Thursday, December 31, 2020

Best of 2020 Part 1

If you have read Unseen Films for any amount of time you know I see way too many movies every year and as a result my best of the year lists go way beyond a top ten or even a top twenty five. My lists are so long that they come in two parts The Best and The Best of the Best. This is the first part- a list of some truly great films.

PRISON WITHIN- this is a great film about how the trauma of life hurts us and even makes us do things that send us to prison.

FAIRYTALE-A fairytale film abut finding out who you really are and living your life to the fullest

BASTARD'S ROAD- the last thing I thought we needed was another feel good film about a vet reconnecting with his fellow soldiers and life-until I saw this film and knew we need this film right now.

CRESCENDO- deeply moving film about a half Israeli half Palestinian orchestra that uses music perfectly to add to the themes and emotions.

IDENTIFYING FEATURES-This film is just getting released now widely and this tale of a mother looking for her son will wreck you. It has haunted me since January.

HIGHER LOVE-What will you do for the person you love and your child. Real raw and a punch in the chest

PIROTECNIA- what starts off as a look at the men who tried to kill the President of Columbia becomes something greater and more resonant to the world.

THE SPECIALS- The story of two men running a day care for people with special needs had me openly sobbing several times. Movies rarely get better than this.

BURNING GHOST- a man caught between the here and the here after interacts with people on both sides. Another film that makes you go WOW

RUNON- short film about a mother and her son in a bus terminal that I watched repeatedly-like for two hours over and over again because it took me somewhere else

BUNDINI- portrait of the man who coined the phrase "Float Like a Butterfly and Sting Like a Bee" needs to be expanded into a feature.

A BETTER YOU- A wonderful short film about a man who decides to judt be himself

LAST FERRY TO GRASS ISLAND- The story of a hit on an island just off Hong Kong. It heralds the arrival of a new force in cinema

Performances in SWERVE/DIRTY GOD The lead performances in these two films rock and deserve Oscars

SPUTNIK - A sci fi horror film that bends the genre and make you shiver

BATHWELL IN CLERKENTIME-  Third film in the Clerkenwell trilogy is a delight

THROUGH THE NIGHT- eye opening look at a 24 hour day care and the family that runs it.

499- glorious mixing of fact and fiction will make you reconsider what you thought you knew.

PAINTED BIRD- Film version of a literary classic truly shows the ugliness of war and humanity

LOOKING FOR A LADY WITH FANGS- Magnificent mediation on life had be arguing with a number of people who didn't get it. I got it and carry it in my heart

THE MORTARY COLLECTION- one of the very best horror anthologies ever made

ON BRUHL- glorious portrait of a community center that welcomes everyone set up in the middle of a city festering with neo-nazi's

FATMAN- Mel Gibson is a kick ass Santa Claus. Straddling genres it speaks volumes about life

UNIVERSE- Portrait of a jazz musician and his efforts to record a piece written for Miles Davis

BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL- Just when you thought the Vampire legends couldn't be improved upon....

COSTUME FOR NICHOLAS- deeply moving film about the need to dream and be yourself. It will make you go misty. This heralds the arrival of a Ghibli level animation studio.

PAPER TIGERS- wonderful buddy film that says a lot about growing old and the relationship between fathers and sons

MADIGASIKARA- Fantastic look at Madagascar that has one of the most crushing openings ever where a mother talks of burying her dead child just outside the door of her home. It goes up from there and it will change you forever.

THE DISSIDENT-a look into the uglier side of Saudi Arabia and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi-it buckles your knees

Jimmy Olsson's ALIVE is a film about a woman in a wheelchair who sets up a Tinder profile and to say more would be telling. All you need know is the ending is one of the best endings of any film in years and it will make you smile and laugh with will earned emotion.

Stay At Home Fest Bonus FIlms: A play list of disturbing videos

Just as 2020 was a disturbing year I'm going to end with some disturbing stuff in the hope of purging the bad stuff from our lives.

That is a link to a play list of the YouTuber Nexpo's series of 11 videos of disturbing things from around the internet. It runs the gamut from spouses spying n each other, to missing people, to odd behavior, to supernatural crap, to other things. Its about five hours of things to make you feel uneasy 

The choice to watch or not is entirely yours.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENEZUELA (2020) Starts Tomorrow on Topic

Located on Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is the village of Congo Mirador. Built on stilts it is a town that is slowly dying. While the lake should be dredged to stop the sentiment to build up, the government instead gives them empty promises. Worse the lake is polluted and there is no hope in sight. However despite it all it is election time and the government people are looking for their support.

This is a beautiful film of a way of life that is slowly disappearing,  ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENEZUELA will haunt your dreams. As music mixes with slices of life takes this film puts us firmly into the lives of everyone we see and we are better for it. 

All hail director Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, who returns to the village after several other film projects, and which resulted in a familiarity that allows us outsiders to get up close to the people on screen. This is a rarest of films that make us truly feel that we are part of what is happening on screen.

There is much to consider here and I need a second time through before I can fully unpack all the film has to say about community, corruption, pollution and poverty. Until I can give it another go and truly form my thoughts I suggest you take the time and see the film for yourself. 


Topic is available to U.S. and Canadian audiences on, Apple iOS, and AppleTV, Android, Amazon Fire TV and Roku, in addition to Amazon Prime Video Channels.

Interview with Alex Svenson of Then Comes Silence

In March 2020 I reviewed the album “Machine” by Post Punk heroes, Then Comes Silence. The band hails from Stockholm, Sweden and have had quite the success on the European music charts. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the bands founder, Alex Svenson to discuss life as a musician in 2020. To read my review of their latest album, Go here.

LM: Covid 19 has affected musicians worldwide. Bands have had to improvise and be creative when it comes to releasing new music. How has the pandemic changed you as an artist?

AS: This pandemic affected everyone, every artist with big plans for 2020, small or big. That's the only consolation we had. We're in it together. The band realized during that same week we released 'Machine', that it was going to change most of our plans for this year. It later changed to... "all plans this year". It was when the Summer festivals started to email about postponing til 2021 that we had to accept the fact for good.

Necessity is the mother of invention. We needed to find other ways to reach out, promote the album and keep communicating with our friends, fans and followers. I think it began quite early when we among other artists started to make quarantine versions of songs and post them on social media. This was something new to all of us. In our community, the online events suddenly popped up one by one. Gothicat Festival was one of the first and in my opinion the leading one in these trying times.

The concept of live stream was new. We didn't want to just film a live set in our practice space using a phone with crappy sound. We decided that if we were going to do a live stream it had to be with a professional team. Gear, camera men, a sound engineer and assistants. We put our trust in donations to cover the expenses, and it worked higher than our expectations.

LM: Live stream concerts have become the go to way to connect with fans from all over the world. This approach allows more people to see you play while removing the live concert experience. What is the thing you miss most about performing in front of a live audience?

AS: I miss everything about live shows. Sure, a live stream is better than nothing, but it's hardly the same thing in an empty room with a couple of cameras and wifi. It's stressful and confusing. Totally new to us. Some might say it's just like a live TV performance. I have done a couple of them in my music career and it's not the same at all. A live stream is more fragile. It's self produced and there's no backup if something goes wrong. I miss the noisiness, the sweat, the stage, the preparations backstage, the travelling and meeting new people.

LM: Your latest album "Machine" was released in March 2020 just before the global pandemic. The sixth track "Apocalypse Flare" seems quite fitting during this unprecedented event. Does this song have a different meaning to you now than when you had written it?

AS: No, the meaning of the song is still the same and I don't feel it's any different now when we're living in a time where we will have to face the consequences of ignorance and negligence. That's what the song is about. We all know it's heading somewhere bad. Tomorrow could be worse than today, but we still want to find that nice spot at the beach and enjoy the sun while it's still there.

LM: The soundtrack to any film is quite important. If you had the chance to have your music featured in any film which film would you choose and why?

AS: There was an Italian low budget horror film that asked permission to use a song. That was before the virus took over everything. We haven't heard what happened since then.

I know we'd love to have our music featured in any kind of film actually. Even more so... we'd like to do the whole soundtrack if someone asks us. I have worked with film scores and theatre play music before.

LM: The writing process for each artist is so different. Out of all the music you've written which song did you find the easiest to write, and which was the most difficult?

AS: Some songs were written in a day like, 'Strangers' and 'We Lose The Night'. There are always some songs that require more time. I was saving the riff for ‘Strange Kicks' for some time before it became a song. It didn't fit anywhere until some other chords mixed well together with the rest. That's quite common. You have short little melodies that you save for a better day. 'Kill It' took some time I remember.

LM: When did you first realize you wanted to be a musician and what was the first song you ever wrote?

AS: I have always known I was going to work with art in some way. I have been drawing and painting since young toddler days. I discovered music quite late. I was about fourteen and one of my influential friends showed me the world of synth and electronic music. I bought a second hand Moog synthesizer and started writing simple Synthpop. I don't remember my first song. It was probably not good.

LM: What inspires you as an artist and are there any hidden meanings behind your songs or albums?

AS: Everything inspires me. Watching, listening to and studying other people. That means some serious eavesdropping of course. Movies are a great influence. I'm a gemini, I don't read books that often. I'm easily distracted. Films, audio and images give me the information more quickly and it definitely works better for me. I envy people that enjoy reading a book. It looks so peaceful. There is always something hidden in music. It's an abstract way of expression and that gives you so many possibilities and so much freedom. That makes music so interesting and powerful. I hide stuff all the time.

LM: Despite the strange events that have occurred this year TCS have managed to gain a lot of new fans. I'm sure this is both exciting and unexpected. Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?

AS: The music community, whether it's mostly Goth, Post-Punk, Metal, Industrial or Darkwave for some of us... it has been one of... if not the most important saviour this year. It feels like I have gained so many new friendships. It feels like I know so many of the faces I see almost everyday on social media. We have been supportive to one another. It probably would been unbearable without the contact of other people online.

Everything was soaked in the pandemic, poisoned in politics and affected by the climate change. Words like "postponed", "cancelled", "quarantine", "racist" and "lockdown" make me want to throw up.

There were some really dark days, sad moments, stressful times with a high level of anxiety, but there were also light, compassion and hope.

I would like to say thank you to everyone and see you for ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’.

** A big you to Alex for collaborating with me on this interview. If you’re interested in learning more about Then Comes Silence please visit their Facebook page. To purchase merchandise visit their Band Camp merch store. Their music is also available on streaming services such as Spotify and iTunes. 

Film Finds 2020

Every year there are films that just miss the best of the year list but which still need to be noted at the year's end because they are so good.

ASHFALL- Batshit crazy film from Korea about a volcano erupting in the South and the need to use an atomic bomb in the north. Its none stop and totally nuts

ANIMATION OUTLAWS- A fantastic look at Spike and Mike and how they shaped the animation you know and love.

STATE AGAINST MANDELA AND OTHERS-an excellent and moving look at the trial that sent Nelson Mandela and others to prison. 

RESIDUE- Merawi Gerima steps into the spotlight.

ASK NO QUESTIONS- a great look at the nasty things China is doing to the Falun Gong

TO CALM THE PIG INSIDE-a wonderful portrait of an island destroyed by a storm.

QUEEN OF THE CAPITAL-I have been thinking about the wonderful people in this film since I saw it. All I want to do is go to DC and give them a big hug

małni—towards the ocean, towards the shore- glorious cinematic experience-see it as big as possible with no distractions.

400MPH- magnificent short about a chimp with a need for speed

WASHED- a horror comedy that that an unexpected ending and my undying love

SOFTIE- the story of a man trying to save his country. It has one of the best exchanges in cinema history as Softie's daughter decides she wants to help her dad

BEARS INVASION OF SICILY- magnificent animated film about the title event which echoes with the world of today.

EMA- see this for the sound and image which are so arresting it makes the film a must see

PRIVATE FICTION- a look at family and things left behind through a look at the history of Argentina

COMFORTER- a glorious short horror film that will make you never want to sleep again

SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL- a rethink of the Robert Parker Spenser for Hire books and characters- I want a sequel

SLEEP- Portrait of Max Richter's eight and half hour piece of music to sleep to (not to worry this is under two)

OLIVER SACHS: IN HIS OWN WORDS- Portrait of the man that will make you miss him all the more

REACH OF RESONANCE- Steve Elkins first film is a glorious look at differently sourced music
LOVE SPREADS- story of a rock group making an album. Announced for Tribeca, put into the Press Library before the director demanded it be pulled, I managed to catch it and fall under its spell. Its a wonderful film that I want to see again.

SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME -Portrait of Ron Wood is probably the best film on the Rolling Stones ever made.

MY BROTHERS KEEPER-magnificent  portrait of a guard and a prisoner who changed each other's lives.

SWORD OF GOD- portrait of Christian missionaries getting in over their head

MY HEART CAN'T BEAT UNLESS YOU TELL IT- small gem of a horror film about two sibling taking care of their brother who needs blood to survive

INFLUENCE- if you want to know why the world is fucked up see this portrait of Lord Timothy Bell who will do anything for money

FRIED BARRY- great film about an alien taking the body of a bad man for a spin and finding humanity.

ASSASSINS- a mind-bending look at the murder of the brother of Kim Jong-un that involved unwitting killers
CURED- the moving story of the fight to have homosexuality removed from the list of mental illnesses.

THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME- glorious film about change that should have been at the New York Film Festival not the New York Asian Film Festival.

CUTIES-controversial film about the abuse and sexualization of young girls became a lightning rod by people who didn't see or understand the film. It may not be perfect but it is a punch in the face

ABRACADABRA- A wild and crazy film about magic that it why I love the movies.

YANKEE- Glorious action film would be on my best of the best list were it not for the terrible cinematography. that said the film, the story and the characters haunt you

GONE WITH THE LIGHT- great film about what happens to those left behind after people randomly disappear in a flash of light.

LEGEND OF BARON TO'A- a great film about finding family, home and culture that doesn't do what you'd expect

SON OF THE WHITE MARE- one the greatest works of visual art I've ever seen. If the plot was a bit more under control it would be on my best of the year list

Stay at Home Festival Bonus Film: Chronicles of Reddit parts 1 and 2

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Sing Me A Song (2019) hits digital platforms New Years Day

Ten years on Peyangki, the subject Thomas Balmès’ earlier film Happiness, the once wide eyed child monk is now an internet addicted young adult. While he still studies the scriptures, he is also trying to make time with a young woman in a city far away. He is hoping to make enough money to travel there to meet her. He is unaware that she is a young single mom looking to escape the country.

Stunningly beautiful film is going to thrill many and bore others. Don't get me wrong, I love this films slow mediation on the internet and it how it is altering the world, however I know some people are going to want to jump ship figuring there is nothing here other than pretty pictures. Yes this film is largely amazing images but there is more going on than meets the eye. By the time we get to a late in the game shot of four people sitting on a couch not talking but staring at their phones we've had a lot of time to truly process how evil that image is.

The power here is in what is not being said. Sure people talk and interact but as time goes on we realize how little of it actually means anything. The silences are truly deafening. I was moved.

If you want an off the beaten trail contemplation of our world SING ME A SONG is recommended.

Worst films of 2020

It goes without saying worst  thing about 2020 was the whole year. This year was awful for any number of reasons, none of which I'll go into. Instead I'll talk about the really bad films I saw this year.

TAPESTRY- a heartfelt movie about how god and family will make it all right in the end. Its so clunky that  you'll become a aethist and kill your family.

GUNS AKIMBO-Disappointing action film with Daniel Radcliff makes zero sense

CODE OF THE FREAKS- people with disabilities  dismiss every single film about disabilities. What should have been a reasoned discussion is an irrational rant.

OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES- the rare food documentary I hate.

CLOVER- a not very good comedic thriller makes Ron Pearlman look bad

OPEKA- portrait of Father Pedro Opeka is hagiographic in the extreme. A border line offensive film where you'll want to punch out this white savior (see MADIGASIKARA instead for a real look at Madagascar)

HUNTED- incredibly stupid  film about a woman hunted by two men, who then turns the tables on them. As stupid as a film can be 

ORIGIN OF THE SPIECES- a great discussion about artificial intelligence is wrecked by a headache inducing presentation

BLACK JACK- a movie about a legendary basketball player without almost no basketball, and is instead an awful cliché  family drama.

FRENCH EXIT-a bad film about a spoiled rich woman who doesn't know what to do with her life. Who cares?

CIRCLE- technically inept film is so deficient that it is impossible to know if the story is any good. You spend the whole film picking it apart, wondering why the sound as recorded in camera, whether any of the actors were in the same place at the same time and how anyone would pick it up to show at a festival.

Stay at Home Fest Bonus Fest: 30 Disappearances

Monday, December 28, 2020

BC Wallin talks about the best film experiences of the year and ends up saying so much more

To put it shortly, 2020 has been a year of looking back more than looking forward. The field of movies that came out this year has been limited, and at times, anxiety at the state of the world made it feel more comfortable to stick to familiar films, while at other times, fewer new movies to catch allowed for opportunities to start catching up on the past. Here’s a messy sort of list, for a messy sort of year.

Best trailer for a movie that didn’t end up coming out this year

In the Heights

I will not be living in Washington Heights anymore when this film eventually comes out simultaneously in theaters and on HBO MAX. I’m not living in Washington Heights anymore right now — I moved out during the pandemic. The community has a texture and movement and, if we’re being honest, some really loud motorcycles that rip down the streets, but I’m past that, I guess.

I love earnest, open-hearted musicals, and I was excited for In the Heights. The trailer had it going on, and good. The hopefulness, the dreams, the fantasy. I was excited to see people dancing on the wall, in the pool, through the fire hydrant blasts. I was looking forward to a (hopefully) meaningful story about race and class and ambition. I’m still thinking about that trailer. There were much, much bigger tragedies. And the movie will come out, so a tragedy it is not. A minor bummer, I guess. I hope the movie’s worth it.

Best French serial from the early 20th century

Les vampires

The truth is, I’d like to have judged between this and another Louis Feuillaude serial, Judex, but I only saw the movie adaptation from the ‘60s (pretty good, and it had giant bird head costumes). I picked up Kino Lorber’s Les vampires set in April, figuring it would last me until things got back to normal. You know. I wish there was a way to get this series in front of a large group of people, so we could be talking about this on Twitter, or something. It’s insanely engaging, it’s got Mazamette, and it has a surprising number of rotating big bosses (pour one out for Irma Vep, who never got to take her deserved spot on top). Watch it.

Weirdest double feature

Impractical Jokers: The Movie & Parasite

I actually had the opportunity to pull this off in a movie theater (sorry, I still miss AMC A-List). An immature quartet of friends, a contrived plot featuring Paula Abdul, and the feeling that you’re sitting in a theater watching a high production value episode of TV. Followed immediately by an IMAX screening of an allegorical class-struggle masterpiece of cinema. So, you know, balance. I think the weirdest/worst part about a pairing like this is that I genuinely didn’t glean anything new from this pairing. It’s like eating roasted marshmallows and turkey bacon together; they just don’t mesh.

Most disappointing movie commentary

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Criterion Collection finally offered a disc of my favorite all-time movie (at time of writing and for the five years prior). I was asked why I was getting excited for a movie I already owned digitally. “Because,” I said, “there are bonus features” (the quote may not be exact, but the sentiment is). The supplements promised a “New audio commentary featuring [Wes] Anderson, filmmaker Roman Coppola, critic Kent Jones, and actor Jeff Goldblum.” The Grand Budapest Hotel is a technically fascinating film (read Matt Zoller Seitz’s book!) that you could break down in intense depth, going through the 4:3 cinematography, the incredible production design, the Alexandre Desplat score evocative of folk Eastern European music, the colors, the acting, the humor, the small gestures by Edward Norton, and the rest of it. The men spent their time mostly just reminiscing about things unrelated to the story and occasionally bringing up the filming locations. The worst kind of commentary is the one that really teaches you nothing.

Worst movie

The Birth of a Nation

I’m glad I finally watched this oft-cited movie so I could make my own judgement. The Birth of a Nation sucks. On a story, historical, and moral level, it’s just repugnant. I have to be fair and admit that the first half was able to grip me with the battle stuff, the intensity and such. But then, the KKK arrived. There isn’t much new to say about this horrid movie that’s been hotly debated for about a century. I don’t want to dwell.

Different Man Different Movie Award

The Wizard of Oz

The same man can’t walk through the same river twice, or something like that. The first time I rewatched The Wizard of Oz this year (you could say all watching is rewatching, but this movie has been part of my family canon for a long time), I was preparing to spend indoor time with friends, laughing, enjoying, and expelling non-deadly particles into the air. I was building a Dungeons & Dragons mini-campaign inspired by the podcast The Film Reroll and a Washington Post article’s revisionist take on the politics of Oz. I rewatched it recently with my sister (we share a bubble). My movie nights have had more… repetitive crowds this year than usual. My Dungeons & Dragons games are run over Zoom. Maybe I should’ve realized something was up with the year when Dorothy’s house didn’t hit the Wicked Witch of the East in our game. Oops.

Best use of Kol Nidre

The Jazz Singer

Kol Nidre is the moving, soulful song chanted at the opening to Yom Kippur, where Jews try to start the Day of Atonement on the right foot, by cleansing themselves of all vows, promises, and ties that bind them to the possibility of breaking their word. The cantorial music sung today can be traced to a 19th century composer named Max Bruch, and I’ve thought for a while that it would make a powerful moment in film. Then I watched one of the most famous talking pictures of all time and saw it had been hiding there all along. I’m always looking for more Jewish representation in film, and coming across this tale of being torn between two worlds was quite meaningful (yes, I know this movie has significant moral problems). If there’s a better use of Kol Nidre, I’ll happily reconsider.

Best pleasant surprise

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe

The TV show Phineas and Ferb is a masterpiece of the artform. But it works really well in its 11-minute intervals. The show excels in deconstructing the same formulaic structure, over and over, to continuously find new meaning. Expanding beyond the time limitation can be dangerous, and other longer-than-40-minute attempts by the show were plagued by dry spots. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by how good the Disney+ Phineas and Ferb movie was, telling the story (sort of ripping off Toy Story 2) mostly from the perspective of Candace, as if fans of the show were kids when they came to it and are now old enough to relate to the struggles of aging and feeling stuck in a rut. Worth a watch.

My most significant trend of favorite movies

The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Magnificent Ambersons, Chimes at Midnight, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the parts of An American Pickle I did like, and literally anything about Orson Welles.

Living in a world that is wholly different from the one you knew only a year ago will certainly target the nostalgia in any person who cared for the feelings of safety and security, though, admittedly, I’ve been reckoning with these feelings for most of my moviegoing career. It might be the collective Jewish memory I’ve inherited that has me thinking about movies that are about the death of an era, the disappearance of a lost age, but I keep finding myself coming back to these types of movies. They’re the ones that target that feeling that something was lost, something tragically irretrievable, and we can never fully get past that loss. I’ve always had a soft spot for these movies; maybe this was the right year to reaffirm the meaningfulness of the past while we stare into an unknown future.

The best anxious comfort movies

Steve Jobs, A Serious Man, Uncut Gems, Eagle Eye, but oddly enough, not Synecdoche, New York.

I call these comfort movies because they’re the ones I came back to this year, knowing full well what I was in for. My wife asked me why I would purposely watch something that I know would make me feel anxious. Why purposely submit yourself to clenching your teeth, tightening your muscles, enduring emotional discomfort? I have two explanations: the practical and the emotional. 2020 was the year of pulling out my phone during movies, stopping in the middle, going to bed, or changing gears and just playing some video games. The thriller, the anxious movie, has its viewer holding on — there’s a clinging sort of notion that’s needed to watch them. Anxious movies grip you, and if they’re what it takes to stop getting distracted during a time when I haven’t been to a movie theater in months and everything in the news makes me anxious, I’ll take them.

This leads to the other point: these selections of anxiety offer familiar discomfort — I know what tzuros will befall Larry Gopnik, what arguments the contentious Steve Jobs will get into. The virus that has defined this year is invisible, flies through the air, and can be carried by people who don’t even know they have it. You can give it to your loved ones. You can survive it and still have long-lasting consequences. Find comfort returning to something you can control (or, you know, just return to the comfort movies that won’t make you feel relieved to be back in our world. This is not a great method of coping).

Stay AT Home Fest Bonus FIlms : More Weird


Sunday, December 27, 2020

Nightcap 12/27/20- On the passing of Jon Huber, the Golden Globes are having trouble finding award worthy films and random year end bits

John Huber and Ted Geoghegan

This was originally posted to Twitter yesterday after hearing about John Huber's passing:

I am gutted by the death of Jon Huber. 

I met Jon a couple years back when I interviewed him & Ted Geoghegan for the film MOHAWK. I had no idea who he was other than this great actor in a great movie. I apologized that I couldn't talk wrestling, only the movie, which delighted him

I walked into the hotel where the interview was to take place and I recognized Jon from the film and we started to talk. When Ted arrived he went to introduce us and we said we met and that we had been talking for a while. By the time we did the interview we were old friends.

I honestly can say that talking to Jon and Ted was one of the best times I ever had doing an interview. It wasn't Q&A it was a discussion, it was friends hanging out and talking. It was something that I will always treasure.

Jon was such a blast to talk to it was the only time in 11 years of doing them that I posted the raw audio ( as well as the transcribed interview ( simply because Jon is so much fun to listen to.

And as good as Ted's answers are, the joy and life in John's running commentary was what makes the interview so memorable.

I am deeply saddened by Jon's passing. I always hoped to meet him again. However, a great deal can be said about the greatness of a person by the effect they have on other people as they go through your life. I only knew him for a brief time but I will always remember him.

God speed Mr Huber. God bless.


The Golden Globes choosing Hamilton as an eligible film is odd but it is technically a film. Then again it is supposed to be the result of there not being enough good films to nominate.


There are tons of great films this year- magnificent small inde films which no doubt they ignored because they aren't from a major company, either studio or PR film. Unseen has probably covered over 1400 films this year and I can tell you there are more than enough award worth films if people would just stop taking just the films from the majors and look elsewhere. 

I can't wait to see what sort of nightmare the acting categories turn up as four of the best female performances in years are in two inde films (THE SWERVE and DIRTY GOD) probably off everyone's radar and in the French Oscar submission (TWO OF US). Same thing with the other categories as well.

Not a good year for film?

Oh hell no- its great year you just had to look at what was actually being release by more than the major players


There will not be many reviews between now and the 3rd. Its the annual year end pieces plus some some surprises.

Some of the surprises are guest pieces that came out of my asking people what film made the happiest this year.


The Netflix film JINGLE JANGLE disappointed. I think it would be a great Broadway Musical. I also think it tries way too hard.


I finally saw IP MAN 4 and I was disappointed, Not bad but not up to the other films


I will be covering Sundance this year as credentialed press. 

That may not sound like much since I have been covering it through films sent to me via PR people, but I had never applied before because I had never been able to go to the festival, because of money, scheduling conflicts or the inability to get off from the day job. 

And for me its a big deal since while Unseen does have a reputation of sorts after almost 11 years nothing is ever certain. Over the last few years I have been watching friends not be credentialed for festivals that they have covered for a decade or more so I take nothing for granted. 

Yes the fact that the fest is virtual and the rules have changed made  me apply, I really could not have gone this year. But even so its nice that one of the biggest festivals in the world is letting me in to wander around its garden.


In other festival news I am working on New York Jewish Film Fest and I have applied to Slamdance, which runs  a week or so after Sundance this year


Strangely I have not really been watching many films the last three weeks or so. Yea I did some new releases and festival stuff, mostly though its been TV programs and  the NFL. I don't want to have to write, I don't want to think. I just want 2020 to be over


I have dipped my the into some new films coming to and I have liked what I have seen. Reviews will becoming in a couple of weeks  when they are due to play.


And with four days left to 2020 I want to wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR

The excellent Two Ways Home hits VOD on the 29th

What sets TWO WAYS HOME apart from most other films about going home and finding one’s self is the way the film handles the mental illness portion of the film. A realistic look at a woman with mental health issues the film feels nicely lived in and smells of a summer day in the country.

The film opens with Kathy and her friend robbing a convenience store. Very quickly we realize that something is off. She hearing voices and not behaving rationally. When the cops come she gives up without a fight. While in prison she is diagnosed with bipolar issues and put on meds. When she is released she goes to stay with her grandfather who is having health issues of his own. As she tries to reconnect with her daughter she also attempts to rebuild her life.

Buoyed by killer performances by Tanna Frederick and Tom Bower (who is so staggeringly good you wonder why he hasn't gotten more leads)  TWO WAYS HOME is a small treasure of a film. No, it is not the greatest thing since sliced bread and no it probably won’t win every award out there, but it is a wonderfully warm and fuzzy film with ups and downs that make it feel like life. Watching it I had the feeling that I was back on my grandfather’s farm. As I said above it has the feeling of a life lived. Clearly writer Richard Schinnow and director Ron Vignone have been there and it shows on the big screen.

This is really good film. It is exactly the sort of film I set up Unseen Films to highlight and it is exactly the sort of film that makes Dances with Films so important.

Recommended for anyone who is tired of typical Hollywood films or stock inde films.

Stay At Home Home Festival Bonus Films: Weird videos


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)

 George C Wolfe's stunning adaption of the awards winning August Wilson play is a thing to behold.  A lean mean machine it moves like the wind and it breaks your heart in all the right ways.

The plot has Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) going to a studio in Chicago to record her next record. Waiting for her is her band, including Levee (Chadwick Boseman), a trumpet player who has some arrangements that the white producers think will be big sellers. The problem is the fates are conspiring against Levee and it isn't going to go as he thinks.

I originally saw the play of Ma Rainey a number of years ago with Whoopee Goldberg as Rainey and the excellent Charles Dutton as Levee. Goldberg had the presence but never made you for get she was Whoopi. Dutton was excellent but probably a little too old looking for his second go round in the role. I liked the show but I didn't love it. However my interest was piqued when I saw the trailer for the Netflix film. Everything looked right.

There is really little to say but the praise and the Oscar talk for the film are right on target. George C Wolfe has made a masterpiece of cinema. Chopping out close to an hour of material (not that you'd notice- I had to compare running times) Wolfe has fashioned a film that is always thematically on target and perfectly modulated. This is a film that doesn't wander and meander but holds our attention front and center. Wolfe also opens the story up placing us in a world that isn't just a recording studio.

Viola Davis loses herself in the role of Ma. Rarely has any actress ever inhabited a role as Davis does here. She is almost certain to be in the running for another Oscar, and if she isn't there is something seriously wrong with the Academy.

Chadwick .Boseman is heartbreaking as Levee. Yea, he hits every note exactly right but he also perfectly conveys Levee's misplaced sense of the world. We know he's doomed, and we like him so much that we break knowing that there is nothing we or anyone else can do to stop his fall. Additionally knowing that Boseman passed away not long before the film was released is bittersweet. Partly because his gaunt appearance, which is perfect for the role, makes you realize how sick he was at the end, but also because with this role Boseman would have shot into the stratosphere of the best actors the screen and audiences have ever seen. Yes T'Challa will be the role he is always remembered for but Levee is his greatest performance.

Highly recommended MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM is one the very best films of 2020

Friday, December 25, 2020

Brief thoughts on Borat: The Subsequent Film (2020)

I was not a fan of the first Borat film. I thought Sacha Baron Cohen pushed things too much and the result was  it just didn't work. This time out I found I was laughing way more than I thought was possible by a Cohen film.

The plot of the film has Borat freed from a gulag in Kazakhstan in order to send a bribe to to Donald Trump. He is to bring a chimpanzee to Mike Pence. Unfortunately the chimp is killed and eaten by Borat's daughter who stowed away in the cage. This sends Borat on a mad dash to give his daughter to Pence instead.

Infamous for the footage of Rudy Giuliani trying to get it on with a girl he thought was 15 years old, this film works best when it is steering away from the stunt sequences. Say what you will the hidden camera sequences are still just a tad too much. Yea they are funny but still a bit too over the top and too long. 

Ultimately my quibbles don't matter because the film is funny.

Definitely worth a look.

Brief thoughts on the deeply depressing MIDNIGHT SKY (2020) (Spoilers)

Go back there is no hope here

MIDNIGHT SKY is a depressing and sad film about the apocalypse involving a returning space ship and a scientist (George Clooney) in the arctic waiting to die. Circumstances force Clooney and a small child left behind to  make a dash to warn the spaceship away from landing from an earth that is now a death trap. It's not really clear. 

Bleak beyond words this is the feel bad film of the happy holiday season.

While beautifully made and nicely acted, the script is not always clear with the result that we really don't care enough to stay with this end of everything tale.

While not as hopeless as films such as ON THE BEACH this film is really damn close and I would really consider ever seeing it again.

Not recommended for anyone wanting to feel good.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Uncle Frank (2020)

14 year old Beth loves her Uncle Frank. She can't understand why he doesn't come home more (he is a professor in New York) When she turns 18 she picks a college in New York and drops in unexpectedly on her uncle. At first he pretends to be straight but he eventually comes out to her. When his father dies he and Beth return home for the funeral with his boyfriend Wally in tow.

This is an uneven story about being gay fifty years ago. The cast is good but the script, which shines in the first half with some great characters and some unexpected turns becomes a bit pedestrian during the trip home. It's not that there is anything bad, hell the end has an emotional kick to it,  rather the film goes from the sort of thing that we really haven't seen in a big budget narrative, to a by the numbers coming together story.  I hated that I went from not knowing where it was going to being able to be three scenes ahead of the characters. 

While far from a bad film, this is a really good film that starts off as a great film.

Definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (2020)

 Excellent look at the career of the brothers Gibb who made up the Bee Gees, a group which essentially changed music as we know it. Following their career from the start to the end it is a glorious victory lap for lone surviving brother Barry and the Gibb family.

Full of music and interviews, the film is so skillfully put together with historical footage that odds are you wouldn't know that Barry was the only one still alive. Honestly this film is expertly put together to suck you in and get you dancing. When the film played HBO I was just going to watch a couple of minutes before moving on...I stayed to the final fade out.

While not perfect, it leaves out or pushes to the side anything personal (the deaths of Andy, Maurice and Robyn are covered in text on screen) and don't look for anything remotely negative, it fills every second with something interesting and it's clear it would need another two hours to get it all in.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Dissident (2020) in theaters Christmas Day and on VOD January 8

This look at the murder of Saudi journalist  Jamal Khashoggi will buckle your knees. While firmly focused on the murder of Khashoggi it spins its net farther afield and paints a chilling portrait of a government racing to unchecked oppression and madness on a grand scale.

THE DISSIDENT wants us to know that things are not well in Saudi Arabia. Things may look bright and wonderful but the men controlling the country have slipped into making it a paranoid dictatorship. Anyone who does not tow the party line is hauled away and murdered. They do not want any free thought and they use intimidation and an army of tech savvy people to try and control the thoughts of the masses. Troubled by the turn of events long time insider  Jamal Khashoggi left the country, even to the point of divorcing the wife he adored, and moving to the US, in order to be able to speak his mind. Khashoggi did just that but the Royal Family wanted him muzzled and when an opportunity to kill kim arose they took it, never expecting it to blow up in their face.

While the murder is the thread that binds the whole film together the film also shows us the cost of the Saudi madness. Paralleling the Khashoggi story is the one of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi national who fled the country when his Twitter posts criticizing the Saudi's put him on a list of people to be detained. While he fled to Canada the Saudis still want him dead. They have detained and tortured his brothers in the hope of silencing him and the Saudis have sent hit squads to try and silence him. Its a scary tale that gets scarier when its revealed that they are bugging/hacking the cellphones of anyone and everyone they see as a threat or of interest (like Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, who realized something was up when the crown prince was sending him texts about things he had never discussed with him)

This film rocked my world on so many levels I am having a hard time processing it all. Coming at a time when I was all movied and especially documentaried out, THE DISSIDENT  made me sit up and take notice. I didn't do anything during the whole time it was on, not even taking notes. I had to see it right them and there. The only thing I did while watching it was to replay some sections because I had to see them again after I picked my jaw up off the floor.

What makes this film so great is that this is more than just the story of a murder, but it is a story of the cost of that murder, we see the toll it takes on Khashoggi's fiance, Hatice and his friends and acquaintances.  Additionally the film is a stark warning of the madness that some governments may seek to embrace. As someone says about the Saudi government, the people respected the government until they started to crack down on the opposition in an unjustified manner.  It shows how social media is being used to try and win the hearts and minds of the masses. It makes you wonder where will this all lead?

This is a truly great film. Its a stunning timely and important film that speaks volumes about a great many things. 

Highly recommended.

The Prom (2020)

When a small town PTA refuses to allow a young woman to attend the prom with her girlfriend and cancels it to prevent a lawsuit, some on the outs Broadway stars decide to go there and hold their own prom.

Much loved Broadway show has been brought to the screen with mixed results. While there are some glorious moments and some great performances the film also has some problems in the direction and in two of the leads.

Say what you will about Meryl Streep she is wildly uneven in her performance as Dee Dee Allen as a diva suffering from a failed show. There are moments when she nails it and there are moments when she goes too far over the top.

And that is a problem with the film, the film sometimes goes too far over the top. Things are too big, too silly. It's not something that is in individual performances but it ripples though whole moments in the film with some of the numbers being way too big. It doesn't work with some of the smaller numbers and moments which hit your heart.

The other problem is James Cordon. He isn't bad so much as horribly miscast. Many people say he is too campy or over the top, that's not the problem. Actually the problem is he doesn't have the weight. He never feels like a character, he feels like an actor playing. Not playing a character just playing. As a result he ends up as a hole in the film. Yea he's there but in the wrong sort of way.

Problems aside the film isn't bad. It's not great, but it entertains and for those it clicks with it will move them deeply.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Short Catch-up Capsules MANK and HILLBILLY ELEGY


Slick and flashy retelling of the making of CITIZEN KANE from the stand point that Herman Mankowitz was the brain behind it all and pulling from his time hanging with William Randolph Hearst. Its a film that is so in love with itself and it's cleverness that it feels unreal and soulless. It's a story that's been told before and better. A miss from David Fincher

A young man reflects back on growing up in Kentucky with his family after his mother overdoses on heroin. Great performances are wasted on a story that feels like it's something that should be on Lifetime, which is odd because this is, nominally a true story. On the plus side the performances are great and perhaps Glen Close will get an Oscar

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Nightcap 12/20/20- Passings

Not a lot to report this week. I'm trying not to watch anything I have to review, continue to work on essays for January, plot Sundance, Slamdance  and other January festivals like New York Jewish, plus finish the holiday shopping, wrap and just remain upright.

I wasn't going to do a nightcap but I had to note the passing of two influential people


On The Passing of John Le Carre

I fell into John LeCarre when my mother bought the audio book of the Little Drummer Girl.  I picked up the tapes after she was done and fell into the story thanks to LeCarre’s voice, he read the novel. I then picked up several more of his novels as audio books simply because I wanted to hear him read. The result was I fell in love with his books.

LeCarre’s novels always felt real to me. Yes I know he came from that world, but all writers cheat, but I never felt that with his stories. They all felt real and possible.

Of course film came calling way back in the 60’s and they acted as a nice counterpoint to the crazy ass spy stuff that was spawned by James Bond. Because of LeCarre we could get the serious films like Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer films or stuff like the Quiller Memorandum, where real men and women struggled to stay alive.

Over the years I drifted in and out of his films and their adaptions, but I always went back because once you were in his world you always had to go back.

He will be missed.


The Passing of Richard Corben

The passing of Richard Corben wrecked me.

Because of his art work in Heavy Metal magazine I ended up buying the whole run. With in the pages of his stories I found a view of life that made me smile. Yea it was often crazy and fantastical, but it always felt right and like a place I wanted to be.

I adored that when Heavy Metal became a movie they used some of his work as an inspiration. Sure the film was more cartoony than his painted work, but that was okay.

Because I chased Corben’s art in Heavy Metal my mind was opened up to other artists-pretty much anyone in those early days became a favorite. One man’s art opened my mind to a whole world of possibilities I would never have known existed.

Corben is a rare bird for me. He is an artist whose work I never disliked. I honest to god can not think of a single piece I’ve seen that didn’t delight me and make me go wow. Even DaVinci or any of the great masters always had a dud or two.

Richard Corben will be missed, but his work will inspire us for decades to come


Riz Ahmed is excellent in SOUND OF METAL.

The film is okay.


I don't know if there will be a Nightcap next week- If there isn't just know that the week after that from the 27th until January 3 it will largely be year end stuff with very few reviews.


Merry Christmas Everyone