Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Steve's thoughts on Code of The Freaks (2020) Reelabilities 2020

One of the more interesting, at least in the concept, film on film documentaries I’ve seen in a very long time Code Of The Freaks may change the way you see every film with a person with a disability. Or it may not. It was made to be a damning portrait of how even positive films can be condescending and hurtful. Unfortunately because of that, I'm not sure it's any good beyond it's premise- however intriguing  the idea behind it is.

A collection of clips are mixed with talking head segments with people with disabilities, the film charts how Hollywood really doesn’t get or understand disabilities and as a result they don’t know how to handle them. More times then not disabilities is used for some dramatic purpose to tweak the emotion. Hollywood so much wants them to be used as something to over come and make us feel good. The films want to be inspiring- but as one person says "I’m sick of people telling me I inspire them."

While I like what the film is trying to do,  I don't think it is as successful as it should or could be.  Basically while the film opens the discussion of how disabilities are seen in popular entertainment (because FENCES  that transferred from the stage and DAREDEVIL which comes from a comic book I am throwing the net wider) it doesn't make it a complete enough discussion because it almost exclusively dwells on what Hollywood gets wrong. Based on material surrounding it's making the film was made  with a very negative point of view in mind which corrupts the entire discussion because it doesn't allow for anything other than the negative.

Even before one looks at  the story behind the film it is clear that the murderers row of talking heads pretty much hates or has a problem with every film discussed.  If you look at the story behind the film you see the Kickstarter page talking of the film as the film being made with the intention of it being "take down" of all Hollywood's product. While I can understand that the film was made out of anger, there has to be some positive portraits...right? Not according to this film which seems to simply exist to rip the films apart.  I say this because in watching the film a second and third time I realized that even when they like something a film does, say how COMING HOME shows how sex can be difficult, it still manages to find all sorts of faults with the film.

Some of  what I find troubling is that some of the faults fall outside of the scope of the film. Some of the talking heads ask questions about why in the course of making THE MIRACLE WORKER a blind girl didn't play Helen Keller or why the signing wasn't exactly right. I would have thought a discussion of the making of the film and the state of Hollywood then and now would have followed, but it doesn't. This is odd because the Kickstarter page talks about the film giving a broader social context for the films but in actuality that seems to be missing in favor of just picking particular films apart. Sadly CODE is firmly focused on the films and their flaws with only a token amount focused outside of that.

In the case of FENCES, and other films, questions are asked about why secondary characters with disabilities are not given more fully rounded characteristics of the sort a lead character would get "Why don't we know if Gabriel would want a family of his own?" muses one person. I could see the argument if Gabriel or other  secondary characters were the focus of the film/play/ect but they are not. They are there for other reasons and are not the focus of the narrative thrust, even if they are carried along by it. The inclusion of this sort of a discussion doesn't belong in a film such as this because while they are most definitely part of the film looking for a broader exploration of a secondary character would change the notions of what the film was about. Is it about Gabriel or Troy, the Denzel Washington character? This is Troy's story. If it's about Gabriel then it would be a different film, just as say in David Fincher's SEVEN focused on Second Guard at The Library (a real character title) instead of Brad Pitt.

This wanting more from some characters is an odd choice to focus in on when in some cases the talking heads don't full speak to things that should color their discussion. There is a discussion of how some people with handicaps are seen as having superpowers and use DAREDEVIL as an example. The trouble is that the character is decidedly not supposed to be a representation of all blind people.  Sourcing from a comic book he is the result of an accident which gave him super powers.  He is not every man just as none of the X-Men or any other superhero is a singular representation for any one group.  Frankly with proliferation of comic book films one must ask why the film didn't  have a larger discussion of the representation of the characters. The film is up to date and includes a discussion of WONDER WOMAN's disfigured villain so it could have and should have been there if you are going to reference films in the genre.

Like wise why did the film include Dracula, Frankenstein and the other movie monsters? While I understand it because of the notion of disabilities equating with the notion of them being an outsider the inclusion doesn't really work since except in the case of stretching the idea of what is disabled to the point of including undead and unhuman. It's negative view is especially untenable when there have been dozens of discussions of monsters as a positive representation of the outsider, such as  Douglas McEwan's WE BELONG DEAD: A GAY PERSPECTIVE ON THE CLASSIC MOVIE MONSTERS which do a better job and more complete job of putting the monsters in perspective (gay or otherwise) as an outsider and explaining why the monsters connect with people on the edge of society.

The film sadly seems to pick and choose characters that fit it's narrow view with the result that this film is more doctoral thesis than an viable cultural discussion. The film only throws a net toward the films it can safely take down. I won't venture to suggest potentially positive example outside the net since I'm certain the makers of CODE would no doubt find fault just because they can (one of the talking heads in an on-line bio talks about the jot they get from simply nay saying any portrait of the disabled on screen- which begs the question - why include this person on a panel when all they can give you is vitriol and an insistence that what you or they are doing is wrong. If you are that sure of yourself, you make a movie).

And one has to wonder if the talking heads are aware of actual events depicted in the films discussed. For example the death of John Merrick in THE ELEPHANT MAN is taken as a noble death because he died knowing that laying down would kill him. The trouble for me is that while the film makes his death moving in keeping with the whole structure of the narrative, his death as reported in accounts of the time said was not suicide but an experiment to see if he could sleep like a normal person. I see the sequence as an out growth of him simply trying to be a normal person and nothing more. Because we are given a sequence of what he "saw" as he died doesn't mean it's a noble death.

The film in many ways is so narrow refusing to deal with anything outside of its POV  that there is no wiggle room for a real discussion.  Despite the film raising  many valid points about how Hollywood and popular culture see certain specific things elating to disability,  say the over use of certain tropes, playing a character with a disability is the way to win an Oscar and using a similar plot line for most films, the ultimate myopia sinks it.  It sinks because  according to the panel pretty much all the films are bad and not worthy of discussion.  I left watching this film each time sensing all the films discussed and worthless and bad so why discuss them further? (I know I keep repeating this point, and I'm sorry but my doing so mirrors what it is like to watch CODE.)

My biggest problem with the film is,  if you are like me, you probably know people with disabilities who love the movies and love it when they see a film that shows what it is like for them. I have several friends who have rallied around some film or another of the ones discussed because it spoke to them and what they were going through either mentally or physically.  In some ways I have to dismiss this film simply because the murderers row of talking heads largely doesn't reflect the people in the world I live in.  This isn't to say that they aren't right and that Hollywood and popular culture are absolutely condescending and wrong more times than not (especially in the details such as blind people touching faces) but the outright dismissal of the films themselves requires a much broader and detailed discussion than a 68 minute discussion of 100 plus years of history can relate.

And lest you think this is my thoughts after a single viewing, it is not, I have seen the film a couple of times now and my view of it has changed. When I saw the film the first time I was moved by the issues the film raised and I told several friends about the film, telling them to contact the PR person for Reelabilities in order to see it. I was disturbed by the film because I had assumed that the film was playing with my prejudices and forcing me to see the films discussed differently. I then went back into the film in order to  make notes and I realized that the film was very one sided. I was disturbed not because my prejudices were being played but rather this wasn't a fair discussion because it wasn't a large enough discussion with the result this isn't a documentary or even a  polemic but a screed with a very clear point of view (as I mentioned above one of the producers lists in their production bio as being someone who loves to ruin all films about disabilities.)  I seriously considered not writing it up. I then went back and tried to see the film with more accepting eyes... and the result is this piece.

In the end CODE OF THE FREAKS absolutely raises issues that we should discuss. We should ponder what it is saying, but we have to reframe the discussion into something else, something other than CODE's "this is all bad". While the film absolutely is a place to begin the discussion, its presentation of its points are problematic. CODE is so negative and so narrow  that it is hard to really talk about the films and the issues around them past a certain point.  There is no larger discussion of anything except the films and the notion of Hollywood in the panel's and filmmaker's view of them. That simply isn't enough because the reality of the films beyond their view isn't that simple.

A late in the game addendum : In researching something related this film but not specifically this piece I discovered  that Mubi has compiled a list of 171 films with persons with disabilities. Looking over the list my feelings of just how narrow this film is and how we really need a broader discussion than this film comes was re-enforced. The full list can be found here. While the list is full of "offenders" I am left to ponder how the panel in CODE would see some of the films on the list that they didn't discuss, particularly some of non-Hollywood titles and the documentaries since some of the structures of the docs mirror a version of  some Hollywood narrative structure.

Stay At Home Festival: Film Forty Two SKIN (2019)

SKIN is the story of Bryon Widner, a former skinhead, who contemplates and eventually leaves the movement after meeting a young woman with three daughters.

A dark trudge to the light SKIN was an unexpected find at this year's Tribeca. I originally had no interest in the film, I only wandered in because I had to fill two hours with something. It was a lucky break because as a result I ended up seeing one of my favorite films of the festival.

We know where the film will go, since we see periodically Widner getting the tattoos that cover his body removed in sequences that act as painful stripping away of the past on a course to rebirth, but it doesn't matter since it only makes us curious what will be the cost of leaving behind everything he knows.

That the film works as well as it does is entirely due to the cast headed by Jamie Bell and Danielle Macdonald who you understand a love that can change one's life.


Streaming on Amazon Prime

25 PROSPECT STREET (2019) Reelabilities 2020

Portrait of the Prospector theater in Connecticut. It was set up as a means of giving people with disabilities both physical and emotional, a place where they can work,earn a living, and move toward being independent.Valerie Jensen, the executive director of the theater realized that the program her sister was in helped to some the people with disabilities in it, but she knew they really need a place where they could have a regularl job. When saw that the old Ridgefield Playhouse was empty a bell went off and she realized that there was an opportunity to help make her sister, and the others in her program, more independent and capable of earning a living instead of being dependent.

Good time with good people is a wonderful look at people trying to change things for the better. A solid, if slightly over long, film 25 PROSPECT STREET will make you smile and feel good. It is a sweet little film.

The film Plays at Reelabilities 1:30 p.m. on April 3 with a Q&A afterward  as part of their online virtual festival. For more information on how to watch go here.

Stay At Home Festival Bonus Film: Mortis.com

This is an attempt to figure out what was going on with the Mortis.com website and its related sites. Its a story that starts off dark and then doesn't go where you think with the probable explanation not being that sinister. Regardless it still is a hell of a ride.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Reach of Resonance (2010) (A Stay At Home Fest Bonus review)

I tell people I make unpopular music

Ten years before director Steve Elkins made the powerful ECHOES OF THE INVISIBLE he made his first feature film THE REACH OF RESONANCE about different sourced music. What do I mean by that, one composer uses electric pulses given off by plants in her compositions, another uses sounds made by fences and man made objects, another finds musical patterns in the way people react in events such as riots,  others create ad-libbed animated films, yet another tutns what we think of as "normal" musical instruments on their head. The idea is to make music that transcends the typical and connect it up to life and the world around us in ways that are magically alive.

I am not going to lie to you and tell you that everything you hear in this film will please your ear. Under normal circumstances it's tough enough to know what people will like, so with a film like this it is going to be nigh impossible to know how you will react. Personally a lot of it is noise to me and while I appreciate what produced it, I really don't like it.

On the other hand, and this is the important part, the ideas that generate the music, the desire to connect to the world and its sounds and rhythms are  the things that made me watch the film several times over a couple of days (and I rarely ever do that). The first time through I was floored.  So much was given to me to think about that I when the film ended I just stared at the screen trying to process it. For me this was like a grand banquet where you want to try every dish and then find half way in it's too much but you can't stop watching it. My second time through was a similar experience, but not quite so bad since I started to connect up bits and pieces. The third time through I stopped and started it fully taking in the bits in each section and letting the bits on transcribing riots or using plants to derail trains to fully sink in.

To be honest I still am pondering this film, and I am still trying to tie it all together. Like Elkins' most recent film REACH brings together  a great deal of things into a intriguing look at the world and how we can see it, which in this case is as a kind of giant musical instrument. But while saying that is a kind of right it is also kind of wrong. Elkins is not really looking at things quite the simply, he is looking for a greater truth, at the interconnectedness of the world, and at how the resonances generated by every day objects influence the rest of the world while producing unexpected patterns. On most levels I think he found it, though I know I'm still struggling to fully piece it together and find the words to express what it means to me.  That last sentence is not any indication of a flaw in the film, but a flaw in myself, in that I am trying to still see the forest and the trees since I am trying to to focus on the pieces while seeing the whole. I think I need to put the film down and look at something else for a while.

THE REACH OF RESONANCE is a heady film.  Like the music that it highlights, it is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. I am not going to suggest that you will love every moment of it, but I do think that you will love bits of it. What is more important to liking or not liking the film is that I think that the film will get you to think differently, to see the world with different glasses.

Steve Elkins in a genius and his films are highly recommended.

THE REACH OF RESONANCE is currently available on VOD (Amazon has it). A DVD/Bluray release is coming shortly.

Stay At Home Film Festival Bonus Film: 100 Scary Videos, Images, Mysteries & Stories to Quarantine to | Creepy Compilation

Five hours of commercial free chills

Last Ferry From Grass Island (2020) Tribeca 2020

With the Tribeca Film Festival in a kind of limbo, I was asked to screen some of the shorts that were to play the fest and review them. LAST FERRY is one of them.

I have not seen director Linhan Zhang‘s first film but if LAST FERRY FROM GRASS ISLAND is any indication these are the first steps of a cinematic artist of the highest order. A perfectly modulated short film is manages to be suspenseful, funny and deeply moving in ways that few shorts and few features ever manage.

How good is the film? When I finished it I emailed every person I thought might be covering Tribeca this year and told them they had to see the film.

Yes, it is that good.

The film is a small tale of an assassin dispatched to kill her master. She must kill him before the last ferry off the island. Of course it doesn’t go as expected for anyone.

Where do I begin? Probably with Giorgos Valsamis' cinematography. Perfectly framed images, largely wide shots with no real cuts, put us on the island. More importantly each shot, no matter how perfectly framed feels natural. Neither director Zhang nor his cameraman has chosen a shot just because it looks great, there is a purpose for each image. Seriously- every shot makes perfect sense. Even the choice of the moment when the film goes close- it is perfectly chosen. It was the exact right moment to change things up and the moment is utterly shattering.

The story is perfectly told. By the time the film comes to an end we know everything we need to know. We’ve seen everything we need to see. Its clear that this a moment and that life happened before the film and continues after it. Should Zhang want to use this as proof of concept for a feature he has a film that is probably the most perfect one I’ve ever seen. Too often when I see a short that was turned into a feature it doesn’t resemble the final product. Often it is simply because in making the short there is no where to go. The writers and directors only know the moments in their short. Here Zhang knows the lives of all the characters. They live beyond this 14 minute stop in and it not only makes the film a launch for a feature, but, and this is most important, it makes for a film that is infinitely more satisfying than 99% of any other films out there.

LAST FERRY is a masterpiece. Cinematographer Valsamis has a godlike eye. Director Zhang is a talent of the highest order and must go on any film lovers list of directors to watch. Someone please give him the money to make a feature.

Look for an interview with director Linhan Zhang soon.

A Better You (2020) Tribeca 2020

With the Tribeca Film Festival in a kind of limbo I was asked to watch and review some of the shorts that were scheduled to play the festival. A BETTER YOU is one of them.

In a steampunk world a nebishy guy gets tickets to the biggest event in the city and decides to get a better version of himself in order to take and in win the girl of his dreams.

Its all about the acting which in this case is Oscar worthy. Seán T. Ó’Meallaigh shines as our hero. Giving a soulful and heart felt performance it is both heartbreaking and uplifting in all the right ways. Its a performance that perfectly illustrates Michael Caine's notion that the best performances are in the eyes. In this case it's the eyes and whole face. 

Ó’Meallaigh is matched in Oscar worthiness by Hannah Mamalis as Olga his lady love. She nails everything perfectly in the early scenes and as a result when the ending comes we will be wiping away the right sort of tears.

This is an absolutely glorious film.

God bless writer director Eamonn Murphy and may he make many more wondrous confections such as this.

Highly recommended.

Nate Hood on the vitally important SLAY THE DRAGON (2019) hits on VOD Friday

John Adams, the second president of the United States, once famously wrote a grim diagnosis for the future of democracy in America: “Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.” [sic] Watching Barak Goodman’s stomach-churning Slay the Dragon, it’s difficult not to look upon modern America as a land that’s already put the pistol to its head and pulled the trigger.

The film examines project REDMAP, a top-secret gerrymandering program implemented by the Republican Party in the wake of the 2008 Blue Wave that saw the election of Barack Obama and Democratic super-majorities in the House and Senate. Described by political writer David Daley as “the most audacious political heist in modern times,” REDMAP targeted with surgical precision individual races in key swing districts in key swing states, ensuring Republicans would gain control of numerous embattled state legislatures in time for the 2010 census where national districting maps would be redrawn…by the states themselves. Using their new collection of legislatures, they hastily gerrymandered these states to oblivion, making it impossible for Democrats to ever win a majority number of state senators, national Senators, or House Representatives even if they got a super-majority of the votes. Once they had this power, Republican officials would never need worry about losing elections again, allowing them to pass sweeping and wildly unpopular legislation breaking unions, repealing environmental regulations, and rescinding tax rates for the wealthy.

The film itself is presented as a police procedural in medias res, exploring precisely how Republicans broke the system, disenfranchised voters, and helped usher in the Trump era while also charting the frantic grassroots movements fighting back, primarily Michigan activist Katie Fahey who founded the Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative to criminalize gerrymandering in her state. Fahey’s movement started a domino effect which spread to other swing state ballot initiatives which finally climaxed at the Supreme Court. Crushingly, they punting the issue of gerrymandering back into local state courts nine days before Justice Anthony Kennedy—the sole swing voter capable of saving their case from a party line vote—announced his retirement, dooming any hope for judicial accountability.

Slay the Dragon is brilliant, anxiety-inducing filmmaking which will sink your stomach, make you cheer, and stay with you long after you leave the theater. It’s bitter yet necessary medicine.

Rating: 7/10


I tend to unwind watching various You Tube videos such as this, namely collections of short scary or mysterious stories. They tend not to be taxing and I can always look for more info on something if they have an interesting story.

The problem is many of the collections tend to be hit or miss with one good story mixed with a couple of meh one. This video is one of the good ones with  four of the five being truly compelling.
The first is a Reddit tale, the next the true story of a murder revealed in video posts, the third about a dark web game with a terrible secret and the fifth the story of one person trying to fight the Mexican drug cartels.  The fourth tale of You Tuber's strange behavior is less compelling.

While I recommend this video I do warn you it deals with really dark matters so if yu don't want to deal with disturbing content don't watch it.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Query (2020) Tribeca 2020

With the Tribeca Film Festival, like most other festivals this year, in an uncertain position, I've been asked to look at and review some shorts that were scheduled to play the fest. QUERY is the first.

Two male friends discuss sexual orientation and norms.

An intriguing discussion of sexuality is the reason to see this solid little short.  Delving into historical norms and bringing it up to today in a perfectly conversational way co-writer and director Sophie Kargman has made a film that makes you think about hat you feel.

The film is beautifully acted by Justice Smith and Graham Patrick Martin, who have an ease together that makes everything said and done feel perfectly natural.

The film is a quiet stunner and I'd like to see what Kargman does next.

Stay At Home Festival Bonus Film: Slapped Ham's Best Scary Videos to Watch While in Quarantine

Here is an hour of the best scary videos from the awesome You Tube Channel Slapped Ham

Oliver Sachs:His Own Life (2019) Reelabilities Film Festival 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended.

The film plays the Reelabilities Film Festival Wednesday, April 1 at 7P as par of their Virtual film Festival. For more information on how to watch (there will be a Q&A after the screening) go here

Stay at Home Festival Bonus: THE DARK WEB SAGA OF BESA MAFIA

This is  scary true crime tale about the dark web and a scam site that promised to let you hire a hit man. They never did and just took your money but that doesn't mean people didn't die. Its a chilling tale about stupid people, a scammer and the disinterest of law enforcement - at least until things go horribly wrong. It's a chilling tale that will curl your toes. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Stay At Home Festival: The Soviet Cinema Side Bar. (via Open Culture)

If you want to educate yourself in Soviet era cinema or even just watch a ton of great films Open Culture has noted  that Mosfilm has put Hi Def copies of 7 films on their You Tube Channel.

This ain't hay since Open Culture says they have Alexander Nevsky (1938), Ivan's Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), The Mirror (1975), Stalker (1979) and Dersu Uzala (1975).

Open Culture also warns:
NOTE: Though many of the titles on Mosfilm's HD playlist appear only in Russian, most of the films themselves come with English subtitles. Make sure to click the "CC" icon on the lower right of the Youtube player to turn them on.

Go watch something great.

The original Open Culture post is here.

The Mosfilm You Tube play list is here.

Thank you to Open Culture  for posting this information and from whom I took all the information.

Stay at Home Film Festival: Film Forty One: Nate Hood on HOPE AND GLORY [1987] ★★★★

I write this on Day 15 of my COVID-19 quarantine in Brooklyn, New York and Day 4 of my subsequent unemployment. The days are all running together now, and I have to rely on my roommate to help me keep track of the passage of days. I haven’t spent time with my friends or family in weeks, and it’ll probably be many months until I do. I stay inside 23 hours a day, leaving my apartment only for groceries and a short run. Our once lively neighborhood is a graveyard of shuttered businesses, and the people out walking their dogs dress like plague doctors with every centimeter of skin covered. Everyone I talk to in the lobby, in the elevator, and on social media agree that we are all going to carry the scars of this quarantine for the rest of our lives. But I worry mostly about the children and how this lock-up will imprint itself on their psyches. If I had to guess, I think they’ll remember this time much like John Boorman did in his semi-autobiographical account of his own youth growing up in the Blitz during World War Two in Hope and Glory (1987): as a mixture of farce, tragedy, and boredom in the face of a vague, unknowable existential threat.

The underlying current beneath the film is the sense of childlike innocence and ignorance in the face of cataclysm and, even more importantly, the anxiety and terror of their parents. Consider the scene where the protagonist Billy Rowan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) first learns of the declaration of war against Nazi Germany. We see him playing in the grass when he notices the sound of lawnmowers up and down his block going silent, settling back down to his games afterwards and puzzling over how none of the lawnmowers “sounded quite right” when they started back up. Or what about the first time his family huddles in their backyard shelter during a nighttime bombing raid? His bossy older sister Dawn (Sammi Davis) forces her way outside declaring she’d rather die than be trapped underground, calling Billy out to marvel at the “fireworks” of exploding bombs and flak.

While the country mobilizes for war, Billy idles away his days exploring (and wrecking) bombed out houses with other boys, greedily collecting unexploded ordnance. The launching of a nearby barrage balloon is treated as a grand event, the children marveling at its Goliathan bulk, completely oblivious to how its presence indicates that their quaint neighborhood is a prime target for the Nazis. And finally, when his family’s house burns down (not from enemy bombs but from a random accident), he mourns not the loss of his home but the incineration of his toy soldiers. As Pauline Kael pointed out, Boorman doesn’t downplay the horrors of war. Instead, he recontextualizes them within the worldview of children. The sound of cannon fire might echo across the English Channel, but it’s nothing to Billy compared to the ghastly fighting between his nerve-shredded mother and Dawn who refuses to observe bomb-raid curfew so she can party, sleep around, and eventually get pregnant by a Canadian soldier. And the grim specter of the Hun Himself, Adolf Hitler, is nothing compared to the tyranny of his overbearing, over-zealous, bible-thumping schoolmaster.

And yet, for all the fear and terror, Hope and Glory is ultimately hopeful. How could it not be, we ask, when we know that their sacrifices will ultimately be worth it when the Allies finally win? But notice how the film doesn’t actually end with the Nazis surrendering. Instead, it ends with Billy joyfully discovering that his hated schoolhouse has been bombed. It’s easy to imagine that Billy will remember this better than the actual end of the war, for it spoke to something closer and more personal to him than fighting happening somewhere far, far away. And I think today’s children will remember the Coronavirus quarantine the same way. Will they remember the muttered discussions between their parents about rent payments and overcrowded hospitals? The news reports about record-breaking unemployment and mass graves around the world? Maybe, but in hindsight they won’t matter as much as the boredom of day-to-day life, the intimate tragedies of household injustices, and the unexpected joys that arise from the most unpredictable places. And for this small mercy, we should be thankful.

Brief word on Beer Boom (2018) Queens World Film Festival 2020

Portrait of the rise of the craft beer industry through a portrait of Brooklyn Brewery and other local NYC breweries.

If you ever wanted to get a handle on the rise of micro breweries and craft beer this film is for you. A  nifty little documentary will give you everything you need to know in order to have a basic handle on the rise of the small beer producers. It seems to be all here (or as much as an hour long film can be).

Cheers to directors Eric W Schleyer and Andrew Coury who have made a film so full of love for it's subject, that even I, a man who doesn't particularly like beer, wants to go out and try some of the brews mentioned in the film.

Very recommended.

BEER BREW can be viewed as part of Queens World's on line festival. Go here to screen it.

Notes on Ode to Passion (2020) Queens World Film Festival 2020

This musical romance is the story of Michael who has returns from Paris where he was for the last 3 years. Back in New York he meets and Sarah and instantly falls head over heels in love. But there is a problem, Sarah has a drug problem.

A stellar cast, great songs and a wonderful sense of New York City tell the frequently moving tale of romance...

... And at this point I step away and say this is not going to be a traditional review to say that any and all reaction to the film beyond that is going to be tied to how you react to the dialog which is written and delivered in a style similar Shakespearean iambic pentameter. In other words all of the dialog is in verse. I thought it worked in some sections, particularly where the speech patterns were closer to modern speech and where there wasn't a need to add extra words to fill out the rhyming scheme. I also found the shifts between the songs and the dialog jarring because the style of lyrics is not similar to the dialog. While it is never bad, the verse keeps the film, in my opinion, from truly soaring.

Is it worth seeing. Yes, most definitely. If the verse works for you you are going to eat this up.

Effigy – Poison and the City (2019) Queens World Film Festival (2019)

True story of two women in the German city of Bremen in the 1820's. As Cato Böhmer goes to work for a Senator, and the town begins and internal struggle concerning modernizing, ie building a railroad, someone is poisoning people with rat butter (cyanide laced cheese).

Solid historical drama is in some ways more interesting in the thematic issues it raises. Questions of a a woman's place in nineteenth century society are intriguingly explored as we follow Bohmer's struggle to be taken seriously despite being clearly better than any four men around her combined. We also end up watching what society does to women on the fringes via the tale of serial killer Gesche Gottfried.

While the film is recommended I do feel the need to warn you don't go into this film looking for a ripping mystery or murder tale. This film is most decidedly a drama of society and not a full on genre film. The elements are there, after ll one of the characters is a murderer, but that is not the film's focus.

It can be viewed here

How To Fix a Drug Scandal (2020) hits Netflix April 1

Four part mini-series about the havoc wrought to the Massachusetts drug labs in 2012 and 2013 by two chemists, one in Amherst and one in Boston who were responsible for the dismissal of tens of thousands of cases.

The series is largely focused on the case of Sonja Farak,  who was a chemist in the Amherst crime lab. Farak was a full on addict who  switched from using the test samples to using evidence when she realized that someone was going to notice her using the labs supply of control drugs. Her problem lasted for the eight years she worked at the lab. She only got caught after Annie Dookhan was caught in Boston falsifying thousands of tests and in a panic they checked the other lab.  What happened after that was a grand cover-up that left tens of thousands of defendants in legal limbo and was only resolved after seven years of hard fought legal battles.

While the film is concerned with both Farak and Dookhan, the film primarily focus on Farak  simply because she was forth coming in what she did in testimony to the Grand Jury.  As a result we get recreations of her testimony and of what she did.  It's a hell of a story and no detail seems to have been left out. While Dookhan effected what happened to Farak, she has refused to speak with anyone, but there is enough in the public record to know what she did.  Linking everything up is the testimony of the reporters who covered the case and most importantly the defense attorneys who fought for justice for their clients.

Your head will spin. Mine did. Even with my day job in the legal world, I was kind of shocked at how far things had gone in Massachusetts. Clearly there was no supervision either in the labs or in the State Prosecutor's office.

I like this series a great deal. While some of the first hour or so could be better focused, by the time I was at the half way point I was locked in and desperate to know where this was going.

 You will forgive me if I don't go into detail but there is simply too much to discuss (This is a solid four hours of material). This is the sort of  film where if I start talking I will keep going despite knowing there is stuff I'm leaving out.

A bingeable series HOW TO FIX A DRUG SCANDAL  hits Netflix April 1 and is highly recommended.

Stay At Home Festival: Film Forty: Pistol Shrimps (2016)

This is just a funny film. Never mind it is a documentary it is one of the best comedies you will see this year.  This is the review I posted back in 2016 when it played Tribeca but it still hold true- its still damn funny.

See it on Amazon

PISTOL SHRIMPS maybe the funniest film at Tribeca. Its a laugh out loud film that is going to find an audience simply because it's so damn funny

The story of a group of women, many actresses and writers in LA, who started a women's basketball league. They originally just wanted to play in a league but when they couldn't find one they started their own and it went from six teams to now well over twenty four.

An utterly charming and I have to say it again very funny film about sports and the need to compete and make friends. The games have become a major focal point in all the women's lives to the extent that all of the women in the league have switched their Facebook profile pictures to them in basketball attire. With in the confines of the league the women are finding a place to be themselves and not talk about life in Hollywood.

I was hesitant to give myself over but the women all won me to their side. It doesn't hurt that all of the women are charming and that they all possess wicked sense of humor. Nothing is sacred and they let loose with a steady stream of one liners that had me doubled over in laughter. Things get even funnier when we are introduced the the Shrimp's play by play announcers who kind of announce the games and kind of free form comedy.

This is a must see was one of the best films at Tribeca.

HIGHLY recommended.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Stay At Home Festival: Film Thirty Nine: THE LITTLE PRINCE (2016)

I have action figures of the Little Prince and the Aviator sitting on my desk at work. I say this by way of explaining how hopelessly in love with this film I am. (I also have Totoro, Jim Henson and a Dalek so ponder that one). The little Prince is where I live spiritually and it was actually written not that far from my actual home in a town I go to to recharge my batteries (go figure).

This is a magnificent film about wondrous things and you should see it.

This is my review from when the film finally escaped cinematic limbo (the story is below) after Netflix saved it and got it out to the world.

This review is a long time in coming. When Randi and I saw the film back in March at the New York International Children’s Film Festival we fell in love with the film. We loved it so much that Randi decided that she would step from behind the reference desk and do a review. We also approached director Mark Osborne about doing an interview… and then Paramount decided to pull the plug and set the film adrift. Randi’s review floundered and the interview got pushed into limbo since no one knew if the film would ever see the light of day in the US.

Then Netflix stepped in and they were so hot on the film that not only were they going to release the film on line they were planning on going for the Oscar. All was right for the world.

The French produced film is based on the classic story by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. However because the story is relatively short (Will Vinton’s 25 minute version is pretty much the whole story) Osborne and his crew crafted a surrounding story about a little girl and her mom who move into the house next to the narrator of the original story, the Aviator, now a seemingly crazy old guy. Mom pressures her daughter to strive to get into a good school – planning every moment of her life to that end (and to the point there is no room for play or friends). Of course the Aviator intervenes and we learn of his encounter with the Little Prince.

A glorious call not to lose our inner child, and remember what really is important THE LITTLE PRINCE is one of the best films of 2016 and one of the finest animated films you’ll ever see. It reduced most adults at NYICFF to sobbing messes, myself included, as the original tale worked its magic and Osborne's additions drove home the points and entertained and carried us along. It’s a cinematic wonder.

What is magical here is that Osborne combines the CGI animation and stop motion seamlessly. The modern day stuff is all gorgeous CGI while the tale of the Prince was all done stop motion using paper models. Dozens, if not hundreds, of models were needed because they were so delicate they tore. The result is pure movie magic of the highest order. I don’t need CGI dinosaurs, give me the paper Prince and Aviator and I’m content.

Most people I have met have loved the film.Actually anyone I know who has firmly held on to their inner child has fallen in love with the film. A few poopyheads have not liked. The dislike for the film comes from a dislike of Osborne’s wrap around story. Why do we need the story of the girl when we have the Prince? We have it because the story of the Prince can only fill so much screen time without seeming bloated (If you’ve seen the live action version from 1974 you know I’m right). Additionally the story is a parallel story to that of the Aviator- as the Aviator learned from the Prince, the girl learns from the Aviator, and she passes the lessons on as well. The need to take the Prince’s lessons to heart never stop. (In proving  the point that some people have lost their inner child I've read a grumpy person's dismantling of the film where tiny things like the Aviator's story being written in French are seen as destroying the film- clearly they need to reevaluate their lives and their lack of a sense of fun.)

This is a masterpiece. I cannot say enough good things about this film. To be honest I would love to talk about the film's finer points, the details hidden in the film, the craft that went into the models, and mostly the magic way that Osborne has crafted the story, because you have no idea what a miraculous thing Osborne did in crafting the wrap around story. I so want to pull it apart and explain to you why the script is one of the best you'll ever see in animated film- but I can't. I don't want to ruin it for you. With the film coming out Friday it is not fair to you to explain it all before you see it....

And you should see it. This is as good a film, of any sort, as you will see this year. It is hands down the front runner for the Best Animated Film Oscar. (And it should get a best adapted screenplay nom as well)

See this film and become a kid again.

Here is my report on the New York International Children's Film Festival screening.

(Anyone curious about what happened when Paramount dropped the film read this IndeWire piece)

A pointer toward SHOOTING HEROIN (2020) Garden State Film Festival

Playing at the now virtual Garden State Film Festival tomorrow (March 28) and hitting VOD on April 3 SHOOTING HEROIN is the story of what happens when a small town takes it into their own hands to deal with the rampant drug problem.

A solid cast, Sherilyn Fenn, Cathy Moriarty, Nicholas Turturro, Alan Powell, Garry Pastore, and Lawrence Hilton Jacob, lift this earnest and heart felt tale up to being something that is worth giving a shot.

You will forgive the lack of detail. It is not a bad film, more it didn't quite click with me. As any follower of Unseen Films knows I see a lot of movies every year and as such some films click and some films  don't regardless of being good or bad. SHOOTING HEROIN is, unfortunately  one of the non-clickers.Its a film that didn't leave me with a great deal to say but which I liked enough to point out that it is playing at the festival and on VOD.

If you are interested in seeing a good story about drugs in a small town try it.

The film streams at the Garden State Film Festival tomorrow at 8:30PM EDT (You have to watch when the film streams)

A single ticket for $15 and watch that movie block.
A Saturday pass for $30 and watch  every  one playing tomorrow
A Whole Festival Pass for $55 and watch everything all weekend.

For more information and tickets go here.

Stay At Home Festival Film Thirty Eight: DAWSON CITY FROZEN TIME (2016)

This is a must see. If you love film, film history, just history and great filmmaking DAWSON CITY FROZEN TIME is a must. The history of an end of a the line town where people and films went when they could go no further. Made up almost entirely of clips found buried in the frozen permafrost it is a stunning sensory experience unlike any other. (You need to see this in a darkened room with no distractions.) Somewhere along the way you will come to understand how we got here and how the movies can heal the soul.

Available on various VOD platforms

Somewhere about the time that Bill Morrison was explaining how Dawson City was responsible, in a way, for Ken Burns and his style I started to quietly sob at the back of the Museum of Modern Art's screening room. Somehow Morrison's marriage of film, photos, music and history completely overwhelmed me and I started to cry.  There was nothing particularly moving about the notion (though one of the first things I wrote in my notes was a comment that it played like a Ken Burns film) rather it was a combination of the unearthly beauty hitting me with the odd sadness that this place, that was the end of the line was for some, was, in it's way, a key factor in the development of the film industry - though no one knows it. To me, who loves film probably above everything else, it was a moment where I realized that if it wasn't for this small town movies might have been different. (As well as history since the family fortune for the Trump family started in the whorehouses of Dawson City).

This isn't to say that you will be moved to tears by the film, I have my own odd sense of history and deep love of film and how the film struck me is my own reaction. On the other hand the film is a glorious technical achievement and deeply moving on it's own terms. While I have no trouble calling it one of my favorite films of 2016, I also have no trouble saying that the film is one of best of the best films of the year as well.

Nominally the film is the story of the discovery of a cache of hundreds of nitrate film reels that were buried on the site of an old swimming pool in Dawson City. For the films that played the city's cinemas this was the end of the road, literally. Two three or five yeas into their run the studios didn't want to pay to have them shipped back from the middle of nowhere Canada, so the studio told the town to destroy them. Some were dumped into the Klondike river, some were burned and the lot they found were used as land fill. Forty years later they were dug up and a treasure was discovered.

But Morrison isn't interested just in the films, but the city and all cinema as well, so flashing back from the discovery he tells us the story of the town- and the people who lived there and traveled through it- and in the process tells us this grand interrelated story that stretches all the way to Hollywood and beyond.

The most amazing thing is that there is almost no spoken words. Its almost all text. The images are mostly the found nitrate prints mixed with another cache of still photographs. Morrison  blends them all together to create a cinematic poem that goes right  past the conscious into the subconscious where it affects us like a dream. One drifts off on the sound and images as if on a trip. I've never seen anything remotely like it - except in Morrison's other films.

When the press screening ended those of us at MOMA staggered out into the light trying to make sense of this world of color. One writer corralled the PR person for the film and began to plead for a screener for the film. "PLEASE" he implored, "I need a copy of the film. I have to write on it and there is so much to say I have to reference the film while writing". There was an urgency in the pleading that said to me that there was more a need to see the film again and again much like a junkie needs a fix.

And there really is too much to say. Here is a film that is operating on several different levels- its histories of the found films, of all film and of the town. It is an examination of the cinematic viewing habits of people. Its a film about reality and fiction. Its a film about morals. Its a film that you can talk about for several days and still have twice as much left to go over. I'm still trying to work out where to begin talking about it.There is so much to say that I'm completely certain that many doctoral thesis will be written about this film.

Later in the day I ran into another writer who was at the screening and she was left shaking her head by the film. Yes she enjoyed it. Yes the film moved her, but the film also frustrated her because she realized late in the film that she had been taking notes incorrectly. What she was noting wasn't the what she should have been noting, instead the film was much more complex and much more amazing than she had first thought. There were things, emotions and thematic elements she should have been noting instead of the cold hard facts.

Seeing DAWSON CITY is one of those moments where you realize you've seen something truly special and the universe changes before you.

Please find time to see it big because the images and the music are over powering- they will leave you feeling you never need to take drugs because the film will transport you. See it big because the effect of seeing this small will not be the same.

What can a film do? When it's DAWSON CITY it can do anything you can imagine including alter how you see the world.

DAWSON CITY FROZEN TIME is likely to be one of the best films you'll see all year - it was for me.

Joe Bendel on Light from Light which hits home video starting March 31

Ordinarily, psychics and “paranormal investigators” are con artists by definition, because obviously. However, Sheila is different. For one thing, she does not accept any fees for her services. Furthermore, she readily admits she is not even sure she has any psychic abilities. Nevertheless, she will try to help a grieving widower find some closure, perhaps by contacting his deceased wife’s ghost in Paul Harrill’s Light from Light, which screens during opens today the Quad in New York.

Sheila’s real job is working behind the counter of an airport car rental agency. She has some experience investigating hauntings, but all the gear belonged to her very ex-boyfriend. Nevertheless, she agrees to get back into the game when asked by the kindly Father Martin. He heard her on the radio discussing the possibly predictive dreams she had during childhood and concluded she might be able to help the recently widowed Richard.

After begging and borrowing sensors and cameras, Sheila presses her son Owen into duty as her assistant, but she gets his not-quite-girlfriend Lucy as a bonus volunteer. Together they wire up Richard’s converted country house on edge of the Smoky Mountains, where odd things have been afoot, like flickering lights and objects moving of their own accord. The three not-really-Ghostbusters genuinely hope they can help the earnest fishery warden, but the initial findings will be ambiguous—and complicated.

Frankly, Light is not exactly a supernatural genre film, at least not in a conventional sense, but the ghostly plot points ultimately give it a powerful, bittersweet kick. Yet, minute-by-minute and scene-for-scene, Harrill’s main focus are the fleeting connections humans manage to forge. Every flesh-and-blood character in Light is a good person, whom we come to care about quite a bit. That very definitely includes Father Martin, possibly the most sympathetic man of the cloth to appear on-screen in years. Harrill also penned one of the most touching, yet realistic and grounded mother-son relationships you will see on film in many a blood moon.

Marin Ireland invests the working-class Sheila with genuine grace and dignity. She forges ambiguously poignant chemistry with Richard, played by Jim Gaffigan in what might be his career-best work. It is a quiet and restrained performance, but he makes the widower’s pain and confusion immediately palpable. Atheena Frizzell is shockingly touching as lovesick Lucy, while David Cale gives it all a tinge of compassionate gravitas as Father Martin.

Light is a big, muddy river of a film. It is quiet, but it runs deep. It also looks terrific, thanks to Greta Zozula’s striking cinematography, which captures the mysterious lushness of the Smokies. It is sort of like a rural Personal Shopper, but it is subtler and more humanistic. Very highly recommended, Light from Light hits VOD starting March 31.


3/31/20 – iTunes/Apple TV
3/31/20 – Cable VOD (Spectrum, Comcast, Cox)
4/14/20 – Amazon, Kaleidescape
5/26/20 – Blu-ray & DVD

Stay At Home Fest Bonus: What is Local 58? and LOCAL 58: The Broadcast Station That Manipulates You

During the current Covid19 social distancing I have been spending a great deal of time working on things for Unseen and not watching the usual assortment of features and and shorts. Because my time has been eaten trying to shift things around because of the ever changing festival schedules and new film releases I've been filling my time with You Tube videos, mostly on real and imagined mysteries.

Where I normally watch things like Top Five Supernatural Videos, Lately I've shifted to trying to find intriguing short docs on a single subject. This has resulted in finding a bunch of short films I'm going to post as bonus entries in the Stay at Home festival.

One of the best docs I've run across is on a web series called LOCAL 58. Made by a poster called Nexpo, a filmmaker who explores internet mysteries, the documentary talks about the then five films in the series. The films all are supposed to be films from a TV station and have something to do with an apocalyptic event. Nexpo explains what the series is and then orders them in a way that makes sense to him. Just watching the doc the series will scare the snot out of you. It's really creepy, as is the series it self.

At the time this film was produced there were five films in the sequence, however since the documentary was made three more films have appeared making eight, seemingly random parts. What is so chilling about LOCAL 58 is not always what we see, but what is implied. Each of the 8 films gives us a piece but no complete answer. Its frightening in the best sort of way. The series is one of the best uses of found footage I've ever seen and it is one of the best horror films as well.

I suggest that you watch  the film below and then watch the actual series since doc will put everything into frightening perspective. All the videos in the LOCAL 58 series can be found here and are worth your time.

Literally a couple of hours after I posted the above piece Nexpo uploaded a new film on the series to date. It can be found below

Having finally watched the  below film I suggest that you DO watch both both documentaries since there is material in the first that enhances understanding of the second.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Stay At Home Festival: Film Thirty Seven: TICKLING GIANTS (2016)

As we are locked away in our social distancing bubble perhaps we need to ponder what may happen if the far right/left and right and the various cancel cultures prevent us from saying/thinking what doesn't go with their agendas. Perhaps the best place to do that is with portrait of  Bassem Youssef who was once the "Jon Stewart of Egypt" and who uses humor to bring us together and deflate the pompous and the stupid.

Here is my original review from when it played Tribeca four years back.  It is currently streaming on Amazon.

For me the idea of free speech is an important thing. Being able to tell our leaders to eat shit and die is vital to a free society. Its why seeing people such as Donald Trump calling on his followers to silence the opposition is terrifying. The world has become stupidly reflexive  to the point that no one can take a joke. Everyone takes offense at everything. People have forgotten that while we have many rights, we do not have a right not to be offended. If we aren't allowed to make fun of things, and of offending those in power then we have lost a basic human right. Being able to do so helps prevent the authoritarian bond because it brings the demagogue and tyrants down to earth.

For the time being, the Unites States is still a free society. We can still speak our minds and make jokes (as long as we are not on a college campus or Trump rally). In theory we can still more or less say what we mean. If we say something, we are not, ipso facto, going to die. However where Bassem Youssef is concern the wrong joke could get him killed.

TICKLING GIANTS is one of the best films at Tribeca. Its at the top of the heap as to the recent run of films about humor and free speech. It gets to the top because where other films deal with the ideas in the abstract this look at Bassem Youssef, the Jon Stewart of Egypt is what happens when you make fun of dictators.

Youssef is not a comedian by trade, he was and is a surgeon. However then the Arab Spring happened he and a friend started doing an internet program in the style of Jon Stewart. As the government changed Youssef was offered a weekly TV series doing what he had been doing on line. His show was so popular that over 30 million people tuned in each night (Stewart's peak nightly viewership was only 2 million). As the political climate changed yet again Youssef found himself in deep trouble as the network dropped him and there were serious calls for his assassination.

Charting the run of Youssef's show from internet hit to TV hit to political target with death threats TICKLING GIANTS shows us very clearly what could happen if we lose the right to speak up. A wonderful brother to CAN WE TAKE A JOKE? which looked at humor and censorship, GIANTS reveals what will happen when censorship come knocking, fear and death. This is not abstract ideas or people arguing in the streets, this is people with bombs and guns trying to silence the opposition. Its terrifying. It is this real world practicality that lifts the film over some other similar docs.

GIANTS is also very funny thanks to Youssef's refusal to stop making jokes about things. Yes he gets serious but he always seems to find a joke in there somewhere. Life may get dangerous but the jokes just keep on coming.

TICKLING GIANTS moved me. Here is a stunning portrait of a man who refuses to back down and shut up. Youssef's inability to buckle puts him high in the pantheon of those who fought for our human right to speak our minds. While Youssef has avoided the price that Lenny Bruce paid (so far) there is still a heavy price that he is paying.

This is one of the best films of 2016 and and an absolute must see. You must see what a the lessening of free speech will bring.

Nate Hood saw Code of the Freaks (2020) As Part REELABILTIES Boston 2020

Partially funded through Kickstarter, Salome Chasnoff’s Code of Freaks tries nothing less than a total, exhaustive examination of the portrayal of disabled characters in Hollywood cinema. The documentary is clearly a passion project for Chasnoff and co-producer Carrie Sandahl, the latter a self-professed “disability wet blanket” who “ruins movies” featuring disabled characters—at least according to her original production abstract. The film itself channels this wet blanket tendency, as it can be seen as one long tongue-cluck and eye-roll for over a century of alternatively insulting and misguided representation.

Taking its name from Tod Browning’s infamous 1932 film Freaks which featured an extensive cast of circus performers with authentic congenital disabilities, its various talking heads treat that cult classic as the high point for disability representation with literally everything else before or since representing various nadirs. Chasnoff’s group of experts giddily tear through a number of cinematic sacred cows with uncomfortable, frequently trenchant insight: William Dieterle’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) apparently doesn’t actually humanize its Quasimodo and regards his deformities with pornographic glee; Michael Tollin’s Radio (2003)—boy do they hate this one—is actually about a mentally handicapped black man choosing and celebrating his own subservience to white people; Ben Lewin’s touching The Sessions (2012) about a paralyzed polio patent who hires a sex surrogate to lose his virginity in reality proves that disabled sex can never be authentic, only mercenary and transactional. The shakedown goes on, skipping from one popular film to the next before we have a chance to breathe.

If it sounds like none of these interview subjects like movies, rest assured the suspicion is well-founded: at the end Chasnoff asks her talking heads if they like any movies about disabled people and they unanimously, triumphantly say no. It’s curious, however, that Chasnoff doesn’t ask this question of Tekki Lomnicki and Mark Ervin, the two most severally disabled interviewees, both of whom previously admitted that, yes, they like movies about disabled people: Lomnicki, a little person, rhapsodizes about the prospect of an espionage romance between disabled spies and Ervin, a paralytic, waxes warmly on the portrayal of fellow paralytics in Farrelly Brothers movies. Maybe their enthusiasm didn’t fit Chasnoff and Sandahl’s “abstract.”

Code of Freaks is less documentary that graduate dissertation, sucking the life and curiosity from its subjects with all the cold sterility of a university library archive.


CODE OF THE FREAKS  play New York Reelabilities March 31. For more information go here

Street Light Harmonies hits Home Video March 31

The history of doo-wop music told by the people who wrote it, produced it and sang it.

This film is absolutely amazing. I suspect this is going to end up a well loved classic in constant rotation on PBS or where ever this film ultimately finds a home.

Beginning with the vocal harmonies of church the film then quickly moves to explain how that evolved into the harmonies of groups like the Mills Brothers or the Ink Spots. From there it moves on to when Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers burst on the scene and kids everywhere realized that they too could have a recording contract. From there it all exploded and the film charts how the groups of the 1950's and 60's begat the vocal groups of today.

Driven by perfectly chosen music and wonderful stories the film feels like a long lost best friend calling you to hang out once more.  Waves of nostalgia crash off the screen as we are taken back in time 50 or 60 years to the point where the songs and stories are new and had never been heard before.

A joyous celebration of the performers and their songs this film will put a smile on your face that will remain there for days.

I can't say enough good about the film other than go see it and hope they have the volume cranked.

A wonderful treasure,  STREETLIGHT HARMONIES is very recommended when it hits home video on March 31.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Unseen Films Stay At Home Fest: Film Thirty Six : Harbinger Down

pull a knife on this ship and I'm gonna cut you with it... - Lance Hendrickson

Seemingly coming out of nowhere HARBINGER DOWN  reveals itself to be a great little throw back to the horror and science fiction films of the 1980's, especially John Carpenter's THE THING, from which it lifts bits of its basic plot line.

The plot of the film has some university scientists hitching a ride on a crab boat. They are looking to track certain signs of global warming.  One night, as the crew are crabbing, the ship comes near a large block of ice with something inside it.  Taking the  block out of water they discover that what's inside is a lost Soviet space ship with a dead pilot inside. Of course there's something else in there as well....

Solid B horror movie is a blast and a half. This is wonderful carnival thrill ride of a film that will be soul food to any one longing for a really good, scary, movie with a wicked as hell monster in it. This is exactly the sort of movie they don't make anymore because no one, until Alec Gillis appeared seemed to know how to make one any more.

HARBINGER DOWN takes a handful of well known horror movie tropes and combines them into a film that may not always produce screams, but never  fails to entertain. That last part is key since I've seen plenty of scary films, and films that produced visceral reactions in me, but there have been very few that have delighted me in the way that I felt as a kid on a roller-coaster. Seriously I don't know when I had this much fun, I mean genuine smile on my face fun, watching a horror movie. Films like this were and are the reason I love horror movies so much- they are people in scary situations being menaced by butt ugly monsters that just make your skin crawl. This is one of those movies where you don't want to see the monster because it's so disturbing in a WTF IS THAT THING?!! way.

While the film riffs on any number of horror films of old (THE THING, ALIEN, VIRUS, DEADLY SPAWN, DEEP RISING and others) it also is a glorious throw back to the old way of doing visual effects- namely practically. The monsters in this film are actually there with the cast and its clear from their reactions that they are reacting to whatever it is that is in the room with them. When things come down behind an actor- its there with them.  And while the effects aren't computer generated perfect they carry a weight that most CGI monsters never have.  If there is anything wrong with the effects it's that director Gillis makes the surroundings a bit too bright so we see some of the flaws. But then again the settings all feel real even if they aren't- so consider it natural lighting.

While I am most certainly a huge fan of the film I'm not going to lie and say the film is perfect, it's not. As I said there are times we can see the monsters a little too well, there are a few bumps in the plotting and while it is always riveting the absolute bone chilling tension you expect from some horror films seems to be reserved for some of the set pieces and not every scene.

That said I love this film to death. This ain't high art, nor high horror- this is better,this is get you buddies together, grab some popcorn and beverage of choice and put on a film that will make you laugh and jump and smile and come away from it knowing that you've been entertained and gotten every penny of your money's worth out of it. This is one of those movies I'll stop to watch each time I run across it and put on when I need a friend to relax to.

I know some people will say I'm over selling the film and I may be, however there is just something so warm and fuzzy about the film I can't help but give it a big bear hug.

Go see this film and be entertained- hell it's light years ahead of and a thousand times more exciting then the mess that is the FANTASTIC FOUR

VOD on  iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Vudu and Xbox and on cable and satellite providers

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is streaming

I just discovered that the Ann Arbor Film Festival  has gone on line. I just missed the first day but there is more to come. It is a live streaming event that started yesterday and runs through the weekend.

If you want to see what is screening or to simply join in go here.

The Queens World Film Festival is streaming on line now

I just found out this morning that the always wonderful Queens World Film Festival has gone on line. You can watch the films streaming for free.

Go here for a list of films and details on how to watch.

I will have some reviews up soon.

Though you could try THE LAST SERMON and not wait for me. Its a great film. Its about filmmakers going to see if they can talk to the family of the men who blew them up.

Unseen Films Stay at Home Festival: Film Thirty Five: Hellhouse LLC

"Documentary" made up of supposed interviews and found footage revealing what happened at the abandoned Abaddon Hotel on the night f a tragedy in which several people died and abut which the local authorities refuse to speak.

The first eleven or twelve minutes of this film is as perfect a set up for a found footage film as you can get. Mixing home video and interviews it puts us into the the events and gives as just enough to get us started. From there the film then largely plays out as we see what happened since the creators of the attraction loved to film everything.

Frankly for 80 minutes of this films this film's 90 minutes HELLLHOUSE LLC is a great horror film. Yes, it isn't perfect it has some of the conceits that drive many people crazy about the found footage genre such as shooting things no one would ever shoot or doing things to move the plot in a contrived matter since this isn't a typical narrative. I'm not going to lie and say that they aren't noticed- they are but as soon as thy happen you are right back into the film...

...the trouble with the film is that as good as the first 80 minutes are the final 10 wreck the the narrative and logical thread.  The filmmakers of the documentary are told to go visit the house and they do...but in doing so they abandon the documentary structure because what we see past that point  involving the film crew is the wrong sort of gotcha. They could have left it at the hotel desk with the crew leaving the interview and heading out. We don't need the gotcha ending since since it opens up all sorts of questions about everything else.

Honestly the abandonment of a found footage film's conceit in the final minutes is probably the biggest mistake most filmmakers make. I think the assumption is that it's only a movie, but more times than not it leaves you wondering how we are seeing the finished film (HELLHOUSE LLC has that problem). Worse in doing that it wrecks the logic of everything that went before making it all collapse ( it almost happens here)

Final ten minutes aside HELLHOUSE LLC kicks ass I had to turn off the film a couple of times and step away. As such it is highly recommended.