story which is much more important. It is Shaun's ability to take a story and compress it down and keep the heart of it that makes him such a kick ass filmmaker. He has an ability to lazer focus on the importan things and get them across perfectly. As I said about his earlier masterpiece NECK AND NECK I never fully understood  Shakespeare's Othello until I saw his film.

And of course what makes Shaun's so powerful is his use of image. He stylizes things so the reactins are heightened. From the use black and red images in NECK AND NECK to the almost realistic images here in THE BEHOLDER Shaun crafts images that are just as key to what we are seeing as the sound and the plotting.

I freaking love this film. It is short and sweet and left me smiling and shouting "YES!" before watching it again

It is one of the best films of 2020 of any length

Look for the film to hit lots of upcoming festivals.

ON-GAKU: OUR SOUND (2020) Japan Cuts 2020

Yes the film is wonderfully full of rock references
This is a repost of the review I ran when ON-GAKU played the New York International Children's film Festival earlier this year.

My reaction watching ON-GAKU: OUR SOUND went through three stages:

First I was amused but I really couldn't believe that the programmers at NYICFF had picked the film since it was so mannered and deadpan.

Second I clicked with the film and I had an "ah ha!" moment where I understood why they picked it and I fell in love with the music.

Lastly I fell head over heels for the film and started to send out emails and text messages to everyone I thought would react similarly.

The plot of the film has Kenji and his to friends having the run of their school. Everyone thinks they are the toughest guys in the world. It is all an act which their friend Aya knows. One day when ends up with a guitar in his hands it begins him thinking he should start a band. Despite not being able to play the "three musketeers" start a band and change their lives.

Glorious, magical and funny in all the right ways ON-GAKU is a charmer. A wonderful journey through the finding of ourselves, the power of friendship and the importance of music, it is a film that transcends the simple "let's start a band" genre to become something more. It is a heartfelt and emotional film about growing up and realizing that maybe we need to do what we love.

This film blew me away. As I said above I initially wasn't sure what I was seeing but by the time it had ended it had exploded in my heart as being one of the most special cinematic experiences of the young film year. It is so wonderful that I went back and rewatched the film  just because I wanted to smile and feel the absolute delight that several of the sequences brought.

Highly recommended- even more so if you love music and if you ever were or ever wanted to start a band.

ON-KAKU: OUR SOUND starts playing virtually at Japan Cuts beginning Friday July 17th and will be available until July 30. For more information go here.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Animation Outlaws hits VOD tomorrow 7/14

This portrait of Spike and Mike, the infamous programmers of the Spike and Mike Festival of Animation is not only a portrait of the men themselves but the world of animation over the last bunch of decades. Make no mistake if Spike and Mike weren't touring the country with their animation festivals the world as we know it would be very different.

If you think I am being hyperbolic watch the film and you will realize that I am not. Simply consider how many of the people interviewed who work in feature films or work for Cartoon Network, Fox and every other outlet of TV animation and you'll realize that if they hadn’t ever seen a festival of animation we wouldn't have their shows.

Filled with clips of many of the films they screened and many of the shows they influenced, ANIMATION OUTLAWS is a magnificent testament to two guys who loved cartoons. It is also the place where anyone wanting to know or talk about animation for the last thirty or forty years has to start. To be certain there are more specific tales about studios and filmmakers but pretty much everything runs through a Spike and Mike festival at some point.

I don't have a great deal to say beyond if you love film, especially animated film, you have to see this. It is not only one of the absolute best films playing at the Slamdance Film Festival, but it is also one of the truly great films-on-film or films-on-art (of any sort) I've ever run across.

A must.


2020 is proving a banner year for Korea: Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite made Oscar history; the nation’s widely praised response to the Coronavirus epidemic made headlines, and now Korean Baseball goes live on ESPN... finally! This is the perfect time for an event that pairs two blockbuster sectors of the entertainment business at which the country excels: Baseball and Cinema. Korean Cultural Center New York (KCCNY) and the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) team up to present a free streaming series that highlights Korea’s glorious sports history, pitching legends, and the peninsula’s favorite baseball teams through a selection of three major films of the genre from July 16 to 26. Whether you’re a KBO League fan or a Korean cinema lover, this exclusive online event offers the thrills that you’ve been craving after months of quarantine..

Free and unlimited run of the films for 10 days
July 16 - 26, 2020 at

MR. GO ( Kim Yong-hwa, 2013, South Korea, 133m )
Cast: Sung Dong-il, Jiao Xu, Kim Hee-won, Kim Kang-woo
Language: Korean with English Subtitles
Synopsis: From the director of Along with the Gods and 200 Pounds Beauty, massive baseball blockbuster movie Mr. Go follows this insane premise: what if… a Chinese circus-trained gorilla joined a major Korean baseball league? In other words, it's the perfect film for a world gone bananas. At turns unexpectedly realistic and laugh-out-loud hilarious, this warm tale of a debt-ridden Chinese kid and her bat-swinging, show-stealing primate friend, brings jaw-dropping action and plenty of emotion to the screen. Facing tragic circumstances and a rather nasty loan shark, the unlikely pair is forced to relocate to Seoul, where they end up leading the Doosan Bears to a prodigious winning streak. That is, until a second ape shows up in the game! And it’s not just about the grand spectacle of CGI-crafted gorillas going apesh*t on each other, the film also prominently features the teams and fields of the KBO, including the brief cameos of MLB superstars Ryu Hyun-jin and Choo Shin-soo.

PERFECT GAME ( Park Hee-gon, 2011, South Korea, 127m )
Cast: Cho Seung-woo, Yang Dong-geun, Don Lee (Ma Dong-seok)
Language: Korean with English Subtitles
Synopsis: This stirring drama is based on a legendary real life game that rocked Korea in the 1980s. As the country struggled towards democracy in a time of unrest, baseball mania took the public by storm. Fans across the nation were enthralled by the rise of two titan pitchers: Choi Dong-won (Cho Seung-woo), the ace of the Lotte Giants, and Sun Dong-yeol (Yang Dong-geun), the rising star of the Haitai Tigers (now the Kia Tigers). Regional allegiances put their once friendly rivalry to the ultimate test as tensions mount and the stakes are raised to feverish heights.

YMCA BASEBALL TEAM ( Kim Hyun-seok, 2002, South Korea,104m )
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Hye-soo, Kim Joo-hyuk, Hwang Jung-min
Language: Korean with English Subtitles
Synopsis: Like many of the best Korean films, YMCA Baseball Team blends and bends genre, defying easy categorization and labeling: a landmark of the sport movie genre and a comedy that effortlessly blends the slapstick, the social critique and the cleverly quirky; it also revisits early colonial history and turns the spotlight on the true story of the first Korean baseball team. In this tale of rivalry and resistance to colonial oppression, a scholar-gentleman’s son refuses to follow the path his father has set for him and devotes himself to the foreign sport. Awkward team-building (in class-ridden early 20th century Korea), friendships and maybe a touch of romance await as the rookie Korean sluggers and pitchers prepare for the ultimate game against the Japanese military team. Oh, and it’s also the occasion to appreciate the finest of the finest Korean actors and see what they were like 18 years ago... Song Kang-ho, Hwang Jung-min, Kim Hye-soo and the late Kim Joo-hyuk lead the team: A different league indeed.

Introduced to Korea in the late 19th century by American missionaries, baseball became a national Korean obsession and a fan culture of its own. By the 1920s, as the Major Leagues were touring Asia, Koreans seized the opportunity to assemble a team and proudly pit themselves against the country that created the sport. As baseball fever swept over Korea, many cities decided to create their own teams; South Korea was finally able to officialize their baseball league in the 1980s and named it the Korean Baseball Championship (later renamed KBO).

KBO discovered many new talents, and Chan Ho Park made history when he became the first Korean player to join a Major League Baseball team (the Los Angeles Dodgers) in 1994. It’s no wonder then that other avenues of South Korean pop culture, such as film, were inspired to create a number of historical and fictional stories about the sport. Not only will these films stir interest in Korean baseball history and culture, they will also allow audiences outside Korea to experience its spirit and excitement.
Series concept by NYAFF’s Event Production Senior Manager and Doosan Bears super fan, Patrick Nance.

Enjoy these films for free at!

The Painted Bird (2019) opens Friday 7/17

Sent away by his parents in the hope of keeping him safe from the Holocaust, a young boy ends up on a odyssey of pain when his aunt dies and he is forced to travel across Eastern Europe dealing with the cruelties of life and war.

There is no getting around it: THE PAINTED BIRD is a masterpiece. A glorious black-and-white poetic mediation on life and war, it not unexpectedly has sent people fleeing from theaters from its World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival. It is a film I never want to see again — yet can not wait to see again, so I can truly discuss the film with some semblance of intellectual togetherness. Honestly, this film is like being kicked in the stomach for the better part of three hours.

I need to state that a lot of people are going to get lost on the cruelties. I could list all the horrible, terrible things that happen after we watch the boy's pet set on fire while alive in the opening minutes, but simply listing them is pointless. I should warn you that this film will set you off regardless of how strong you think you are. Something in this film is going fuck you up (I can’t stress that enough). However, the twists and turns do have a point. This is not a torture porn film, but one examining the darkness and light (which is sometime misplaces) in the human soul.

I am severely messed up by the film, but I am also alive. In confronting the horrors in it, I have my mind trying to work out what this means and how to see the light in existence. I am connecting to world in unexpected ways.

The easiest way of describing the film is imagine the classic COME AND SEE but in Black and White as if shot by a young Tarkovsky or Bela Tarr but much more poetic and dark. This is a blood brother to the earlier film that hammers home some of the same themes while expounding on a whole slew of new ones.

I am filled with an awe of the film in the way that few films manage to engender.

While I was not quite in like with the film in the early portion, once events begin to be set in motion and our hero hits the road I had fallen completely under it’s spell and I spent three hours spell bound staring at the screen wondering where this was all going.

Had I seen this in 2019 it would have been on my best of the year list- but I saw it on New Year’s Day of the new year so it is the first great film of 2020.

This is a staggering work that demands to be seen.

Somewhere I think I should say a couple of random things

The only thing that is really wrong with the film is the dubbing of some of the actors is odd.

And while the film is supposed to be based on Jerzy Kozinski's autobiographical novel I doubt that this happened to him. While I suspect some of the events are real- I highly doubt they even remotely happened like this

The Nightcap returns: Random notes from the road 7/12/20

I used to run a regular piece on Sundays that were part essay part catch all and included a whole bunch of links from  Randi but life and just trying to put together the daily posts got in the way so it fell by the wayside. However Covid has slowed things down and stray thoughts have popped up so I'm going to take a couple of minutes and put together a new short piece sans the links. (I also need a distraction that is far from serious)

A word of warning this is really random and really all over the place.
First thank you to everyone who sent well wishes concerning the passing of my dad. I appreciate everything sent my way. You are all way too kind. And some of you are truly crazy- but that's why I love you.
Related to that reviews for the next couple of weeks will be messy.

I have Dance on Camera and new release material to go. After that things may get spotty- it's largely older stuff. I do have access to the entire slate of Japan Cuts and I will be working to get coverage up, but because of how I am regarding my dad (I can get into a funk) and because things in life are taking center stage I can't say how much I will be able to get up in a timely fashion. I will have a couple of pieces this week and then more through the fest- but with everything releasing virtually Friday there is no way I can get reviews up of the whole festival (it's 42 films) to help you pick and choose what you want to see.

Upcoming selections of new release reviews are going to be random. It's purely a mixed of reposts, banked pieces and those films I stumble on. When I get offered something I look to see if it has a "yes" instantly factor and if if so I agree to take it on. If not I will either wait and see or just say no.

I am getting offered a lot of things that are not floating my boat. I am being asked to look at a bunch of TV series, but I have mostly said no because of the time suck. I can't invest five or six hours to do them right.

Thank god for festivals and having banked a lot of older film reviews
You'll notice I never went back and finished the TV series SNOWPIERCER. Sue me, I just never could get  enthused enough to go back and drop five more hours of my time.

I am, however, curious what you all thought now that season one is done.
While in many ways I am liking the virtual fests- I am desperately missing the social interaction. I miss being around people and I really suspect that I am becoming socially backward as a result.
It doesn't help that my forays into connecting via Zoom have been disastrous. With the worst thing being the service messing up my computer while trying to be at a friends virtual birthday party.
The Stay At Home Fest Bonus Films are going to return next Monday. I am planning on running them until at least September 1. Surprisingly when I put the right films up there are a lot of hits. (I was shocked the Soviet films were watched as much as they were- and not by bots).

I know the upcoming selections, more weird stuff, movies, some theme park nonsense, auto racing docs and other random stuff, may seem odd, but it is being put together in a random way - they go together as I stumble over things in my quest to remain distracted and upright.
El Rey has started to run classic Lucha Libre on Saturday night at 10pm.
It great stuff, though the dub last night was just okay.(I'm told the dubs get better)
While I am dealing with life keep checking my Twitter page. It will link to any posts here at Unseen and will have other film stuff I don't manage to get up here such as word on films I may not do a full review for.
I saw a chunk of IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD on cable- and while I liked it I think it was wrong to make Mr Rogers a secondary character
I never knew Petite Tube existed- it randomly picks low or no viewed YouTube videos
I finally saw most of SHAZAM the other night. I thought it was an excellent representation of what I remember of the comic- which means I liked it intellectually but it didn't connect emotionally- though the Superman bit at the end made me tear up
And I will get the 3 month late interview up later this week.
Hubert was a finalist for Omnidawn's annual fiction. The story he submitted was absolutely amazing and needs to be read it will both breath your heart and heal it.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Relic Film Review

Relic is a daring horror drama about the dangers of Dementia. It encompasses the heart of both horror and compassion in one of the best IFC Midnight films I have seen to date.
Kay (Emily Mortimer; Mary Poppins Returns, Shutter Island) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Dark Shadows) travel to visit Kay’s mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin; The Matrix Reloaded, Gods of Egypt) after she mysteriously vanishes from her home. While in the process of taking care of her grandmother, Sam starts to notice strange happenings in the house that seem rather harmless at first glance. Over time the duo discovers that something seems a little off about Edna and she seems to have returned a shell of her former self.
Relic is one of the most unique genre films I have seen in a long time. It encompasses both family and horror in the same realm without trying too hard to win over its audience. It flows beautifully and tells the tale of a daughter struggling to come to terms with her mothers dementia. The choice to use the house as a metaphor for the disease was a brilliant choice and adds to the dark atmosphere of the film. The lack of jump scares and cheap thrills is a welcomed change in modern cinema, especially ones of this caliber. I thought the darkness tone of the film matched beautifully with the haunting music and the artistic videography. They all worked so well together to create a cohesive film that is both memorable and enjoyable.
I first discovered Emily Mortimer when she played Chloe in the 2005 Woody Allen film Match Point opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson. After watching the trailer for Relic I could already see her character coming to life. She has this gift you rarely see in films these days. She pulls genuine emotion from her audience and makes them feel like the character she’s playing is a real person. Even though I didn’t know Kay very well as a character I identified with her as a woman and as a daughter.
Bella Heathcote is known for her portrayal of Victoria Winters in Tim Burton’s interpretation of Dark Shadows. It was great to see Bella in a more controlled environment. Her skills as an actress really shined here. Sam is a young woman who is struggling to figure out what it is she wants to do with her life and incorporating that into this story makes her someone people of all ages can relate to.
Robyn Nevin did a superb job playing Edna. I believed that she was someone’s loved one who is going through a big change in the later years of her life. I really cared about what happened to her. The way Robyn portrayed Edna’s disconnect from reality was both convincing and heartbreaking. I would definitely recommend watching her other films.
I would suggest Relic to fans who enjoy a little drama and realism in their horror films. If you’re looking for some thing that is both Erie and relatable I think this is the film for you. The entire cast is phenomenal. They bring this story to life and I really enjoyed it. I give Relic a 9/10. I wish we had gotten to know Edna before her disappearance in order to really get a good glimpse at how shocking her transformation really was. Aside from that I thought it was brilliant. Relic was praised during its opening at Sundance Film Festival in 2019. The film opens on July 10 In Theaters and also available On Demand / Digital Rental.

Japan Cuts Starts Friday- Buy Tickets

The Japan Society's annual Japan Cuts Festival starts Friday and runs until July 30th. As with all festivals these days it is going to be virtual and the films will be available all through the festival with special events happening at specific times. Details can be found on the website.

Long time readers of Unseen Films will know how much I love this festival. Not only is it a great showcase for great films from Japan, it is also a great show case for great films period.This is a festival where I always find a couple of films I never thought would interest me but which result in me putting them on my end of the year best of lists.

Of course I highly recommend you purchase tickets to see whatever it is that interests you. Again ticket information is on the website.

Normally at this point I would give you a taste of the films that are playing by way of making recommendations. Unfortunately a combination of real world circumstances and receiving the films as things exploded means that I am just now scrambling to see the films so I can review them.

As I write this I have only seen ON-GAKU: OUR SOUND because I reviewed it at the New York International Children's Film Festival earlier this year. (It's great go see it) and FUKUSHIMA 50 which was at the top of my list to see. FUKUSHIMA 50 is kick ass with a first ten minutes (the earthquake and tsunami) which will curl your hair.

Reviews will be coming as I can manage them....

Until then go buy tickets.

Brief thoughts on THE TOBACCONIST which is now in virtual theaters

A young man moves to Vienna to work in the tobacco shop of a friend of his mother's where he gets romantic advice from Sigmund Freud. Unfortunately this is the 1930's and the Nazi's are on the march.

Based on the novel by Robert Seethaler THE TOBACCONIST is on odd mix of coming of age and historical dramas. The mix doesn't always get it right, sometimes it's a bit too light and at others a bit too pointed with the result that while I really liked the film I never quite fell in love with it the way I felt I should have. I wanted a tad more meat...however that said, I really want to sit down and watch it again and take it for what it is, a solid drama.

Actually the real reason I want to see the film again is the stunning award performance by Bruno Ganz. In a career that spanned decades and is full of dozens of iconic roles, Ganz's Sigmund Freud is something truly special.  Disappearing into the role behind glasses and beard, Ganz creates a character we'd all like to hang out with. To be certain it is almost formulaic in the wise old elder who teaches the youngsters about life way, but Ganz never lets it fully slip into cliche, instead giving us a character who is always real and extremely human. If there is justice Ganz will end up in the Oscar mix when ever Covid allows the awards to happen.

A small gem of a film THE TOBACCONIST is recommended and can found on Kino Marquee.

The Seven Dwarfs to the Rescue (1951; American release 1965)

After Snow White and Prince Charming are married, the Prince must put down a rebellion led by a duke. However, Snow White is tricked into believing that Charming has been captured. When she tries to free him, she's captured by the Prince of Darkness. The Seven Dwarfs are then forced to go and rescue her.

One review of this film said that the New Orleans Bad Film Festival shows the film every five years, because they claim the film's so bad the audience won't sit for it. It's not that bad. While decidedly not good, it isn't really bad, certainly not in any sort of legendary way. It's actually very much like any number of the other fairy tale films produced in Europe at the same time. I'm guessing that this film, like many other similar films, is actually merely badly dubbed. As several reviews said, this film is only bad to people who really don't know bad films.

Like most of the dairy tale films of the time this film takes what most of us think of as a classic fairy tale and puts a spins into the stories we were told as children. It's weird and wonderful, set in a place similar to our own (yet different). It's a really wild head space to be in that all sorts of weird things happen and it takes odd turns, like topless-looking water nymphs kidnapping the dwarfs from the middle of a field. Truly trippy, — this is a film is its own beast.

While decidedly not for all tastes, this film is a must see for anyone who loves weird and wacky films. It's a one of a kind viewing experience and not to be missed.

Waiting For Godot (2020)

I stumbled upon this on YouTube and it is really good. That the Beckett estate allowed  this to be made (they are thanked in the end credits) kind of shocks me because .this film varies from the original in many different ways- and yet it seems exactly on point.

Basically this is Godot set in New York at night and it's damn good. I mean it's so good that it makes the case that Becket needs to be allowed to be riffed on and allowed to breath. Opening the play up and making some changes makes the text come alive. This makes the case that Beckett can speak to everyone- just let people find their way in and not be shackled to Beckett's intentions.

I have no idea about the director Rudi Azank, but I want to see what he does next.

I should also point out that there is another version of this on YouTube on Azank's website called WHILE WAITING FOR GODOT that is slightly shorter and cut differently (I think this version may have a better ending- but I am not sure since I only watched pieces of it)

If you are curious give this film a try because frankly not only is it good, I feat the Beckett people might change their mind and ask it to be pulled down.

One of the great finds of 2020

ADDENDUM: Looking around on the internet after this posted I saw a reference on Twitter from @beckett_letters saying this apparently based on a unpublished pre-censorship version of the play.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Nate Hood on Decade of Fire which hits on VOD 7/14

The autobiographical impulse is a powerful one for documentarians, particularly when their subjects turn to issues near to their hearts. For filmmaker Vivian Vazquez, few could be more important than her hometown of the Bronx. Her new film—co-directed by Gretchen Hildebran—spends the first fifteen or so minutes of its meager seventy-two minute runtime explaining her family’s backstory: how they immigrated from Puerto Rico in the 1950s, fled from Spanish Harlem to the more racially egalitarian and economically prestigious Bronx, and how they put down roots in one of the most vibrant post-war American communities. It’s only after this lengthy prologue that the film settles into its main topic: the decade-long wave of tenement fires that destroyed 80% of all Bronx housing in the 1970s, leaving a quarter million homeless. Once this shift occurs, Decade of Fire, becomes a very different film, a slow-motion horror story as Vazquez and Hildebran painstakingly chart the various racial, political, and economic causes to the urban holocaust.

A soul-deadening history lesson, it begins with the rise of redlining minority neighborhoods, leading in part to a decade of “White Flight” in the 1960s when a million white, middle class New Yorkers fled the city for the suburbs. Around 100,000 remaining non-whites were forced from their homes for the sake of Robert Moses’ “urban renewal” plans which tore down Manhattan tenements—did you know the Lincoln Center was built on top of the ruins of working class apartments?—leading to the ghettoization of the Bronx as greedy landlords crammed dozens of people into apartments intended for single families. After that, the landlords simply stopped paying for upkeep, hired local gangs to torch the buildings, and collected state insurance claims which they pocketed before vanishing because, incredibly, state law didn’t require them to use said insurance to repair their properties. Even worse, the same “urban renewal” that decimated Manhattan housing led to the counterintuitive shuttering of many of the Bronx’s fire departments, leaving large swathes of the borough with no firefighters for when blazes broke out.

There’s more, but I hesitate to go on—I’m just regurgitating the film now. What I can say is that Decade of Fire is a chilling, necessary look at institutional betrayal and failure, yet also a glance into a vibrant community determined to rebuild itself, beginning with the family of one determined documentarian.

Rating: 7/10

The Man and the Monster (1958)

A pianist sells his soul to the devil to become the greatest of all time. The problem is every time he plays certain piece by Tchaikovsky, he turns in to a monster.

One part fairy tale, one part throw back to the Universal horror films of the '40s, THE MAN AND THE MONSTER is a nifty little thriller that plays better in the original Spanish language version (El hombre y el monstruo) than in the K. Gordon Murray dub. There is more emotion in the Spanish than in the English dub, which uses the voices you've heard in every other Murray release.

While decidedly not scary by today's standards, the film does have gobs of mood which make it perfect for a dark and stormy night on the couch.


Friday, July 10, 2020

Greyhound: Tom Hanks Adapts C.S. Forester

The U.S. Merchant Marine suffered a higher fatality rate than any other American service branch during World War II. German U-boats were the primary reason. They were always deadly, but especially so when hunting American cargo and troop ships in the so-called “Black Pit,” the central Atlantic waters Allied air support could not reach. A veteran Naval officer with no prior combat experience must protect a large convoy during its perilous transatlantic passage in Aaron Schneider’s Greyhound, adapted from C.S. Forester’s The Good Shepherd by its star and screenwriter, Tom Hanks, which premieres today on Apple TV.

Although he is a career officer, Capt. Ernest Krause’s first command is the destroyer USS Keeling—call sign: “Greyhound.” The newly promoted captain is keenly aware several of his junior officers and able-bodied seamen are far-more battle-tested than he is. However, he takes strength from his Christian faith and his love for Evelyn, who would be his fiancĂ©e, if times were peaceful.

As soon as the convoy enters the Black Spot, a German U-boat is detected on sonar. Greyhound is sent on a detour to hunt it down, in what will be the first test of Krause’s leadership. Unfortunately, the detour will also deplete Greyhound’s depth charges and fuel. Racing to catch up with the convoy, the Keeling is forced to spearhead the rear-defense when a full “wolfpack” of U-boats suddenly attacks.

It is a shame Sony canceled Greyhound’s theatrical release in response to the CCP-virus and sold it to Apple, because it is a lean, tense war film that still deserves to be seen on a big screen. As a screenwriter, Hanks distills the narrative down to its elemental essence, jettisoning any dead weight melodrama, while retaining a nuts-and-bolts realism. Greyhound could almost serve as a training film for destroyer crews, if the stakes were not so dire.

Granted, we do not really get to know the personality quirks of the crew, but Capt. Krause is not on-board to make friends. He is there to keep them alive and protect the convoy. There is an obvious kinship between Capt. Krause and other celebrated Hanks characters, such as Captain Phillips and most conspicuously Capt. John Miller from Saving Private Ryan. Yet, Krause is particularly compelling, probably for precisely the reasons some snobby critics are rather lukewarm on the film. Hanks never gives himself any flashy Oscar-reel dialogue, but what he shows is the depth of Krause’s Christian belief—it is a faith that manifests itself in humility—something we rarely see in film or society during these hyper-cynical times.

Hanks is quietly powerful as Krause—it really might be some of his best work yet, even though it comes in a combat-driven film. Most of the rest of the ensemble are good soldiers playing good sailors. However, Stephen Graham is memorably salty and flinty as Krause’s first officer, Charlie Cole. Elizabeth Shue only appears briefly in an early flashback as Evelyn, but it is a rather poignant scene, in which she and Hanks express much, while speaking rather little.

Of course, for real-life veterans and military experts, the greatest strength of Greyhound is its authenticity. Shot aboard a currently commissioned Royal Canadian frigate, Schneider conveys a dramatic sense of the close-quarters and the near-blind confusion of nautical warfare. The terminology sounds accurate and the gun-metal-grey color palate is as legit as it gets. Viewers will understand the tactics and strategy, as they unfold, while Schneider clearly establishes the spatial relationships between destroyer and U-boats—at least when it is known to the Greyhound crew. This is a radical departure from his last feature, Get Low, but he does a truly impressive job marshalling the warships, aircrafts, and explosive effects, while still getting the best out of his leading man.

Krause is the sort of American veteran who made the “Greatest Generation” the greatest. The same is true for all the Merchant Marines that he fights so hard to protect, so we should remember them all. Greyhound is definitely a fitting tribute. Tight and suspenseful, it is the best WWII combat-focused film since Hacksaw Ridge. Very highly recommended, Greyhound premieres today (7/10), on Apple TV.

Nothing Stays The Same (2019) hits home video July 14

NOTHING STAYS THE SAME was probably one of the most important documentaries of 2019. I know it's a weird thing to say about a film about a music venue in Austin, Texas that's trying to stay open — but it’s absolutely the truth. NOTHING STAYS...speaks to every town and village in America, and asks what happens when you allow crazy construction across your town when, more often than not, it is going to destroy the very thing that you are known for?

The film is the story of Austin, Texas: specifically the Saxon Pub. Austin is a mecca for live music, and the Pub was considered one of the best venues to see great music. People from all over the world have come to it, because they loved the music and the community that exists around it. The city once had dozens of places like it, to see all sorts of music. However, as more and more people came to town, costs rose and the venues that hosted live performances were driven out via taxes or problems with landlords, who either raised rents to impossible levels or simply kicked the tenants out to build apartments. The Austin music scene, as a result is dying.

This is the case with the Saxon Pub, which faces closure because the landlord got an insane offer from a developer who wants to build more apartments like the ones that surround it. As the bar faces an uncertain future, filmmaker Jeff Sandmann investigated what the loss of a legendary space such as the Saxon Pub would mean in the short and long term.

Filled with glorious music, NOTHING STAYS THE SAME is just a great film — a spot-on examination on the crazy gentrification of not just Austin, but America. The film ponders what will happen to the city when music that once filled every corner of the city goes silent. What do you do when the cost of living in the city is so prohibitive to anyone who just wants to make music? Worse, the venues the musicians once played in are closing. The reason that many people go or move to the city is rapidly disappearing. The city that once had a charming character is now becoming a land of dull apartment buildings.

Director Sandmann is to be commended. He's made a film that not only shows us what's in danger if our culture goes away, but also the battle to stop it. It's a battle that is being fought across the country on all sorts of levels. While specifically aimed at music, this is war that libraries, museums and other cultural institutions are fighting across America. By showing us the battle for the Saxon Pub, Sandmann makes the fight something we can all understand.

Not to put too fine a pint on it, NOTHING STAYS THE SAME was one of the great films of 2019. Don’t let the fact the film runs just over an hour fool you: it has more info and emotional punch than films running twice or three times as long. Not only does it inform, but it also entertains — as I said, it's filled with great music. This is a must see.

Annotated Obit for my Dad

This is the obit that we put together  for my dad which was posted on the funeral home website.

Steve Kopian 82, best known as “General”, peacefully passed away at home on July 2nd.

A loving husband, father and brother, he is survived by his sons Stephen, Thomas, Joe, his “adopted” son Stewart, his daughter-in-law Diana, granddaughter Avery, sister Betty, many nieces and nephews, and his best friend... his dog Buster.

He is preceded in death by his devoted wife Karen, parents Stephen and Anna and sisters Deloris and Joan.

While he earned his living with the Nassau County Health Department, his real passions were sports and the fire department. The General was a champion athlete in multiple sports. He played football and track for Glen Cove High School, where one of his track records still stands. He then played football for the University of South Carolina, and eventually played for the New York Jets during their first season in the AFL as the New York Titans. An avid softball player, he continued to play on different leagues right up into his 70’s.

He was a sixty-year member of the Glenwood Fire Company where for a time, he acted as Trustee, and was a member of the drill, softball and bowling teams. He had great loves for Polish polkas, motorcycles and cracking wise.

Through it all, despite the fact that he could make his family crazy, they loved him as much as he loved them. A celebration of life will be planned at a later date.


That was the piece that went on the funeral home website. But as with anyone's life there was more- a hell of a lot more. Stories kept leaking out over the last week such as he apparently played professional baseball (I believe for the Twins) while in college but it had to be hushed up lest there was a loss of eligibility.

There are the Jim Brown stories of how he played against Jim Brown in high school and while he couldn't beat him in football or lacrosse he could in other sports. 

And then there was the endless tales of the people who he knew - and at times you wouldn't believe that he knew all these people - he really did.

The problem with my dad was that he was always too busy living life to always tell it. I was lucky enough over the past 15 years to spend a great deal of time with him so stories would fall out of him. I don't even remotely know them all- I don't think anyone does- but I suspect that most people who knew him for any amount of time ended up shocked as he casually told stories. The football tales, the softball tales, the firehouse stories, the hockey stories, the polka stories, the travels with his insane grandfather stories, the life stories all just dropped out at random moments.

I loved when we would go to a motorcycle show with Mr C and as they were looking at the bikes he'd start to tell a story. Sometimes I'd heard it sometimes not. Some would be his adventures, and some would be about his aunts and uncles or friends.

He wasn't perfect. He could be a gruff son of a bitch. He would yell and scream at times if something happened- it wasn't until I was in my thirties that I finally got to understand how he went, the screaming was because he didn't know how to show that he was worried, but  there was a point here the anger burned off and you saw the worried parent underneath. I also think my mom didn't really get to understand him in someways until he retired- largely because that was the point when they finally spent time together. Don't get me wrong I always loved him but there were times we all wanted to kill him

In many ways he is one of my heroes. I loved what he could do. I loved how he gave to the community. I know we all hated there was times when the outside of the family came first - but at the same time we did delight when he was there with us.

I know the last few years were tough. The illnesses slowed him down- for a man who was constantly going not being able to run and play sports was hard on him. At the same time he always tried to look ahead. I ill work out so that down the road I will be able to do something.  This Covid crap put a damper on things- we were looking ahead to do things and go places and while we went for rides almost every day the fact that we couldn't go to eat, or go see motorcycles, or boxing or something else really messed up his psyche. he was trying to live as fully as he could but the danger of a disease he didn't have  made it it tough to know when he could get up and moving- would we make the Queens Motorcycle show? How about Boxing at the Garden? When was he going to get out and have lunch with his buddies?

And while his best buddy was Buster, the absolute love of his life Avery his granddaughter. Through all the bad times the thought of seeing his little girl was what kept him going. He wanted to give her everything  but knew he couldn't. He also knew he had toteasure what time he had with her. His life was such that as things transpired last week I was screaming at him to come back because Avery needed him.

Sometimes god has other needs.

Of course there is so much more to say- so many stories to tell- but I don't have it in me. (Actually I do but I need to keep a distance lest a collapse into a heap.)

Someday I will tell the tales. Someday I will not hurt. Someday I will understand what he really meant to me.

For now I will just mourn the loss and smile at the memories and be amused that he is still floating around (at the funeral yesterday he somehow managed to have his coffin pull a button off a good friends jacket in what had to be a final joke - and there are other occurances)

For now I will just say  what I said to him every night as I went to bed " Goodnight pop, love you. See you in the morning"

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Island of the Doomed (1967)

A bunch of tourists take a trip to a largely deserted island. No one lives there except a lone baron (Cameron Mitchell). As they're driving down a deserted road, a man staggers out in front of them. Something was obviously wrong with him before he expired. They're rattled but press on. They finally meet the baron who takes them in. Of course, all is not well — the Baron is a mad horticulturalist and is keeping a garden full of carnivorous plants.

ISLAND OF THE DOOMED (aka Maneater of Hydra and The Blood Suckers) should have been made a decade or two earlier. This tale of a mad scientist and his experiments is way too campy coming out the 1960s and in bright colors. This should have been dark and shadowy, with Lionel Atwill in the lead. Seeing it recently in the stunning version that Sinister Cinema put out has me pondering what I think of the film. For years, I had watched it via faded grainy and choppy prints, and my feelings were tied to the fact it looked like a misunderstood schlock classic. Seeing it pristine makes me think differently. This isn’t to say the film is bad: it’s not, more that as it stands now, it’s good in a bad sort of way.

Is it worth seeing? If you love good bad movies or if, like me, you're a sucker for crazy monster films — it is.

Reposting a piece on why you shouldn't take critics and film writers (myself included) seriously

I just stumbled across a piece I wrote in 2014 and I think it is an apropos take on all criticism- particularly film criticism which says don't take what we say as gospel but rather only as a friendly suggestion. I have tweaked it slightly from its original form.

I recently had someone comment to me that my pieces were very personal. They were not happy that the pieces were not merely a statement of facts but they talked about me and where I was coming from. I replied that was the only way I could write, I can't write about how I feel about something without explaining where those feelings were coming from. I added that I always liked that in reviews because it gave me a handle on where the person writing it is coming from.

Unseen Films is not typical film writing, then again I'm not trying to be a real critic rather I'm just trying to tell you what I thought and felt about a film.

Of course that doesn't mean that I and many of my fellow film writers aren't full of shit. I say this because after watching the reaction of some of my colleagues after several screenings at NYFF (the Godard film in particular) I was horrified at the thought that people actually take what we say seriously.

Please stop that. Don't take us seriously.

No offense but the way people will discuss the deeper meaning of anything is ridiculous. Movies are what they are, just as works of literature, and any meaning or resonances you find there are because of the connections you make to them and what they may or may not be saying. There is no deeper meaning unless you put it there and want it there.

I have had several conversations about the deeper meaning of a couple of NYFF films and to be honest the people telling me why watching a tiger wander around an apartment for an hour is an orgasmically intellectual experience had me biting my lip so as not to laugh in their faces. Its a tiger wandering around a room for an hour while someone reads bad poetry...its pretentious twaddle. It means nothing.

I freely admit that I am full of it a lot of times, but I hope that I, and the other guys and gals at Unseen will always explain to why a film hits us a certain way. We try to clue you in to our own personal biases which make it less an intellectual pronouncement of why something is great on a higher level, but rather a personal experience as to why we feel so strongly about a film.

We film writers are not gods buts we're just a bunch of film nuts who just started writing about something we like and never stopped. Many of us, myself included, have no lives, we just have films, which means we don't really know from real life, we only know film life.(And having met several "important critics" you too would suddenly stop taking us seriously if you knew what they were really like)

If you decide to listen to us don't take our strict ratings as the be all and end all and instead read what we are saying and look at the words beyond the its good or bad. I say that because the true value of what we write is there and not in the thumbs up or down its in the expression of what we say and how we say it. Read a lot of reviews by a particular author and get a feel for how they write and what they really mean. Sometimes a phrase taken at face value will mean something else if you know an author. You have to get to the point where you know what a writer is saying like you know how some of your friends explain a movie.

We don't know anything more than you do, we just may have seen more films than you have (which means nothing if they aren't a broad spectrum of types and genres).

Ultimately take what we say on advisement. Let it help steer you but don't let it be the deciding factor, after all all we know are our own personal tastes, you on the other hand are a perfect judge of your own.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Shudder: The Beach House

This film could spur sales of air purifiers, but it certainly does not promote recreational pot use. Careful what you put in your body, because it just might stay in there. It is not immediately clear what those air particulates are, but they look ominously foreboding in Jeffrey A. Brown’s The Beach House, which premieres tomorrow on Shudder.

The Beach House starts slow, but finishes strong. At first, the film seems to be an exercise in social awkwardness, when Randall takes his girlfriend Emily to his father’s vacation home on the exact same weekend Mitch and Jane Turner had arranged to borrow it. The older couple tries to be gracious, but there is tension, because the Mrs. Turner is clearly ailing. Presumably, this will be their last visit to the beachfront property. However, everyone seems to relax when Randall breaks out the edibles (over Emily’s objections), at least for a short spell. Still, the heaviness of the dust or pollen in the air remains an unmistakable ill portent.

It turns out, Brown is revisiting one of the classic horror-sf sub-genres, but it would not be sporting to say which one. One the other hand, it is probably fair to say it will involve a good deal of body horror. Frankly, there are times when Owen Levelle’s hazy and moody cinematography brings to mind Dean Cundey’s lensing of classic early John Carpenter films, like Halloween and The Fog, which is very high praise.

Liana Liberato (atoning for Trespass) is really very good playing Emily in various stages of relationship impatience, stoned but not blissed-out, hung-over, and completely terrified. She covers a greater emotional spectrum, but both she and Noah Le Gros totally sell the bodily horrors. Veteran character actor Jake Weber (from Medium and American Gothic) also helps make the first act feel slightly off-kilter.

When things take a perilous turn for our young couple, Beach House locks in and grabs on tight to viewers. There are sequences worthy of the classic films in the genre (not that we are saying what that is). It is the kind of film the audience needs to stick with, out of faith, but Brown rewards the effort. Highly recommended for fans of horror with an element of science fiction, The Beach House starts streaming tomorrow (7/9), on Shudder.