Sunday, February 16, 2020

Birds of Prey (2020)

Birds of Prey is the second big screen appearance of Margret Robbie’s take on the Joker’s ex girlfriend Harley Quinn. She was last seen in the much maligned Suicide Squad. In this outing she has left the Joker, thus putting a target on her back as a result of all the people she wronged. In order to save herself she gets mixed up with the search for a stolen diamond which contains the information to find a hidden fortune of a once great Gotham mobster. Along the way she ends up bring together a group of women in order to fight their shared enemy, thus forming the titled vigilante group.

Those looking for a safe comic book film need look elsewhere since this film is full foul language, broken bones, splattering blood and skinned faces as the DC universe makes a hard turn into the realistic. If the death and destruction in recent DC Comic films bothered you because superheroes don’t do that, this film will make you apoplectic. On the other hand if you like your violence crunchy this film is for you.

I am really mixed on the film. While I have no problem with the violence I am not certain if the film gets its tone right. Playing very broadly the film never fully manages to make some of the dark turns scary. To be certain they are icky but things are so light that they are never tense. We never really fear for our heroines because they are so much smarter than the villains. In a way the film plays like one of the goofier Harley episodes of the Batman animated series but with broken bones and flayed faces.  To me it would have worked better with a less goofy attitude

Additionally the plotting of the film is all over the place with some things wildly over plotted (hence the often wild use of flashbacks) and other things just sort of laying there. There are whole sections where characters just disappear despite the sense they should be on screen. Black Canary’s character feels like she was pared down from something larger since there is implications of a greater arc that isn’t here. This is also true of Rosie Perez’s Montoya who does little but spout bad cop show quips. Outside of the lack of writing for The Huntress, who is a kind of non-entity, I can’t tell whether the problems are the fault of the script or of  endless tinkering in the editing to get a finished film. While I don’t know for certain but I am going to guess that there was some sort of behind the scenes tinkering because the people involved in the making of the film know what they are doing- I mean the second half of the film rocks.

Ultimately the first half of the film is the problem. Events flail about seemingly at random. Characters are thrown about at random as if they are desperately trying to balance too many characters and story lines. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to much of it. There is no through line or any sense of narrative or even an intentional lack of narrative. There is only a sense that the film is trying to tll a story though it isn't sure what that is.  It was so off in that first half I seriously considered walking out and going home. However the action sequences and throw away bits amused me enough that I stayed. It was a good choice since once the whole diamond plot kicks in the film finally gets on firm ground and races to the end. It may not be perfect but it does entertain.

And ultimately that’s the best thing I can say about the film as a whole- it’s not perfect but it entertains you enough that you’ll want to see another, better plotted, second go round with the characters

A Metrograph Retrospective of the German New Wave Master and 2020 Berlinale Honoree Ulrike Ottinger with Ottinger In-Person!

One of the crucial modern filmmakers... For Ottinger, the play of imagination is an essential realm of freedom, a way for women to defy and liberate themselves from the misogyny that’s embedded as deeply in consensus styles as in consensus politics." – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Her cinema is restless, Odyssean: full of stories of exile and adventure." – Amy Sherlock, Frieze
Beginning Saturday March 14 (and continuing throughout the year), Metrograph will present a comprehensive retrospective of Ulrike Ottinger, who will appear in-person during opening weekend. Since her move to Berlin in 1973, German director Ottinger has been a flamboyant one-woman revolt against the cinematic status quo. One of the most consequential filmmakers in the New German Cinema, Ottinger produced hyper-stylized subversive epics, among the most adventurous and addictive movies of the last 50 years. Switching between documentary and fiction and drawing heavily from mythological, religious, and modernist texts, Ottinger has built a laugh-out-loud funny, gender-expansive, ultra-intelligent body of work that earns her a spot in film history alongside Agnès Varda, Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, and Chantal Akerman. With new DCP restorations and archival 16mm and 35mm prints.
Freak Orlando (1981/126 mins)
An outrageous, carnivalesque camp reading of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Ottinger’s crazed comedy follows its gender nonconforming hero/heroine through five wide-ranging adventures that span the history of the world: the Freak City department store, medieval times, the Spanish Inquisition, the circus sideshow, and then off on a European tour. With avant-garde star Magdalena Montezuma brilliant in the shapeshifting central role, close collaborator Delphine Seyrig as Orlando’s female opposite number (with Jackie Raynal her Siamese twin), and cinema’s greatest transgender Jesus.

The Image of Dorian Grey in the Yellow Press (1984/150 mins)
In Ottinger’s contemporary reinvention of the famous morality tale, fin-de-siècle dandy Dorian Gray is reimagined as a drag role, played—without comment on the switch—by Veruschka von Lehndorff in the male lead. Ottinger collides Oscar Wilde with Fritz Lang, featuring Delphine Seyrig as one “Dr. Mabuse,” the head of a sinister multinational newspaper agency that conspires to create Gray, to control him, and to destroy him. An odyssey through eye-popping tableaux, including a trip to an unforgettable underworld.

Joan of Arc of Mongolia (1989/165 mins)
Delphine Seyrig’s high-society anthropologist is traveling the Trans-Siberian railroad with a bevy of eccentric international passengers: Fassbinder favorite Irm Hermann’s Teuton school teacher, a starry-eyed young female backpacker, a Broadway star (Gillian Scalici), an all-female klezmer trio, and Micky Katz’s famed Yiddish tenor. They’re halted in the steppes by a detachment of Mongolian tribe women who take the female passengers captive. A brawny epic, a camp musical, and “a sumptuously stylized yet ardently observational film that builds its wild contrasts into its plot.”— The New Yorker

The Korean Wedding Chest (2009/82 mins)
Ottinger’s unorthodox fairy tale ethnography, commissioned by the Women’s Film Festival in Seoul, travels to that city in order to explore the phenomenon of the South Korean wedding chest, filled with symbolic items, and the rituals that accompany it. In the course of the journey, we discover an ultramodern East Asian megacity where ancient tradition and myth exist side by side with contemporary capitalist enterprise. “I was inspired to look more closely at the old and new rituals to determine what is old in the new and new in the old.”— Ulrike Ottinger

Madame X: An Absolute Ruler (Ottinger/Tabea Blumenschein/1978/147 mins)
The hard, merciless pirate ruler of the China Sea, Madame X sends out a missive to women, inviting them to leave domestic security behind for a life of dangerous adventure, but when a panoply of different women—including Yvonne Rainer on roller skates—arrive to serve as her shipmates, they find themselves slaves to a new tyrannical power. In her first feature, Ottinger is already inimitable, making use of extravagant costumes courtesy Tabea Blumenschein and a languid style that’s all her own.

Prater (2007/105 mins)
An anecdotal cultural history of the storied Viennese pleasure garden, whose amusement park, the oldest in the world, provided the scene of the wheel ride in Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949). Ottinger’s beguiling and visually alluring film explores the shifting nature of technological attractions and the Prater’s life in cinema and newsreels, while introducing us to the garden’s visitors. Images of actress Veruschka wandering the grounds in Barbarella costume show Ottinger’s surrealist sensibility very much intact, while she connects the Prater’s heyday to that of the freakshow and the fairground cinema of attractions.

Ticket of No Return (1979/108 mins)
Ottinger’s collision of Hollywood flamboyance and a particularly dour documentary aesthetic suits this Janus-faced tale of two female lushes from two very different walks of life, alike in many ways, but incapable of recognizing their bond. One is a known bag lady barfly; the other a socialite oddball who stays aloof from her surroundings, quietly but intently suiciding with booze. Their paired stories play out in a Berlin peopled by punks and New German Cinema icons, including Nina Hagen, Tabea Blumenschein, Magdalena Montezuma, and Eddie Constantine.

Aim for the Best: Sports in Japanese Cinema

In Anticipation of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan Society Presents
a Film Series Contextualizing the Role of Sports in Modern Japan, Including Two International Premieres

April 10—25, 2020

The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine © 2018 “The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine” Project

New York, NY (February 11, 2020) – Like cinema, sports have been integral to the development of modern Japan since the late 19th century when the country opened its borders to the West. Intersecting these two major cultural forces is the multifaceted and ubiquitous sports film, a fluid genre that offers fascinating insight into issues related to Japanese national identity, gender roles and the clash between tradition and modernity. Organized in anticipation of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, Aim for the Best: Sports in Japanese Cinema celebrates the Japanese sports film in its myriad iterations—covering a wide range of athletic disciplines and filmmaking styles, from wartime Japan to the present—including classics, documentaries, anime and commercial crowd-pleasers. 

The series opens April 10th with a 35mm screening of Masayuki Suo’s award-winning sports comedy Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t, about a mismatched group of outcasts brought together to participate in a dysfunctional college sumo club, followed by a post-screening Sumo Party with chankonabe (a hearty stew commonly eaten by sumo wrestlers), drinks, and a sumo demonstration. One of the uniquely Japanese sports disciplines with premodern origins highlighted in the series, sumo wrestling is also central to The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine, a contemporary period epic by the prolific auteur Takahisa Zeze that focuses on the little-known history of women’s participation in the sport. Other titles involving Japan’s domestic sports include Akira Kurosawa’s debut feature Sanshiro Sugata, a judo film made while the country was still at war, and Kenji Misumi’s The Sword, a postwar classic about kendo starring Raizo Ichikawa adapted from a story by the infamous author Yukio Mishima, both screening on imported 35mm prints.

Other highlights include Koshien: Japan’s Field of DreamsEma Ryan Yamazaki’s perceptive and richly dramatic documentary about Japan’s wildly popular high school baseball tournament Koshien, which serves as a microcosm for Japanese society as a whole—followed by a Q&A with Yamazaki. Koshien is also the subject of the rarest film in the series, which is the 1968 documentary Youth: The 50th National High School Baseball Tournament by legendary director Kon Ichikawa. Long unavailable and relegated to mythical status among Ichikawa completists, the film screens for the first time outside of Japan on April 25th as the final event of the series.  Another recently unearthed discovery is Tokyo Paralympics: Festival of Love and Glory, a fascinating document of the 1964 Paralympic Games that was newly restored this past year, making its International Premiere.

The series is rounded out by the recently remastered tennis anime feature Aim for the Best!, adapted from a popular manga and anime series inspired by women’s athletics; biting satires about baseball scouting and capitalism in sports—Masaki Kobayashi’s I Will Buy You—and the manufacturing of sports stars through advertising—Seijun Suzuki’s characteristically eccentric golf film A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness; the synchronized swimming audience favorite Waterboys from hitmaker Shinobu Yaguchi; and two free events: a talk by Dr. Robin Kietlinski contextualizing the history of modern sports in Japan through the lens of gender and social issues, and a free screening and talk presentation of the pilot episode of the NHK “taiga drama” Idaten, about the history of Japan’s involvement in international sports and the Olympics.

“With the Summer Games in Tokyo on the horizon, this is a perfect opportunity to consider the longstanding tradition of putting Japanese sports on the big screen,” says K. F. Watanabe, series curator and Deputy Director of Film at Japan Society. “From sumo to baseball, the intersection of sports with Japanese cinema offers rich insight into some of the most salient issues in Japan’s modern history, including how sports have served to define its social and political values as a compromise between tradition and globalizing change.”

Tickets: $14/$11 seniors, students and persons with disabilities/$10 Japan Society members. Screening of Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t + Sumo Party: $18/$15/$14. 3-Film Pass: $2 off each ticket when you purchase three films in the same transaction. All-Access Pass: $77 ($7 per ticket for all 11 films in the series.) Purchase tickets online at, in person at Japan Society, or by calling the box office at 212-715-1258.

 All films in Japanese with English subtitles.

Fri., Apr. 10 at 7 pm
Dir. Masayuki Suo, 1992, 105 min., 35mm
*Followed by a Sumo Party
Before receiving global acclaim for the smashing success of Shall We Dance? (1996), director Masayuki Suo had another major hit with this light-hearted comedy about a ragtag group of misfits who eventually find their self-worth by resurrecting a nearly defunct university sumo club. Gently poking fun at the outmoded traditions of Japan’s ancient sport while also celebrating its inherent values, Suo’s modern and comedic take on sumo transcends national specificity in a way that could inspire anyone to strap on a mawashi belt and step into the ring. A critical and commercial favorite, the film swept the 16th Japan Academy Prize in almost every major category.

Sat., Apr. 11 at 2 pm
Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1943, 79 min., 35mm
Made under the watchful eye of the Japanese wartime government, Akira Kurosawa’s first film as a director is an adaptation of a popular novel about the legitimization of judo, based on the life of one of its earliest disciples, Shiro Saigo, and his training with the martial art’s founder Kano Jigoro. Despite the film’s required conformity to imperial national policy, Kurosawa’s authorial trademarks—including his recurring interest in the master-disciple dynamic, his influence from Western-style filmmaking and his masterful command of film technique—are clearly evident, resulting in a fascinating debut that offers a blueprint for understanding one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers.

Sat., Apr. 11 at 4 pm
Dir. Masaki Kobayashi, 1956, 111 min., 35mm
Before taking on the Japanese feudal system in anti-establishment jidaigeki masterpieces such as Harakiri (1962), director Masaki Kobayashi turned his attention to the world of professional sports with this scathing indictment of the baseball industry and postwar capitalist greed. Battling against rival teams, a talent scout for the major league Toyo Flowers goes all out to sign a star college baseball player—a cutthroat process involving bribery, deception and back room deals—at the risk of losing his humanity. Mostly ignoring the game of baseball in itself, Kobayashi’s atypical, noir-tinged sports film takes its action off the field to remind us that everybody has a price.

Sat., Apr. 11 at 7 pm
Dir. Kenji Misumi, 1964, 94 min., 35mm
One of the rare non-jidaigeki (period drama) films directed by Kenji Misumi—best known for his contributions to the Lone Wolf and Cub and Zatoichi swordplay film series—The Sword nevertheless evokes the bushido spirit through the story of an exceptionally talented kendo club captain whose ascetic devotion to the centuries-old practice draws the ire of his less-disciplined assistant. Adapted from a short story by Yukio Mishima and released the same year Japan hosted their first Olympics, The Sword positions the battle over kendo supremacy as an ideological conflict between feudal traditionalism and postwar modernity in determining the future of Japan. A psychologically tense drama beautifully rendered with widescreen black-and-white cinematography.

Wed., Apr. 15 at 7 pm
Dir. Shinobu Yaguchi, 2001, 91 min., DCP 
Initially lured by the prospect of getting close to a beautiful new coach, five awkward students at an all-boys high school sign up for a synchronized swimming club despite having little athletic ability and even less coordination, finding some help from an eccentric dolphin trainer along the way. Known for hit commercial fish-out-of-water comedies, Swing Girls (2004) director Shinobu Yaguchi landed his first major success with this teen comedy, a heartwarming crowd-pleaser that maximizes the pleasures of the sports film genre—including unconventional training sequences and a show-stopping finale—while providing playful commentary on masculinity and traditional gender roles. 

Sat., Apr. 18 at 1 pm
Free Talk Event
Dr. Robin Kietlinski, Associate Professor of History at CUNY-LaGuardia Community College and author of Japanese Women and Sport: Beyond Baseball and Sumo (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2012), discusses the entry of Japanese women into the domestic and international sporting arenas, focusing on some of the barriers they have broken in the past century of competition. In conjunction with Japan Society's sports film series, this talk will shed light on the ways sports offer an interesting (and often under-explored) lens into historical changes within Japanese society. By looking at the situation of Japanese sportswomen within a broader international context of women's competitive sports, this talk considers how participation in sports has challenged and shaped traditional stereotypes of womanhood over the past century in Japan. 

Sat., Apr. 18 at 3 pm
Dir. Takahisa Zeze, 2018, 189 min., DCP
Amid the sociopolitical turmoil following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, a group of radical male anarchists who call themselves the Guillotine Society cross paths with an itinerant female sumo troupe and form a bond strengthened by their shared resistance to rising militarism and racist vigilante nationalists targeting socialists and Koreans. Chronicling a country caught between flowering liberal democracy and a reactionary shift towards fascism, Takahisa Zeze’s exhilarating and sprawling epic paints a compelling portrait of the late Taisho era using historical incidents and figures while highlighting the little-known story of Japanese women’s sumo—a sport that continues to relegate women’s participation to non-professional circuits. 

Sat., Apr. 18 at 7 pm
Dir. Osamu Dezaki, 1979, 88 min., DCP
Following the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympics and the domestic excitement surrounding Japanese athletes, the sports manga and anime genre (supokon) became popular in Japan in the late 1960s and ’70s, including several shojo (youth female-oriented) series. Among the most iconic and influential of these is Aim for the Best!, created by Sumika Yamamoto, about an insecure high school girl who strives to become a professional tennis player with the guidance of a mysterious coach and the rivalry of an older teammate. Adapted by the pioneering anime director Osamu Dezaki, the subsequent theatrical film features his innovative and psychedelic visual style that pushed animation in bold new directions, presented in a brand new digital remaster.

Tues., Apr. 21 at 7 pm
Dir. Seijun Suzuki, 1977, 93 min., 35mm
Fired from Nikkatsu studio for making “incomprehensible” films, iconoclastic filmmaker Seijun Suzuki returned to the director’s chair after a decade of exile working in television with this characteristically bizarre critique of advertising and celebrity culture based on a story by sports manga legend Ikki Kajiwara (Ashita no Joe). In need of a new cover girl to boost advertising sales, the top brass of a large sports magazine manufacture the latest Japanese sports star: an amateur golfer who looks good in a bikini. When the golfer’s fame attracts the unwanted attention of a crazed housewife stalker, however, she finds herself terrorized by a blackmail scheme and Suzuki makes a sharp turn into surreal psychological thriller territory. 

Fri., Apr. 24 at 7 pm
Dir. Ema Ryan Yamazaki, 2019, 94 min., DCP
*Followed by a Q&A with director Ema Ryan Yamazaki 
Every summer in Japan, baseball fans are swept up in the thrill of Koshien, the wildly popular national high school baseball championship named after Osaka’s hallowed Koshien Stadium. On the historic 100th anniversary of the single elimination tournament, documentary filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki follows the coaches and players of two promising teams as they undergo rigorous training—a process that reveals a uniquely Japanese and exceptionally martial approach to the Western sport that emphasizes self-sacrifice and spiritual conditioning. Yamazaki’s perceptive film offers Japanese baseball as a microcosm of a nation that continues to balance respect for tradition with the adoption of progressive change.

Sat., Apr. 25 at 2 pm
Dir. Tsuyoshi Inoue, 2019, 58 min., DCP
*Free screening introduced by producers Mio Ietomi and Kei Kurube, followed by a talk presentation
Every year, NHK (Japan’s public broadcaster) produces a yearlong historical drama series known as their “taiga drama.” Last year’s taiga drama Idaten, presented in celebration of the 55th anniversary of the 1964 Summer Olympics and in anticipation of the 2020 edition, focused on the history of Japanese sports and Japan’s participation in the Olympics throughout the 20th century—only the second taiga drama to ever involve postwar Japanese history. In this special free screening and talk event, the pilot episode of Idaten screens for the first time with English subtitles, followed by a talk presentation about the project and its contexts by two of the show’s key producers.

Sat., Apr. 25 at 4:30 pm
Dir. Kimio Watanabe, 1965, 63 min., DCP
*International Premiere 
*Introduced by Dr. Dennis Frost, Associate Professor of East Asian Social Sciences at Kalamazoo College
This summer, Tokyo will be the first city to host the Paralympic Games on two separate occasions. This frank and intimate documentary—recently rediscovered and restored after being forgotten in storage for decades—offers a fascinating glimpse of the first occasion in 1964, the 2nd official Paralympics, by following the journey of several pioneering Japanese athletes whose participation (along with that of over 300 other athletes from 20 countries) helped raise disability awareness and change prevailing stigmas in their home countries. An important addendum to Kon Ichikawa’s iconic Tokyo Olympiad (1965), this long-forgotten and vital documentary screens outside of Japan for the first time.

Sat., Apr. 25 at 7 pm
Dir. Kon Ichikawa, 1968, 96 min., DCP
*International Premiere 
Among the hardest-to-see films in Kon Ichikawa’s oeuvre, this 1968 documentary finds the legendary 
director approach the subject of Japanese high school baseball with the same lyricism and visual splendor as he did with the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo Olympiad (1965). On the 50th anniversary of the Koshien games, Ichikawa captures the uniquely rigorous training—in snow, dirt and schoolyard lots—of the young athletes preparing for the all-important tournament, interspersed with historical footage that contextualizes Japan’s long love affair with student baseball. A thrilling portrait of youth in the economic boom of the postwar period, Ichikawa’s rare film encapsulates an entire generation through sports.


Fri., Mar. 13 at 7 pm
Dir. Naoto Takenaka, 1991, 107 min., 35mm
In this wry comedy adapted from the semi-autobiographical work of legendary cartoonist Yoshiharu Tsuge, a hapless manga artist disillusioned with drawing comics turns his attention to selling rocks that he finds in a nearby river—a hopeless endeavor that only further estranges him from his poverty-stricken family. An auspicious directorial debut by popular Japanese actor and comedian Naoto TakenakaNowhere Man won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 48th Venice Film Festival. This rare 35mm screening is co-presented with New York Review Comics in celebration of their brand-new publication of The Man Without Talent, the first full-length work by Tsuge translated into English.

Tickets: $14/$11 seniors, students & persons with disabilities/$5 Japan Society members

Sat., Mar. 21 at 3, 5 & 7 pm
Dir. Atsushi Wada, 2004-2019, 73 min., DCP
Atsushi Wada (b. 1980, Hyogo Prefecture) is an award-winning Japanese animator whose distinctive hand-drawn style emphasizes a minimalist aesthetic and evocative use of negative space. His whimsical and surrealist works, often involving animals and soft humans with blank expressions, utilize sudden shifts in perspective, sound effects and idiosyncratic gestures to express the comic absurdity and poetry of everyday life. This retrospective screening program features nine animated short films and various commissioned projects by Wada, including The Great Rabbit, recipient of a Silver Bear short film jury award at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival.

Tickets: $14/$11 seniors, students & persons with disabilities/$10 Japan Society members

Japan Society Film's programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Endowment Fund and Gaia Holistic Health Foundation/Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura-Hillyer. Additional season support is provided by The Globus Family, Masu Hiroshi Masuyama, Geoff and Fumi Matters, Laurel Gonsalves, David Toberisky, Akiko Koide and Shohei Koide, Dr. Tatsuji Namba, George Gallagher, David S. Howe, and Hiroshi Tsuyuki and Yasuko Tsuyuki.

Japan Society Film offers a diverse selection of Japanese films, from classics to contemporary independent productions. Its aim is to entertain, educate and support activities in the Society's arts and culture programs. For more, visit

About Japan Society
Founded in 1907, Japan Society in New York City presents sophisticated, topical and accessible experiences of Japanese art and culture, and facilitates the exchange of ideas, knowledge and innovation between the U.S. and Japan. More than 200 events annually encompass world-class exhibitions, dynamic classical and cutting-edge contemporary performing arts, film premieres and retrospectives, workshops and demonstrations, tastings, family activities, language classes, and a range of high-profile talks and expert panels that present open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue).

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The New York International Children's Film Festival and The Winter Film Awards are this week

Two of New York's best film festivals start this week and you should go to both-

2020 NYICFF Festival Trailer from NY Int'l Children's Film Fest on Vimeo.

Just a heads up that the New York International Children's Film Festival starts Friday.  As with every year there will be coverage of the festival however since I have only seen a couple of the films I really can't do more than say go. If you are a long time reader of Unseen you already know you should just check the schedule and buy tickets. I am still coordinating going to screenings with my niece and with friends so I can't say what all of what we'll be reviewing but look for pieces on SHAUN THE SHEEP, and ON-GAKU: OUR SOUND (see this film) later in the week and more reviews through the fest.

Tickets and more information here.

The Winter Film Awards, one the great under appreciated film festivals anywhere in the world, starts on Thursday and if you are in NYC from the 20th to the 29th you NEED to go. No seriously you NEED to go to the fest. While I have seen absolutely nothing from this year's festival the last few years the festival has been responsible for showing me some of the best films I saw all year. Fantabulous things are discovered by the festival programmers and they share them with everyone who wants to go. It has become one of my must cover festivals because what they show simply is light years beyond hat you'll find at most other festivals. I am still working out my schedule and still pleading for screeners because they are showing so much wickedly cool stuff I would have to quit my job move into the city to see it other wise.

The schedule with information and tickets can be had here.

And if you can't go- at the very least look for reports from the road.

You will excuse me as I go off now since there are movies to watch and reviews to watch.

In Brief: DRAFT DAY (2014)

Kevin Costner plays the general manager of Cleveland Browns football team as they try to cut a deal or several deals on drfat day that will make them a power house once again.

Very good ensemble drama manages to get tension wrought out of what is for the non-football maniac an incredibly dull event- a sports draft. While the film is very by the numbers and the cast is in roles that makes you know exactly where they line up on the good guy bad guy spectrum, it still manages to get you to cheer at the end. Hell the first time I saw the film I came in in the final half hour and was cheering. I then went back and watched from start to finish and got a bigger kick out of it.

A super little film that's worth your time.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Private Fiction (2019) Neighboring Scenes

Private Fiction is a quiet thoughtful meditation on family and things we leave behind. In it director stitches together letters, photos and memories of his parents along with discussions with his daughter, father and others to create a portrait of life in Argentina. In the course of excavating his families history he raises all sorts of questions about our own families as well.

Having watched a number of big and loud films playing the Neighboring Scenes Festival I was taken aback by the films quiet meditative nature. It was a radical change of pace that had me wondering what I was seeing. Where were the flashy visuals? Where were the oversized characters? I wasn’t sure. When the film was done I found I really liked it, but at the same time I didn’t know what else to say. I sat on the review and went off to watch the remaining films I was doing in the series…and then I found that the film refused to leave me. I was looking at the photos of friends at work and I was pondering the stories behind them. As director Andrés Di Tella asks at the beginning of the film- why were these photos taken? An exchange later in the film when Di Tella is talking to his father about a letter his mother wrote and how he couldn’t read it because it seemed so personal, and how he could still hear his mother’s voice echoed with me. I can still hear my mother and I am still effected by discovering random notes my mother left behind.

Over time this quiet little film grew in stature. What I thought might be a minor film at the fest became one of it’s best and most haunting. The notions of family and life it wrestles with suddenly seemed to devour my head and heart. Simply put this is the sort of film I live for- one that comes from nowhere to become a great treasure.

I have no idea if the film will hit you as it hit me, but on the off chance I highly recommend it when it plays this weekend at Lincoln Center.

PRIVATE FICTION plays Sunday at Neighboring Scenes. For tickets and more information go here

Camp Cold Brook Film Review Starring Danielle Harris and Chad Michael Murray

In order to go out with a bang, a team of veteran paranormal investigators travels to Oklahoma to investigate an abandoned camp where a brutal massacre occurred years earlier.
Chad Michael Murray (Gilmore Girls, House Of Wax) and Danielle Harris (Halloween 4, Rob Zombie’s Halloween 1 & 2) star in this old school style horror tale that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seats. It’s witty, It’s dark, and it’s a lot of fun. Chad and Danielle have such great on screen chemistry. They act like professional paranormal investigators and I believed them.
When audiences hear about a horror film that takes place at a camp there’s always that fear that the film will be lazy and ride off the coat tails of previous horror franchises. Camp Cold Brook doesn’t need to do that and is able to stand on its own. I felt like this film was a mix between 80’s horror and Ghost Adventures. The good Ghost Adventures. You know, before they started making everything up for ratings.
It’s very easy to make a paranormal film boring. It’s also very easy to rely on jump scares to carry the film. The filming techniques that were used in this movie allow the audience to have a completely different experience. I love that the creators were very mindful about how they included the technological equipment. It was very similar to what you’d see during a real paranormal investigation. You can tell everyone involved in the film did their homework on the subject and I have a lot of respect for that.
Through out the movie the team begins filming via found footage angles in order to record the events for the teams television series. This was a bold choice but I think it works really well for this specific film. I have never been a fan of the found footage genre but I think it works really well when used this way. It adds that extra “We’re not alone” feeling that helps breathe life into the film.
Camp Cold Brook is the winner of not one but two awards. Horrorhound Film Festival for Best Feature and Shriekfest for Best Horror Feature. I agree with their decisions. I think this film definitely deserves the recognition it’s receiving.
If you’re a fan of well thought out paranormal films definitely check out Camp Cold Brook. It reminds me a lot of horror films from the late 90’s and early 2000’s while remaining current and I think this will resonate with a lot of viewers. Writer Alex Carl and Director Andy Palmer are both fun and artistic filmmakers. I’ll be keeping my eye out for future projects.

Blue Valentine (2010)

It's a time tripping film about the end and the beginning of a relationship.

A favorite at Cannes and other film festivals, the film is probably best known for the battle for its rating. Originally rated NC17 because of its sex scenes the film was re-rated R. (the scenes are not gratuitous) Well reviewed, with lots of Inde cred, the film is good, but I don't know why it attracted all of the attention it did. Yes it's got several great performances, but in my mind the film is dramatically flawed. The conceit of seeing only the beginning and the end but not the middle doesn't work. The problem is that too much has changed, particularly with the Ryan Gosling character that he seems to have been ported in from another movie. How did they get there?I don't know.

Actually the film doesn't really know what to do with the Gosling character at all. In the early scenes he's a sweet but not not too bight guy. Then in the later scenes he's a gruff nasty guy as aimless as before but with a violent streak. Where did it come from? Short of one early scene- somewhere around when he climbs the fence- there is no indication of the character change. To me the film is all about Michelle Williams character and anything else only exists to help her arc. Since the Gosling Character as written in the early scenes would allow for it, they chopped the middle of the story out and changed him to what suited those purposes.

It doesn't really work and it reminded me more of the mumblecore inde films that are popular for a brief instant before fizzling. In all honesty had the Weinsteins not been pushing this, nor had it not had the rating controversy this film would have rolled over and sunk from view.

Not bad, but it wasn't worth the time I put into it.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Ema (2019) Neighboring Scenes 2020

EMA opens with the arresting image of a street light on fire. It is a long held image of staggering beauty. It is so beautiful I said “wow” out loud and then hunkered down for what I hoped for a film that lived up to that promise…

…and on pretty much every level EMA is as good as filmmaking gets. It is film that is the absolute pinnacle of filmmaking with performances and images and sequences rocking me to my core. I was staring at the screen wondering if Oscar will notice this film when it finally gets a US release later this year. And then I realized that the script is a bit too much of a mess for that to happen which is sad because so much of this film rocks.

The plot of the film has dancer and flamethrower wielding pyromaniacEma getting more and more annoyed that child protective services have taken away her and her husband’s adoptive son. She wants the boy back because no one can love him like her. Never mind that she and her husband are neglectful and that the boy has deep seated problems (he severely burns her sister’s face) she is his mother.

Script aside director has made a film that is a stunner. Performances crackle and pop in all the ways that make other actor jealous. The various sequences and visuals make you react audibly over and over again. As a constructed thrill machine EMA delights in ways few films ever do. If you want to make a film that is going to get people’s attention this is the way to do it. Good, bad or indifferent as the film is a whole, the technical achievement of the film's pieces cements Pablo Larrain as one of the greatest directors working today anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t really work. The characters, especially Ema and her husband seem disconnected from reality. They are in their own world. Things seem to take odd turns just because. For example it seems to be completely okay to wander the streets with a flame thrower on one’s back and torching things. While the cast sells the often WTF turns, we never fully buy it and as a result we are outside of events looking in. I suspect there was an intentional move to pump things up to make a point, but it’s kind of hard to go with it when you keep wanting ask questions of the character choices.

While part of me thinks that I shouldn’t recommend the film, my heart and emotions are blown away by the images and sequences and sheer craft that there is no way I can not. Simply put this is a master director working near the top of his came which makes the film worth seeing.

EMA plays Sunday at Neighboring Scenes. For more information and tickets go here.

Impossible Monsters (2019)

A psychology professor looking to get a big money grant starts up a sleep study focusing on dreams, nightmares and sleep paralysis. Things do not go smoothly as ethical questions are raised and a murder occurs.

Solid thriller is kind of hard to really discuss. I know that many of fellow writers will tell you everything at the drop of a hat but in this case I don't think that is proper. In trying to read on the film to see how some fellow writers handled the twists I found that more than one gave away details that really clue you in to what is going on. I don't want to do that.

I will say that this is a well made and stylish thriller with more than its fair share of suspense. Better in many ways than several recent thrillers, the film manages to keep us off balance by not doing exactly what e expect when we expect it. The film also boasts a couple of nice suspense sequences that keep us focused on what is happening and not our cellphone screens.


IMPOSSIBLE MONSTERS hits theater in LA and NYC Friday. It hits VOD platforms on March 3

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Talking about community: COMPANIA and WAITING FOR THE CARNIVAL at Neighboring Scenes

Residents from a small town inn the Andes return home for the festival of the dead.

Ethereal documentary often plays like some of the films of Werner Herzog but something much more it's own thing. Long, often wordless sequences put us into a place we've never been with the result that we leave the theater we are sitting in and travel to a place thousands of miles away. The mood is set with a long opening sequence scored to the music of players that take us from the city to the mountains. Its a brilliant gambit that at first seems like a trick that isn't going to work. But director Miguel Hilari knows what he's doing and it isn't long before the marriage and word and image flip the switch and we are all in.

I am in awe. Rarely has any documentary so perfectly put me in a space of it's choosing.

A must see masterpiece.

COMPANIA plays Saturday at Neighboring Scenes

Portrait of the small "factions" that have sprung up in Toritama in Brazil. These are small mom and pop factories that turn out blue jeans night and day. They started to appear when the big factories went broke and the workers started to do the work themselves. They work all year, everyday until the time of Carnival when they head to the shore for vacation.

I was not intending on seeing the film, but ended up seeing it just because. I am so glad a did for a number of reasons. First it showed me a way of working for which I had no idea. I really never expected mom and pop shops could be so successful. Many of the people do the work because they like to and it plays so well. I also loved the film because I genuinely loved the various people we meet. More and more with documentaries like this I am not interested in the "job" but I am interested in the people. If I can meet people I would like to sit and talk to I am in heaven.

This is a wonderful little film and is recommended.

WAITING FOR THE CARNIVAL plays next Tuesday at Neighboring Scenes

For more information and tickets to either of these films go here

Olympic Dreams (2020)

When director Jeremy Teicher, Nick Kroll and Olympic runner Alexi Pappas were sent to Korea in order to make a series of short films during the Olympics they realized that they could co-opt the project and use the camera and access granted them to do the shorts in order to bang together a feature film on the fly. Working out a rough plot outline with a lot of room for improvisation and the ability to wing it they put together a romance on the fly. The result is OLYMPIC DREAMS and it is released Friday.

The wafer thin plot of the film has a skier played by Pappas going through her paces at the game. Along the way she meets and falls into a volunteer dentist at the Olympic village played by Kroll. The film unfolds as the pair spends their free time together and ponder what to do with this relationship that has sprung up between them.

In the greater scheme of things OLYMPIC DREAMS is a curio. It is going to be remembered for the story around it’s filming more than the film itself. It is going to be the answer to the Jeopardy question about what film was shot during the Olympics…

…that said the film itself is actually pretty good. A small scale romance the film is a sweet little confection. I went into the film purely because I foolishly told the people behind the film I would take a look at it, only to find that when I was actually watching the film I was kind of smiling from ear to ear from the start. More telling about how good it is was the fact that I got really pissed off when the screener I was given stopped streaming an hour in and I had to wait two days to finish the film. As things go the anger at not being able to see how it came out right away is a much better review than anything else I could say.

Opening Friday OLYMPIC DREAMS is recommended.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

LET IT BURN and PIROTECNIA at Neighboring Scenes 2020

Portrait of the seven-floor Dom Pedro hostel in downtown São Paulo, which houses 107 homeless residents. Many of the people are from fringe communities, many have drug or mental health issues. Director Maíra Bühler often stands outside the and lets things happen before the camera. Other times, and often most compellingly, the camera comes in close on holds tight on a person’s face as they talk about their lives. It’s all a serious kick in the ass which slowly gets under you skin. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be that in the face with some of these people but slowly I became invested and I couldn’t look away. A masterful portrait

LET IT BURN Saturday the 15th

One of the best films at Neighboring Scenes is one of the best films of the year.

A brilliantly constructed film that is ever changing as it goes. Beginning with a look at a series of photographs that record the execution of the four men who tried to kill the president of Columbia in 1906 which some people say is the start of the cinema in the country and moving onward through his own family’s story and the countries recent military history, the film knits together a huge portrait of not only the subjects it covers but existence on a larger level. Large and small events echo with each other in unexpected places . For me the process of watching the film was a series of "Ah Ha" moments as I caught echoes of earlier bits. I found that I wanted to stop the film and go back. More to the point when the film ended I wanted to watch it again just to see how it plays now that I knew where it was going. That my friends, is a great film to me

A heady wonder film.

PIROTECNIA plays Sunday the 16th

For more information or tickets to these films go here