Saturday, February 29, 2020

Rooftops (2020)

Rooftops is a sweet little film. The story of a rising singer going home and seeing her old friends for a day is a small gem of a film. The world is changing for Rachel and everyone knows it but she is going to try and hang on to her friends as best as she can.

While there isn’t much of a plot, outside of the opening moments where Rachel meets a fan, the whole film is pretty much a bunch of friends sitting around talking. While there is always dangerous if the people doing the talking aren’t compelling. That’s not the case here where everyone all seems to be long time friends who are hanging out. It almost feels like director Bruce C. Bradbury III went to a group of friends and gave them some loose notes and said just go. The result is a film that very much alive, so much so I would be curious if this could be expanded into a feature film. I say this partly to see where it goes but more because I want to spend more time with the people in it.


Friday, February 28, 2020

Guns Akimbo (2019)

Over the past weekend Jason Lei Howden said somethings on Twitter on both his personal account (which seems to have been removed)and that of the film and sparked a fire storm when he attacked several women of color (for a good discussion of the whole sorry saga go here). Numerous writers and outlets pulled their reviews because they don't want the director's film to make any money. I toyed with the idea myself but considering that the film is the work of hundreds of other people I am going to say a few words about it.  If I was certain that only Howden would be on the hook financially I would not review the film, but I suspect that is not the case. Obviously I don't condone what was said or done. Frankly I think what was done was the work of a childish horse's ass.

GUNS AKIMBO is about a character played by Daniel Radcliffe (in a great role) who is forced into playing a live streamed killing game after he posts a rude comment. Chased by a super killer who is being chased by the cops, Radcliffe fights to stay alive and keep his ex-girlfriend safe.

Crazy over the top with some witty exchanges, violent set pieces and headache inducing fast visual style the film is at best a time killer. Far from anything special the film suffers fro the feeling we've seen variations on this any number of times over the last several decades and especially the last few years (Think the various Death Race films though it goes back probably even earlier than 1965's 10th VICTIM, ) in addition to the fact that it borrows the visual style of so many recent comic based or influenced films as to disappear into the pack. This sense that we have been here before takes the edge off the proceedings since there are enough variations that we can plug and play it out in our heads. It still entertains but it never gets into out soul as being memorable.(I won't even get into the plot canyons such as the police ignoring people shooting it out with machine guns in the streets or their not trying to track anyone down when then can clearly see where they are)

Aside from the "been here done that" feeling the biggest problem for me comes from the wild over use of CGI imagery. So much of the cartoony violence in the  film is obvious blue/green screen work as to take any danger off of things.  Even all the blood and splattering bodily matter is all the result of post production. It would be fine but it is so noticeable as to be ridiculous.

While never bad it only raises to greatness in a few off moments or random shots. Yea I liked it but I can't see myself ever watching it again.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

INNER FIRE (2020 ) Winter Film Awards 2020

Four people, each with their own agenda, show up at the ritzy apartment of certain man. They begin to talk, stories are exchanged and things get out of hand.

I have seen  a couple of other recent films from Russia with the same set up, people arriving at an apartment with a purpose and all of them have played it gloriously differently. Yea blood is spilled and bodies pile up, but each bend the tale in their own way.

You will notice that I am not saying a great deal about INNER FIRE and that is because director Misha Mareskin has created a story that you need to see unfold. It doesn't do what you expect. More importantly Mareskin does somethings stylistically that are absolute delights. Violent flashbacks make me wonder what he would do with a full on balls to the wall action film. It also puts him on my list of directors who I have to keep an eye on because what he has done is really great fun


BOZKIR LOOK AT THE BIRDS (2019) Winter Film Awards 2020

The story of Abdullah and Ziya, two friends and partners and what happens when Ziya harasses a married woman.

Okay drama  doesn't seem to really know what it is at times. Some of this seems a bit too silly despite the serious nature of the story. I think it is more the filmmaking than the tale itself which is interesting enough that it kept me watching. To be honest I liked the film but I didn't love it and found it more of interest because it is one of the few recent Turkish films I've been able to see.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale (2019) NYICFF 2020

As Fritzi watches her friends dog while they are on a trip to Hungary, the protests that would lead to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany sweep up the young girl.

Good historical drama that will introduce kids to a time not so long ago when Europe was divided and there was real danger if you wanted to cross borders. Moving along at a good clip the film manages to be a neat little thriller as well as a historical time piece.

I really like the film a great deal and was swept along by the events, despite my having a good idea how it was all going to come out.

Recommended for anyone who wants a good tale and for any kids who are okay with an animated film that isn't cut animals and exploding battles

FRITZI plays the next three weekends at NYICFF. For more information and tickets go here.

THE 600: THE SOLDIERS STORY (2020) Winter Film Awards 2020

This is an excellent documentary chronicling the story of the 600 Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) soldiers during the Rwandan genocide who ended up caught behind what was essentially enemy lines and fought to save themselves and innocents from the genocidal forces that had risen up in the country.

Taking the time to set the stage for what happened this is the first film on the genocide that really explained what happened and why. I'm not talking about the events surrounding the 600, which until this film I knew nothing about, but rather about the genocide itself. Once we have been properly briefed the film then moves on to tell the story that is its main focus.

While the film can be a bit overly emotional at times with the use of music, the stories we hear from survivors always keep us focused. Through their words we come to understand what happened and why the story of the 600 needs to be told.

A solid film that I want to revisit- and as such it s recommended.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A few random thoughts on Nipponia Nippon - Fukushima Rhapsody (2019) Winter Film Awards 2020

In an inhabited prefecture around Fukushima a newly appointed to head the Disaster Division PR. After touring the abandoned countryside he has to organize a reception for the  head of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Ryo Saitani's biting animation filled musical satire is probably unlike anything you've ever seen which means you absolutely have to go see this. This wild and crazy film mixes various styles of everything, humor, animation, acting, genres to create a film that is a glorious celebration of film.  To be certain it is bumpy and uneven. It doesn't always work but my god,  I love that someone was crazy enough to do something like this.

As funny and wonderful as the film can be it is also really bleak. Saitani  makes it clear that even though the government would like to tell you otherwise being near Fukushima is deadly. Watching the film I wasn't certain if I should have been laughing. Laughs caught in my throat.

I am in awe of the mind  behind this film.

To be honest I don't know if you are going to like the film. It's all over the place and the humor may not be for all tastes but it is absolutely off the beaten path and one of a kind- which makes it a film that is something that is near and dear to the hearts of those of us at Unseen Films.

Go see it at the Winter FIlm Awards Thursday February 27. For more information and tickets here.


Travis from Melissa Stephens on Vimeo.
I really don't have much to say, you can see the film above, but TRAVIS is a properly uncomfortable film about a man trying to make amends to a woman  he thinks he may have sexually assaulted in college.  It is a film that will open all sorts of doors for anyone who has ever been in any sort of relationship.

Since you can see the film above there really isn't a point to my discussing the film- simply see it. It is six minutes long and it will get you thinking and feeling.

Magic Boy (1961) NYICFF 2020

The first big screen anime brought to the US is the tale of young boy who decides that in order to save his friends he will learn what he has to so he can take on an evil witch who wants to bring pain and misery to everyone in Japan.

Looking nothing like what we think of as anime today and being closer to the films of Disney, which inspired it, MAGIC BOY was a film that even confused those of us old enough to have seen the film when it ran on TV in the 1960's and 70's. The film was not like what we knew as animation, which was Saturday morning Cartoons and Disney.  This was something else from somewhere else. For me I was confused by it to some degree since despite being huge fans of Kimba and Gigantor I had no idea what Japanese animation really was.

Seeing MAGIC BOY today is a head trip. It is so not like what we are used to. To me it seems more like the classic European films  of Paul Grimault or Jean-François Laguionie except with ninja and cute animals. It also reaches forward to the early work of the Ghibli master Isao Takahata whose HORUS PRINCE F THE SUN (aka THE LITTLE NORSE PRINCE)  followed less than decade later. It is a weird blending  of Japan and European and Disney like ideas. As a student of animation history I can see how the film pulled together everything that went before and at the same time influenced everything that went after.

Watching the film for the first time in probably a decade if not more I found I  was all over the place about it. However before you think that's a bad thing understand that I was watching it and noticing things I haven't seen before. I was pulling it apart because I was watching the bits and pieces come together and fly apart. I was also watching it with the eyes of on old fart animation junkie. I was looking at it as a snot nosed critic and not regular guy in a seat.

My all over the place about the film aside I really like the film. I love that the film isn't the same as every other film. I love that it puts us in another time and place. And I really love the adventure tale that is the film at it's heart.

Assuming you are not going to poopoo the fact that it isn't today's anime, this film is a blast. Yea it's not perfect, it is simply trying to juggle too much, but it is compelling and a lot of fun. IN all seriousness there is a reason that I have been revisiting this film time and again for the last fifty years when other films I saw as a kid were tossed on the trash heap.

If you love good adventure films or simply want to know the history of animation than MAGIC BOY is very recommended- so much so that I am hoping to get a ticket to see it on a big screen when it plays Saturday or on March 8th. (Films like this truly sing when seen big)

For tickets and more information go here.

Winter Film Awards 2020 Features ILLEGAL and DADDY ISSUES

Feature portrait of Laz who came from El Salvador crossing the border in the trunk of a car and how he rose to become a US citizen and multimillionaire philanthropist.

Infomercial like and hagiographic portrait of its subject that is wildly over long at 90 minutes. While it is great to see a story that isn’t the typical struggling to survive immigrant tale, the fact that the whole thing is rah rah and filled with Laz‘s rich friends kind of wears out it’s welcome after a while. While never bad I would have liked it if we didn’t have his success telegraphed all the way through- it takes the edge off things when we know he ends up rich with rich friends.

Struggling comic receives word that her rich father has died. Leaving her his California estate he wants her to give up her comedy hobby and run his business, lest his life is revealed to be an utter failure.

All over the place comedy often tries way too hard to be funny with the result a lot of it falls flat. To be honest the least interesting thing in the film is the main character who seems to be trapped in a losing battle with saving the film. On the other hand if you look past the main character and main plot line there are all these great side characters, great performances and wonderful little throw away bits (I love the Harry Potter exchange toward the end) that show what the film could have been had the film didn’t try so damn hard.

While I am very mixed on the film there are enough laughs and good little bits that the film is definitely worth when the film hits a streaming platform

Monday, February 24, 2020

Iberian Nights: Bigas Luna’s Passion Trilogy March 27 - April 2 at the Quad

The Quad presents the whimsically erotic "Iberian Passion Trilogy" from Spanish director Bigas Luna: Jamón Jamón ('92), Golden Balls ('93), and The Tit and the Moon ('94)—all imported 35mm prints

Featuring early performances from Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Benicio Del Toro. With special guests Professor Santiago Fouz Hernández (Durham University UK), Bigas Luna's daughter, Betty Bigas, and more in person

In the 1970s, maverick Spanish filmmakers brought forth pictures that bucked the repressive establishment ethos of their country. While Pedro Almodóvar is the best-known, his contemporary Bigas Luna (1946-2013) cut a distinctive stylistic swath that turned heads. Luna initially concentrated on dark and twisted thrillers but later enjoyed making international audiences blush; his proclivity for erotic stories yielded increasingly free rein and naughty whimsy, as he enlisted up-for-anything actors to be co-conspirators in his visions—most memorably, future real-life couple Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem. The Quad remembers this seductive storyteller with his “Iberian Passion Trilogy,” through which Luna’s design background and painter’s eye add to the enveloping feel of these contemporary fairy tales marbled with social and sexual studies.

Co-presented by The Bigas Luna Tribute, a series of global homage events organized by Bigas Luna’s daughter, Betty Bigas, and Bigas Luna specialist Santiago Fouz Hernández (Professor in Hispanic Studies and Film Studies at Durham University, UK).

Jamón Jamón
Bigas Luna, 1992, Spain, 95m, 35mm
Bubbling over with torrid sex sequences, voluptuous food content, and winkingly outrageous melodrama, the first of Luna’s “Iberian Passion Trilogy” became his biggest success at home and abroad while hot-listing its younger leads for stardom. Jordi Mollà plays a poor little rich boy who falls for local Penélope Cruz (in her film debut), but as she is the daughter of madam Anna Galiena, his mother Stefania Sandrelli won’t abide the match — and hires Javier Bardem to horn in.

Official Selection: Venice Film Festival, Miami International Film Festival

Winner: Silver Lion, Venice Film Festival

In Spanish with English subtitles

“The funniest sexy movie [...] since Like Water For Chocolate.” — Roger Ebert

Golden Balls
Bigas Luna, 1993, Spain, 95m, 35mm
Javier Bardem gets his swagger on for the sly second film in Luna’s trilogy, oozing toxic masculinity as a cocksure aspiring industrialist who operates in acquisition mode both personally and professionally. The supporting cast includes pre-Pulp Fiction Maria de Medeiros, pre-The Usual Suspects Benicio Del Toro, Maribel Verdú (later of Y Tu Mamá También), character actor Ismael [“East”] Carlo, and (in her final film) María Martín of Luna’s Bilbao.

Official Selection: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

In Spanish with English subtitles

The Tit and the Moon
Bigas Luna, 1994, Spain, 93m, 35mm
Luna caps his “Iberian Passion Trilogy;” although Javier Bardem has only a cameo, cinematographer José Luis Alcaine and composer Nicola Piovani top their previous contributions for the director in most fanciful and fantastical style. Nine-year-old boy Biel Duran feels overshadowed by his new baby brother, and fixates on hoping for the miracle of mother’s milk from another source—perhaps the stunning ballerina (played by Mathilda May of Lifeforce infamy) visiting his village?

Official Selection: Venice Film Festival, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

In Catalan, Spanish and French; with English subtitles

The chilling EVERYBODY FLIES begins a series of theatrical engagements across the UK starting Wednesday

When you fly you are stuck in a metal tube thousands of feet above the earth. While we are safe from the thin air and low temperatures in the pressurized cabins, we have nowhere to go if something goes wrong. If, for example, there is a problem with the air we can not open a window or step outside. We have to ride it out until the plane lands. What is really scary is that the air we breath is sucked into the cabin comes in through the engines and isn’t filtered. If there is something wrong with the engine, if say the engine oil is leaking, it gets blown into the cabin. While the oil itself is bad enough, the real danger is it contains Tricresyl Phosphate which is deadly. It causes cancer, nerve damage as well as a very long list of other crippling illnesses. Frighteningly it frequently is blown into the cabin of planes where it causes passengers to get temporarily sick and members of the flight crew, who have repeated exposure, to have to retire due to repeated exposure.

If you fly regularly EVERYBODY FLIES will scare the living shit out of you. Even if you don’t fly it will make you think twice about doing it. The fact that there is something scarier than cigarette smoke in the cabin is perfectly chilling. While I have never flown, after seeing this film I kind of never want to.

Director, presenter and former Airline Captain Tristan Loraine, and co-director with Beth Moran have made one hell of a documentary. It brings to light a problem that possibly could cripple or kill anyone who travels by air.  Its also a gripping thriller that lays its cards on the table at the start to grab us and then ratchets things up as you repeatedly ask why no one is really doing anything about this.

I really don't know what to say other than EVERYBODY FLIES is a stunner. What it puts before us is so vitally important that any quibble one might have are not worth mentioning.

A must see.

Making Waves Celebrates 30 Years of New Romanian Cinema with U.S. Tour

Landmark Retrospective Celebrates Auteurs before and after the Romanian New Wave with 30 Award-Winning Films Including The Death of Mr Lăzărescu, Videograms of a Revolution, The Oak, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Luxury Hotel

New York, New York, February 10, 2020 — Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema has launched a nationwide tour of The Romanians: 30 Years of Cinema Revolution, a 30-film retrospective celebrating three decades of post-Ceausescu cinema. The retrospective is the largest series dedicated to Romanian film presented in the U.S. to date and premiered at New York’s Film Forum in November 2019. A selection of the program will tour throughout the U.S. through May 2020, beginning at the University of California at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA).

The retrospective encompasses 30 cinematic works including seminal, award-winning films such as The Death of Mr Lăzărescu by Cristi Puiu, winner of Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, Lucian Pintilie’s classic film The Oak in a new 4K restoration, Videograms of a Revolution by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujică, Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or-winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days by Cristian Mungiu, Cannes Film Festival Caméra d’Or-winner 12:08 East of Bucharest by Corneliu Porumboiu, Tuesday, After Christmas by Radu Muntean, Venice Film Festival Silver Lion-winner Luxury Hotel by Dan Pița and many more.

Richard Peña, Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, says, “The Romanians is a timely and very necessary series. To my mind, the most important national film movement of the 21st century so far has been the New Romanian Cinema. There is no other in the world that I can think of that has been so consistently challenging and simply excellent. It is a treat to have all these films presented in the series, many of them not that well known in the United States.”

Spanning the 30 years since the revolution of 1989 and the fall of communism, this comprehensive series presents 30 titles from the recent history of Romanian cinema. Naturally, history is the running theme in most films. In the 1990s, directors who found themselves freed from the tyranny of censorship rushed out in the open to tell stories from the recent past. In the following two decades, younger directors went back in time on their own terms and came up with a fresh perspective on the communist era. Even when they chronicled the present with incisive slices of contemporary life, the dark shadows of the past still permeated their stories like familiar ghosts. Then there is the enigma of the revolution itself, which continues to beg for closure. And, despite its apparent diversity, this vast retrospective works best as a history lesson served in the most entertaining form: movies.

Corina Suteu, Making Waves Festival President and Co-Curator, states, “These Romanian films culled from the thirty year period since the fall of communism mark a cycle of creative freedom in Romanian cinema. This series is truly unique, offering a most comprehensive and compelling survey of the brilliance and intensity of talent of various generations of Romanian filmmakers since 1990. This retrospective ensures that their creative voices will be heard in the wider world.”

Kate MacKay, Associate Film Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, states, “Thirty years after the revolution in Romania these films remain as meaningful as ever as the shadows of totalitarianism and corruption are increasingly evident everywhere and protesters take to the streets around the globe.”

For full program information about the institutions participating in the tour of the retrospective, see below.

March 12-27, 2020, Philadelphia, PA
Lightbox Film Center

March 20-22, 2020, Phoenix, AZ
ASU Marston Exploration Theater, co-presented with the Arizona Romanian Film Festival

Additional program details to be announced in the following cities, with additional venues to be confirmed:

Silver Spring, MD, AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center
Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art
Chicago, IL
Los Angeles, CA

The Romanians: 30 Years of Cinema Revolution is organized by the Making Waves Film Festival and Cinema Projects. Produced by Corina Șuteu and Oana Radu, and curated by Mihai Chirilov, David Schwartz (Cinema Projects) and Corina Șuteu. The U.S. Tour is made possible with the support of Adrian Ghenie, Galeria Plan B, Mobius Gallery, Alexandre Almajeanu and Gentica Foundation, Dacin Sara, and numerous individual donors.


ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York Announces Official Lineup of 12th Annual Festival

Celebrating Stories of People with Disabilities through Film at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan and Over 20 locations Throughout the City

Highlighting Themes of Inclusion, Accessibility, Authentic Casting and Responsible Representation

Tickets on Sale March 4th; Festival Runs March 31-April 6

NEW YORK (February 20, 2020) – The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York, announces its full lineup of films for its 12th annual festival, which will run March 31 through April 6. A schedule of screenings and special events is below. Tickets go on sale March 4, and can be purchased at View the festival trailer here:

The 2020 ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York continues to raise the bar on accessibility and showcase talent from around the world dedicated to heighten awareness of the stories and artistic expressions of people with disabilities. The festival celebrates the diversity of our shared human experience through engaging films and events and encourages inclusion and responsible portrayals in cinema of people with disabilities, the most underrepresented minority in American media. As part of the ReelAbilities mission to deepen audience engagement with these topics, all screenings will be followed by conversations with filmmakers and other guests.

The 12th Annual ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York will take place at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, located at 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and at over 20 other venues across all five boroughs of New York City, Long Island, and Westchester, making it the most geographically accessible festival. Some of this year’s prominent venues include the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Museum of the Moving Image, The David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and the IAC Building, in partnership with Vimeo.

In addition, the festival is supported by technology to make it exceptionally accommodating for those with disabilities of all kinds. All venues are fully accessible to mobility devices, and screenings and events include captioning, audio description, CART, ASL interpretation, braille materials, and more. This year ReelAbilities is partnering with The GalaPro app, which will provide audio description and closed captions to all audiences at all venues. GalaPro has provided audio description and closed captions to theatergoers on Broadway and across the U.S., and will now also deliver automated real-time audio description and captions (created by ReelAbilities) for all ReelAbilities films to users’ own mobile devices.

The festival’s Opening Night selection will be the New York premiere of Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli’s feature directorial debut, produced by Zeno Mountain Farm, “BEST SUMMER EVER,” which will make its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March. A wild, fresh, and exhilarating take on the beloved teen musical genre, the film tells the story of summer lovers separated by circumstance...or are they? The film is executive produced by a who’s who of Hollywood actors including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ted Danson, Amy Brenneman, and Mary Steenburgen. With nine original songs and a fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities, this history-making film redefines the movie musical for a new generation. It will screen March 31, at 7 p.m. at the IAC Building, co-presented by Vimeo. Actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard are expected to attend. The ReelAbilities Spotlight Award will be given to actor Zack Gottsagen (“The Peanut Butter Falcon”), and the evening will include a performance by singer Maelyn Jarmon (winner of Season 16 of NBC’s “The Voice”).

Isaac Zablocki, director and co-founder of the festival, said, “We are witnessing a revolution in disability inclusion and depiction. From this year's submissions and the rise in TV and film projects that are including authentic casting, we are noting a dramatic sea change. The quality, quantity, and level of inclusivity of films is higher than we have ever seen before, and we are proud to continue our festival’s legacy of inclusion and representation."

Opening night will also highlight American Girl introducing its new doll, Joss Kendrick, a young surfer with hearing loss. To make the festival even more accessible, Uber, our official transportation sponsor for the second consecutive year, will provide rides to all filmmakers, guests, and talent from/to their screenings throughout New York City, Westchester, and Long Island, and provide free and discounted rides to ReelAbilities audiences, thanks to UBER-WAV.

The Closing Night film will be Javier Fesser’s award-winning Spanish language film “CHAMPIONS” (“Campeones”). This heartwarming comedy tells the story of Marco, a basketball coach with a bad attitude, who, after a traffic accident, is sentenced to community service and ordered by the court to train a team of players with disabilities who have never touched a ball before. Through their innocence, tenderness, and good humor, these champions teach Marco about the things that really matter in life. The film, which won multiple awards at the 33rd Annual Spanish Film Academy’s Goya Awards, including “Best Film,” will screen Tuesday, April 6, at 7 p.m. at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.

Other highlights from the festival lineup include:

The world premiere of Brian Thomas’ igniting documentary “AMY’S VICTORY DANCE,” the story of a former professional dancer who is run over by a 15-ton New York City express bus and her triumphant path back to the stage after the near loss of her life and leg; the world premiere of Salome Chasnoff’s “CODE OF THE FREAKS,” a blistering critique of Hollywood’s representations of characters with disabilities; psychiatrist-turned-filmmaker Kenneth Paul Rosenberg’s “BEDLAM,” an eye-opening personal documentary about the mental health crisis in America;the world premiere of Ben Stamper’s “DON’T FOIL MY PLANS,” the story of a young man with autism who has a dream far bigger than his diagnosis; the New York premiere of Serbian director Raško Miljković’sdebut feature film, “THE WITCH HUNTERS,” a poignant tale about 10-year-old Jovan, who has cerebral palsy, and his imaginative world and adventurous friendship with his classmate Milica; Yang Sun and S. Leo Chiang’s moving documentary “OUR TIME MACHINE,” which follows Shanghai artist Maleonn staging a play for his father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s; Ric Burns’ thoughtful and deeply affecting documentary “OLIVER SACKS: HIS OWN LIFE,” which explores the lifeand work of the legendary neurologist and storyteller, as he shares intimate details of hisbattles with drug addiction, homophobia, and a medical establishment that accepted hiswork only decades after the fact; Kaveh Taherian and Andrew Richey's "25 PROSPECT STREET," a behind-the-screens look at the struggles and sparkle of the Prospector Theater – a non-profit movie theater with a mission of meaningful employment for people with disabilities; and the U.S. premiere of Tom Martin’s “KINETICS,” which follows the unlikely friendship between an exceptionally bright but bored student who finds release in parkour (free running) and a middle-aged teacher with early onset Parkinson's.

In addition, on March 26, ReelAbilities is proud to host a festival preview screening of Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham’s powerful documentary film “CRIP CAMP.” Winner of the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the film, which is part of Barack and Michelle Obama’ Netflix slate, shows that seeing how the world could be can bring about real change. Steeped in the humor and music of the 1960s, “Crip Camp” explores the universal experience of summer camp awakenings that would transform lives and shape the future of the disability rights movement.

Yaara Kedem, associate director of the festival and director of the ReelAbilities International program, said,“The ReelAbilities films, conversations, and special events go beyond disability. The festival continues to work to promote the understanding of the social impact inclusion and accessibility have on everyone'sday-to-day lives and well-being. These connections are not just part of the conversation, but are the pillars of the society we live in, and the basis for creating a caring community that is strong, sustainable and forward-facing.”

In addition to film screenings, ReelAbilities also presents special collaborative programs such as art exhibits, performances, live music, comedy shows, workshops, panel discussions, and much more, creating a weeklong celebration of culture to be announced at a later date.


NYICFF 2020 Opening Night : Children of the Sea (2019)

The opening night of this year's New York International Children's Film Festival has come and gone leaving us racing through four weeks of great films. As has been the case for most of the last 15 years I was there and I brought along Hubert Vigilla as my wing man.

Very close to sold out, the screening was in the large theater at the SVA theater on 23rd Street. By the time Hubert and I got in we had to sit all the way in the back.

A quick apologies to Jessica and the other NYICFF who said hello as I wandered in being moved along with the crowd. I was caught up in the flow and moved along and by the time I heard your greeting I got moved along.

As happens every year the wonderful Nina Guralnick  welcomed us in. She introduced the NYC Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin who said a few words before Nina  introduced the film and did the t-shirt toss.

The short that played before the film was Onomatopoeia Rap (Japangle: Manga) which amusingly explained the sounds you see in manga.

The main  film was CHILDREN OF THE SEA which played after a brief introduction by director Ayumu Watanabe who warned us that there was a post credit sequence. (If you see the film when it is released in April you have to stay.

Based on a five volume manga the film tells the story of Ruka who befriends the brothers Umi and Sora who live at the aquarium where her father works. The two boys were found at sea and they are must stay wet lest their body temperatures rise or the sun burn them. They are some how connected to a great aquatic festival that is calling all of the creatures in the sea to a certain spot.

Visually stunning, the images in this film are absolutely mind blowing. The look of the film, the use of differing styles of art and vast expanse of the what we are seeing impresses to no end. The visual look of the film is so good that despite the fact the plot doesn't work the film is still a must see on a big screen.

The problem with the film is that in chopping down the plot from the source way too much goes. We have no idea what the end is suppose to be, several important characters are cut outs that just exist in this version to move the three leads around, character development stops after 15 minutes and there is the strong sense that the filmmakers have all this information that is not being transmitted to the audience.

If you want to know what the film feels like Think hat would happen if Terrence Malick remade TREE OF LIFE by way of Miyazaki's PONYO but heavily referencing and leaning on the final sequences in Kubrick's 2001. Then make it more obtuse just because. You know you'll have seen something heady- but you'll have no idea what it is.

From what I read on the manga after the fact I think some of the answers are there but they never transferred when source author Daisuke Igarashi wrote the screenplay.

Honestly I like the film and it's mind warping style, but I also think it is a major misfire because we are too adrift.

Kudos to NYICFF for realizing kids can handle heady material, but take a few back for confusing the hell out of a number of them (and the adults)


I really would love this look at the arts festival in Melanesia to be expanded into a feature film. The running time of 20 minutes is much too short to support every thing that the film is trying to do which is looking at the festival, the struggle for independence by the various countries and battle to help prevent climate change. The result is a good film but there simply is way too much going on in its 20 minutes that we never get a complete handle on each facet. Definitely worth a look, especially as a primer on the struggles of the island nations but I am going to pray for a feature where the subjects can get the proper due.

What seems like a one joke film about the Kafka like existence in a Muslim country turns out to be a very funny spin on the craziness of life in general as many of the jokes go beyond the obvious. Frankly I was delighted when things spun out in unexpected ways and we got characters and situations beyond simply saying that the girl in the head to toe burqa looked beautiful. A winner

The true story of the furor caused by a children's book that the officials in a small town school thought might be communist propaganda. A major investigation was started and spun wildly out of control. A scary funny take on official mind think gone out of control. Its so bizarre to think a children’s book could make adults get so frightened. While I completely understand that ideas are scary for dictators but this is just crazy and it has a scary catch in the throat denouncement. Worth a look.

Good small film about how a police officer in Iceland was affected by a tragic event how the lack of support after the fact forced it her to simply keep going despite being wrecked.

This is a small gem of a film.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


Weakest film at the Winter Film Awards concerns a young man played by Stephen Baldwin who loses his job, his mother an has some other tragedies and realizes that the only way to survive is with family and belief in God. A heartfelt movie that is cloying and annoying with it’s insistence that god is all. Its really just not that good and I lost interest early but I stuck it out. A rare total miss for the Winter film Awards

Fictionalized story of Yonlu, a Brazialian teen and internet sensation who made some incredible music, However he struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. A portrait of the young man and his music beautifully told, I want to see what director Hique Montanari does next. The film is incredibly down beat owing to the fact that Yonlu gave into the darkness and killed himself. You will forgive the brevity of the review but while I like and admire the film I don’t particularly care for where the film puts me. As much as I would love to discuss the craft of the film and the achievement of director Montanari I simply will not remain in the dark place the film puts in in order to do so.
Regardless recommended for those who can deal with the darkness.

The Condor and The Eagle
Good documentary on the meeting of the leaders of native people from both North America and South America in order to deal with climate change and other issues affect their people. A stunningly beautiful film with a solid message this is one of the better films on grassroots efforts to combat climate changes in the world.
You will please forgive me for not saying more than that but I really don’t have a great deal to say about the film other than to say that if you want to see a really good climate change film this is a really good one.

SCHEMERS (2019) Winter Film Awards 2020

Writer director Dave McLean's memory play about the days when he fumbled around and fell into music promotion in Dundee in Scotland- eventually promoting the likes of Iron Maiden on pulled together concerts.

Moving like the wind SCHEMERS is full of a sense and time and place. We can pretty much smell Dundee in the early 1980's thanks to McLean's eye and the thick accent and seeming period appropriate slang. It is a big warm hug to the directors hometown.

As to whether you will love or hate the film will depend on whether you click with it. To be certain the accents may be difficult for some, but the real problem is going to be the stylistic choices which make this a film very close to a Guy Ritchie film but a bit less tightly pulled together. Things seem to be scattershot and random at times as if McLean didn't quite know how to bind it all together- sometimes what should be important details are left kind of hanging.

Personally I really liked the film and it's sense of urgency and life. I fell into it  and it's sense of nostalgia. I won't lie and say it's even close to perfect, but I will say I was entertained which in this case was absolutely enough.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Sunday Bloody Sunday Winter Film Awards 2020

A father leans why his son insists on bells on the door. Small scale shocker perfectly told- an no I gave nothing away in the description- trust me.

Young man convinces his friends to take part in a drug trial and it all goes wrong. Good film with style to burn (I want to see what director Chris Tuner does next) really should be a bit longer because by the time everything is set in motion it's almost over. While it isn't fatal, its the difference between being good and being great

Its three minutes about the title.
I can't say anything other than it gave me freaking chills- goosebumps up and down my whole body in three minutes.
Hell yea!

Wanting to atone for the death of his wife a man makes a deal with a high price. Good little horror film with a sting in its tail is not going where you think it is and as such is much better than you think its going to be.

A couple encounters a door to door internet salesman who won't take no for an answer. An amusing if bloody little confection

A woman wakes up wrapped in plastic and is about to be sold to a body traffickers. Mean and nasty and really good. Normally I would hate this sort of film but god damn is it a sweet revenge tale. A must see. (as is what ever director Juan Avella does next)

Philosophy student accidentally performs a ritual and finds herself changed. A good little poisoned confection. While that may not sound like much when compared to the other films in this collection it still is a solid entry.

Two sisters have to find common ground to pick up the pieces after a tragedy. Its a good film that probably could work as a great feature.

A man gets caught in a loop.
Moody great looking chiller that doesn't quite stick the landing. While really good for most of the run time I'm not sure the ending works.

A dam worker in a ton of mysterious disappearances and murders tries to get away from his demons. There is something here and it has moments but I'm not sure it completely works

A girl tries to convince a sheriff an arcade game is causing suicides. Allegedly based on a story that is now an urban legend of a government plot involving evil video games  this is a nice 11980's thow back horror film that screams out to be a full feature film. Worth a look- because I don't know if they'll make the feature it deserves to be.

Winter Film Awards 2020 Shorts: My Little Goat; Floral Friends:Jorro and the Floral Phone; He Can't Live Without Cosmos; A Japanese Boy Who Draws

A mother goat rescues her children from the belly of a wolf but her eldest is missing. One of the most chilling films I've seen in a long while is highly recommended for those who think they can handle it (there is implications of sexual abuse). This is a frightening dark edged masterpiece

Two friends promise to remain in contact by using a magical phone line. This is a lovely little film that put a smile on my face.

Deeply moving film about a mother and her son, an astronaut. It is of course allegorical but at the same time it is deeply deeply moving film with stunning images. Recommended.

Wonderful mockumentary about the life of a manga artist from when he was a kid into adulthood. The film changes style depending on who the characters are and how his skills have changed. Its a wickedly wonderful portrait of manga and anime artists that is even better if you know what the film is referencing. A gem that several people had recommended to me in the last few months and lived up to the hype.

Winter Film Awards 2020 Shorts: Endless Love; The Act; A Path Where No Man Goes

The cast of a a Twainese TV series goes into a hospital with some clown doctors to meet the patients and make them laugh. Sweet little film focuses on the doctors and one small little girl with a brain tumor.

Intense method actor who never breaks character is preparing to play a clown when he received word his sister is dying. Black comedy examination of life and the choices we make will alienate some and thrill others. I'm a little of both, despising the character but loving the issues being raised. That said, the ending broke my heart- as it should. Its a powerhouse of a film.

Young journalist interviews a rich tycoon about success and along the way secrets are revealed. Containing enough plot for a feature film this is a good little thriller, whose only real flaw is that we can speculate about how this is going to go. While it does cover some familiar territory there is a enough here beyond that to make this worth seeing.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Young Ahmed opens today

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

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

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

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

Personally I don't think YOUNG AHMED works. Its well made and all of that but there is something about script that just doesn't pull it together. Worse the film is trying to make a point about something that it ultimately is getting absolutely wrong...

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

Winter Film Awards 2020 Shorts: Latteship; Empty Skies; Never Give Up; Traces; Heartspace; Pop Down

A couple of otters run a coffee truck. A sweet little film about friends and hat is important in life.

In the hope of getting extra rations for his grandmother a small boy hunts the last sparrow. Bittersweet tale of life in communist China during the period of mismanagement and bad ideas caused wide spread famine. This is a small lovely film that will break your heart.

portrait of the singer and musician Mekon who traveled from Nigeria after the death of his parents to Libya where where the to survive forced him to give up music.  He eventually made it to Europe and then to Malta where he returned to music. This is a solid portrait of a singer and his struggle to do what he loves.

Beautiful film about a logger teaching a young girl how to do it and respect nature. This is a lovely little film that really needs to be seen on a big screen because the images and camera work make this film truly something special.

I am at a loss to describe what the film is exactly about other than boy meets girl, however I will say that this little film is absolutely beautiful and heartfelt and a winner.

A girl who thinks she has no one to talk to meets an alien and has a chat. a lovely little film that will put a smile on your face.