Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Thoughts on Godzilla vs Kong (2021) (Spoilers)

I was a kid who grew up on Godzilla films, and salivated every time  one of the original ones hit TV or theaters. Any time they were on I was right there in front of the TV.  I loved them so much that some of the first films I rented on VHS and bought on laser disc and DVD were Godzilla films. Watching the films I'm six years old again and I am lost in a world somewhere else.

SO the answer is yes I loved the GODZILLA VS KONG. My inner six year old was openly weeping during the finale as the battles I waited five decades to see finally were happening right there on the big screen. It was only made better being their with friends (Stan and Eric) and my brother Joe and my niece, who never saw a Godzilla film before but fell in love with him and Kong tanks to this film. In all seriousness I delighted in her beautiful explanation of the film and why she loved it on the ride home. I wish I recorded it but I was smiling too big to even think of it.

The plot has an evil corporation looking for a way to the hollow earth so they can find a new power source to rule the world. What they are really doing is building a mecha-Godzilla and want to take over the world. They need Kong to show them the way because Godzilla is constantly trying to stop them. Lots of battles result.

As an engine of destruction this film kicks ass and takes names. This is a battle six decades in the making since the first time they clashed on screen. The filmmakers have all sorts of riffs and refences to that first meeting and if you know that film the references will delight you.

This film is as perfect a visceral engine of carnage and joy as you can get.  As I said there were times during the Kong /Godzilla battles when I was crying from joy. All of the big dust ups will have you going wow repeatedly with turns you never saw coming.

That said I still have issues with the film. The candy colored Hong Kong aside the films problems are in the script. I suspect that the problem is that in cutting the film down for pacing lots of details went. The result of the details missing is a film that just kind of hangs there until you're 20 minutes in.

A quick list of the problems would go something like this:

The film kind of removes Godzilla as having any sort of personality. You kind of need the last two Godzilla films to have any sense of him as a character.

Apex and the  baddies in it need more explanation. They are there at the start and then disappear. We have so sense of who they are and how they managed to build all these things. It really sucks that they are bad guys and they do almost nothing to give us a sense of who they are.

Actually outside of Rebecca Hall's and her adopted daughter's character no one really has a character except in the briefest of short hand.

We need more information on the Ghidorah skulls. Didn't Godzilla eat 2 in the last film?

What exactly happened with Skull Island, there is a stray comment about a perpetual storm- but even then how did Monarch build a containment area for Kong in a storm?

And there are more tidbits that feel left out and I keep thinking that with another ten to twenty minutes of exposition the film would be my most favorite film in the world. You'll forgive me I was too busy watching the film to write down all of them

But my quibbles are pointless since all that matters is the action and on that level its perfect.

Frankly at this point I expect the series to implode since the film effectively shakes off the seriousness of the first two Godzilla films and instead goes balls to the wall crazy. Think of it as the DESTROY ALL MONSTERS moment in this series. In the original run that was the point when the series started to get a bit loopy. I still loved what followed but after that we got some silly freaking films (GODZILLA'S REVENGE anyone?)

Highly recommended GODZILLA VS KONG is a must see- especially if you can do so on the big screen.

Kaiju Kim and Chocko talk about GODZILLA VS KONG (2021)

God hits Ovid TV April 2

GOD is one of the great surprises of this film year. Appearing during the holy week between Passover and Easter on, the film is a perfect film for the modern age. 17 filmmakers recorded the Pope’s visit to Chile in 2018 focusing not only on the preparations for the event but life in the cities and villages. The result is a film full of life and wonder that  not only warms the heart at times but makes you think about the intersection of religion and society and religion and commerce.

I love this film a great deal. I love that it can balance the ridiculous (workman work that a statue of the baby Jesus doesn’t have underwear) with the serious ( you really notice the cost as we see the huge splendor of the stage and the poverty of some communities)  with the thought provoking (two men discuss the right to believe in a hospital room). This is a film that makes up feel and think all sorts of  things during its brief running time and manages to never ever make any emotion or thought feel short changed. It all is put together perfectly for maximum effect.

I am in awe of the editing which blends the work of so many different filmmakers seamlessly. It all feels like it was one crew and one mind putting it together. It’s an amazing achievement considering that films that try a similar thing always seem to have one or two bits that seem like they were made by other hands.

This is a great film. I can’t say enough good about it.

Recommended when the film starts playing Friday April 2 on

SPACE DOGS: TROPICAL ADVENTURE (2021) In Theaters April 2, on VOD April 6


SPACE DOGS: TROPICAL ADVENTURE has Belka and Strelka recalled from space to deal with a weird whirlpool anomaly in the Atlantic.

I really liked the first two films in the series so when the chance to review this third and supposed final film in the series I jumped at the chance. While the films aren’t the pinnacle of animated art they are damn fine and entertaining family films that actually work for the whole family, adults included.

This time out the series has started to show a bit of wear. While still containing some great set pieces  and some funny lines, everything doesn’t hang together as well as in the earlier films. We can see how the plot was constructed, and while the film is still very entertaining it still feels as though it’s been put together for the money more than the love. While that might hamper most other series in this case the film still entertains and unless you are a fan of the earlier films, like myself odds are you won’t notice a thing. In truth this film is entertaining enough that if this is your first trip to the well you are going to want to go visit the earlier adventures.

What can I say I had a good time so SPACE DOGS: TROPICAL ADVENTURE is recommended.

Backyard Village (2020) plays at Santa Barbara’s Nordic Cinema Competition

Brynja doesn't want to go home. Her mother who abandoned her 35 years earlier has returned to Iceland. She then takes up residence in a guest house in a development called Backyard Village. There she meets an Englishman named Mark who is trying to get over a tragedy.

A warm and fuzzy movie, this is an utterly charming film that gets under your skin and carries you along. That the film works as well as it does is entirely due to the cast headed by the marvelous Laufey Eliasdottir and Tim Plester who make you feel that they aren’t characters on the screen but real people you know.  I really would like to spend an afternoon with them which says a great deal.

I have to hand it to director Marteinn Thorsson​ who has crafted a film that looks simple, at times it seems like he just let the camera run while Laufey Eliasdottir and Tim Plester were in front of it, but there is more going on  as Marteinn Thorsson perfectly shifts POV to give the maximum emotional impact.

Honestly this film really impressed me. I had no intention of covering it, but something told me to watch it. I’m so glad I did since this film is one of my great finds. It’s a must see at Santa Barbara IFF Nordic Film Competition or where ever you can find it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema at BAM, Apr 30th - May 6th

 BAM Presents Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema, Featuring Work from the Country’s Leading Filmmakers, April 30th - May 6th 

Including the New York Premiere of NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN

(March 30, 2021 | Brooklyn, NY) From Friday, April 30th through Thursday, May 6th BAM presents the fourth edition of Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema, bringing together the best new works from Poland’s boundary-pushing filmmakers. The series is presented in partnership with the Polish Cultural Institute New York and co-programmed by Tomek Smolarski. Kino Polska features seven feature films, including the New York premiere of Poland’s Oscar submission NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN (2020). Director Malgorzata Szumowska (whose Berlinale prizewinner Mug screened in the 2018 iteration of Kino Polska) partners with longtime cinematographer and co-writer Michal Englert’s for this Venice Film Festival hit about an enigmatic healer (Alec Utgoff, "Stranger Things") who casts a spell over a rich Polish community. This year’s series also includes Mariko Bobrik’s touching debut feature THE TASTE OF PHO (2019) about a Vietnamese father and daughter dealing with grief and the immigrant experience in Warsaw; the bittersweet coming-of-age drama I NEVER CRY (2020) from Piotr Domalewski whose previous film SILENT NIGHT won major awards in Poland; Bartosz Kruhlik’s edge-of-your-seat thriller SUPERNOVA (2019); Piotr Adamski’s EASTERN (2019), a tale of revenge set in a dystopic Poland; Mariusz Wilczynski’s deeply personal, hand-drawn animated film KILL IT AND LEAVE THIS TOWN (2020)—winner of the Grand Prize for Feature Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and a FIPRESCI Award at the 2020 Viennale; and Agnieszka Holland’s Soviet Union thriller MR. JONES (2019) starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, and Peter Sarsgaard.

All films will screen April 30th - May 6th on BAM's virtual streaming platform at  

Dir. Piotr Domalewski
2020, 98min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles
With Zofia Stafiej, Arkadiusz Jakubik, Kinga Preis

Seventeen-year-old Ola sets off to Ireland to bring her father’s body back to Poland after he dies in a building site accident. But never mind her dad, Ola wants to know if he had saved the money for a car he had promised her. Dealing with a foreign bureaucracy in her own streetwise way, Ola finally gets to know the father who had been largely absent in her life. A bittersweet coming-of-age drama that explores the perplexity of family bonds, illustrating the gloomy landscape of today’s Europe.

Dir. Agnieszka Holland
2019, 119min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles
With James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard

Agnieszka Holland’s thriller, set on the eve of world WWII, sees Hitler’s rise to power and Stalin’s Soviet propaganda machine pushing their “utopia” to the Western world. Meanwhile an ambitious young journalist, Gareth Jones (Norton) travels to Moscow to uncover the truth behind the propaganda, but then gets a tip that could expose an international conspiracy, one that could cost him and his informant their lives. Jones goes on a life-or-death journey to uncover the truth behind the façade that would later inspire George Orwell’s seminal book Animal Farm.

Dirs. Malgorzata Szumowska & Michal Englert
2020, 113min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles
With Alec Utgoff, Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza

On a gray, foggy morning outside a large Polish city, Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), a masseur from the East, enters the lives of the wealthy residents of a gated community. Using hypnotic, almost magical techniques to get a residence permit, he starts working. The well-to-do residents in their cookie-cutter homes seemingly have it all, but they all suffer from an inner sadness, some unexplained longing. The attractive and mysterious newcomer's hands heal, and Zhenia’s eyes seem to penetrate their souls. To them, his Russian accent sounds like a song from the past, a memory of their seemingly safer childhoods. The latest from writer/director Malgorzata Szumowska (ELLES, IN THE NAME OF) and her longtime collaborator Michal Englert is an unclassifiable meditation on class, immigration, and global warming with touches of magical realism and moments of sober beauty and subtle humor.

Dir. Bartosz Kruhlik
2019, 78min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles

Three men, one place and one event that will change the life of each one of them. A universal tale, kept in a realistic style, tells the story of a few hours in the life of a rural community. The film raises questions about the essence of chance and destiny. A bloody story, oscillating on the edge of drama, thriller and disaster cinema.

Dir. Mariusz Wilczynski
2020, 88min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles

Fleeing from despair after losing those dearest to him, the hero hides in a safe land of memories, where time stands still and all those dear to him are alive. Over the years, a city grows in his imagination. One day, literary heroes and cartoon childhood idols, who in the consciousness of the successive generations are forever young and wearing short pants, come to live there, uninvited. When our hero discovers they have all grown old and that eternal youth does not exist, he decides to return to real life. And the amazing characters living in his imagination lead him back to the real world.

Dir. Piotr Adamski
2019, 78min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles

In a dystopian world regulated by an inexorable, patriarchal code, the Nowak and Kowalski families have been embroiled in a vendetta for years. When the Nowaks’ son dies at the hand of Klara Kowalska, his sister, Ewa, is faced with a choice between carrying out revenge in the name of honour on the one hand and her own life and freedom on the other.

Dir. Mariko Bobrik
2019, 84min
Language: In Polish with English subtitles

A Warsaw-based Vietnamese cook struggles to fit into the European culture, which his ten-year-old daughter has already embraced as her own. A story about love, misunderstanding and food.

Night Shot (2020) Neighboring Scenes 2021

Carolina Moscoso's gut punch meditation on rape was assembled from a decades worth of film. It is not strictly speaking a film about the act but about the seismic change that occurs within the victim and the inability of society to give her justice.

One part documentary, one part meditation, and one art essay Moscoso's film is a heady trip that will rock you. More concerned with creating a head space that effects our thinking, and thus changing the way we see the world, NIGHT SHOT works us over. This isn't a film that goes from A to B to C and allows us to simply walk away. Instead this film puts us into the mind of its director and has us wander around in her shoes for a while altering our perceptions and forcing us to truly engage with what sexual violence is. To be certain it can be a bit chaotic and seeming uncertain as to what it all means but I would think having your world altered in such a violent manner will do that to you

Simply put this film left me staring at the screen, trying desperately to piece together what to say. On the other hand this film is such an emotional rollercoaster and trip into the head space of another person that writing on the film is incredibly difficult since the act of seeing the film is not one can adequately express in words any more than one can explain what riding a rollercoaster is. I can do it but only to those who have ridden a coaster since the act of doing, or in this case seeing will give us a shared vocabulary.

To that end see NIGHT SHOT at Neighboring Scenes and experience the things I am in aable of expressing in words.

Witness Infection (2020)

Two mafia families in witness protection  end up in the same town. As they try not to kill each other and survive the appearance of flesh eating zombies.

Low brow comedy horror film is better than you would expect it to be. Genuinely funny, more so if you come from an Italian family,  you'll laugh yourself silly Sure there are some scare but mostly there is the humor and the wonderful sense of family.

I liked the film so much that I watched it a second time with my brother Joe, Unseen Films resident zombie expert. His attitude was as follows

" This film is dumb as dirt, toilet humor, but some times that's what the doctor ordered. there are some good laughs, especially if you undertsand the Italian family stereotypes. What can I say it moves, it's short, it's dumb, it's crude and it have some laughs. More laughs than Zombieland. Worth a watch. "

Monday, March 29, 2021

Thoughts on Zack Snyder's Justice League and why any future films will probably won't work


Zack Snyder's cut of JUSTICE LEAGUE has hit HBO MAX and the fans rejoice. (Though apparently there maybe more to come with a black and white version just released and stills from scenes not included promising more scenes.) I'm not going to recount the plot since it is basically the same as the theatrical cut. The differences are the reason to watch it.

The question everyone is asking each other is what did you think?

I loved it. I genuinely like the theatrical but but I loved this version. It had  me misty at times....

…and it had me groaning in pain as it got somethings terribly wrong. Yea, for as good as somethings are others are awful.

One of the things I like about Justice League is there are many moments that transcend the superhero genre to the point of becoming glorious in their own right. Small moments between characters shine, Ma Kent running to see her reborn boy, the women singing on the edge of the sea when Arthur leaves and many others lift the film up.

I also love that there is a real sense of loss and danger. More so than the Marvel films there is a sense that people will die and stay dead (unless you are Kryptonian). There is a weight to the proceedings that runs through Snyder’s films from the opening of BATMAN VS SUPERMAN when Bruce Wayne is horrified by the death of thousands via Superman and Zod’s battle on through the death of Victor’s father in a sacrifice that allows the team to find Steppenwolf what happens has a cost. We know we are not in a comic world and as a result we root for our heroes more.

Even in the foreshadowing of a future where Superman has gone to the dark side things are not going to be okay, things are going to go wrong.

Of course that’s true too in the film itself. As glorious as the film is over all there are problems. The CGI is uneven, some sequences such as the Amazons trying to keep the motherbox from Steppenwolf, while exciting and very close to a comic book sequence in the wrong sort of way so it comes off as  much too silly. The slo-mo is wildly over used. And the pacing is uneven.  And there are other hiccups which, while never fatal in my eyes, make me completely understand why some people don’t like the film.

The problems with the Justice League universe are going to come when, and if, Zack Snyder tries to continue the Knightmare/Darkseid  storyline. My intense dislike for the New Gods aside (don't get me started) Snyder has created all sorts of probable story problems that have me shaking my head and not looking forward to anything that follows in this direct line of plotting.

The first problem is that in showing all of the armies coming together to take on Darkseid to defeat him the first time, throwing Batman and his band of mazurka players at him when he comes back is going to seem silly. In all seriousness a small band of superpowered humans taking on huge band of super powered aliens is silly when all the armies of earth, space and the gods had to do it before and barely won, so now a handful of humans are going to do the same thing- and survive. Unlikely, especially since Darkseid is supposed to be this ultimate bad ass who conquered galaxies. They are making him the ultimate boogey man-except he's not for some unknown and probable stupid reason. And his armies should be genuinely dangerous and capable of fighting as opposed to the mindless parademons. This is video game plotting.

There is all sorts of problem with some of the details in the grand plot- such as Darkseid not coming back to earth because he is afraid of the Kryptonian when you consider that millennia passed and he didn't come back and there was no Kryptonian on earth. The humans now have the mother boxes and have a vague idea how to use them so wy can't they do something that would work against Darkseid.

Let's face it there are real issues with the godlike powers of Superman. Why is Darkseid afraid of Superman,  when the Gods- the literal gods- came to earth according to the film to fight Darkseid and he damn near shrugged them off? This  is more than a bit bizarre especially since there is the odd reference about Diana being a god- so we have to ask what are gods in the universe anyway? Why is this one Kryptonian so dangerous? And do I even have to go into the whole thing about Superman only having super powers because of the power of our yellow sun. Again I ask why is Darkid afraid of the Kryptonian? 

And then there is the whole issue of time streams and multiple worlds. I know that fans will argue he Krptonian ships argument about the future being set implies the end is coming, but at the  same time Flash messed with time after the future is set...and I'm sure he will again (hey isn't that the plot of the Flash movie?) so nothing is set. 

To be honest the whole time travel trope is not now and never has been a plot device that worked for me. It always feels like desperation because it always allows a cheat of getting out of it. It almost always breaks my like for any film because using it not only feels lazy but creates so many logic problems when used multiple times and I can see it creating many issues  in future films.

A HUGE problem is that if everyone knows that  Batman will not protect Lois at the start, why wouldn't anyone tell Superman that it was foreseen and then everyone could just take steps to prevent it from happening? Additionally even if you know you can't change some of what is going to happen you can just take steps to stop other parts (kryptonite is on earth). Basically if the way to stop Darkseid is for Batman to die instead of Lois, and he and everyone else knows that going in, why doesn't he make the sacrifice to start with? Why inflict the loop de loop time travel nonsense- especially since Batman has changed and now talking about faith and seems to be less a stick in the mud? Why wouldn't he just fix the problem since he knows how to do it, I mean he's been specifically told in advance what has to be done. His not doing it makes the film a potential live action version of the Woody Woodpecker cartoon which has a narrator saying repeatedly " If Woody had just gone to the police none of this would have happened"

And lets face it, while the Snyderverse fans love the idea of his future films right now,  but they are going to scream what I am saying  about these plot problems down the road when they realize how simple the problem could have been solved.

I do have to confess that for all my bitching about the almost certain narrative problems in any sequels, I like the idea of a dark future-unfortunately I don't think that Zack Snyder can pull it off what he is planning without people throwing up their hands because he is formulating a plot that is going to crash from first look.

In all honesty if Snyder for some reason is allowed to make sequels he should radically rethink what he's going to do because honestly what he has in mind is kind of dumb (not to mention kind of similar to the Infinity War films with the time travel- and I won't get into the problems with those films' plotting) besides why give us what he already promised since that will result in no suspense since we knw how it will lay out.

As much as I like JUSTICE LEAGUE I don’t think Snyder can pull it off the proposed next two films. I mean who hell would want to go to the hellscape  he is proposing when he has foreshadowed so much in this film, not to mention revealing what was supposed to happen in the films when they were completely dead. I think his ideas while interesting, are going to end up with some sort of diminishing returns

maɬni – towards the ocean, towards the shore (2020) Opens at the Metrograph April 2

When you see małni—towards the ocean, towards the shore do so in a darkened theater, r in these covid quarantined says- in a darkened room at home. You’ll want to do this so that there are no distractions, so that you can listen to the hypnotic sound and fall into the stunning images. If you do that then you will find yourself deeply moved.

małni (pronounced: moth-nee) is a nominally a documentary, I would prefer to call it a docu-essay that follows Sweetwater Sahme and Jordan Mercier as they travel across the landscape of the Pacific Northwest and contemplate the origin of the death myth from the Chinookan people in the Pacific Northwest. It is not only a physical journey but an emotional and spiritual one.

You will forgive me if I don’t say a great deal about małni. It is not because there isn’t a great deal to say, there is, but more this is a film that requires the people discussing it to have seen it. Audiences need to experience it and then discuss it. This is not a flippant remark, more that there is a great deal to take in, much of it on an emotional level. If I discuss how the opening images of the film are married to the music what I am going to say is going to be purely my reaction. How you react is going to be something different. This is the way that many sequences in the film will play out leaving each audience member feeling slightly differently than every other.

What I will say is that małni floored me. I was not quite ready to be sucked in and carried along. I did not expect to be moved by the film the way I was. For me this was one of the best films I’ve seen playing at Sundance. It is a film I am hoping will show up at festivals through out the rest of the year so I can talk to friends and family who see it.

Do I think that you will be moved as deeply as I was? I think some of you will be. I think some will not simply because this is not a film for all tastes. That said I do think that it is a film that will delight anyone who wants to engage with a piece of cinematic art. Whether you like it or not I think you will be forced to ponder it and discuss it, and hopefully share it.

A magnificent trip of a film małni—towards the ocean, towards the shore is highly recommended.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Nightcap 3/28/21 Superheroes on the big screen


Over the last few weeks people have been either loving or hating the Snyder Cut of JUSTCE LEAGUE.  Some people love the seriousness and some people hate it.

What I am intrigued by is how a number of people I know who love the mythic nature of some comic stories are dumping all over the film because it is attempting to do the same thing. I find it funny because I have a suspicion that some of them would have loved the film if it had been a comic first.

I'm not going to go into the film here, rather I just want to point out that for better or worse superheroes on the big screen are really silly. Yes we have gotten some good superhero films but bringing them to life- putting them into the real world ultimately doesn't work. The heroes and villains are so removed from reality that the only way to get them to work is to animate them, which is why most people I know hold up SPIDERMAN INTO THE SPIDERVERSE as the best superhero movie ever made simply because it is closest to the movies can come to be like a comic book. 

Alternately the only way to get live action versions to work is either remove the costumes as in BATMAN BEGINS or lean into the unnatural nature of them like the Tim Burton Batman films. You can't have costumed people running around it looks stupid, which is why the X-Men films made fun of it and then didn't attempt it until the series was well underway when  you could accept that world as real. (I could kind of argue that the WATCHMEN TV series pulls it off except that in order to get it to work it has to set the story in an alternate time line)

Additionally you can't do real violence in a superhero film or else you end up with the distasteful violence of SUPER or the Batman as killing machine we see in BATMAN VS SUPERMAN. (And yes I was okay with it because Batman started out killing people).  And while I am not a huge fan of BVS I do like that the film makes painfully clear the cost of what a super powered battle would be. Yes the Marvel films kind of deal with that, the DCU films meet it head on and see it all as a kind of  repeating 911 (which I know pissed off some people who don't want to think about the cost to regular people and property).

The problem with superhero films now is that it seems unless it's a lark (DEADPOOL) or what is essentially a grand pantomime of tropes (the Infinity War films) where you pluck the heart strings of fans you can't get any love. No matter what you do some one is going be upset, more so if you try to tell a story without any  humor. And god forbid you use them to tell mythic tales.

But weirdly the mythic tales are what people love about the comics. From Grant Morrison's rethinking of the Justice  League to Alan Moore's exploration of everything people eat the stories up. On the other hand live action attempts to do the same seriousness kind of fall flat.

I should pause here and make it clear that in saying this I am not saying any of the films are bad, more that they never are fully real, despite everything they do. As much as say BLACK PANTHER shines on so many different levels, even to the point of addressing social wrongs, the film never is fully real, even though we want it and T'challa to be.

The reason that superheroes don't work well on the big screen is that in order to make them work we have to suspend too much belief. Sure it can sort of work with one super character (say in CHRONICLE) but once you push it to more than that the ripples of unreality ripple though the tale and pull it from any notion of reality. The only way to make it believable is, as in WATCHMEN the TV series, to make it an alternate realty, but that still keeps it distant. We simply know that people can't fly.

Having had discussions with a few people who hate JUSTICE LEAGUE the talk always spirals down to the thought that superhero films aren't that good. The reasoning is generally the story/characters isn't like the comic. Where I can agree that in some cases that the plotting is wrong (The end of SUICIDE SQUAD is a complete mess)  or in others the filmmakers mess up the basic tenants of a character (Superman killing Zod in MAN OF STEEL) I largely can't go along with the outright thought they got  things wrong where we we either are faced with characters that have gone through almost a century of iterations ( both Batman and Superman) and survived or don't take into account that what works on a comic page isn't going to work on a big screen when the characters are made flesh. 

Similarly outright depictions of myth, unless they are animated or reduced down to human levels, tend not to work on the big screen regardless of whether they are comic related or not (for example Hercules films are very silly).  JUSTICE LEAGUE is taking brickbats  for trying to be too mythic and too over done, but if you look at many comics, especially the Justice League comics under Grant Morrison  he expressly and overtly tuned the group into myth. If you can't accept that you are getting epic myth making going in you are doomed not to like the the film from the first frame.

Personally I take my superhero films with a grain of salt. While I love some, I enjoy most and I dislike others. I know my feelings for the films are always tempered by the fact I know that they are only movies. I rarely take them seriously or as anything more than just a shadow of their source. 


In the last week I read a couple of takes on Justice League that had me roaring with laughter as the writers shifted their views of the film shifted taking them to task for from deadly serious works of myth and violence, to calling them dismissively books or films for children and not at all serious and then flipping their point of view to bash something else. Which is it? And why not admit you have a chip on your shoulder going in.


For those curious my personal favorite live action superhero films are as follows (in no particular order)

BATMAN BEGINS - the rare superhero film that woks in a real world context. (The other films in the cycle being a mess with the Joker being too rational and the the plotting of the final film in the series being an abomination)

CAPTAIN AMERICA FIRST AVENGER- as close to a perfect comic adaption as possible

AVENGERS- it causes a wave of nostalgia in all the small pieces.

BATMAN RETURNS - a good dark comic adaption

The best superhero movie I've seen is not a true comic book superhero movie. Its K-20 a crazy ass film from Japan that is the superhero film we always wanted but never knew it existed.


And after reading some funny tweets about the violence in Justice League- particularly bemoaning the fact Wonder Woman effectively kills a lot of bad guys in front of a little girl, I may have to do a longer dedicate piece on violence in comics films and just movies in general. 

However for those curious about some of my thoughts, here is an old piece on that exact subject.


My thoughts on the new JUSTICE LEAGUE will be up tomorrow


And now some random bits:

NEIGHBORING SCENES, the annual survey of New Latin cinema starts on Wednesday. Normally I would run a curtain raiser, however I am behind in everything including watching the films. While I have seen a couple, it isn't enough to discuss what shape this year's festival will be.

I will be presenting a bunch of reviews tied into's offerings for April in the next few weeks.

Some of you may have noticed that my review of SUPER FRENCHIE as been pulled. They changed the release date and I was only informed after it posted. It will return in June when the film is finally released.

makeSHIFT (2020)


makeSHIFT is a look at advertising in the age of the internet. It is a look at how the need to keep people's eyes on the screen so they can see the ad is changing everything around us.

Good fast moving doc is kind of too fast moving and too over stuffed for its own good. Don't get me wrong this film is really good and it places the state of advertising into a killer context, but the film could have used a little breathing room. 

The film runs 75 minutes and it never stops, it never gives us a moment to fully take in everything that it is throwing at us. Sure that means that we are full to the brim with facts, but it also means that we have to unpack it all after the the film. I finished the film and wondered what I had just watched. Over the following few hours I started to put the pieces together and sort out what I had just seen. Indeed it wasn't until I went and looked at the film a second time did it all really come together for me.

Most certainly worth a look, especially if you have any curiosity about advertising today.

Shiva Baby (2020) hits select theaters and VOD Friday

 Danielle meets her family to attend a post Shiva gathering. If having to deal with the prying eyes of family and friends wasn't bad enough, her ex-girlfriend shows up...and so does her boyfriend...and his wife...and their baby.

Wickedly funny and on target story of a family gathering will have you laughing and squirming. This is film version of a gathering of family that we;ve all been at. Sure not everyone is Jewish, but the complications are something we've all experienced.  I've been to gatherings like this and I know of what this film speaks.

I loved this film.  It was put solidly on my radar by Danielle Solzman who had first tweeted good things about the film and then wrote a wonderful review that made me want to see it more. I want to do for you what Danielle did for me which is put the film on your radar. I want you to search it out and find its wonders.

Certain to be on my end of the year lists- SHIVA BABY is highly recommended.

And now if you don't mind I'm going to go watch the film again

Saturday, March 27, 2021

ÊXTASE (2020) MOMA Doc Fortnight 2021

 EXTASE is a film that melds documentary with essay. A look at the anorexia of  its subject, it is more about creating a head space so that we don’t come to understand the subject intellectually but rather emotionally.  This is a film that will make you see not an intellectual truth but the much more powerful emotional one.

I was kind of blindsided by EXTASE. I went into the film expecting to kind of breeze through it. It was after all about anorexia and I’ve seen and read things on the subject. However I wasn’t very far into the film before I realized I wasn’t in Oz any more. Somehow I had disconnected from my surroundings and I was traveling in the body of someone else. I drifted along in this other head space before being dropped back into my life when it was done.

Who needs a VR head set?

EXTASE blew me away. It upended expectations and messed up my head. Staring at my screen I found that because the trip I took watching the film was purely emotional and somewhere beyond words, I really don’t have words to explain what I think because I don’t think about the film but I feel it.

Playing at the Museum of Modern Arts Doc Fortnight EXTASE is a heady trip you need to take when in screens March 28 to April 2,

FRANCESCO (2020) hits Discovery + tomorrow

Portrait of the Pope and his thoughts on matters beyond the spiritual in today's world. Covering matters of the environment, immigration and poverty the film seeks to explore the depth of the Pope's concerns and showcase his place as a humanitarian working for the good o all mankind

Good if a bit preachy and hagiographic look at the Pope as being more than just a man of God but a man of the people. Full of lots of news footage and talking heads the film is a lot of people telling s what a great guy His Holiness is. There is no doubt that he is great guy but I would have liked prefered a short sit down with the man himself rather than than two hours of his greatest hits. To me this was really good but after awhile I began to lose interest as this seemed more like an infomercial. 

As I said this if good but a tad over long.

Three by Midi Z: CITY OF JADE, RETURN TO BURMA, and 14 APPLES are playing at the Museum of the Moving Image


Midi Z makes a film about his brother and his desire to go to the City of Jade, an unregulated and wide open jade mine that was abandoned by the big corporations because it is in a war torn section of Myanmar.

A bleak look at a way of life alien to most people this is slice of life on the downside. Meandering through the life in and around the mine where poverty and drugs rule the war torn province this is a hypnotic film that sucks us in and carries us along into a deep sadness.

As good as the film is on its own terms it is a film that will really hit home for those who have seen the directors other films such as ICE POISON  since it reveals how much he got right.

A Burmese worker in Thailand decides to go home again and finds everything hasn't changed as he had hoped.

Portrait of Burma through its lower classes this is film that seems to border on being a documentary. Its a slice of life where everyone is trying to figure what do do next. Our hero has returned home hoping that the new elections changed things but instead finds t really hasn't. Indeed his brother is plotting to get the hell out of dodge himself.

Midi Z's first feature is a good film but is a bit raw around the edges. There are times when he lets things go a bit too long or that he didn't know how to sum things up. Still it is a film of quiet power and worth  a look/

Midi Z follows his friend who is sent to a monastery with 14 apples, one for each day he will be there in the hoe of curing his insomnia. Instead of finding a life of meditation instead he finds a place of hard scrabble existence.

Unplanned, and shot on the fly 14 APPLES is documentary that is frequently shifting as Midi Z discovers things to look at such as sifting from his friends experiences to those of the villagers in the town around him. The result is a film that frequently delights with something new and just as frequently get a little dull as Midi Z's long takes go on a bit too long.

With the good out weighing the bad , 14 APPLES is recommended, particularly if you only think of monks in terms of Christianity.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Road to Mandalay (2017) plays at MOMI's Midi Z series

Midi Z's gorgeous to look at downbeat drama, is like his other films a punch in the face and the heart.

The film follows two people who escape from Burma into Thailand hoping for a better life. However their in ability to get the necessary permits to work cause all sorts of tension and it ultimately fractures the relationship.

A solid art film it is deliberately paced and it sucks you in and drags you along. It also gives you much to think about concerning people trying to move to a better place for a better life.


JB's review can be found here

The Place That Makes Us (2020) hits America Reframed March 30


A look at the efforts to revitalize Youngstown Ohio which was devastated when the mills closed down leaving the town without a means of support. As the population left and the city decayed only a few remained behind. Now a new generation of people are trying to make a stand and bring it all back through rebuilding abandoned homes and buildings (they are working to fix a community center on the south side).

This is a very good and hopeful look at people trying to make a difference. Sure it’s a little corner of the world, but it’s the place they and their families call home and to them it is worth fighting for.

Worth a look

Horton Foote: The Road to Home (2020) Oxford FIlm Festival 2021


photo by Susan Johann

Director Anne Rapp worked on Tender Mercies  in 1983 and Horton Foote, the writer made such an impression that decades later she documented Foote’s final three years. Along the way she also spoke with the actors, filmmakers and colleagues that he worked with as well as the family loved him.

This film is so thorough in its painting a portrait of  its subject I would be surprised if anyone ever tried to do something similar. In all honesty as a portrait of the man and his work there is almost nothing left to say other than perhaps do a more detailed dive on individual plays or say his TV or film work. This is the bar by which all other portraits of Foote will be measured.

Being a theater geek I am a fan of Foote. I loved that he did these wonderful plays that attracted the best actors working on stage. I got to see so many of my favorite actors up close because they had to do a Horton Foote play.

And that is what makes this film so great, Rapp talks to everyone. From Edward Albee to Matthew Broderick to Elizabeth Ashley to Robert Duvall, they are all here. There are so many people here that I wasn’t sure when this film was done because some of the people interviewed have passed away.

This is a  wonderful film. It is a labor of love that moves and blossoms like a Foote play. In all seriousness my initial reaction  was this was going to be a by the numbers film but then it opened up and became something more.

Highly recommended

Horton Foote: The Road to Home plays at the Oxford Film Festival March 28th and then streams on demand April 1-7

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Ice Poison (2014) plays at MOMI as part of a 6 film retrospective

You can't work in a jade mine, they all use drugs. If you start using drugs what will become of us? - Father to his son.

Slice of life film follows poor father and son farmers struggling to make ends meet. Because the harvest was bad and the prices remain low they have made no money. They ask their neighbors to loans but no one has any money. With no where to turn the pair gets drawn into the crystal meth trade in the city.

How you react to the film will depend on how you react to the long takes and documentary style. The camera's movements are limited. Conversations play out in real time. At times action is limited to people sitting and talking. There is also a great deal of talk about trying to get money so as to get out of trouble. If only we could get money and buy a scooter, if only...

My reaction to the film was to kind of drift off. The repetitive nature of much of the film, actually the first half hour wore me down. Yes I know things are bad. Yes I understand everyone is struggling and there is no money to be had, but I didn't need to see the same conversation over and over again. Its not bad  but I tired of it quickly.

While not my cup of tea, it maybe yours. Recommended for those who want deliberately paced thoughtful films.

The Toll (2021)

A woman and her driver end up stuck in the woods after a wrong turn puts them into the territory of the Tollman.

More slow building thriller than a jump scare machine, THE TOLL is the story of two people having to come to terms with their pasts. Its a well made and and well acted film that is entertaining  and suspenseful.

The real question here, and the one that s keeping me from writing more on the film is  how many similar films you've seen recently. I know that the fact that I've seen five or six similar films, both features and shorts in the last year where two people take a car into the woods and something happens. For better or worse this seems to be a new horror sub-genre that allows filmmakers to turn out a good film for a little bit of money. Some films are thrillers, some are supernatural tales some are other types of films. While  I liked the film, but the fact that it as a writer I've been seen a lot of films with a similar set up worked against me loving it.

My quibbles aside, if you want a good thriller on its own terms, give THE TOLL a try.

Afrofuturism: Blackness Revisualized Film Festival streams for free starting March 26


Welcome to the Afrofuture. Beginning this Friday, March 26 at 10 p.m. ET., the Afrofuturism: Blackness Revisualized Film Festival will be available to stream for free nationwide on the ALL ARTS app and

Curated by Black futurist artist Celia C. Peters, this festival celebrates the boundlessness of Black imagination through 10 films from across the diaspora.

Featured actors include Sterling K. Brown (“The Abandon”) and Tabitha Brown (“Souls”). Featured directors and films include Peters ("Roxë15") Malakai ("Souls"), Donovan Vim Crony ("Departure"), Alain Bidard ("Battledream Chronichles"), C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi ("Hello, Rain"), Keith Josef Adkins ("The Abandon"), Nick Attin ("Tomb"), Janeen Talbott ("Sight"), H. Leslie Foster II ("Star Thieves"), and Jonathan Ferr ("The Journey").

The trailer can be found here.

EarthxFilm 2021 announces film lineup for 5th edition (April 16-25)

DALLAS, TX (March 24, 2021) – EarthxFilm announces ten days and nights of drive-in, outdoor and online screenings during this year’s hybrid edition of the Dallas-based environmental film festival. The Festival continues its mission to showcase films and emerging media that explore science, conservation, climate change, and the environment while honoring the heroes working to protect our planet. EarthxFilm aims to turn awareness into action through education, art, and media. 

Opening Night for EarthxFilm will be highlighted with a drive-in presentation of Sally Aitken’s Sundance favorite Playing with Sharks, about the charismatic and groundbreaking diver Valerie Taylor, while Closing Night will feature the world premiere virtual presentation of Clark Johnson’s Percy Vs. Goliath, starring Christopher Walken, Adam Beach, Christina Ricci, and Zach Braff. Executive Produced by NBA champion Dwight Howard, this true-life story tells of a farmer taking on a multi-national corporation over the impact of GMOs on his livelihood. Additional film highlights will include an evening of Texas-focused films featuring EarthxFilm alum Ben Masters’ American Ocelot and Nicol Ragland’s Trans Pecos.

“Over the course of the past year, EarthxFilm has worked to adapt and innovate the way we present environmental stories and messages to the world,” said Michael Cain, Co-Founder and President of EarthxFilm. “With over 12 million views since EarthxTV’s launch in September, we have seen great success with our online presentations, and we are excited to safely share these inspiring films with audiences in a public space once again.” 

David Holbrooke, EarthxFilm Artistic Director, adds, “While environmental issues have been less in focus because of the relentless news cycle of the last year, we know at EarthX that these challenges are no less urgent. That is why we are so grateful to our many daring filmmakers and planetary heroes who have continued their work to bring us essential stories that will inspire our audience into action.

The 2021 EarthxFilm festival actively supports filmmakers through the payment of screenings fees and facilitating audience donations to their causes. In addition, cash prizes totaling $25,000 will be awarded to filmmakers and through impact grants to environmental organizations showcased in the films. 

A highlight of this year’s edition is Christi Cooper’s Youth V Gov. The story of a groundbreaking lawsuit filed by America’s youth against the U.S. government, asserting it has willfully acted over six decades to create the climate crisis. The film was supported throughout its production by EarthX via a filmmaker residency and financing assistance.

Additional highlights include the award-winning film 2040, Damon Gameau’s visual letter to his 4-year-old daughter, a vision board of how environmental solutions could regenerate the world for future generations; David Abel’s Entangled, about how climate change has accelerated a collision between the nation’s most valuable fishery, and a federal agency mandated to protect both; and Beverly & Dereck Joubert’s Okavango: River of Dreams, a film about the Okavango River in Botswana, seeing the animals and people that use her, as well as those who are victim to the changes, brought about by her.

Another focus of this year’s lineup are two Texas-themed films screening back-to-back, Ben Masters’ American Ocelot, about the endangered wild cats, and Nicol Ragland’s Trans Pecos, which looks at the issues of land and water rights in far west Texas. A group of animal-focused, family-friendly short films will include Ami Vitale and David Allen’s Shaba, about an elephant sanctuary in northern Kenya; Richard Reens’ Pant Hoot, about a genocide survivor transcending overwhelming odds to become a master chimpanzee linguist; Kaitlyn Schwalje’s Snowy, a whimsical look at a pet turtle’s happiness; and Dominic Gill’s The Linesman: Both Sides Matter, which is the story of one man’s mission to end the human-elephant conflict in Myanmar.

Announcements will follow with news regarding panels, music presentations, youth films, EarthXR and more. For more information please go to:

EarthxFilm 2021 Film Lineup

MIRACLE FISHING: KIDNAPPED ABROAD (2020) hits Discovery + today

Director Miles Hargrove takes the video footage he shot 25 years ago documenting what happened when his father Tom was kidnapped by FARC guerillas in Colombia. We watch as the family refuses to deal with the police, many of whom were corrupt and likely to steer things toward their own ends, and take on hostage negotiations with militants on their own.

If you saw the Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe film PROOF OF LIFE then you saw one form of this story. However that version was based on and article on the incident and the book that Tom Hargrove wrote which was based on the diary he secretly kept. This film is made up entirely of the footage that Miles shot of the steps the family took to get him back.

And at this point I need to ask a couple of questions which will determine if this film is for you.

Do you want a film with earth shattering and shocking twists and turns every couple of minutes? If so  then look elsewhere. This is not a film about twists and turns, rather it is about one family doing what has to be done to get a family member back and the events that played out over the course of a year.

Did you ever wonder what it really takes to get someone back minus the Hollywood soundtrack and rapid cutting? Did you ever want to see what it is really like from the tense discussions and long dull periods of waiting (at one point discussion break off for eight weeks) Then this film is for you. This film documents all the things it takes including the dangers faced in going it on your own way as well as the need to distract yourself during the long periods of down time.

MIRACLE FISHING on its own terms is a very good film. It is a film that beautifully lays out what a situation like this is really like. While  there is no doubt that this is not how things would play out in other parts of the world, I can't imagine other kidnappers being willing to play a chess game a year long, this film beautifully explains what it's like to become part of a nasty business in a corrupt country. Director Hargrove's footage from that year puts us in their home in Columbia and reveals the anxiety and anguish this inflicts on the family in away that a film of just talking heads and stock footage would never have managed.

And as good as the film is my reaction to it was that this was not my cup of tea. To be certain it is a well told story but there was a point about half way in where my interest began to wane. I needed something more to grab me than a slowly evolving story that seemed to playing out in real time. It seems like almost every detail was covered, other than those that might get someone killed even 25 years on (they won't say how they got the ransom) and while some of the details are nice I don't know if we need see everything we do. I think the material might have been handled a bit more objectively by someone other than Miles. In many ways this is a love letter to his parents (it is dedicated to them) that was formulated through a lens of nostalgia which took the edge off for me.

On the other hand I know a number of people who are going to eat this film up. I know many people who will fall into the "you are there: footage and delight on being a fly on the wall. These are the people who are going to take me to task for not accepting the film for what it is, a more or less straight forward telling of events, and wanting it to be something it wasn't.

As I said above this is not my cup of tea, however I know that he film is good enough that  if the subject matter intrigues you even a little it is worth taking a look.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Midi Z talked with Mondocurry about his film ICE POISON in 2014

With The Museum of the Moving Image running a six film series of the the films of Midi Z including his latest NINA WU starting Friday here is a chance to look back to 2014 when Mondocurry interviewed Midi Z and his star Ke XI Wu about his then current film ICE POISON which is running as part of the MOMI series.

One of the more well-hidden discoveries of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival was ICE POISON, a cinema veritae-inspired tale of poverty and drug affliction in the breathtaking rural environs of Burma and neighboring parts of China. To make the film, director MIDI Z returned to his native Burma after a lengthy stay in Taiwan, where he studied filmmaking. Populating his film with both professional actors and natives of the provincial areas where he shot the film, he sought to achieve a truly lifelike depiction of the Burmese people, with their relatively lethargic pace, in the face of increasing worldwide industrialization. Z, along with Taiwanese lead actress Ke-xi Wu, discussed the inspiration for the story, challenges of maintaining a sense of realism, and adventures of filming in areas without permission.

MondoCurry: You lived in Burma at a very young age. How much of situations shown in your film were familiar to you growing up?

MIDI Z: I was born in Burma and  went to Taiwan when I was 16 to study Chinese. In 2008 I returned to my hometown for the first time in ten years.  I met my mom and my childhood friends. At that time a guy who escaped from Thailand was arrested at the border and put in jail. He used crystal meth, or “ice Poison,” and got crazy. He’s still living in my hometown. I met with him but he didn’t realize who I was anymore. And I did some research about the family and wrote this story.

(The story) is about how Burma is changing. Many businessmen come to Rangoon to for trade. And most of the people, the lower class people, like the farmers at the base of the mountain, will plow the fields but the harvest is very poor. So most of them imagine what they could’ve done to make a better life. They imagine making a better life…like in this story, the father buys a motorcycle to run a scooter taxi…But mostly (these native Burmese) aren’t suited for this modernized life.

For me this is a common story that is happening everywhere. In my view, this is not just a story about Myanmar. It’s about globalization everywhere.

MC: For some viewers, there may appear to be various forms of drug use. Can you give some context to clear up any possible confusion?

M Z: (the old men smoking in front of houses) is nothing bad, it’s just like smoking tobacco cigarettes with a water pipe. But crystal meth is also so easy for people to get. For example a boy, after graduating from junior high school, can get a job and then get the ice very easily. One reason people get into it is to help escape something.

MC: There are a few very surreal and distorted visuals when characters are taking ice. Can you talk about how you came up with the way you showed the drug’s effects?

M Z: It is based on the truth. I interviewed so many friends after I did research. Actually, one of my classmates in Burma was just 13 years old when he started to use ice and. It’s a common situation…You bring a bag of ice to a hotel in China, and then waiting in the hotel for the buyer…In his case, before the buyer came, he was just curious so he started using. After that he fell asleep for two nights. When he woke up, he was arrested by the police. His memory became distorted.

MC: Did you work with a lot of non-actors on the film?

M Z: Yes, in my previous 3 films most of the supporting actresses were not professionals. But their real life was connected to the story. That is why it is really easy for me to get their performance. But the main character, like (Ke-Xi Wu) has always been played by a professional.

MC: How do you work with the nonprofessional actors to get the performance you want?

M Z For the nonprofessional, it’s very easy. I don’t tell them how to act. I just told them the main structure of the story and main point of the dialogue, but they can be free to act their own way as long the main subject of their dialogue is maintained. They can move wherever they want. Sometimes it is difficult to capture them because they move. But the professionals, they realize the camera too much. We should discourage them from showing their realization of the camera. 

I think for the professionals, they feel their character needs to cry or act or perform. And it’s very easy for them. But sometimes I’ll just say to the actors to sit there, and do something very natural, for example, have a conversation with the mother. It’s no performance…

MC: How did you feel about improvisational acting?

Ke-xi Wu: I was a stage actor before and I especially liked improvisation. To me it’s not very stressful. It is very challenging. In the beginning, around 2009,  I had a lot of experience to learn about this way of acting.

MC: Oftentimes it appears that only one camera is used, and scenes are filmed with one long shot. Was this done to capture the Burmese pace of life?

M Z: Yes, mostly one camera was used and filming was only one take. In such type of story, timing is important. It’s all about waiting.  The poor people are waiting for changes. They may be waiting for a phone call from Mainland China, so the long shot from the camera will show this timing….

MC: The selling of drugs comes across as matter of fact, not so dramatic…

MIDI: They show up like a guest and just come in and give the person something and get the money. It’s so normal and simple.

MC: Was it a typical situation that police would be there waiting, like what happens in the film?

MIDI: Maybe the police would come to arrest the woman. They would let her go if she pays. They wouldn’t just be arresting her because of the law. No…everyone everywhere has his own reason to do something. Here they are doing that to make their living.

MC: The reaction of the male lead also seemed very genuine, and not necessarily heroic…

MIDI: Yes, that is very human. Actually Ice Poison is a very mainstream narrative, a dramatic story. But I didn’t allow it to happen in a dramatic way because I wanted to make a film very realistic.

MC: The setting has a natural beauty. Did you know what you were looking for when seeking out filming locations?

MIDI: I was very familiar with the setting because I lived there for 16 years. Doing research, I found some places. There is one scene on a hill. Just 100 meters from this hill is the CIA station. During the shooting, they came to us and asked ‘what are you doing?’ Then I went to negotiate with them.

K W: That scene was shot without a D.P.

MIDI: I just told the actress ‘ok, now the cinematographer will be the director. You are going to be shooting and I am going to negotiate with the police.’

K W: We quickly finished two shots and then pretended we were tourists.

MC: Is there anything else that you feel might be misunderstood by an international audience that you would like to make clear about the film?

MIDI: At the beginning people may think it’s political or about drugs but really it’s a story about globalization. It occurs even in America and Europe.

MIDI Z’s next project is expected to be a love story about immigrants in Thailand. ICE POISON has been screened internationally at various festivals.

me on twitter = @mondocurry