Friday, January 15, 2021

Tahara (2020) NYJFF 2021

TAHARA is a misfire.

The story of two high school BFFs who after a memorial service for a friend who committed suicide end up kissing each other sending their lives spinning off into unexpected directions.

Where do I begin? Probably with the aspect ratio. Shot largely so that that it has the narrow vertical aspect of cell phone video it suddenly springs to full widescreen for some very brief animated sequences which occur to illustrate the opening up of the two girls' world. It works the first time it is used but the following times the effect really isn’t there. Intellectually I understand why the aspect ratio changes were done but emotionally it feels like showing off.

The biggest problem though is the script doesn’t work. Both the characters of Carrie and Hannah seem older than their years. These aren’t teenagers but adults in teenagers bodies. Worse they seem like an adult’s idea of teenagers and not real people. They are full of witty lines in exactly the way real people never are. These are constructs not real people, regardless of how well they are acted.

The script is full of cute bits that take away from this having any notion that this is in any way linked to reality. For example a conversation between the girls at the memorial service consists of the two girls making faces at each other while subtitles reveal what they are supposed to be saying. It’s the wrong sort of attempt at being clever, and even if at the end we see that it is actually supposed to be a written conversation between the girls, it just doesn’t work.

The biggest problem is that the construction feels artificial. Everything takes place in one a couple of hours in a building that is largely empty and it doesn’t feel right. This feels like its been closed down for dome unknown reason It could work if this was on stage but confining events for film it just feels forced.

The couple the restricted setting with the way the movements of the characters around the building seems odd, with everything outside of the two main characters always seeming dependent upon which what the plot needs- do we need a crowd? Do we not? The girls have to talk alone lets give them a place to be alone. None of it feels right. How is that they can just wander around the building with no one about most of the day?  I am not against what happens but I am against how it happens here since it feels like the hand the writer/director moving everyone around.

What kills me is is that all of the pieces from the acting, to the one liners, to the basic plot, are all good. The problem here is that how they are put together doesn't work with the result the film as a whole just misses.

Kapustochka by Irina Varina


I am a big fan of Irina Varina's work. She is a true artist who makes films and I delight when I get to see a new piece..

This is a new short she recently finished and I liked it so much I had to share.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Outcry and Whisper (2020) plays on Ovid.tv


Eight years in the making and certain never to openly play China, OUTCRY AND WHISPER is a real raw face punch look at the women who have been taking on the Chinese government and society in general concerning their attitudes toward women. It is a damning indictment against not only the Chinese government but sexism wherever it occurs.

The film shows us the real cost of being an activist. A combination of archival material, shot on the sly reporting, fly on the wall material, animation and other material OUTCY isn't full of pretty pictures but instead it is shot through with images that reveal life as its being lived. We see the abuse that women are faced with and we see what the women are ding to not only call attention to it but fight it as best they can.

While everyone will focus on the opening sequence where we watch as Zhao Yue  slices her face with razor blades, the film is so much more than that. Yes the images are arresting but for me the more powerful stuff is the cellphone video and observational footage that place us in the trenches. I felt bruised and battered and I wanted to look away but I couldn't. Its loud pained scream that demands our attention

As I said at the top this film truly is a punch in the face.

It is a must see when it plays on Ovid.tv starting tomorrow.

One of the worst films of 2020 HUNTED hits Shudder today

In writing up HUNTED I had a choice to make. Did I take it apart piece by piece from it’s poorly drawn characters (including two psycho killer seemingly drawn out of homophobia), the WTF plotting, the desperate attempts at having a deeper meaning that crash and burn,the uneven English, the failure to be intentionally funny, the general stupidity of it all, and fact that I don’t know if I am offended by the film by the film because of its ineptness or misogyny; or did I just rant about the film about how bad the film without going into all the specifics. I opted to rant because in starting to specifically break the film apart I realized I was going to spend three times the running time on a film best set out in the middle of a field and set on fire.

With that in mind here is my brief rant about one of 2020’s worst and dumbest films

Young woman is accosted by two guys in a bar. They won't leave her alone and end up kidnapping her by throwing her in the trunk of their car.  An accident sets her free and a hunt of WTF proportions results.

This is a deliberate and wholly WTF slasher film that tries to have a deep and meaningful spin on Little Red Riding Hood and ends up producing unintentional belly laughs.

If this wasn't so badly written it's failed attempt a female empowerment film (I think) and its not so thinly disguised misogyny might be offensive. I'm used to slasher films having a low opinion of women but rarely have I ever seen one as abused and debased by a filmmaker such as this. She isn't a character or a token human as seen in many slasher films, here she is merely a piece of meat to be abused again and again until the comeuppance occurs. To hell with the mystical animal/forest bullshit, they barely enter into the story except as deus ex machina.  This film really hates women  and is so fucking clueless that it needs to be put down.

I don't care that director Vincent Paronnaud made PERSEPOLIS and CHICKEN WITH PLUMS, this film is a mess.  Early on he loses control of the story and the giggles start. It started with the huge chasms of logic, like one of the bad guys deciding that they need to cover their tracks by burning their car on the side of the road after the accident. Why? I don't know.  But then it all turns sillier and sillier as things begin to happen...just because. I literally fell out of my seat when a gang of paintballers just randomly end up running through a scene so the girl can end up with Braveheart like face paint.

This is a truly bad and (oh hell I'll say it) offensive film that will make you stare at the screen in disbelief. Adults who seemingly should have known better made this...

One of the worst films of 2020 and one of the worst films I've ever seen at Fantasia

(And can anyone tell me why everyone is speaking in stilted English?)

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

What Would Sophia Loren Do? (2021) hits Netflix Friday


 This is a portrait of Nancy “Vincenza” Kulik, the daughter of Italian immigrants who found strength to go through life by always asking herself "What would Sophia Loren do?" She grew up watching Loren's films from the start of Loren's career because her parents preferred to go see Italian films. Within Loren's films she found a connection to the life she knew and a sense that she could do anything she wanted to or had to do.

This is a lovely film that reveals the power of the movies to make our lives better. If you ever wanted to know why film or art matters this film will explain it to you. On a smaller scale this is a portrait of a wonderful woman you'll want to meet and hug.

I don't know what to say. This film is a charmer from start to finish, and when the end comes you will be getting misty in the best possible way.

Highly recommended when the film hits Netflix Friday.

Space Dogs play on Ovid starting January 14


Hitting Ovid.tv on January 14 is SPACE DOGS a look at stray dogs in Moscow. As told in the narration the film sees to compare the life of the modern dogs to that of Laika, the first animal sent into space. It was a one way mission and Laika was left in orbit unable to return home. The film posits that her ghost has returned to the streets of Moscow and wanders with the strays.

There have been several films about stray dogs over the last year or so. Some have been better than others. All have been similar in they are trying to give a dog's eye view of being a dog. Of all of the films this one is the most somber, telling the story of Laika while showing the struggles of the current strays. It's a hard life that isn't fated to end well.

To be honest I'm mixed on the film. While in many ways this is one of the best dog docs out there the somber narration and the downbeat ending makes me kind of regret visiting this. Don't get me wrong it's a great film, just one that is extremely sad and heart breaking.

Forgive me for not saying more but the ending of the film, which links up to Laika's end haunts me even after three weeks.

Recommended for those who want to see a good, if sad film about dogs.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Crossing (2020) NYJFF 2020

 


In Norway, Gerda, a young girl obsessed with the Three Musketeers is living blissfully with her parents and her brother. When the Nazis arrive and arrest her parents she must spring into action and get the Jewish children hiding in the basement to safety in Sweden. While complications arise Gerda must become  like her heroes and save the lives of people in need.

If you can ignore the opening narration THE CROSSING might be the first great film you see in 2021. A grand adventure that is going to keep you on the edge of your seats, its a perfectly formulated film that will work for kids as well as parents. It beautifully doesn't rely on nastiness in order to keep you glued to the screen. Rather the film simply tells it's tale and lets the details carry the day.

I loved this film a great deal. While I went into the film thinking it might be a nice minor distraction I came out finding that it is a spectacular fil on its own terms capable of standing up to the best Hollywood has to offer. To be perfectly honest it is finding films like this that makes the New York Jewish Film Festival the most important festival to start any film year.

And please forgive the lack of details I don't want to clue you into the twists lurking with in this gem.

THE CROSSING begins screening virtually January 14th. For more information and tickets go here.

Acasa, My Home (2020) opens Friday

This is a repost of my capsule review from when the film played DOC NYC last November


ACASA, MY HOME
A Roma family who lived off the grid and in the wilderness are forced to move by authorities. 
An observational documentary about an old school clan being forced to deal with the modern world. Its a very good film

Monday, January 11, 2021

The New York Jewish Film Festival Curtain Raiser 2021


Running January 13 to the 26 The New York Jewish Film Festival is a must attend. Actually it is the first must see festival of every year. Yea I know some people say that's Sundance but the truth is NYJFF is the first fest I look forward to since it's a film that starts my Best of the Year list every year (I'm not joking).

A co-presentation between The Jewish Museum and Film and Lincoln Center the festival showcases films that transcend being just about Jewish matters but highlight things that cross cultures such as food and Broadway. Trust me when I say the films here are about humanity not just one segment of it.

I absolutely love this festival with all my heart.

If you want to know how great this festival is consider that I was seriously considering just quietly stepping away from covering films. I was and am burned out. Part of it was the Covid shut down limited what was out there. I was so disheartened I spent most of December not watching any films at all. And then I got an email from the festival stating it's line up and asking if I wanted to see any films. Suddenly I sprung to life and I began to dive into the films with abandon. I was jazzed about the films, not because there was anything I was looking to see rather because I knew that whatever I was going to see was going to be kick ass. In all seriousness this is one of the best programmed festival of any year. No they aren't perfect, but you will never see a film and wonder why you were seeing it.

As it stands now I've seen a good number of the films and I have a few more to go. I recommend everything.  However if you need a push toward something here are the absolute must sees of  the one's I've seen so far:

BREAKING BREAD- a hunger inducing hopeful film about making connections through food
ON BROADWAY- a wonderful look at the history of Broadway via the last 50 years
THE CROSSING- two Norwegian  kids must get the Jewish children their parents were hiding from the Nazi's to safety. It's nail biting fun
RED ORCHESTRA- the story of two seemingly unrelated groups that fought the Nazis is a documentary so good you'll curl up on the couch to watch it over and over again just like your favorite thriller
IRMI- Glorious portrait of a hell of a woman- this is a film we all need now

That's it for now. All that is left to say: For tickets and more information go here.

FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO (2020) opens Friday

In FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO director Lynne Sachs takes 35 years of film and video of her father, mixes it with interviews with her family and friends and tries to figure out who her dad really is.

What starts out as a typical look at  father by a daughter  slowly becomes something else as revelations about Sachs' father begin to muddy the waters and change what she and others think of him. It quickly becomes clear that there are more than one way to see him.

What I love about the film is that Sachs throws things out and doesn't tie it all up. We are left to piece things together. If you've noticed that I am not discussing the details of the revelations it is because how Sachs tells us things influences how we feel at any particular moment. If I start to feed you revelations before you go in you will have a differing experience than what the director intended. You will also know where this goes and the journey there is the point of the film, so I'm not telling.

So where does that leave this review? It leaves me simply to say if you want to take an intriguing ride though one woman's life see FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Nightcap 1/10/21 - Woody Allen isn't a good filmmaker, and old news

The theater where I would discover Woody Allen

Random Thoughts on Why Woody Allen Isn't a Good Filmmaker

The collapse of Woody Allen's relevance as a filmmaker started before the allegations concerning his daughter. Somewhere before everyone turned on him for what may or may not happened he simply stopped making films that were worthy of all of the kudos thrown his way. To be honest I'm not sure why or how he continued to get so many great people to work with him when his output over the last 30 years has  been largely less than stellar. 

At this point I am going to say I will not be going into discussing what may or may not have happened largely because I don't know. Frankly after talking with a number people who know both Woody and Mia over the years the only thing I know for certain is what is in the media is probably not what happened, if anything happened at all. I'm just glad I don't know either in real life.

Recently I was watching WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT and realizing how bad Woody Allen is as an actor and director (I know he didn't direct it but I realized the difference between this film and Woody's point and shoot style). His material is funny, I mean I was roaring at Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole chewing the scenery around them, and I stopped when Woody showed up as I realized that just what a one trick pony he is on screen. Here he is in 1965 playing the exact same role, with rare exception, that he would be playing for the next half century. What is worse is the realization that he is absolutely horrible. In all seriousness watch PUSSYCAT and watch Allen, he's terrible and terribly out of place. As I was watching him I was horrified because it's clear he never changed his performance.

PUSSYCAT got me to revisit some of his films again, and while some have held up, a good number of them have not. Certainly his joking and obsession with young girls comes across as skeevy, but the truth is a lot of his films just don't work any more.

Before I go any further you have to understand that how good his films are depend upon the women in his life. Who he was with determines if his films are any good. The films break down  as follows

THE PRE-DIANE KEATON FILMS   are WHAT'S NEW  PUSSYCAT  to EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX.  These films are uneven. While he didn't direct PUSSYCAT it s still clearly his film. The films are good but not great.

THE  DIANE KEATON FILMS  are SLEEPER to STARDUST MEMORIES plus MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY.  These contain some of his best and most consistent work. ANNIE HALL doesn't hold up any more (maybe because its been riffed on too much to be taken seriously), and MANHATTAN now has young girl issues that are hard to look past. While STARDUST is not a Keaton film it still belongs there because it is good and because it does not belong in the next section.

THE MIA FARROW FILMS- A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY to HUSBANDS AND WIVES which is a run that starts off good and then drifts before HUSBANDS gets him back into form, You can see how the early days of romance shine and then he gets complacent before the tensions spark HUSBANDS.

 EARLY SOON-YI runs from BULLETS OVER BROADWAY to MIGHTY APHRODITE, which had Woody on an Oscar run. It's Woody dealing with the break up with Mia on to becoming a "happily" married man. The tensions in that period produced some good work.

LATE SOON YI which runs EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU to the present which is a slow decline into laziness and irrelevance as he repeats himself more than usual, the camera work is dull and the writing is far from sharp except in the odd scene or film (MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is probably the last complete good thing he's done since BULLETS)

Think about his body of work and you realize that he really hasn't done anything great since BULLETS in 1994. Any good film since then seems to be considered a flawed film from a master director. Yes there have been Oscar nominations and wins but that was largely because he had great performers doing great things with weak scripts.  

The trouble is that  the reality is that he's probably made a dozen really good films out of the sixty or so that he's done. And only one of them came from the last three decades.

For me the great films are:

SLEEPER
STARDUST MEMORIES
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY
ZELIG (arguably his best film)
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (though this is dating)
MANHATTAN MURDER MYTERY
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS

And I would throw in LOVE AND DEATH just because it was my way into Woody. And maybe BROADWAY DANNY ROSE

Other than that there are are some good films, some okay films and a whole bunch of shit, and while they all have great moments most don't work narratively completely.

And that's the rub with most of Woody's films- they don't work as whole films. There are bumps and scrapes and where some could be the result of life, you realize watching his films that he's making the same mistakes and telling the same stories over and over again. Its these quirky romances that don't quite work out.

I would also argue that over the last 20 years that he's also telling stories that don't exist in the real world but only in his head. I mean lets face it once he took up with Soon Yi he disconnected with reality and his young protagonists all feel wrong. None of his characters, or very few, are living and breathing humans, and if they are, say the characters in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, its because the cast is good. And if you want to be brutal you can go all the way back to and past ANNIE HALL you realize that most of the characters are TV caricatures and not real people that only exist in the writer's head. 

Seriously look at a list of his films and tell me how many have real people in them- and even if they do (say INTERIORS, ANOTHER WOMAN) they have other flaws. Look at his films and tell me how many work, really work, as a whole film.

Looking back at the films in the wake of PUSSYCAT it's clear that outside of some moments and the odd film, Woody was never really good. He could give us some moments, or a fine little side dish but he never really put a whole meal together. Granted that side dish was so good we kept coming back, but I don't know if we were ever really satisfied.

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The New York Jewish Film Festival begins Wednesday. I will have a curtain raiser with recommendations starting tomorrow.

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If you are a interested in history I highly suggest you jump over to the OLD IS BEST YouTube channel. What is of interest is that they have posted hours and hours of old news broadcasts from the 30s, 40s and 50's.  What is so intriguing about it is you will hear events as they were originally reported. I found it looking for D-Day and Pearl Harbor news reports but what I found was so much more. Even as a history buff I was flabbergasted at what I was hearing since the neatness of the history books was replaced with messy details of things I never knew about.

I highly recommend you go here and check it out.

Two early short films by Alain Resnais (VAN GOGH and ALL THE WORLD'S MEMORY ) play Ovid.tv starting January 13

Two early shorts by Alain Resnais are playin on Ovid.tv starting January 13


VAN GOGH (1948)
This is a very good look at the life of Vincent Van Gogh told using narration and his paintings. The result is a really cool look inside the man since in a way we are seeing the world as he did.

I really liked this film a great deal. While the film is short, it runs only 18 minutes it gives us a very good sense of the artist, or as much as we could have gotten in 1948. I say this because how the world sees Van Gogh had changed over the last 70 years as what we have learned since then has changed we think abut him. Now we think have come closer to understanding him.

The use of the paintings is very cool. Think of it as a black and white version of the Oscar Nominated LOVING VINCENT which was painted in the style of Van Gogh's art.

Definitely worth a look, especially in Ovid's restored edition


ALL THE WORLD'S MEMORY (1956)
Portrait of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the wonders contained inside. 

A much too brief look at what the film would term "reminders for the shortness of out memory", this is  a look at a grand depository for all things written and artistic. It's a portrait of a library when libraries were grand structures full of boos and prints and people and not slowly being replaced by digital nonsense. It is a love letter to things that are tactile.

In a way this is a glorious twenty minute puff piece. Its a film that the old book lover in me has fallen hard for. I want to jump on a plane and fly to France to wander it's halls, but at the same time I know things have changed. It is probably not quite as grand and dusty.

What I love about the film is that the film makes you reconsider how we remember how we remember- once there were grand places like this, now there are laptops. What is this doing to our brains and our sense of connection to the past? It's something to ponder.

This film is a must.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Ava (2020)

 


Jessica Chastain plays Ava, a former addict who cleaned up her act and now works as an assassin for a secret company. When she is set up by one of the men running the company she has to fight for her life and that of her family.

Good thriller suffers from the extremes of having too much going on with her personal life and things not being all that clear in her professional life. Ava has lots of baggage with her sister who is dating her ex-boyfriend and her mother who has heart problems. Frankly that could be a whole film of it's own, but the film is welded to a story of John Malkovich and Colin Farrell battling over Ava's continued existence, Malkovich wants her alive and Farrell wants her dead. This whole section of the film seems kind of obtuse for no real reason and when its clear that no answers are really coming the film kind of collapses.

To be honest the film is gangbusters for the first half and anything with Malkovich but the second half, a long battle between Ava and Farrell is weak. And the whole incestuous implication between Farrell and his daughter is extremely skeevy for no good reason. 

To be honest I like the film but I don't love it- but I d recommended it since it is now streaming on Netflix where it won't cost you anything extra.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Brief words on Stars Fell on Alabama (2020)


High powered Hollywood agent convinces one of his clients, an up and coming actress  to pretend to be his girlfriend when he goes home for his high school reunion.

This is a good but unremarkable romantic comedy. We've been here any number of times, usually in Lifetime. You now how this is going to go after the first five minutes...

...and that makes this nigh impossible to review. Not because it's bad- rather because anything I say is going to make you think it's bad. Its not bad, it's just not my thing.

If you like by the numbers rom coms this is for you.

Thoughts on the insurrection

 As I begin writing this piece the insurrection attempt ended less than 24 hours ago. I don't have all the details and things are still playing out and unfolding. I'm not going to do a deep dive into what happened just throw some thoughts out there because things have to be said.

First a couple of statements

Let me begin by saying that despite some GOP congressmen and conspiratorial minded people saying it wasn't Trump supporters, the truth is it was. All one has to do is cross reference the faces and the social media accounts to see it is so. This was not a government plot, but the followers of a man who just doesn't want to be arrested when he gets out of office.

That any of this happened was no surprise. Trump had been stoking the fires for months to the point that people in the crowd were wearing "Civil War January 6". While the level of destruction and number of casualties are thankfully low, the fact that there were a lack of arrests and a tiny police presence speaks values about the racism  that is inherent in America. As so many people have pointed out if this had been a crowd of non-whites an army of stormtroopers would have shot everyone dead. 

That any member of Congress, especially from the GOP , is surprised is shocking in a "there is gambling in CASABLANCA" sort of way  since they all played the Trump game of US vs THEM for four years. This isn't a just Mitch McConnell's fault, nor his cronies, or just the GOP but lump in Pelosi and Sunday Chuck Schumer and most of the Democrats who leveraged the Trump chaos to line their pockets and remain in power. Include the President Elect in that since if it wasn't for Trump he would not be going to the White House

And while we are laying blame lets not forget Fox News who milked Trump for ratings, as well as all the other news outlets who didn't do their job and worried about ratings so didn't do the deep reporting they should have. 

And there is blame for this nonsense on the vast majority of Americans who were horrified by Trump, his followers and his tactics and said and did nothing.  We all should have been screaming to our representatives in Washington and elsewhere that we were not happy. Additionally we should have been up the asses of the news media insisting that they report more of the bullshit, not to get distracted by the next Trump game and to take a stand.

Ultimately we are all to blame for this on some level because we really failed to cut off the madman.

So now what? What do we do now?

There is a a lot to be done if we want this to never happen again. 

First we need to restore faith in mainstream media. We  reinstate the fairness doctrine that the media used to operate under. Long ago news outlets had to present both sides equally.  You couldn't let people spew nonsense without backing it up or countering it. The removal of the fairness allowed places like Fox News to rise and the country to fragment.

We need to eliminate the US vs THEM divide. Despite the media and the far right and far left telling you otherwise the majority of people are actually some where in the middle. That I can talk to the Trump supporters in my life is because we are not all on one side or another. The only one's who are telling you that it's our side vs theirs are the people who make money by keeping us divided.

And remember that the leaders who want the right to fight the left are a bunch of rich pundits and politicos who want to distract you from the fact that the battle is ultimately a battle of rich vs poor. They want the system tilted so that they can make more money than they are already making. They will stoke racism because the visual differences allow them to illustrate their points with a "it's those people who look different than you" knee jerk reaction. (Forgive me for not discussing this further, because as a white guy I am instantly suspect.)

We all have to begin talking to the other side be it the right or left. We need to show everyone that we aren't that far apart.

We also need to fucking fact check everything. We need to see the evidence of whatever we are telling people is so. This whole thing started because the election was supposedly stolen. The trouble is no one actually had evidence- least of all Trump and his cronies. Trump said it and people believed it but he and his lackies never produced it with the result that 80 or so lawsuits got kicked out. We need the evidence and we need to actually believe it when we see it-especially when it shows up 80 times(as in there was no election rigging).

We need to retrain the police. The military style hierarchy and gestapo attitudes don't work. We have to break down their US vs THEM mentality. We need to switch to community based policing where the cops become part of the community so they aren't seen as monsters nor do they see the people as them too.

Mostly we have to all become involved with the process. We need to get out and be involved and make sure our representatives know we are watching.

We need to find our better selves. We need to strive to fix things now so we can have a good future tomorrow.

The reality is America and democracy is not a fixed thing. It is not a perfect machine. It is something that is a work in progress. It never was perfect. It was never not "broken". The trick is to realize that the founders of the country tried to set up something that would work for as long as possible. To keep it working they were counting on people to go along with the machine and steer things where they had to so we could get to the mythical promised land. 

Over the last few years  I have heard lots of cries about how America sucks and how things don't work and how the system is stacked. A lot of the shouts have come from people who first don't get up off their asses to participate and second say that things used to be better.  the trouble is it was never really better, you just remember it through rose colored glasses.

If you hate what America has become, realize that in all probability it never was the bright and shiny place you think it decayed from. Sure the economics come and go, but the place where good always wins and everyone is brothers never existed.  We have always been fighting each other. The reality is that the laws of the land were set up to try and make things better. Know that no one actually expected things to be magically better. Our ancestors, and we ourselves, have these laws and these ideals because we want to be better than we are. We will aim to be equal under the law because that is what we believe is right and what we should do. The point we are trying to be better despite knowing it will not always work. We also have to try and help them along and not just assume the laws themselves will make it all okay.

To those people who say they are fed up with the country I say get up and engage. Call your representatives. March. Engage with your community. If you want a better country become part of it.

What annoys me is that a bunch of people I know who are claiming there was voter fraud didn't vote. Why? Because they claim their votes don't count.  If they didn't count why would Trump or any one else be worried people voted against them? This year make sure your vote counts by doing it. More importantly do more by going out an engaging. 

Become politically active. March for a cause, one that you genuinely believe in.

So many people on the right got upset because people marched against injustice, and knelt for black lives. They said it was a plot. No, it was a political act. It was voicing their opinion. Some right leaning people I know were horrified. I couldn't understand it until I realized that despite their claims otherwise the protests messed with their world view. Things weren't they way they "remembered" it.  Sadly the marches revealed that they were wrong and in some cases it exposed their racism. 

In truth believing in America is like believing in a religion. What we are doing is taking the rules we were given either by God or the founding fathers and we try to live by them. To be certain some people won't. To be certain there will be problems and there is going to be some pain, but at the same time by living with the rules there is a better chance for a better life.

America like God is an idea we are trying to achieve. It is ultimately a series of idea and ideals we choose to live by. 

As I was watching the chaos in Washington I was struck by something funny. Some people were worried about what would happen to the building as if it was some how America itself. America is not in the building but in the people, both those storming the gates and those trying to rule. If you burned the building America would still go on, just as if you burned a church you wouldn't destroy a believers God.

After people know me and realize that while I profess being an agnostic there is a bit more going on I am often asked why I don't go to church. "You clearly believe in something" they say. My reply is simply "why do I need to go to worship when I carry god with me? Every act is a kind of fumbling prayer." My view of America is similar, while I appreciate the history of the places and objects of America, the real place is in my heart. It is a place that I live in and quietly try to improve in the simple small ways I am capable, such as simply respecting other people and other view points. I can not be big and splashy. I can not force my ideas on you other than the simple belief that ultimately America is not right or left or anything else- but a place where we all an be who we are regardless.

Believe what you want. Be who you are. Love who you want. Hurt no one. In my America those are the rules other than don't force your ideas on anyone. We all came here to think freely not the way of anyone else.

I am hoping that the insurrection has indeed been put down, that calmer heads prevail and that a conversation takes place. Do I expect it? Not entirely but then again I am not a complete optimist - but I am hopeful for  better tomorrow- if I wasn't I couldn't all myself an American.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

21st CENTURY JAPAN: FILMS FROM 2001-2020, Presented by Japan Society and the Agency for Cultural Affairs, From February 5-25

 New York, NY (January 7, 2021) – Japan Society and the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan (ACA), in collaboration with the Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO), announce the inaugural ACA Cinema Project online film series 21st Century Japan: Films from 2001-2020, streaming nationwide on Japan Society’s Virtual Cinema from February 5-25, 2021.


As Japan’s film industry enters the third decade of the new millennium, this 30-film online series takes a look back at the last 20 years of Japanese cinema to celebrate some of the most remarkable narrative fiction films and filmmakers that define the era. Covering a wide range of production styles and genres—from small budget independent debuts to festival favorites and award-winning major studio releases—this diverse slate of feature and short films offers a guided tour of modern Japanese cinema, including special spotlights dedicated to the work of Kiyoshi Kurosawa and a selection of breakout films by up-and-coming filmmakers. A large majority of the films included are streaming in the U.S. exclusively on Japan Society’s Virtual Cinema.


Series highlights include the online U.S. Premiere of Red Post on Escher Street, the latest film by cult favorite director Sion Sono (Love Exposure, 2009)—a comically reflexive, wildly unhinged, return-to-roots feature about a talented young director undergoing the production of a new film. Red Post on Escher Street is co-presented with Grasshopper Film, who will screen the title in tandem with Japan Society as part of the newly launched Projectr Movie Club from February 5-18. In addition, director Yukiko Mishima’s female-driven romantic drama Shape of Red makes its online U.S. premiere—a steamy tearjerker about a tenuous love affair adapted from the novel by Naoki Prize-winning author Rio Shimamoto featuring popular stars Kaho and Satoshi Tsumabuki. Billed as “Special Screenings,” these titles are planned to include pre-recorded video Q&As with the respective film’s director. 


Other highlights include harder-to-see gems by some of Japan’s most internationally prominent filmmakers, including: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2009 Doona Bae-starring fantasy drama Air Doll; Naomi Kawase’s 2014 Cannes competition title and self-proclaimed masterpiece Still the Water; Takashi Miike’s 2005 family-friendly monster adventure film The Great Yokai War; Shinya Tsukamoto’s 2015 adaptation of Shohei Ooka’s famous anti-war novel Fires on the Plain; trailblazing gay director Ryosuke Hashiguchi’s 2001 LGBT-themed comedic drama Hush!; and the award-winning 2006 murder mystery drama Sway by Miwa Nishikawa, whose latest film Under the Open Sky (2020) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. 


“While it’s impossible to really capture the last two decades of Japanese narrative fiction filmmaking in its full breadth, we are excited to share at least the tip of the iceberg for these three weeks in February,” says K. F. Watanabe, Deputy Director of Film at Japan Society. “Online or otherwise, a large majority of these titles remain unavailable to watch with English subtitles in the U.S., so I hope this series provides an opportunity to create new fans of filmmakers such as Naoko Ogigami or Shuichi Okita and expand any preconceptions of what modern Japanese cinema can offer.”


Katsura Toda, Senior Specialist for Arts and Culture at the Agency for Cultural Affairs, says, “The ACA Cinema Project was launched with the hope of sharing the diverse appeal of Japanese films to audiences around the world and to create more opportunities for these films to be seen. We are pleased to present U.S. audiences with the works of a great variety of directors—including well-established masters, filmmakers with distinctive voices and rising stars of the 21st century—and hope that many people will be able to encounter Japanese films in a fresh way.”


$99 All-Access Passes with a 21-day rental window go on sale January 29 through February 4. $8 individual tickets with a 3-day rental window go on sale February 5. Individual tickets for Red Post on Escher Street and Shape of Red are $12. Japan Society members receive a 20% discount on all tickets via coupon code. 


All films screen online at japancuts.japansociety.org in Japanese with English subtitles unless otherwise noted. All titles available within the U.S. from February 5-25 unless sold out or otherwise noted. Titles also available beyond the U.S. are noted below. Lineup and other details are subject to change. For complete information visit japansociety.org. 

 


FULL LINEUP

Films listed chronologically by year of domestic theatrical release from the most recent.

 

Don't Listen (2020)


Daniel, his wife and son moves into a large house hoping to renovate and flip it. However things begin to go wrong from the outset since the son is hearing voices and is insisting that Daniel is telling him horrible things over a walkie talkie. After tragedy strikes Daniel contacts an expert in electronic voice phenomena and things quickly get worse.

Chilling horror tale will make shivers go up and down your spine. While not graphic, it is atmospheric to the point that I was talking out loud to the screen. Twists and turns keep you off balance for most of the film to the point that you will ride out a late in the game bump without losing any steam. I dare not say more because the twists will kick your ass

Highly recommended to me a a genuine chiller (thank you Stewart) this was one of the great finds of 2020.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Furthest From (2019)


2021 barely started but I have my first filmmaker to watch - Kyung Sok Kim. Kim's film FURTHEST FROM is a work that heralds the arrival of a director to keep an eye on.

The plot of the film has a young girl dealing with everyone leaving the trailer park where she lives. It seems the water is contaminated and everyone has to leave.

While the film is really good, what shines and then some is Kim's direction. Kim nails the feel of the film. It is tactile and real. Actually he nails the kids eye view of the the world. We aren't watching actors we are watching little kids be little kids. We are watching real life play out. I watched the film twice once just looking at the kids to see if they were looking at the camera, and I couldn't see it. How the hell did he manage that? 

This is gem of a film from a talented filmmaker.

A must see. Track it down and get on the Kyung Sok Kim bandwagon.

Da 5 Bloods (2020)


Spike Lee's DA 5 BLOODS came out in the middle of not only the Covid pandemic but also the protests against the police brutality that was and is running rampant across the country. As a result the film hit a raw nerve the echoed with a nation trying to come to terms with how it handled matters of race.

The film follows four GIs who return to Vietnam in order to retrieve the body of one of their fallen comrade. They were not able to do so after the fighting that took his life and when they returned a short time later bombing had altered the landscape. Years later a landslide opened things up and they figured it was now possible to find him. What thy aren't telling the authorities is that they are also looking for a fortune in gold bars. The gold was in a crashed plane which they found. They buried the gold and now are hoping to bring it home as well.

Seeing the film divorced of the riots and protests of earlier in the year DA 5 BLOODS disappoints. An incredibly messy film that has way too much on its mind, the film doesn't know what it wants to be. Is it  a polemic about race? Is it a film about fathers and their children? Is it a caper film? Is it an action film? I don't know if the film really knows and as a result the film seems to run on and on for almost three hours.

Honestly my interest waned. 

Yes Delroy Lindo is great, but outside of his performance this is one of the few Spike Lee films I don't think I'll ever watch again. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Blizzard of Souls (2019) opens in virtual theaters Friday


 After his family is killed by the German army a young man joins the Latvian army and experiences the horrors of the First World War.

Based on the auto-biographical novel by Aleksandrs Grins, BLIZZARD OF SOULS was a huge box office hit in Latvia where the sense of nation touched the Latvian people. It is the Latvian Oscar entry.

Thuis typical war film frequently packs a real punch. Set on the Eastern Front the film shows us things that we don't normally see in a World War One film. Its not all mud and trenches. There are fields and trees and people. This allows for some stunning set pieces which both horrify our soul while delighting the eye (the machinegunner in the tree). I love that there is a sense of a larger world that isn't just official offices or cities and endless battle. To be certain things there is a kind of polish to some of this and the film takes turns that are novelistic, but it helps turn the film into something truly special.

I really liked this film a great deal. I liked that it didn't do anything I expected. As I said it's not your typical war film. There aren't gallons of blood and body parts. I love that our characters have real lives off the screen. I love that there is a complexity to things you don't frequently see in recent war films (I mean how complex was 1917 really?). Characters are truly not cookie cutter cliches. There is a lot going on that make you get more deeply invested in what is going on and ponder more than what is just on screen.

This film is a quiet stunner. While I don't think the film will end up with an Oscar nomination (forgive me there are a number of films I think the Academy will like better)  I do think you'll want to see this film. Its a powerful indictment of war.

Reason I Jump (2020) hits VOD Friday

 



Based on Naoki Higashida's book about being autistic this film is an attempt to explain what it is like to see the world through autistic eyes. It mixes passages from the book with scenes from the lives of some people living with autism.

This film floored me. It kicked the legs out from under me and forced me to see the world from a different perspective. It challenged me in the best sort of a way...

And to be honest I need to see this film again. I need to take time to process the film and find the words to go with the emotions.

This is a stunner and a must see.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Grizzly II: Revenge (2020)


"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" - Al Pacino in Grizzly II. Nope, that came from a different sequel no one was looking for, that started with the letter G. Or maybe it was the feeling I had before sitting down to watch this mess for the second time.

Al Pacino is not here but you get a young George Clooney, Laura Dern & Charlie Sheen appearing in this film. You'll know that from the newly revised movie poster that features them as top billing. SPOILER: they die within the first 5 minutes, off screen. No judgement here, they're trying to gain interest for a 37 years in the making sequel to a Jaws inspired rip off.

On the other hand, you have the appeal of it being a "lost" film. I get it, it's the reason I searched out the bootlegged, work-print copy that I reviewed back in 2014 (here). Especially when you learn of all that's been written recently about the production nightmare that was Grizzly II. The Ringer website wrote quite the interesting piece on that, which I'll link down at the bottom.

So in 2021, thanks to producer Suzanne Nagy and distributor Gravitas Ventures, the world will finally be able to witness this in all its bizarre, (unfinished?) Bearsploitation glory. Or what could have been.

Let's get down to it, what's new, what was expanded on, did they cut out all of the Michael Jackson music that loops through the concert sound check footage?? Well yeah, of course they did. They're not trying to pay royalties.

We now have an opening, which the work print did not have, and it's....stock nature footage. Some shots of bears doing fun bear things, stealing picnic baskets and whatnot. In walks a faceless poacher on screen, traveling through the woods. Speaking of shots, our mystery hunter fires a CGI bullet, and we're talking SyFy network level effects here, directly into the younger cub. And for good measure another shot, the same footage, into another bear. Roll title card. So the mechanical bear we see, or not see, in Grizzly II is out for revenge? Hold on, that's the subtitle. It's Jaws 4 all over again! The prophecy is complete.

Hope you like National Geographic, cause that's what you're going to get. And that's the basic gist of all you're getting intertwined between the film footage. No more or less grizzly action than the work print. At least the actual film is cleaned up to the best ability, so I will give it that. Plus you really get to see the disinterest in Louise Fletcher's face.

What about the concert? The thing that centers around the entire plot, the thing that brought in 50,000 Hungarian extras (what?!?) to witness some live music, and bear carnage I guess. Well, some of the original footage is intact. Then you get the chef's kiss to the film, in which I couldn't help but let out audible laughs throughout. Footage of what I can describe a Coachella-like event is shown in between musical performances. The younger crowd covered in rainbow paint is a just a tad noticeable from the 80's denim look. New music/band footage was shot for this redub, from an American group that appears to be playing in someone's backyard. Did I mention this is supposed to be Hungarian festival in front of tens of thousands of concert goers, yeah I did. Zero effort is made regarding mixing the look of the newly digital footage within the original print. Hilarious.

Let's cut to the finale because up until this point not much has happened. The grizzly, or cameraman, reaches the concert grounds and is met by our main characters for the big showdown. Despite this being some of the more entertaining minutes of the film, it's underwhelming. Totally understandable seeing as how not having a full mechanical bear to work with will do that. What we do get are a few repeating seconds of our grizzly staring into the carnage around her, roaring like a shark in the middle of the Bahamas after Ellen Brody. (Another Jaws 4 reference, I'm very sorry). Gun shots are fired, explosions go off, John Rhys-Davies climbs what appears to be a fur covered telephone poll (the bear). The remaining footage is sliced up, again, we know why. Our grizzly ends up entangled within the stage, somehow. It's not clear what happens and no time for questions because that's literally it. The end.

Sometimes it's better to wonder what if, and you can throw this film into that category. This didn't need full scenes of animals frolicking in the wild to pad the timing. Let it be one of those forgotten pieces that only the more obscure horror or bad movie fans will seek out. Besides the story behind the scenes is much more entertaining.

https://www.theringer.com/movies/2020/8/31/21406226/grizzly-ii-george-clooney-laura-dern-john-rhys-davies

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Nightcap1/3/21- Happy New Year! A reminder film writers are far from perfect, STAN AND OLLIE is a great film

Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff accept Bully the Little Stuffed Bull in place of the 2020 Unseen Film Award

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Here's to hoping 2021 is better than 2020- hopefully we will all be able to see each other at the movies.

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Over the last few weeks I as getting questions about what films I should see before the end of the year or what films are best. What films are the ones everyone is going to be talking about.

When asked I will give some some suggestions, but the truth is all I want to say is what does it matter? Watch what you want- go find your own best list and don't live and die by any one else's choices. 

The truth is critics don't know anything. We just have talked our ways into making you think we do. We've certainly convinced the festivals and the studios we do. Truthfully how often do critics get it wrong? More than you can realize. More often than not we champion films that really suck. To be fair we thought they were good, but looking back and getting distance our excitement at being the first to see something prevented us from seeing the film as crap. On the other hand we'll tell you something like THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS wasn't good when it really is a classic.

Frankly what you should do is just watch the films that interest you. Read the reviews and visit sites like Unseen and make lists. Read what we have to say but use it as a guide not as a be all and end all. 

AND WHAT EVER YOU DO SEE WHAT A FILM IS ABOUT BEFORE YOU SEE IT ON THE BASIS OF WHAT A CRITIC SAYS.

I say that because I have been battling with a couple of people in the day job who are constantly watching the films that are highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes without knowing what the films are about. As a result they have been renting and going to films that they hate purely on the subject matter. They yell at me like it's my fault. And I simply tell them see what the plot is....

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If you haven't seen the piece I asked a lot of friends what film made them happiest in 2020 and I got a lot of interesting answers. Some were short, some were long and most in between. (If you want to see them all go here).

The weird thing is that a number of people I talked to about the piece, even those who declined to participate, all said that the movie related thing that made them happiest was The Mads, aka Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu- however no one would say that .as their entry. However because so many people said it I realized that what they did was truly special so I decided that despite saying that there was no Unseen Film Award for 2020. it had to be taken out and given to them for bringing light into the world.

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This week I saw STAN AND OLLIE a second time. Why the film didn't get any Oscar love, especially for Steve Coogan and John C Reilly who gave career best performances is beyond me. Their performances are towering and watching the final moments of Stan and Ollie performing on stage had me openly sobbing at the bittersweet nature of it.

I may not be a huge Laurel and Hardy fan but that film is one the great unseen films of the last decade.

Seriously it is a masterpiece

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The Harrison Ford led CALL OF THE WILD is not so hot. The trouble is not the script or performances, but the visual effects are just bad. It would have worked as an animated film but not as a live action one since the CGI and humans never seem in the same place at the same time.

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A full review is coming but is you want a wonderful animated film in th Disney style see Glen Keane's OVER THE MOON on Netflix. It moves like the wind, has good songs and is a visual delight. If nothing else it entertains in spades.

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If you like science fiction or are interested in science fiction you've probably heard of Travis Walton who was alleged to have been kidnapped by aliens. I'm not sure what I think about it since the stories have gone all over the place.

Here is the audio of the National UFO Reporting Center getting the call and starting it's investigation in the days following the incident while Walton was missing. It's an interesting listen and I recommend it. Here is a link to the audio

White Lie (2019) hits VOD Tuesday

 


A college student fakes a cancer diagnosis in order to gain attention and money, however inconsistencies in her stories begin to make it all start to unravel.

I'm trying to figure out how this small little gem of a film has fallen between the cracks. A nice told story that nicely refuses to make things one note this is exactly the sort of film that people who hate the sameness of Hollywood would eat up.  I mean the film got great reviews out of Toronto in 2019 but is only now hitting VOD. Until the film was offered to me I had not ever hear of it.

This is a beautifully told tale that has some stunning performances that hook you and drag you in. Seriously the cast is so good that I completely forgot that I may or may not have seen them else where before.

You will forgive me for not talking about the film  but I think going in blind, as I had, is the way to go. I read a couple of reviews after seeing it and I discovered a few things in them that I glad I didn't know going in since it would have kept me from having a clean slate. 

WHITE LIE hits VOD Tuesday and is recommended.


Saturday, January 2, 2021

Eden Talks about the movie that made her happiest and finding solace in cinema


 I watched more than 200 movies this year -- some were ones I’d seen before, sure, but most were new to me. During this weird year, I found joy and solace and escape in movies.


To follow the rule the movie that made me happiest this year was I Used to Go Here (2020, directed by Kris Rey) was a weird, complicated and sweet look at trying to recapture one’s youth. Jillian Jacobs shines and there the supporting cast is game and fun. Is this movie a masterpiece? No, but I have watched it at least three times this year. It became an instant favorite for me.


Runners up:


Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, directed by Céline Sciamma) basically ruined all other movies for me. This was so beautiful I felt angry about it (that’s a good thing).


First Cow (2020, directed by Kelly Reichardt) was about two sweet, kind men who the world didn’t deserve. Plus, that cow is a great cow.


Shirley (2020, directed by Josephine Decker) was so amazing that I never actually finished my review of it, but this movie is basically a Venn Diagram of things I like.


Jasper Mall (2019, directed by  Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb) was made by my two favorite doc filmmakers. It’s not trying to make a grand statement of about Dying Malls And What It Means or Middle America and Its Authenticity. It’s just such a quiet, sweet documentary with a lot of sweet, quiet people. I have loved every single one of their documentaries and I want more people to see this.


I also started deep dive into the work of Agnès Varda and I’m still working my way through her movies. Cleo from 5 to 7 is a masterpiece, certainly, but the weird turns of Les Créatures, the dark undercurrent of domestic bliss in Le Bonheur and the kind, daily humanity of Daugerrotypes all show a filmmaker who had a specific vision but was always willing to challenge herself. (Yes, I bought the Criterion box set).

I discovered director Dorothy Arnzer, who was the only woman director working in the Hollywood studio system from 1927 to 1943 (when she retired). She was also an out lesbian (as much as one could be). Dance, Girl, Dance starring an early-career Lucille Ball is a delightful masterpiece and I paused to buy it on Bluray before I was even done watching it.


I’m on Letterboxd if people would like to follow along with my journeys into movies.

What Film Made You Happiest in 2020? PLUS The Unseen Film Award goes to....

Thank you John DiBello

With Covid causing sea changes in the world  I realized that there was no way to even remotely attempt the Unseen Films Awards for 2020 (On the other hand there is an award so jump all the way to the bottom to see who it went to and why). Frankly no one was watching the same things and because the release schedule got changed and changed and…. Some films suddenly were moved to 2021 or pulled from the release schedule. 

While we weren’t watching the same films, we were all watching a ton of films.  I have been getting notes from people all over the place concerning the great  films they were discovering. Some even found there way on to Unseen.

In having a discussion about what , if anything, to do about a year end community wrap up someone mentioned films that made them happy.  And with that a bell went off. Instead of a discussion of the best films, I would let everyone talk about what films made them happiest. Going to my email and twitter lists I sent out requests for people’s happiest film. I sent out the question to a wide variety of people who made me curious as what the film that delighted them would be.

There was no restriction- any film or film related thing you saw in 2020 was eligible. I wanted to know what and why.

While some people declined. A lot of people responded and the responses were wonderful.  Some responses were straight forward. Some were not. BC Wallin’s response was a such a masterful essay  I had to publish it as the first piece in the last week of summing up. Ernie Stevens (from JOE AND ERNIE CRISIS COPS) wrote a moving piece about what CRIP CAMP meant to him and Nate Hood bled joy from his soul about CATS. Eden talked about the films as a means of solace. Other pieces came in as just a title, while others turned the question into something else.

I have been charmed by every piece I received.

What follows are the responses more or less in the order they were received. I have been told that I will still be getting more responses, and if so I will add them below. And if you are reading this and want to add your own choice for the happiest film you saw this year please feel free to add it in the comments.

 Lesley Coffin - Biographer, critic
Cats...it is one of the worst movies Ever made but it was the last movie I saw in theaters before the shutdown and one of the best movie going experiences I ever had. The collective experience was pretty amazing, including the delightful commentary by what was probably a 6 year old saying what we were all thinking And have had many discussions about the train wreck since Covid started (especially showing it to my mother we could finally be back together). It was definitely a movie for 2020.

Alec Kubas Meyer- Director, YouTuber, Unseen Films writer
I'll give you the exact opposite, because there really wasn't a "Happy" movie that stuck with me through the whole year, though I did see Birds of Prey in IMAX twice in a week because I really, really loved it and had a ton of fun... so maybe that? (Freaky is the only other movie that I really had a ton of fun with in 2020.) In any case, Burning was the movie that stuck with me throughout the whole year. It's something I've thought about at least once every few days since I first saw it in February. I always feel sad immediately afterwards, but it has really resonated in 2020 as a film about the way the powerful truly prey on the weak in a way that even Parasite wouldn't touch. I love it, and it makes me miserable.

Jason Kartalian- Director, writer, producer
The film that I enjoyed the most this year was Borat 2 or its long title Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. It was in your face funny, timely and surprisingly touching. Sasha Baron Cohen was wild, fearless and insane but the true soul of the film was formed by a remarkable performance by Maria Bakalova. The film is quite an achievement.

Patrick Meaney - Director, Producer, Distributor
I tried to take advantage of this being (hopefully) the only year where all we could do was stay at home and watch movies by catching up on a lot of vintage films and directors that I hadn’t seen before, and the film that resonated most was Brian De Palma’s Sisters. I hadn’t seen many De Palma films before, and this one just blew me away with its narrative that swerved between an ominous romance, a dark murder investigation and a psychedelic horror freakout. It was a great example of taking advantage of a lower budget to go all out stylistically, with masterful split screen shots, and disturbing dream sequences. And, in the dark times of the lockdown, it inspired me with some new ideas for a project to tackle once things are open again. 

Ariela Rubin - Unseen Films writer
I would say My Octopus Teacher. It was just really sweet and mind blowing too. How a human and octopus can make a connect. It’s something I never would have suspected. I also watched all the Back to the Future movies (I think I had seen the first one years ago but didn’t remember it) and they all just made me smile. They were just fun movies to watch! And I saw Airplane for the first time which I also really enjoyed, a lot more than I expected to :)

Dor Dotson - Film Social Media Marketing Consultant
DRIVEWAYS, for its sheer quality and sense of authentic connection.
CITY SO REAL, for its sincere, warm portrayal of resilience both of a group and of so many compelling individuals
TED LASSO for its kindness and wholesomeness if you’ll allow a TV show because it is just THAT GOOD

Wendy Feinberg- Programmer of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series
One new one that I just watched made me happy - THE CALL OF THE WILD. And one I watched again in 2020, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, also made me happy. I am sure there are others. I have many that made me sad.

Danielle Solzman- Writer, Director
I don't know if I'd use the word happiest but Jurassic World is the film I've turned to the most while in quarantine (4 viewings)

Nora Lee Mandel- Writer
My interpretation of "happiest" these days is not comic - but humanistic. By that criteria, my favorite most humanistically heart-warming film is the fiction/documentary hybrid THE MOLE AGENT (Chile) directed by Maite Alberdi, not particular lines, but how the charming titular detective character/80-year old Sergio Chamy seems to bring out the best in all the elderly people in the pre-pandemic senior citizen residence.

Melanie Addington- Programmer Oxford Film Festival
Minari such a refreshing American tale of the South, of generational conflict, of family bonds, and lead Alan S. Kim is a delight.

Elizabeth Whittemore- writer, editor, actress, singer
If John Waters wrote an "I Love Lucy" episode it might resemble something like FAIRYTALE. Little did we know how long this pandemic would last and how hard hit the entire entertainment industry would be affected. FAIRYTALE gave me everything I was missing and so much more. The overall idea of being accepted for who we are, wrapped in oversaturated, tongue-in-cheek nostalgia is beautiful madness. Based on the stage play, also starring our leading lady Filippo Timi, Fairytale is a complete surprise and pure delight. Oh, oh, OH! The costumes! They are their own character as far as I'm concerned. With a set that rivals Pee-Wee Herman's playhouse from every angle, performances that will tickle your funny bone, and a script that gets more entertaining as it rolls along, I cannot stop telling everyone I know, especially theater fans, about this film. (Liz's original review is here)

Thessa Mooij- Publicist
Steve McQueen, Small Axes, LOVERS’ ROCK With festivals and theaters shut for most of the year, I saw much less films than usual. ’TV” series (I vote for tearing down borders between film, TV and online), making music and historical non-fiction took over my brain space. This makes me even more grateful for LOVERS’ ROCK lighting up my life. No year’s worth of lesser films to slog through first. But after months of lockdown a piece of pure cinema that celebrates the power of music and community. You don’t even need the music, just voices joined together, riding the waves of a melody and beat.

Seongyong Cho- Writer and Ebert.com Far Flung Correspndent
Early in this month, I was considering writing a piece on HBO TV movie "RKO281" (1999), so I came to revisit "Citizen Kane" (1941) with the audio commentary by late Roger Ebert, and I was surprised as the movie and Ebert's commentary energized and delighted me a lot. To be frank with you, I have often doubted whether I really feel joy and excitement as watching and reviewing countless films every year despite not getting paid at all, but this very happy experience with "Citizen Kane" reminded me again that I still like movies a lot, and now I am ready to embrace whatever I and other audiences are going to watch during the next year.

Steve Kopian- Chief cook and bottle washer at Unseen Films
It is a weird thing in that I was asking everyone what film made them happiest this year and I really couldn’t come up with something. Actually the problem was I over thought things and tried to figure out what made me happiest. The truth of the matter is that the happiest Movie was actually two events over the course of a week. The first was the Port Jefferson Documentary Series screening of Rock And Roll President in the park. It was for me a return to a kind of cinematic normalcy. It was a good film with a good friend and a chance to meet another in person. This was followed by the trip my brother to the Riverside Drive In outside Pittsburgh where I watched the Blood Island films one night and King Kong Vs Godzilla the next. Bliss Bliss and Heaven, not to mention my first vacation in decades.

Shaun Clark-Animator
The film I have chosen is 'The Man Who Planted Trees' directed by Frédéric Back based on Jean Giono's short story. The film was made in 1987 using coloured pencils on frosted cell to bring the drawings to life. I first saw this film in the early 90’s when I became interested in animation and shared the film this year with somebody as it reminded me of her father who plants acorns in the mountains every year. Watching the film again during the summer of the pandemic helped shine some light into the darkness. It is a story about recovery from tragic events, determination and commitment to make the world a better place. 

Justin McConnell- Director, Producer, 
LOVE & MONSTERS: Full disclaimer first - do I think this is the best film I saw this year? No, there were plenty of films that to my mind were objectively better. However, it was the one that brought me the most joy while watching it. The kind of movie that brought me back to the feeling of watching something big and fun in the cinema. It's a simplistic and charming crowd-pleaser with lots of fun monster designs, a generally positive tone, a small but fun role from Michael Rooker, and a great dog performance. And to know it was written by a screenwriter responsible for two other genre highlights this year (Underwater, Spontaneous), added to the joy, as it's always nice to find a new reliable creative working in the mid to high-budget space. All three of those films don't really feel like they are written by committee, they have the kind of personality to them that comes from trusting in a creative team, and I appreciate seeing that's still possible at larger budgets.

Joe Kopian- Unseen Films zombie expert
Not technically a movie the second season of the Korean series Kingdom was perfect fun.

Lisa Sanford- Disney Expert and occasional Pink Bunny
THE OLD GUARD: Focusing on an army of (mostly) immortal warriors, it felt strangely relevant in COVID times - the repetition and boredom of lockdown life, the helplessness, the feeling of existing rather than living. Whether it was escapism or a history lesson, I got something different out of it each time I watched, and it added a dash of magic and hope to a year that really needed it.

Chocko- Unseen Films writer and one of the mad minds behind Planet Chocko
Beastie Boys Story, the documentary by Spike Jonze was a favorite movie of mine from 2020. The doc is a recording of the surviving members of the Beastie Boys at the sold out King’s Theater in Brooklyn. Mike Diamond aka Mike D and Adam Horovitz aka Ad-Rock recall their early punk rock days and meeting Adam Yauch aka MCA which led to the formation of one of the most influential hip hop groups to come out of the 80’s...The Beastie Boys. Founding member Adam Yauch sadly passed away from cancer in 2012 but he lives on in the music, stories shared by his fellow MC’s and the many videos featured in the movie. I’ve been a fan of the Beastie Boys ever since catching their video “She’s On It” on music channel U68 and running to the mall to buy their first album “Licensed To Ill” the day it came out. The documentary was a well done, fantastic and emotional trip down memory lane and ultimately a story about friendship with a killer soundtrack that will make your head snap back and forth.

Kenji Fujishima- writer/editor
Frederick Wiseman's 1989 documentary Central Park is a great film by any measure, but seeing it at home while stuck in COVID-19 quarantine gave it an extra aching resonance. It's exactly the kind of teeming life, humanity, and freedom Wiseman so heartwarmingly captured in the film's wide-ranging three hours that this global pandemic severely curtailed. Amid the terror and frustrations of 2020, Central Park felt like an oasis: a vision of post-COVID normalcy that we'll hopefully approach in the new year

S. Schneider- Unseen Films Writer
Space Jam - An oldie I've seen countless times, but a true favorite. This movie carries a timeless sense of nostalgia for me that puts me in a good mood any time I see or put it on. An action & humor packed story of perservernce that was especially important in 2020 dealing with all the uncertainty & fear over all the unknown dealing with the virus.

Mr C- Unseen Films Writer and Mad Mind Behind Planet Chocko
I honestly didn't watch many movies in 2020. For most people, watching films in any format lends a little or a lot of distraction away from the everyday struggles and god knows we had plenty this year. For myself, I couldn't even stay focused to watch a movie in one sitting. Depression? Attention deficit disorder? But when I finally did crack an old DVD laying around, GIRLFIGHT which was Michelle Rodriguez's debut film, it encouraged me to see things through and persevere just like Rodriguez's character did in the movie. Although Girlfight's main plot was a young lady who is coming of age despite being misunderstood by teachers, issues with her father, & peers, she finds refuge in the ring with boxing which introduces other struggles. I wouldn't say this film made me happy but it did make me clench my fist and injected some emotion in me to say hey, let's move on - let's fight - let's live! Strangely enough, I made it a double screening and conveniently put in Robin Williams' - ONE HOUR PHOTO and yeah that injected some old feelings too! Maybe my life is not that bad which made me happy!

Sam Juliano- Writer, actor
1) First Cow
2) Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
3) Sound of Metal

AND THE UNSEEN FILM AWARD FOR 2020 GOES TO...

On March 12th, the day before NYC locked down, Frank and Trace try to convince Nate Hood he'll be safe from Covid if they send him and Tom Servo into outer space to watch bad movies

And lastly I need to give  Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu aka The Mads the Unseen Film Award for 2020.  I know there wasn't going to be any award  but as I was putting this list of things that made people happy together they kept getting mentioned repeatedly - seriously.

Granted  they were the last theatrical cinema that John DiBello, Bully, Nate Hood and I attended before the quarantine hit (the night before New York City closed down we saw their live performance of THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS), but the truth is when I was putting this piece together they were mentioned repeatedly by Randi Mason and  others, even the one's not participating, as literally the first thing that made them happy.  Generally it was "the thing that made me happiest that I saw was the Mads live streams." to which they would add "but I can't include them because they aren't a movie" I argued argued they were, but no one wanted to put them forward. 

Randi gushed about the shows from top to bottom adding that she  loved that they went the extra mile and had special guests. "I loved when they brought out Victoria Price" and "As a result of their having Svengoolie on we are now fans"  

Because Trace and Frank were constantly cited as the thing that made people the happiest in this crappy year of Covid the Unseen Film Award goes to  Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu aka The Mads. As Willie Wonka said "So shines a good deed in a weary world." You guys you are both wonderful and you have blessed the world by bringing light into the darkness. The joy and laughter you have given to everyone was truly a highpoint in one of the worst times. 

And I, and the entire Unseen Films family, would love to give you all a group hug but social distancing rules prevent it.

The next night of their live show, which is an evening of short films, will be January 12th. For tickets and more information go here  
Because the award was unexpected and because social distancing prevents us from meeting up to give you the award so here is a picture of Frank and Trace when they met Bully The Little Stuffed Bull at the Alamo. Please feel free to photoshop a major award over Bully.