Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Faithful: The King,The Pope And The Princess (2021) Camden International Film Festival

 


The Faithful is a look at the cult of personalities for Elvis, The Pope and Princess Diana. It’s a mediation on images, memorabilia and their importance in peoples lives.

One part documentary and four parts essay this is the sort of cinema exploration that would play in an experimental section of film festival. The film is footage shot over several decades relating to the subject while writer director Annie Berman talks about the ebb and flow of her interest in the subject and related matters. It’s a kind of illustrated lecture.

Whether you like this film is going to be determined entirely by how you take Berman‘s presentation which is low key and bit rambling. My interest came and went. I kept thinking this would have been better if it was tightly crafted short  about  a third  of the  length. On the other hand I know from attending film festivals over the years I know there is an audience for this sort of thing. If you are part of it then this film is for you.

News of the World (2020)

 


In the days following the American Civil War Tom Hanks travels the country performing the news  for paying audiences. Along the way he agrees to return a young girl who was taken by native Americans and get her back to her family. Along the way all sorts of things happen…

Beautifully made western is a solid tale of the rough existence in the American West. It’s a film about love, loss and family. It’s a film that you fall into and are carried along to the conclusion—which disappoints.

Yea as good as the film is technically the plotting is dead nuts cliché. There isn’t one thing that happens where it doesn’t go as expected.  The film is a catalog of cliched adventures where nothing surprises you. Yea I was dragged along, but at the same time I was watching it not because I wanted to know how it came out, but whether it would do something unexpected. Yea I was entertained but I wanted more.

Worth a look on cable, but I wouldn’t pay for it.

The Real Charlie Chaplin (2021) Camden International Film Festival


This Showtime BBC produced film begins with an quote that warns that there are a lot of different Charlie Chaplins and that it is impossible to connect them all up. The film then tries to explore all the different Chaplins in an effort to find create a much more complex portrait of the actor than we’ve seen before.

Mixing contemporaneous interviews, film, the written record and recreations The Real Charlie Chaplin gives us a great deal to ponder.  We get a wide variety of differing views of Chaplin, from childhood friends to the FBI and everyone in between we get a look at the man that is not really like any other version. Its not a glossy fan based portrait but something closer to the man himself. Its also colored by the film’s examination of the Chaplin that is in the public eye. We see the man who was so popular that there were literally hundreds of rip off films.  

As someone who has been a Chaplin fan since I was a young kid, I was enthralled. While I have seen a lot of this before, there was a great deal more I hadn’t. More importantly the film is magnificently edited with several sequences delighting the eye with the magical way that they connect up all sorts of other wise unconnected films.

As a fan I was enthralled.

If I have to quibble, and in this case I do, the one thing working against the film is the narration. Much too low key and occasionally rambling, it seems intent of not pulling us into the proceedings as deeply as the images and the stories want us to go.  Its not fatal, but it makes an other wise excellent film just a very good one.

Definitely worth a look, more so if you can see it on a big screen where the film’s visual wonder can overwhelm.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Becoming Cousteau (2021) Camden International Film Festival 2021

 


Jacques Cousteau is one of my boyhood heroes. I grew up watching his TV show and watching him on the TV talk shows. He opened my eyes to the world in ways you can not imagine. He along with Muhammad Ali were the two people I regret not meeting. 

As you can imagine when I found out there was a documentary of the man I had to see it. Honestly I sooooooo had to see it it was the only reason I made a hole in my dance card to cover the Camden Film Festival.

Culled from hundreds of hours of film and video and hundreds more hours of audio BECOMING COUSTEAU is a film about the man in his own words and images. It does have the words of other people chiming in, but mostly this is all Cousteau.

I both loved this film and as disappointed. What I loved about the film was that the film brings us back into the world of the man himself. I never realized how much I missed listening to him talk about things until I saw this film. He was a man full of wonder and it bleeds off the screen. We also get a sense of how the TV nature documentaries we see today all come from him. If there was no Cousteau there would have been no Discovery Channel or Nat Geo. I love that we see how important he was to people in the 1970's. I also love that the documentary kind of takes the man to task for the bad things he did like working for big oil and killing many of the animals he was supposed to be studying. 

What disappointed me was that the form and structure of the film is incredibly conventional. Yes Cousteau created the conventions, but he did it by destroying out previous notions of what the form could be. I was hoping for something that was magical in form, instead of by the numbers. Basically I wanted something as special as the man himself. And while what is here is choice I would have liked more fireworks.

Then again I suspect that had I seen this on the big screen I would have loved this unconditionally.

BECOMING COUSTEAU is playing  The Camden International Film Festival before hitting theaters in October and is highly recommended

They Won't Call It Murder (2021) Camden International Film Festival 2021

 


This is the story of five people killed by the police as told by the women who knew and loved them. All of the killings should have been considered murder but were not. For example in one case a vice cop who was under investigation killed a woman at a sting. Another is the story of short teen was killed by a cop looking for someone who was a foot taller than his five foot two inch frame.

This is a film that needs to be made into a feature film. We need to know more about these people than the roughly four minutes each is allotted.  All our lives deserve more than mere minutes.

Quibbles aside this film is a kick in the gut. Short or no the accumulative effect is a deep sadness. These people should not have died, certainly not at the hands of cops who should have known better

The film is currently screening at the Camden International Film Festival (and other festivals soon) and is recommended.

Hopefully this will also get turned into a feature film

Underdog (2021) Camden International Film Festival


UNDERDOG is the story of Vermont Farmer Doug Butler. He is a man whose life is rapidly imploding as the bills are out pacing his ability to pay them off. Butler is always upbeat and always looking toward a brighter future. He is also looking to compete in the oldest dog sled race in America in Fairbanks Alaska. With his farm’s future in jeopardy Butler loads up his dogs and heads off to try his hand at racing.

This is a good portrait of a man just taking life as it comes. He is desperately trying to show a brave face but there are times we know that that much of his life is slipping away and that there is little he can do to stop it. Everyone wants their money and Butler can’t make it fast enough to pay off everyone with their hand out. It a sad portrait of our times, and we feel it more because we really like Butler and wish him well.

I should be honest and say that while the dog racing is thread through the film, most of the film is not focused on it, it only becomes the real focus in the last third. Its an interesting turn in a much too familiar tale of small farmers getting squashed.

To be honest I don’t know what I think of this film. While I very much like Butler, I’m not certain that there is enough here to make a feature. A huge problem is Butler is so low key and so easily rolls with the punches that there really isn’t enough conflict to make this absolutely compelling.  This is low key to the point of no key.  While none of it is bad, I mean I watched it three times, I simply don’t know why this is a feature film. Outside of showing us a really nice guy and the sled dog racing bit, there isn’t a great deal here. I suspect if this was reshaped to focus more on the racing this would have been a more compelling film.

Reservations aside this is worth a look if it sounds interesting to you

Erick Oh and Kane Lee talk NAMOO

 


I know this is late. I did this interview back in June at Tribeca and then things happened. (The short version is transcribers messed up the delivery by six weeks) My apologies to Erick Oh and  Kane Lee

What follows is my discussion with Mr Oh (tThe director) and Mr Lee (the producer) about the film NAMOO which premiered at Sundance as a  VR experience and Tribeca as 2D film. Based in part on the life of his grandfather, Mr Oh's film is a look at the arc of a life and the things we take with us. It's an amazing film and one you need to track down.

This is a slightly edited version of my talk. I trimmed a couple of questions and answers that required you to have seen the film for them to make sense. I also removed a very brief talk about Mr. Oh's Oscar Nominated short OPERA where we discussed that film being designed as a museum installation as something as being a film you could get up close to. While I had hoped to talk more about the film talk instantly bounced to NAMOO.

I want to thank Mr Oh and Mr Kane for taking the time to talk to me abou their amazing hort film.

Steve: How how did you decide to turn your grandfather's life into a short film?

Erick: Yeah, so my grandfather passed away almost 10 years ago. And then, you know, within the grieving process, I got to think a lot about life, you know, where we come from and then where we go.  But, at the time, I was a little too emotionally overwhelmed to take this out to the world. And I didn't know how, even though I had this core idea and concept of tree immediately when I lost my grandfather, almost, but I didn't take it to the next level.

But as I grew up. I learned more about life. At a certain point I kind of realized that now it's about time, really. I'd love to put this together as an art piece or a short film and then share it with a lot of people because, you know, there is some-, something very truthful in it.

Steve: How did you decide, like, which pieces of your grandfather's life to use? You have to have the painting, you have, all the things in the tree. How did you decide which, what were you going to put in there?

Erick: This was not about my grandfather, I mean it’s inspired by him but  I kinda wanted to talk to about this human story of who we are, you know? So that being said, you know, all the object choices I made, you know, is really based on my own personal experience as well. I'm an artist. My grandfather wasn't. He was a professor. So I was merging everything I've been learning from my own life. Of course my relationship with my grandfather and my own  life helped me choose all those objects that's, the belongings hanging on the tree.

Steve: Does the main character look more like you or more like your grandfather?

Erick: [laughs] It's really mixed, you know, because I'm basically in late 30s, so there's no way I’m, passing middle, middle age. I mean  these characters are real ones, even my father. And then even my newborn niece, who was born, two years ago. I got so inspired by my newborn niece, and then passing certain life stage, that's when everything turns a little more closer to, like, my, my father and grandfather.

And for example, the grandfather sequence there is a lot of objects that create a little more kind of traditional like a teapot or some sort of lens. And those were actual physical belongings my grandfather used to have.

So it is, again, all combination of what I was  experiencing throughout my whole life.

Steve: How did you decide on the visual style of this? You worked on "DAM KEEPER," you did "OPERA," which was nominated for an Oscar prior to this. And while this looks a little bit like DAM KEEPER, it has its own look. How do you decide what the visual style's going to be of a film you're gonna do?

Erick: It is a spiritual journey, internal journey to yourself, so I really wanted something that's really warm, traditional hand-cut feeling. I wanted to keep the watercolor look, and that has been there from the get-go. But then we invited this technology that we can actually animate and paint and create everything directly in VR the software called Quill. And Quill's aesthetic was very unique.

And so, with that and with a bit of, post-production effects work, we were able to achieve what we did. And as an outcome, what we got is it is a very heart-warming and  hand-touched vision of feeling but three-dimensional.

I'm really happy with how it turned out. But Kane, if you wanna, explain a little bit about the VR or, or that aspect, please, please do.

Kane: Yeah, I mean  bn  you know, we worked with a crew across nine different time zones. And actually made our plan for our production before the pandemic. We decided to go with  our top choices no matter what time zones or what part of the world they were in. We were really excited to use  Quill which, you know, you can paint and hand-draw in real time. They literally put on a headset and they're in a three-dimensional space. The back is the objects. Everything that's painted like, a really sort of hand-sculpted, feeling and texture and you can feel every brush stroke. And  the imperfections are actually what makes it feel really handcrafted.

And so with that being translated 2D animated film that you see is what gives this sort of a dimension-, dimensionality, and a feeling of handcraftedness that we feel looks unlike other projects that Erick or Baobab Studios, the animation studio  behind this, have ever done before.

Steve: Is there a VR version of this or just, just the 2D?

Kane: There is a VR version of this. So we created them at the same time. The VR version of it premiered earlier this year at Sundance. But the Tribeca Film Festival gave us this opportunity to have it in person and for people to see it on-screen.

I was our huge pleasure and priority to get the 2D version to people together so they can experience the emotion and, and that feeling of being in the crowd, seeing,  something on a big screen amazing sound at the same time.

Steve: I'd loved to see the VR thing of that version of this. Because when you're watching it, there's, you know, it's, it's very 2D for most of it. And there's a couple of times where it's like, the, the, suddenly the animation pops in the 2D version. Suddenly you get, everything gets the depth of 3D. Suddenly it's like you get chills to a certain degree.

How did you design the soundtrack? The story is tols told completely visually, But the sound is just as important as the visuals. It's a perfect marriage. And a lot of times, you don't really necessarily get that.

Erick: You're totally right. because we don't have any dialogue, we already knew that we are making a visual poetry. So we knew that look and music, it's like almost a 50/50 balance.Then music is telling you the story. It is guiding you with the feel and he story points and all that. So we paid extra, extra attention to the music. Thankfully, we were able to come up again with the DAM KEEPER original composers, , Zach Johnston and Matt Roberts. So they did a tremendous job taking this to the next level musically.

Steve: Were they writing the music as you were doing it, or they just came in afterwards?

Erick: You know, this was really interesting. I had them tape the music earlier stage, even before starting animating, so I, because I wanted our animators and artists to be inspired by the music first. And, of course, they had to retime it and resynchronize the animation in the post-production.

So music was almost the standard. In the pre-production, I already give them all, musically, the overall direction and  the things and then the actual key melody and then those iconic moments. And then with them I've be using them as our test sounds for a long, long time. And then, of course, in post-production, when every visual is locked, they cleaned up and polish the final. And, of course, we did the live orchestra recording events, and then that's how we actually created it, the music.

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain (2020) opens today


This is a long pained scream. Its watching a horrible event happen that you know is going to go wrong and as much as you want to you can not stop it. This is the film you find in the dictionary under gut punch.

The film is a recreation of  the killing of Chamberlain in 2011. He accidentally set off his medical alert and the company called the police. The police showed up. Chamberlain said he was fine the cops didn't believe him and they eventually broke down the door and then shot him while he was on the floor, later claiming he lunged at them.

This film will break your heart and make you scream at the screen. ten years on we see all the mistakes that were made, but we can't change them. This is a tough film to watch not just because its tragedy, but because we see how big it was and how it could have been stopped.

While the film, isn't perfect, the cast is a bit on even, Frankie Faison as Chamberlain is dead on. This is a performance that if this were a bigger film would have had him in talk for an Oscar. It is one of the top three performances you will see all year. This is the role of a life time and Faison grabs it by the throat and gives us a man we can grieve. This is a character with a soul that we can not help but follow to his much too early end.

This film crushed me.

A must see.

(Better yet program it with the documentary JOE AND ERNIE CRISIS COPS for a real life look at the way these sort of situations should be handled.)

Savior For Sale (2021)


 How you react to Savior For Sale will be determined by if you saw the  earlier Lost Leonardo which was released a couple months back. Both films are about the discovery and sale of the possible found Leonardo painting, Salvatore Mundi,  its restoration, authentication and sales. However  each film has its own focus. The earlier film is focused on the whole process from the discovery to the eventual sale to a Saudi Prince. The current film is less concerned with the discovery and restoration and focuses more on  the authentication and the sales of the painting.

The short version of the story is that a painting that looked to potentially be an old master came up for sale in New Orleans. A New York art dealer bought it. In looking at it, he and his experts decide that it may be a Leonardo DaVinci. They have it restored, its shown at the British National Gallery when experts say it’s the real deal (well possibly…). Its then sold and then resold to very rich people for more than the GNP of some countries.

To be honest I’m not sure what I think of this film. I know that my feelings for it were influenced by seeing the other film mere months ago. The fact that I have  that film in my head influenced my feelings for this film since the earlier film raises some intriguing issues that are not covered here. A key one is how much of painting that we see as the “restored painting” is the work of Leonardo and how much is the work  of the restorer. The earlier film also raises different issues about the authentication process. I wish  that the film had more of the details on the painting from the earlier film.

That said I do like the way this film deals with the big money aspects of art  and of this sale. It raises a lot of questions about how the art world works and whether things are really what people hold them out to be.

Frankly I would love to take the two films and cut them together.

My reservations aside  Savior For Sale is worth seeing when it hits theaters on Friday

Thursday, September 16, 2021

OSTROV - LOST ISLAND (2021) Camden International Film Festival


 Absolutely magnificent portrait of the inhabitants of Ostrov Island in the Caspian Sea.  Years ago the island was thriving community with a collective fishery but Soviet Union fell, people left, the farm was destroed and the authorities closed down the caviar harvesting. Those that were remained were left to fend for themselves. Fending means scratching out a bare subsistence and trying to avoid the coast guard, who will arrest them if they go to sea to fish (the government won’t grant them licenses to do so)

Beautifully shot film is a real slice of life. This is the arc of life on the island as we get to know the few inhabitants, see the rhythms and feel the pace of life. The images put us into the homes and on the beaches and we have a real sense place. You can feel the breeze and smell the food. Its an amazing achievement.

I love this film. I love how the film pulls us in and makes us truly understand what it’s like to be living on the island. Rarely have I ever walked out of a movie not feeling as though I was watching a film, but having gone somewhere else. OSTROV puts us in this other place.

This film is a stunner.

And when you see the film, stay with it. Yes, it can feel a little draggy. That’s okay. That’s what life on the island is like.  Just stay with it. I say that as someone who felt a little bored at times, I was tempted to wander off. However by the time the ending came I found I was deeply moved, just saying Wow over and over again. Not because it ended spectacularly but because I felt as though I was touching life.

Playing as part of the Camden International Film Festival OSTROV is highly recommended



Last Night in Rozzie (2021) opens tomorrow

Ronnie Russo returns to Boston to see his dying friend. He’s tasked with finding the friends son so that he can connect with him before he passes away. As sets out on his appointed task, the past come calling and he begins to ponder a tragic event from his childhood that linked the two friends.

Beautifully acted film over comes the occasional feeling that we have been here before. While there is nothing wrong with the story, it’s the cast that does the heavy lifting. You fall in love with the characters that Neil Brown Jr., Nicky Whelan, Jeremy Sisto, Kevin Chapman play and they make taking the ride worth the trip.

This is a nice little film. It may not rattle heaven but it entertains and moves us.

Worth a look 

FERGUSON RISES opens Friday


Portrait of the city that became the epicenter of protests when Michael Brown, an unarmed black man was shot dead by the police. It is a look at what happened and how the city try to fix the problem and rebuild.

This is a very good film, that unfortunately may end up getting lost among the similar films that are coming out on the never ending  police misconduct incidents . That said if you want a film that focuses just on Ferguson this is the one to see.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Indie Memphis Film Festival Announces Full Slate, Ft. Sean Baker’s RED ROCKET Opening Night, World Premiere of FERNY & LUCA + More

 


The 24th Annual Indie Memphis Film Festival Announces Full Slate, Ft. Sean Baker’s RED ROCKET as Opening Night Film, World Premieres of FERNY & LUCA and BUNKER, and More

(September 15, 2021 | Memphis, TN) Indie Memphis Film Festival, presented by Duncan Williams, Inc., is pleased to announce the full slate of films for its 2021 incarnation, spanning from October 20th - 25th, 2021. This year’s festival promises to be a very exciting and wildly varied one, featuring films ranging from new discoveries to beloved classics, from festival hits to experimental wonders, and everything in-between. 

“I am incredibly excited by what we are offering this year with the festival,“ says Indie Memphis Executive Director Knox Shelton, “The programming is stellar and, in terms of how we've planned the festival, we hope that we have found ways for people to celebrate independent filmmaking based on their comfort level. We understand that there is no perfect way to do this, but we've taken steps to ensure the health and safety of our filmmakers, attendees, volunteers, and staff.”

In the quest to reach a large audience while taking staunch COVID-19 precautions, this year’s festival will be a hybrid of online and in-person screenings and events. For in-person Memphis screenings and events, proof of COVID-19 vaccine is required for all staff, volunteers, contractors, and attendees and masks are required at all times indoors. Venues for screenings are now focused on larger theaters to better accommodate social-distanced seating; these include Crosstown Theater, The Block Party will be delayed until a year in which we can better protect the health of our attendees, partners, and staff. Circuit Playhouse, Playhouse on the Square, and the Malco Summer Drive-In. Festival parties will be limited to outdoor celebrations on Opening and Closing Night.

The 2021 festival features work from up-and-coming filmmakers, as well as festival hits such as Jonas Carpignano’s A CHIARA, Jane Schoenbrun’s WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR, Penny Lane’s LISTENING TO KENNY G, Céline Sciamma’s PETITE MAMAN, and many more. 

The festival also features exciting premieres, such as the World Premiere of Andrew Infante’s FERNY & LUCA. The film is a look into the on-and-off relationship between Ferny, a sweet and naive pretty boy, and Luca, a rough and tumble disco queen, who is more concerned with chasing her dreams than chasing boys. There’s also the World Premiere of Jenny Perlin’s BUNKER, a documentary that investigates the lonely lives of American men who have decided to live in decommissioned military bunkers and nuclear missile silos, and follows the process of building and selling these structures to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy alike.

The Opening Night film is Sean Baker’s Cannes favorite RED ROCKET, starring Simon Rex as a pornstar who returns to his Texas hometown that barely tolerates him, the Centerpiece Presentation is Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s DRIVE MY CAR, and the Closing Night is Pablo Larrain’s SPENCER. Some additional standout titles include Robert Greene’s PROCESSION, a documentary about a group of survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests battle for justice, and Rhayne Vermette’s STE. ANNE, a drama that traces an allegorical reclamation of land through personal, symbolic and historical sites.

“We’re honored to be introducing these titles to Memphis audiences,” said Indie Memphis Artistic Director Miriam Bale. “I’m confident many of these are classics that will be talked about for a long time to come. We aim to have a collection of films that is winnowed down to the best of year, and I think this line-up reflects that.”   

The festival continues to feature live music performed in the theaters before every screening. The Black Creators Forum also returns for a fourth year, this time in a hybrid format, both online and with an outdoor in-person component. This festival programming continues to reflect diversity in all areas, with a special focus on films from the African Diaspora and Africa. Indie Memphis is privileged to present the North American premiere of JUJU STORIES, an anthology film from the Nigerian new wave cinema collective known as Surreal16, after its World Premiere at Locarno.

Additional upcoming announcements will include the Black Creators Forum program, virtual IndieTalks Panels, Live Music Lineup, and more.

The 2021 slate was unveiled publicly on the evening of Tuesday, September 14th via Zoom. For more information, please visit http://indiememphis.com/.

 2021 Indie Memphis Film Festival Slate

Alphabetical by Category

Investigative Film Festival & Symposium, Double Exposure 2021 Announces Film Lineup for October


SONIA KENNEBECK’S UNITED STATES VS. REALITY WINNER TO OPEN THE SEVENTH EDITION OF DOUBLE EXPOSURE 

THE FESTIVAL CLOSES WITH ACCEPTED, DIRECTED BY DAN CHEN  

THE RESCUE, DIRECTED BY ACADEMY AWARD-WINNERS E. CHAI VASARHELYI AND JIMMY CHIN, IS THE FESTIVAL CENTERPIECE 

JONAS POHER RASMUSSEN’S FLEE IS THE FESTIVAL SPOTLIGHT SCREENING 

Washington, DC (September 15, 2021) – Featuring its largest slate to date, Double Exposure proudly presents 12 investigative feature films and a selection of more than 15 shorts in its seventh season, taking place as a hybrid event, October 13-17. 

The 2021 slate illuminates investigative and urgent stories from across the globe. These films look deeply into our common humanity, and the future of democracy and of our planet. Drawing on a range of cinematic styles, from reportage to cinema verité to animation, from features to shorts, this year’s slate will take you inside urgent stories of our times and our lives. Meet the 25-year-old NSA whistleblower who exposed Russia's interference in the 2016 election, enter a hospital caring for Covid patients during New York’s first wave, travel to Iowa where a small independent newspaper courageously fights for survival. This year’s films interrogate police corruption in Baltimore and school corruption in Louisiana, heartbreak at the Tallahassee Unified Family Court, and the enduring trauma of the refugee experience for an Afghan man who is gay, told mostly through animation. Witness the oddysey to rescue 12 boys trapped in a water-filled cave in Thailand, using contemporaneous footage from inside the cave, fires wildly burning in Australia and the determination of a group of Dalit women, dismissed as “untouchable” in India’s caste system, to build a first-ever Dalit news organization from the ground up. 

The co-directors of the festival noted:

“Through this awe-inspiring lineup, shaped and driven by the investigative instinct, we glimpse the growing power of film to engage people with pressing issues of justice, humanity and our shared future on a profound level.” said Diana Jean Schemo, founder and co-director of Double Exposure. “The festival pays tribute to the resourcefulness, resilience and creativity of investigative journalists and filmmakers, whose best work allows us to call power to account.”

“The outpouring of work by filmmakers and journalists who reside at the intersection between both cultures has never been more prolific, nor more creative” said Sky Sitney, festival co-creator and co-director. “Whether excavating a dormant archive, meticulously piecing together citizen-created content, turning to animation as both a storytelling device and a protective measure, or boldly entering the frontlines of an ICU during a pandemic or forests ablaze with fire, the filmmakers and journalists featured in this year’s program are reaching extraordinary new heights with their craft, and telling vital stories that go well beyond headline news.”

This year’s program includes Opening Night, United States vs. Reality Winner, directed by Sonia Kennebeck; Closing Night, Accepted, directed by Dan Chen; Centerpiece, The Rescue, directed by E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin; and Spotlight Screening, Flee, directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen. The main slate includes 3212 Un-Redacted, directed by Brian Epstein; Burning, directed by Eva Orner; Courtroom 3H, directed by Antonio Méndez Esparza; The First Wave, directed by Matthew Heineman; Luchadoras, directed by Paola Calvo and  Patrick Jasim; The Slow Hustle, directed by Sonja Sohn; Storm Lake, directed by Jerry Risius and Beth Levison; and Writing With Fire, directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh. 

Single tickets will be available for sale starting September 21.

For more information visit: 
http://doubleexposurefestival.com

 2021 Double Exposure Official Selections

BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER (2021) opens Friday


Loving portrait of Boris Karloff told by fans, friends, colleagues and family. 

This is a super film. It has everyone in it, from Dick Miller, Roger Corman, Peter Bogdonvich, John Landis, Guillermo Del Toro, Sara Karloff, and pretty much every one you can think of all telling stories about the man and what he meant to him. I was in heaven

I don't know what to say. This is just a great film. I love how it illustrates things. For example there is a late in the game story about how sick Karloff was, and how he could still turn it on. Not to spoil it but we hear the story of Karloff on Red Skelton and then we see the performance and it amazes us.

Then again Karloff always amazed.  

This film is a delight.

Highly recommended, the film opens Friday.

I Am Not Alone (2019) Opens Friday

I AM NOT ALONE is a thrilling film. The story of how Armenian activist/political prisoner /politician/ journalist Nikol Pashinyan toppled the status quo in Armenia is a tale for the ages. It is beautifully told (unexpectedly) by all the parties involved.

After two terms as president strong man Serzh Sargsyan moved to make the position of Prime Minister the more powerful position with an eye toward moving into that position when his second and final turn as President was done. He had been put into power by brutally squashing protests that happened after his rigged his election. Pashinyan decides that something had to be done he decides to protest by walking to the capital and holding a rally in Liberty Square. The idea is that his walk would motivate the masses…and what happened was entirely unexpected in the best possible way.

Recounting the fourteen days of the walk across Armenia and then the subsequent events in the capital I AM NOT ALONE shows us the power of what one good man working as an agent for the good of his people can do. A nail biting story that will keep you on the edge of your seat as events twist and turn in ways that are completely unexpected. While I knew how it came out, I never expected any of the tits and turns and as result was absolutely delighted.

The truly amazing thing about this film, and which lifts it up to the realm of truly great, is the fact that the filmmakers don’t just interview Nikol Pashinyan, but also former strong man Serzh Sargsyan, as well as the chief of police who sought to end the protests plus many others on all sides. This is a well balanced film where everyone gets to tell their story and we are so much better for it. The result is a stunning film that will make you shout and perhaps even shed a tear.

One of the best films you will see all year.

Nate Hood on The Lost Leonardo (2021)


It’s a simple painting, quiet and inauspicious. The figure at its center stares ahead from a void of darkness, his pale skin shining from the shadows like a beacon as his brown hair falls in delicate curls upon his blue dress. His face is calm yet inscrutable, staring calmly at the viewer as his right hand makes the sign of the cross. In his left sits a transparent crystal orb within which, it is understood, all the cosmos are contained. Those in the know label this painting a “Salvator Mundi,” a frequent motif in Renaissance-era art wherein Jesus Christ—inevitably whitened and enriched beyond his historical station as an itinerant Palestinian rabbi—is depicted as holding the Earth, and all of creation itself, in his hand. There are countless “Salvator Mundi” paintings, many by esteemed masters. But this one is different. This, it is said, is not just a “Salvator Mundi” by a master, but
the “Salvator Mundi” by the master. For this is the painting believed to be painted by none other than Leonardo da Vinci himself.

That is, of course, if the painting is authentic. Assumed to have been lost a century after its creation, it was spotted by an eagle-eyed art dealer in a New Orleans auction house where it was assumed to be the work of one of da Vinci’s students. But during the restoration process it was declared to be from the hand of the master himself, sparking one of the most controversial sagas in modern art history as its price ballooned from a few thousand dollars in 2005 to nearly half a billion when it was sold at auction in 2017. In the interim, this simple, quiet, and inauspicious painting would become a cause célèbre among art collectors and a cause maudit among art critics and historians. It would change hands from shady Swiss dealers to shadier Russian billionaires to mercurial and murderous Saudi princes. This stunning history has been captured and condensed for all to see in Andreas Koefoed’s brilliant and disturbing documentary The Lost Leonardo

Over my career as a critic, I have reviewed more documentaries about the art world and those who navigate it than I care to count or remember. But this is perhaps the only one that properly captures the sense of dread, corruption, and duplicity that lurks at its heart. The film isn’t just about the painting itself; Koefoed instead uses its story as a springboard to examine how corrupt businessmen and criminals use the art world to launder money, dodge tax laws, and rob the public of cultural masterpieces. After all, an ex-Soviet oligarch may not be able to transfer illicit funds out of Russia without raising the eyebrows of international investigators. But if that same oligarch spent hundreds of millions of dollars on paintings by Picasso or Gauguin, moved them to another country, and then resold them at wildly inflated prices with the aid of complicit auction houses happy for an eight-figure commission fee, there’s little any police force could do.

Which is exactly what happened to this alleged da Vinci. Notice the word “alleged,” for to this day there is still doubt among experts as to whether or not the painting is authentic. Not that it matters, as Koefoed explains. The film details how esteemed art museums, galleries, and auction houses seemed happy to ignore credible naysayers so long as they could sell exhibition tickets to the public or raise asking prices for sellers. After all, what’s more important: that something is authentic or that people think something is authentic? And who cares either way so long as it doesn’t hurt the bottom line?

Through it all, two figures seem to float above the madness. The first is Dianne Modestini, the woman hired for the painting’s initial restoration and who first suspected it might be an original da Vinci. Of all the people in the film, she seems to be the only one who acknowledges the painting as a work of art and appreciates it as such. She seems to care nothing for how much it’s worth or whether or not it’s truly authentic: it exists, it is beautiful, and therefore it is worthy of admiration and love. 

The second is the figure of Christ himself staring out from the painting. If the film has one flaw, it’s that it misses the central irony lurking at the heart of this story: all this duplicity, all this subterfuge, all this controversy, backstabbing, and greed revolves around a painting of a man who raged against the wealthy and lionized the poor. This was a painting made to inspire religious devotion towards a savior who drove moneylenders from the temple and said the meek shall inherit the earth. Fortunes were made and lost over this image of a man who told the wealthy to sell all that they owned, give the money to the poor, and follow him. Did anyone at any point in the making of this film wonder to themselves that if Jesus could feed 500 people with five loaves and two fishes, how many more could he feed with nearly half a billion dollars? Suddenly Jesus’ face in the painting doesn’t seem so blank. Is that exasperation or resignation we read? If it isn’t, maybe it should be.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Best Sellers (2021)


You need to see BEST SELLERS. You need to see the film because Michael Caine gives what may be his best performance on film, which would make it one of the greatest ever recoded.

The plot of the film has a young woman named Lucy desperately trying to save her families publishing house. The book that was supposed to save it has tanked. She may have to sell the company. She then realizes that Harris Shaw (Michael Caine) , a once great writer owes them one more book. He goes to see him, he tells her to get out. However he does eventually drop a novel on her desk and that sets in motion a cross country trip as they try to promote the book.

On a purely narrative level the film is largely unremarkable. It hits a lot of the expected notes, however the writing shines in the dialog and character construction, with the result the film is emotionally affecting.

However because  the filmmakers cast the film to perfection Best Sellers rises to the level of must see. Aubrey Plaza as Lucy is excellent. She takes a straight role, one that could have been bland in lesser hands and makes it a person we care about. We she is more than the typical tics the result is she kicks your ass in several scenes. She earns our love.

However shining above everyone and everything is Michael Caine. Accentuating his age, and seemingly not wearing any make up Caine looks like an older gentleman who has been kicked to the curb by life. Its all in the toilet but he’s still going, echoing a late in the game discussion of his novel as not being down beat but hopeful. He isn’t giving up but going on. There are years of heartbreak in his eyes and your heart breaks for him at every turn, even as he is making us laugh at something outrageous. It is a literally a full bodied performance with every move and gesture a master class. I was blown away from the opening moments and sat glued to the screen straight on to the end.

And when the film was done I was emailing and texting friends to say they had see this, because word has to get out.

And such is the problem with the Oscars and other awards- great performances get lost. I suspect that because BEST SELLERS is a small film from a small distributor the film and it towering performance by Caine will get lost. Because the film does not have big money behind it it will end up lost. Lost until five years down the road when it hits whatever streaming platform and people realize what a good film it is and what a towering performance Caine has given.  It will be spoken about as one of things Oscar got wrong

However don’t wait for the wave to come about BEST SELLERS you can see it when it hits theaters and VOD on Friday.

Trust me you will be moved

Monday, September 13, 2021

Camden International Film Festival starts Thursday


 Starting Thursday is the excellent Camden International Film Festival… that’s Camden Maine not New Jersey.  I say that because every time I mention it  everyone I know says they didn’t realize that Camden (New Jersey) had such a great festival.

I discovered the fest a few years ago and fell in love with it. Here was a documentary festival that was showing the best of the best of the year and it was tucked away in a small town in Maine. How the hell did they get so lucky? I’ve been trying to cover the fest as best I can ever since.

This year the fest is both in person (9/16- 19)and virtual (9/16-29) so if you want to get ahead of the documentary awards talk go to the website and get some tickets.

This year our coverage is going to be small scale. We’ve actually covered a number of the films, see below, and we’ll be covering a few more depending upon when the screeners come in. I would like to do more but because of the way time has shaken out I am limited in what I could do.

For those wondering what we’ve seen previously here is a list of films we’ve covered. Just click on the links and you’ll go to out review.

AFTER ANTARCTICA
ALL THESE SONS
ASCENSION
EXPEDITION CONTENT
FATHOM
FAYA DAYI
FLEE
NORTH BY CURRENT
PAPER AND GLUE

For more information and tickets go here

The Devil's Drivers (2021) Toronto 2021


Israel is in the process of building walls to seal up their borders with Palestinian lands. They do not want to allow free access between the two areas. However many Palestinians can not survive on the money they can make near home and have to make risky border crossings in order to get into Israel in order to make a living wage. Since Israel will not give them papers they trust themselves to people like Hamouda and his cousin Ismail who drive modified cars across the desert hoping to avoid patrols of soldiers looking to stop them.

Up close and personal tale of the men who drive for a living and the people who use their services to go back and forth. It’s a film full of crazy tension and heartbreak as we ride along on mad dashes and  see the cost of what a divided economy has done to the poor. It makes you think about the economies of both Israel and Palestine since its clear Israel can't function without the people its trying to keep out (much like the US and other countries)

I’m not going to say this is a perfect film, it’s not, but it’s a raw and real and it has gut punch of real life.  Hell the driving sequences are jagged as they come but at the same time they are more exciting than the CGI crap we get in Hollywood blockbusters. We feel for the men and their families because what we are seeing is not perfectly edited for perfect emotion, but rather everything is assembled to make it feel like we are with the people on screen. The fact that they are aware of the camera but ultimate oblivious to it, they really open themselves up to us, adds a depth of emotion you don’t usually see in films of any sort.

Honestly I haven’t been this excited by chases in film in a long time.

Recommended

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Filmmakers You Need to Search Out Part 5

Justin McConnell

Another Sunday and another part of my list of great filmmakers you need to trackdrown. If you missed any of the parts just go here and see who came before. And of course the list will continue so check back.... 

Justin McConnell is a great filmmaker  His CLAPBOARD JUNGLE (interview) is one of the best films on film you ill ever see. Its a collection on interviews with other filmmakers about the industry. His LIFECHANGER (interview) is an amazing horror film that transcends the genre to be something more and his short SOUL CONTACT which was made during the early days of covid is just a great deal of fun. There is nothing he can't do- and I willing to see every film he's made to make sure.

Tran Bao burst on the scene last year with PAPER TIGERS (Interview). Nominally a martial arts film it transcends the genre to be a touching family film. I can't wait to see what's next

Shaun Clarke is one of the great animators out there. He has a unique vision unlike anyone else. More to the point he takes big stories and makes laser focused versions. Hs  NECK AND NECK allowed m to understand Othello for the first time. His THE BEHOLDER is a wicked version of The Tell Tale Heart. I love everything he does.

I will be running an interview with Marq Evans very soon. Until that runs you need to know his bio of Wil Vinton, CLAYDREAM will move you to tears. His THE GLAMOUR AND THE SQUALOR is a magical look at the DJ who broke Nirvana and many others. Both films would seem to be your typical biography but the reality is they transcend the form.

Kenneth R Frank in films like FAMILY OBLIGATIONS takes small budgets and makes magic

Santho Goonewardene's short film PRAYERS OF A SAINT is the sort of film that makes you sit up and take notice and wonder where this great talent as coming from as it haunts you for days

Gabriel Bartalos is a special effects master who turned to directing/ The result is films like Saint Bernard which are one of kind films that need to be playing at midnight

Liam Gavin's A DARK SONG is an atypical horror film that has the smell of reality. It digs into your soul and stays with you. We need more like this.

Ralph Bismargi has created one of the funniest characters Herbie a well meaning life coach who misses the mark. He first appeared in HERBIE and continued in INSPIRATIONAL THERAPY . Rarely have any films so consistently doubled me over with laughter.

Elena Beuca's D-LOVE is based on a true story. The result is a lovely film. I'm hoping she has more true stories to tell

They/Them/Us (2021) Dances With FIlms 2021

 


Divorced father living with his two kids meets a single mom on a dating site. They fall in love and move in together. However the course of the relationship is bumpy with her love of kink and his getting a job at a Christian College.

Romcom/family comedy has some solid laughs and some nice characters which allows the film to over come the forced nature of some of the plotting. While the kink, Christian and pot angles provide some chuckles, they feel less organic and more like an attempt by the filmmakers to make a film that stands out. To be honest you could swap out or remove any of those angles with something else and have the film work just as well, and probably feel a bit less forced.

Still regardless of my quibbling I laughed in the right places enough to make this a film worth trying.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents Betrayal and Greed (2021)


 Its nice to see a biography of someone and realize that the person you always thought was sweet and nice really was. I mean seeing the Bob Ross documentary on Netflix is was great to see that he was a sweet man who liked to paint. Clearly he was no business man, but he was a really sweet guy.

BOB ROSS HAPPY ACCIDENTS, BETRAYAL AND GREED is the story of  Ross, the mad painter and the business partners who effectively screwed over every one around them. When you see anything Bob Ross these days it is the shady partners who are getting the cash and not the Ross family who were cut out. It’s a heart breaking tale of how Ross thought he was providing for his family and instead he was providing for other people.

The film itself is a nice little film. It plays kind of like one of Ross’s TV shows, being low key and inviting. Even as your heart is breaking its still kind of warm and fuzzy. Which actually is the films flaw, we really don’t get too angry at what happened. Yes the film tells us but the film never gets angry so we kind of don’t get angry. I should have been pissed  at the end, but I wasn’t. The result is a film we like but isn’t as cathartic as it should be.

Still, on it’s own terms the film entertains and informs and is worth seeing.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series has added a virtual component

 


We are very excited to announce that, with the extremely generous cooperation of the distributors and filmmakers listed below*, we are now able to offer a Virtual Alternative to the exciting in-person events for the Fall 2021 Port Jefferson Documentary Series. We have tried, especially during this pandemic, to keep everyone’s different needs and preferences in mind. Although the COVID protocols at Theatre Three are exceptionally effective (universal masking, mandatory vaccine proof, social distancing and excellent ventilation), we realize that some people are not yet ready to attend a live screening. In addition, our audience has grown geographically during this period and some people are now too far away.

Therefore, we will have an online screening on the night following each live screening. Six of the seven films will be exact duplicates and as we are not permitted to screen CLAYDREAM virtually, we are working on finalizing a “sneak peek” of a very special film on a date that will be announced shortly. 

The details for the 2021 Fall Virtual Alternative Series:

— Seven films, available individually at $10 per film for your entire household or as a seven-film Pass for $56.

— All purchases of virtual passes/tickets will be online from our website at: https://portjeffdocumentaryseries.com/tickets-venues-virtual-fall-2021/

— Each film will be available at approximately 7 PM on the night it is presented for a 24 hour period (until 7 PM the following night).

— Dates of our encore virtual films will be:

Tuesday, 9/21- LOVE IT WAS NOT

Tuesday, 10/5 - DEAR MR. BRODY

Tuesday, 10/12 - THE UNITED STATES VS. REALITY WINNER

Tuesday, 10/19 - NOT GOING QUIETLY

Tuesday, 10/26 - IN BALANCHINE’S CLASSROOM

Tuesday, 11/16 - MISSION: JOY - FINDING HAPPINESS IN TROUBLED TIMES

— AND we can’t wait to announce our “sneak peek” film shortly!

— Although virtual, we are limited to selling 50 tickets for each film, so it is possible for tickets to our virtual screenings to be sold out.

*A special thank you to the following distributors/filmmakers for making our 2021 Fall Virtual Alternative Series possible:

The Film Collaborative

Codebreaker LLC

Greenwich Entertainment

Zeitgeist Films

Brody Documentary LLC

And thanks to all the folks who have stayed with us through “thick and thin” as we present some of the best new docs out there!

Warmest Regards,

The Film Board

Port Jefferson Documentary Series

516-639-2624

portjeffdocumentaryseries.com

Like Us on Facebook and Follow Us on Twitter/Instagram!

ATTICA (2021) TIFF 2021


While there were a number of films premiering at Toronto this year the one film I wanted to see the most was the documentary ATTICA about the infamous riot that happened fifty years ago and still is reverberating through society. It is a tale that I don't think most people full grasp any more. Using the first person testimony of the prisoners, the observers and some of the National Guard, the film puts us into the prison when it all went to hell

A big note about the film, it is not focused on either the run up to or what happened after the riot. ATTICA is simply focused on the riot itself, pausing to explain things like how all the guards were white and came from generations of prison guards, as needed. I mention this because there was a point where I was curious when they were going to give some background on what happened.

Despite this ATTICA kicks serious ass. This is a film that lays out hat happened in great detail. Because so much of it was filmed and photographed we get to see how it all went down. More importantly in the end we get to see the and truly understand the carnage and hell the guards rained down on every one in the prison yard. I was  horrified.

My horror at what the film shows comes from my doing a paper on the uprising when I was in college about ten years after the fact. I was stuck using the books and periodicals I could get from the school library. I didn't have access to the images of the rivers of  blood, the footage of the prisoners being forced to crawl through the latrines or of the shot up bodies of the guards victims. I never fully understood the full level of evil visited on the prisoners.

This film is a masterpiece. Its a brilliant explanation of what happened over five days in 1971. I only wish that the film might have put things into context of what it all meant and how the uprising changed many things. Still as a recounting of what happened this film can't be beat.

Highly recommended.

Dating & New York (2021) opens today


I went into DATING & NEW YORK not knowing what to expect. One friend absolutely loved it and another friend absolutely loathed it. Curious as to what the story was I waded in.

The film follows a couple who meet on a dating app and become friends. They are friends with benefits however as they both try to navigate to find the one they find their own friendly relationship complicated.

Cutesy to the point of pain, DATING & NEW YORK is a film you either go with and love or you hate to the point of googling the director and rude notes. Its clearly trying way too hard to win the audience over with a sweetness that had me shooting myself full of insulin in order not to have my blood sugar to spike.

I am decidedly mixed on the film. I found it very well written with (way too) frequent one liners that make you laugh. At the same time I loathed the way the film forces the sweetness on you. Everyone is a character to the point I couldn't relate to anyone. To be honest I've seen this sort of thing work, but it requires a lighter touch than we have here.

My reaction was to laugh at the jokes and wonder why a romantic comedy was making me hate all of humanity.

Clearly your mileage will vary.

Evan Wood (2021) Dances With Films 2021


Rachel returns home from college for her grandmothers funeral. She has been away for a while and her return is largely a happy occasion at a sad time. While there she begins to reconnect with her family and friends, particularly her brother Evan who is struggling with addiction issues. Unfortunately Rachel begins making waves unintentionally as she tries to be helpful.

This is a well acted and well plotted film and I don't know what I think of the film. I say  that because the film has some really great  bits, the "resolution" is unexpectedly real.

The battle between cliché and non-cliché comes from the -Rachel character. Differently drawn then everyone else she wanders through the action almost as if she is an outsider. She doesn’t seem to be connected t a lot of the other characters despite being Rachel doesn’t seem to know a great deal. Indeed some of her behavior toward Evan plays as if she has never interacted with him before despite being brother and sister. 

On the other hand the connections and interactions between all of the other characters are spot on. Everyone feels related and connected even the non-family members.  Their connection feels real.  Something that really hits home in the final school scene when Rachel is reading before the class and you realize how unconnected she is and how false her behaviors are. Watching the end for a second time I realized  how well written all the other characters were. They all felt alive.

I need to stop and make one thing clear here. My problem with EVAN WOOD is in the writing.To be honest if Rachel was better written I would consider the film one of the best I’ve seen this year but she disappoints. Charlotte Louise Spencer who plays her is fine. She does what she can with a poorly written character. Frankly I don’t think anyone could have played it better she just is stuck playing a deus ex machina and not a real person.

Ultimately, reservations aside EVAN WOOD is worth seeing for the bits that work.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Other Tom (2021) Venice 2021 Toronto 2021

 


THE OTHER TOM is a kick in the ass. 

The film is the story of Elena, a young mother who  is having trouble with her son. He is diagnosed with ADHD and is promptly put on meds. However the meds make the boy into a zombie and a mere shadow of his former self. Elena wants to get him off the drugs but the move to do so brings her into a battle with the authorities who want  “what’s best for the boy”. But is it really best?

In an age when everyone is on meds there aren’t many films discussing what all of the pills that are supposed to make us better are really doing to us. No one is really discussing how the pills are changing us. This is really the first time I've seen anyone mention it in anything more than a passing reference. The fact that this film deals with the side effects is really important. 

In the decade before my mother passed away she was on a weird cocktail of medicines that were supposed to keep her alive. All of them had the side effect of depression and suicidal thoughts. They turned my Mom into a depressed zombie who slept all day. When my mom talked to her doctor about the effect, the doctor prescribed an antidepressant with side effect of suicidal thoughts.  They never could get the mix right and the only way my mom could ever feel normal was not to take anything.

I was delighted to see a film that focused on the battle I saw waged on a daily basis. I love that someone finally has stepped up and brought the battle to the attention of a large audience.

But don't let me over sell that one aspect,  there is more to the film than that. It is a really good look at a single mom trying to take care of her son. It’s a film that seems to be digging at what its like to be the single parent more than many recent films. Things are not glossed over and I love that because it forces us to consider what it is showing us and not just move on to the next thing.

A lot of praise for this working needs to go to the great cast especially, Julia Chavez as Elena who gives us a character we can relate to and root for. They sell it all and seem to be living the story instead of just enacting it.

This is a super little film and is highly recommended when it plays in Venice and Toronto.

Together (2021) Toronto 2021

 


A young woman is joined in a seaside hotel by a man from the internet with the intention of committing suicide together.

This solid little short film is based on what the film says is a growing Korean trend of people making suicide pacts on the internet. It’s a beautifully acted film that raises all sorts of questions as it makes our expectations go sideways.  I didn’t expect this to go as it did and was absolutely pleasantly surprised. This film is a prime example of why the length of a film doesn't matter so long as it moves the viewer. This film moves you more than most features you'll run across.

Making its world premiere as part of the shorts program at Toronto it is highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Fire Music (2021) Original version 2018 opens Friday



This is a modified version of the piece that ran when I saw a cut of the film in 2018 at the New York Film Festival

I have been pondering if and how to review FIRE MUSIC since I saw it in 2018. Part of it is I don't have a great deal to say about it, and part of it is the fact that during the Q&A that followed the first New York Film Festival screening it was revealed that the film is going to be changed and lengthened to add more material because more funding came in (see the Q&A below). And having see the new cut I still think it could use more material

FIRE MUSIC is Tom Surgal's look at avant garde or Free Jazz. This is the sort of wild and crazy improvisational free form jazz where all of the musicians can be playing their own harmonies at the same time. For some it it noise for others it is bliss. It is a forcible wrestling with the music to see where it can go. The film highlights  the music of Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman,Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers and others.

I think fans, such as those that made up the audience at the New York Film Festival, and who have a fuller appreciation of the form and the people who play it are going to love it deeply. This is a film with all the right people telling the right stories since I could see people around me reacting as if Surgal got it all right  for the person in the know.

This poses a problem in that the film is an attempt to bring the music to a wider audience and win converts  but I'm not sure if it is going to make converts of a lot of people because if you don't know a great deal you may feel a little at sea, which is how I felt at times.  I recently watched the new cut of the film which added a great deal of additional material to the second half of the film, I still felt a little bit at sea. 

To be honest I like the film but I don't love it. While I like jazz and have some understanding of the history and the styles, I am not versed in Free Jazz and I often felt lost watching the film because I simply didn't have enough background to make all the necessary connections. (and some of it really did just sound like noise) I could appreciate the music and what was being said but past a certain level, I was completely lost. Frankly as a novice I was overwhelmed.

Please don't let me frighten you away from seeing FIRE MUSIC. As it stands it is a good, if still too short (it only runs 87 minutes), look at the music. It is a film that has been made with love by people who care deeply for what they are showing us. It's clear that any problems with the film come from Surgal and his team knowing their material so well that they seem to have not really allowed a way in for those unfamiliar with it to experience their joy. They assume we are all on their level, which some, myself included, are not.

That said, I would gladly see yet another longer now cut of the film since it's clear that Surgal is onto something.

As for fans of jazz and free jazz or avant garde jazz it is an absolute must.


GRIDLOCKED: ON TOUR WITH THE BRIGGS (2021) Dances With Films 2021

 


Gridlocked is a great film. Its one of the best music docs that I’ve seen in a long time.

To be honest going into the film I kind of sort of knew The Briggs. Watching the film I recognized some of the music but not enough to put a name with a song. However after seeing the film I was off trying to find some of their albums to download.

The film is a record of the band’s short tour along the West Coast of America. They have a new album coming out and want to play some show to support it. They aren’t sure if this will be their last hurrah, life has over taken their careers, but they want to give it one last go.

The resulting film is a masterpiece of a kind. It’s a portrait of band as a bunch of guys. They are not on, not posturing they are just living life with themselves and their families. Along the way they play some music.  I was delighted because for the first time I was watching a music doc where there was no pretense on any level. It was just friends hanging out and making music. No one person was on because everyone was just being themselves.

What an absolute joy.

I absolutely loved this film- nay- I absolutely loved these guys and their friends and families. I loved that I wanted to watch the film because I wanted to just be with them. If they didn’t play any music I still would have loved the film.

And what I love is that despite the guys being a punk band we get to see how good they are just playing music. The film ends with an acoustic song that is just phenomenal.

I can’t recommend this film enough.

Highly recommended.

Azor (2021)

 


During the early 1970’s after the military coup, a Swiss banker and his wife go to Buenos Aires in order to replace his partner who has disappeared with out a trace. While he tries to reassure the ruling class that everything is fine as he makes new deals, he begins to hear troubling things about his partner and the situation in the country.

This is a dark political drama/political thriller. Many reviews are grabbing on to the similarities to Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness  because of one sequence in particular, however I would say that this is something much darker. What we see is not one persons journey observing as he goes but a turning of the soul of one man has he fights to survive in the dark world of a ruling junta and the powerful people behind them.  While our hero is nominally a good man , the fact that he is Swiss banking exec suggests there is a bit of darkness in his soul.

What I love about this film is that it doesn’t do anything we expect. Things are not overt. Everything is in the background and talked around. We may not see everything but we hear about everything and what we hear is enough to chill us.  This is a film that understands that many times inferring is more chilling then showing.

What is also great about this film is that it doesn’t do what you expect it to.  Its rhythms are its own things, it’s a film that is a perfect thriller that never really resorts to any of the thriller tropes. Not that you will mind, you’ll be so caught up in waiting to see where it goes to care.

Highly recommended AZOR opens Friday

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Holiday at All Cost (2021) Dances With Films 2021

 


Holiday At All Costs is an amusing comedy. It will not shake the pillars of heaven but it will entertain.

The plot of the film has a put upon computer tech trying to take his family on the first vacation in six years. The problem is his boss refuses to pay his vacation time or overtime. He cuts a deal to help out at the resort and then it all goes sideways.

Good characters are lost in uncomfortable situations in a comedy that takes on vacations and martial strife. It’s a film where bad situations make good people behavior awkwardly with the result is a steady stream of laughs and chuckles.

To be honest I had zero interest in covering this film but it was sent along with a film I asked for. When that film turned into a bust I tried this in desperation and ended up having a good time.  If you want to know why I love film festivals like Dances With Film it’s that I frequently stumble into small gems like this that I never would have seen otherwise.

Recommended

SKIDROW LOS ANGELES (2021) Dances With Films 2021

 


Deeply affecting short film  about life on the street.

This film will break your heart. It’s a stunning film that if the cinema gods are looking down will be in the running for the Oscar.

While focusing on all of the people street the film, it primarily focuses on vet Gerald Hall who has been in the street for five years. Hall opens the film  talking about how we need to ask the homeless if they are okay, if they need food and if they need help. It’s a stunning speech that will bring a tear to your eye as it give humanity to all of the people we ignore every day.

Running 40 minutes SKIDROW  has more emotion than any five feature films combined. Certainly it has more punch than most similar films.  As I just inferred above the film’s power comes from it’s insistence that everyone we are seeing is more than just a person we pass. Director Van Maximilian Carlson makes everyone so real and so much a part of our lives during the run time that we end up carrying them with us well past the end credits. That may not sound like much, but it is vitally important since it means that perhaps we will get of our theater seats or couches and actually go out and do something.

Easily one of the top films at Dances With Films and 2021 as well

Highly recommended.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Capote Tapes (2019) Opens Friday

 


This is an excellent look at Truman Capote that uses interviews done by George Plympton for his bio of the writer as the spine as a means of getting to the heart of the man and his world. It's a film which brings us deep into the life and times of a man who was unlike anyone else.

I've always been fascinated by Truman Capote. Growing up he was this crazy man who was on all of the talk shows. He was witty and charming and entertaining as hell and he utterly charmed me. Whenever I saw him on TV I would stop just to see what crazy thing he was going to say.  The ability to get to hear all his friends and acquaintances talk to him was something I had to see. 

Ebs Burnough has made a masterpiece of a film. This is a stunning look at a man that not only shows us the life of the man but also the various sides of the man himself.  We see his good side and bad side and it's fascinating. Additionally, and probably more importantly, Burnough gives us a look at the world where Capote existed. By doing this he gives us a greater insight to the man and the world at large.

I loved this film.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Filmmakers You Should Track Down Part 4

Lorcan Finnegan

After several weeks off because of festival coverage I'm finally continuing my list of filmmakers you need to track down. I'm going to just get to it.

Claire Carre' sEMBERS is a masterpiece. Its a film about loss of  memory and finding life. It is pure cinema magic made my a master.

Can Evrenol amazes me. His BASKIN is a truly f-ed up horror film that disturbed me for days. His GIRL WITH NO MOUTH  is a family film unlike anything you've seen. Is there anything he can't do?

I first heard of Jerimiah Kipp when he was doing interviews for Shock Magazine. I then discovered that he is one of the best horror film directors I've seen. His films THE DAY GOD SLEPT, BERENICE, THE MINIONS are stunning. But he's made way more and you need to see all of them (My interview with him is here

Steve Elkin's ECHOES OF THE INVISIBLE changed how both Nate and I saw the world. His earlier THE REACH OF RESONANCE will alter how you hear music.

Jeremy Workman has delighted me since I started Unseen Films. From MAGICAL UNIVERSE  to ONE TRACK MIND to THE WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET have opened up the world for me.

Lorcan Finnegan is one of the best horror directors out there. His work has spoken of the clash of the natural world and the man made one. His FOXES was the gateway drug. He followed that with WITHOUT NAME  which disturbed me. His most recent VIVARIUM is a black comedy that will make you never want to go to a row house ever again. (my interview with him is here)

Michael Wong  ability to tell a story in a unique way intrigued me when I saw THE STORY OF 90 COINS.  He followed it up with THE TATTOOIST which is just beyond words. 

Jared Bratt made a hellish film about loneliness called STREAMER, It will mess you up.

Joji Koyama,and Tujiko Noriko made a film called KURO. It is a film that combines a visual story with an unrelated voice over tale to create a third story. Its one of the most amazing cinematic tricks I've ever seen.

Brian Harrison- HELL FOLLOWS is a film with style to burn. It blew my mind because I couldn't believe it was coming out of nowhere. Its one of the best short films of the last ten years. (My interview with Mr. Harrison here)

You probably haven't heard of Madison Campione because she's still in school. I first discovered her with REMEMBRANCE which she made in High School. She followed it with IN OUR HEADS which she finished before she went to college. What will she do once she's let loose?

Simon Fitzmaurice blew me  away when I saw his film MY NAME IS EMILY, Despite having ALS he decided to make a film and it is a glorious celebration of life. Sadly the disease killed him but he is celebrated in the great doc IT'S NOT DARK YET about his life and filmmaking. Oh the soul we lost....

Matthew Salton's RICHARD TWICE is a one of a kind music doc. You just have to see it. (My inteview with him can be found here)