Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Badland Doves (2021)


When bad men break into the Silva's family cabin and kill everyone except young Regina they set in motion a plot for revenge. When Regina finds she can't get justice through legal means she learns the way of the gun. Taking a job in a brothel she finds the man she sees is in the town and protected by the sheriff and many of the towns folk. Turning to the ladies in the brothel she plans to get justice.

Good low budget western scores a lot of points by not being your typical all male western. The fact that women are firmly at the center of the film means that the film opens its up to other takes on the well worn western cliches. Things do not play out exactly as expected and we are better for it. I also love that the small town is small and not looking like its a big town as you might see in other similar tales.

While the story and most of the performances held my attention I kind of wish it had been paced a little brisker. While I understand this was the pace of the old west, a a bit more speed would have helped carry us along.

Nitpick aside, BADLAND DOVES is recommended for those who like westerns. 

BADLAND DOVES hits On Demand Dec. 1; Debuts on Apple TV Jan. 11

Torn(2021) opens Friday

17 years after Alex Lowe was killed by an avalanche in a climbing accident, his body was found in the snow. In the wake of the discovery his son Max, a National Geographic photographer turns his camera on his family as they unpack what happened and what it means now- especially since Conrad Anker who was with Alex when he died married Lowes widow.

A complex film about a mountain climber and the mess life he left behind. Its full of uneasy questions and very raw emotions. This is a film that is going to exhaust you with the emotional pain that is being thrown up by the look into how things played out. Consider that Max and his brothers call Anker dad and their biological father Alex. Now he has to  mourn a man he barely knew before he died. I as left feeling sad and depressed.

This is a great film. It is a film that lays bare the messiness of real life in ways few films ever do. We see how a family is forced to reinvent itself. It also shows how the pain of the past is sometimes best hidden. Its a film that has haunted me in the days since I first saw it. I'm still turning it over and over.

I highly recommend this film- however I do want to point out that you should not go into this film expecting a climbing film. While there are some sequences this is a film about the landscape of the human soul.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema Returns to Jacob Burns Film Center Dec. 7-9


New York, November 29, 2020 —  Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema is proud to present a compact showcase of the 16th edition of Making Waves with four brand new Romanian films to be screened Dec. 7-9 at the Jacob Burns Film Center before its online premiere in early 2022. 

This year’s showcase invites dialogue and reflection through four challenging films, with in-person participation from directors Bogdan George Apetri, Eugen Jebeleanu and actress Ioana Bugarin. Whatever happened to tolerance? How do we relate to those who are different, like the prime suspect in Unidentified by Apetri, or the main protagonist of Poppy Field by Jebeleanu? What is the limit of empathy when one thinks about the problems of others, as Radu Muntean asks in his seventh feature Intregalde? Is the pragmatic vision of the world at war with the faithful one, as suggested in Miracle, also by Apetri? In a world that’s seemingly divided beyond reconciliation, and where cancelling threatens to replace embracing, is there still room for understanding the other or is it just a fantasy? 

The JBFC is proud to join Film ETC Association in co-presenting the 16th edition of Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema, the long-standing Romanian Film Festival in New York. The festival is produced and curated by Corina Șuteu, Mihai Chirilov and Oana Radu, the core team that initiated and has organized the festival since 2006.

Buy tickets here

The 16th edition of Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema is presented by Film ETC and the Jacob Burns Film Center. Lead support for Making Waves is provided by the Trust for Mutual Understanding and the JBFC Program Fund, with additional support from the Romanian National Film Center and individual donors.

Below is the full list of films.


U.S. Premiere 

Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 7:00 p.m., Q&A with director Bogdan George Apetri and actress Ioana Bugarin

“It's a tale of mystery, of scalded innocence, and of the staggering evil that ordinary men can do” — Variety

A 19-year old nun, promising newcomer Ioana Bugarin, sneaks out of an isolated monastery to attend to an urgent matter in the nearby town. Seemingly unable to solve her problems, she rushes to return to the convent, but things go awfully wrong on her way back. In a perfectly mirrored structure, the story switches to the police detective who investigates against the clock, collecting clues and facing twisted revelations as he tries to understand what happened to her. Employing a realistic approach and told through suspensefully unbroken takes, Apetri’s revenge thriller touches on spirituality, prompting viewers to ask themselves if there’s still space in our times for something sense and science can’t explain.


New York Premiere

Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 4:30 p.m., introduction by director Bogdan George Apetri

“A grimly efficient character study” — Screen International

Despite mounting debts and a troubled personal life, a hot-headed police detective becomes obsessed with a hard case no one seems to care about. Ordered to put down the file, the cop goes rogue and comes up with a suspiciously convoluted plan designed to frame the apparent suspect, a security guard of Roma descent. There’s more than meets the eye in this slick and bleak neo-noir that tackles power abuse, corruption, and prejudice while slowly building up to a dark, staggering finale. Simultaneously shot by New York-based Apetri in his native town in Northern Romania, Unidentified and Miracle belong in a yet-to-be-concluded trilogy and share several key characters, but each works as a standalone piece, too.

Poppy Field

Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m., Q&A with director Eugen Jebeleanu

“This adept first feature quickly gathers momentum, delivering a knotty portrait of a man who, like the culture in which he lives, is still wrestling with the very idea of homosexuality” — Screen International

Just as his long-distance boyfriend comes to visit, Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer), a young police officer, is called in for an intervention at a movie theatre, where a homophobic group has interrupted the screening of a queer-themed film. This is the starting point for a piercing portrait of a man at odds with his sexuality, trying to find a balance between his job in a macho, hierarchical environment and his personal life as a closeted gay person. The situation worsens when one of the protesters threatens to out Cristi, triggering a complex domino effect related to his identity. First-time director Jebeleanu creates, almost in real time, a tense huis-clos drama about censorship and self-censorship in a world that makes it hard to be free if you are different.


Thursday, Dec. 9 at 7:00 p.m.

“This uncannily gripping tragicomedy never loses your attention” — Variety

Three middle-aged do-gooders get stranded while taking part in their traditional end-of-the-year humanitarian trip, driving an SUV along the mountainous dirt roads of the Romanian village of Întregalde. Blame it on the damn unpaved trail, or the lonely old man they wanted to help by taking him to the sawmill, where he supposedly works. When the cold sets in and the sawmill proves abandoned, the trio is forced to spend the night stuck with the senile old man and find their ideas about empathy and charity seriously challenged. Although set on a Blair Witch Project-like territory, the heart of this intriguing modern fable previously shown at the NYFF is elsewhere – namely in the true meaning of one’s good deed.


Advent Calendar (2021) hits Shudder December 2

 A wheelchair bound young woman who was once a dancer is given an Advent Calendar. If she does what the calendar asks each day and follows the rules she will get what she wants, which is talk again. Unfortunately it requires  a lot of death...

I liked this film. It's an enjoyable well made horror film.

If there is any real problem with the film its that you can pretty much guess how this is going to go. Once we get to the alendar I pretty much knew how thiwa was going to go. It's not a bad thing as such but it knocks a great deal of suspense off the film because we know the end.

Quibble aside, worth a look.

Citizen Ashe (2021) opens Friday

Arthur chose to speak- what did you do? 

Portrait of tennis great Arthur Ashe that doesn't focus just on his tennis but the course he took off court in order to stand up for social justice in his own way.  

Excellent look at a man many people know for the stadium named after him. More a film on the man himself then the achievements he achieved in sports, this is a film that will reveal to many what a great humanitarian he was. It is a film that beautifully explains how is need to fight racism and justice in his own way ended up changing the whole world. 

The fact that Ashe wouldn't follow the more radical path of fighting for racial equality. As several people pointed out his seeming non-confrontational approach had him labeled as an Uncle Tom, however in retrospect the ones labeling him realized they need his ability to walk both sides of the barriers. They also pointed out that Ashe was the one who started to bring awareness about South Africa. Ashe was so important to that fight that when Mandela was released and came to America, he stopped what he was doing to go over and hug Ashe at a function.

The film moved me repeatedly to tears. The Mandela moment touched me. As did the bond between Arthur and his brother Johnnie. Johnnie knew what his brother was capable of and to prevent his getting killed in Vietnam he signed up for a second tour. It may not sound like much, but he clearly loved his brother and sensed his brother was going to do great things.

I truly love this film though the film stumbles slightly in the last third when the matches with Jimmy Connors shifts things away from Ashe the activist to Ashe the sportsman. The film also missteps by going into a coda about Ashe's books after the mic drop statement that heads this review is spoken. To me that's the perfect ending and a perfect summation of Ashe's life and we don't need to go beyond that.

Quibbles aside this is a great film and a must see.

A note on Flash Forward at The Japan Society

The Japan Society’s Flash Forward : Debut Works and Recent Films by Notable Japanese Directors starts Friday and it’s a super series show casing new directors and the early works by some up and comers. The series runs from December 3 to the 23rd on line. Some of the films are free and some are available for a nominal fee (Details here) .  I should point out that a killer all inclusive deal which has to be purchased before the festival  starts (ie, it end December 2nd) Details here.

All of the films will be running for the whole fest. There will also be a couple of in person screenings on December 11 and 17th at the Japan Society (again details here) I will be covering as many of the films as I can handle. Reviews will be running through the festival, with the reviews of the in person films running closer to the dates they are screening

Sunday, November 28, 2021

DOC NYC 2021; Short notes on 12 films and 1 series

I watched a lot of DOC NYC films in a short amount of time. 

I think it's a sign of a disease of some sort - but I digress.

Because some times when you watch a film you don't end up with a lot of words the best you can do is simply turn out a line or two. What follows are the lines I came up with for 11 DOC NYC films,

Apologies to the filmmakers, all these films deserve more, but after almost 100 films this is the best I could do right now.

CUSP is about the lives of three young women coming of age in Texas. Its not very good and I never really connected to it since I never felt I was the intended audience.

THE BROTHERHOOD about brother finding their own way when their father was sent away for terrorism is good, but....we've been here before.

WHITE BOX is a film I have no opinion on. I watched it but it made no impression on me.

GRAIN is a really good film on the love of film and the image it produces. I have nothing to say beyond that except it’s worth your time.

100 UP is a lovely portrait of a group of people who are a hundred or more who are still chugging along and living life to the fullest. We should all be so lucky to live as long and as fully as the people in this film.  Recommended

ROSSELINIS is a look at the legendary family of filmmakers as told by one of its members. This is an unexpected look at a famous family that is unlike your typical biography and we are better for it. Recommended.

AFTER THE RAIN is the story of two families in China that lost daughters named Rain in an earthquake in 2008. They then had new children to replace them. This is an interesting story that’s worth trying.

THE SILENCE OF THE MOLE is about  Elias Barahona who infiltrated the government in Guetamala and made a record of various crimes against humanity they were committing. Its an imortant  film that is kind of dull

GO HEAL YOURSELF follows director Yasmin Rams as she tries to cure herself of epilepsy. This is a good but kind of by the numbers documentary

 EDNA is a documentry hybrid telling the story of Edna's life living on the edge of the Amazon jungle and civiliation. This is a beautiful and lyric film.

SING FREETON is a look at the efforts to mke a stage show about Sierra Leone that will inspire anyone who sees it. It's a great look at the history of the country and the creation of a stage show.

THE ENERGY WAR "FILIBUSTER"  is a look at efforts in Congress to control America's use of gas and oil 45 yars ago. DA Pennebaker's film is a look back to a time when the battles were actually over issues and not just cententous us vs them rangling. However the film makes clear that some issues never go away.

BLACK AND MISSING is an HBO series about efforts to find missing black women and to teach others not to be victims. Its a very good series highlighting an important problem-no one cares that these people are disappearing.



Absolutely stunning short film that is nominally the story of why the banshee cries. Its actually the story of the unwed mothers sent to Catholic homes to give birth. Its a moving piece of art

A story of post mortem photography...that goes...wrong...

This is a stunner. Anyone who thinks an animated short can't make you scream is dead wrong.

Political allegory about a black cat poisoning the world of a young girl and forcing her into a life of misery. Its a film firmly aimed at the leaders of Iran who want to put young ladies into a box and control their lives. Worth seeing. (It hits You Tube December 1)

A short and sweet film about a young boy and the homeless man he sees every day.

Its a lovely plea for us to see and help the homeless.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Let Me Be Frank (2021)


In LET ME BE FRANK a wanna be rapper (played by writer director Ryan Silva) ends up spending time with Frank (Freddy Andreiuci), his landlord, a guy he doesn’t really like at the start. Over time they become friends.

Let me sing the praises of Ryan Silva. 

Silva has made a super little buddy film. This is film that is great time with good people. What makes this film so good, beyond the winning performances, is Silva‘s script. It’s a beautiful marriage of dialog and situations that you really don’t see in the vast majority of films.  Normally there is a progression of how relationships and conversations will go but Silva subverts that. There is progression that isn’t perfect in a cinematic way, but in a real way. Sitting watching the film I stopped thinking I was watching two characters, but rather I was watching two people talk and converse. There is a naturalness to it. The result is we warm to the pair to the point that I would love to see what happen next.  I don’t think a direct sequel will work But I’d love to see something more where the conversation continues. He’ll I’ll take another film from Silva where he and Andreiuci do something similar.

This is a sweet hidden gem you should try.

Recommended (It’s currently on Amazon Prime)

Friday, November 26, 2021


An excellent celebration of film restoration and preservation  that highlights and celebrates the magic of the movies.

This is a must see for anyone who loves cinema because it will make you treasure it's fleeting nature even more'. 


Using a phot of his grandfather as a jumping off point director Sherman de Jesus paints a portait of photographer Van Der Zee who shot portraits of Black life durng the early part of the 20th century and uses it to explore the generations of blacks living in New York.

This is a magical and alive film that must be seen

Oan Kim creates a portrait of his father artist Kim Tschang-Yeul that is both a celebration of his life and art and facinating look at how he creates and what inspired him. 

Its a film that is at times too intimate and at other visually glorious. Its a one of a kind documentary that is recommended for anyone who is interested in the creative process.

Films like Terf Wars (2021) are useless trash (or how to spot Thanksgiving tukeys)

This is a no win situation. Talking about this piece of crap is going to get me brickbats thrown my way because I’m bringing it into the light. However at the same time some one should be pointing out how TERF WARS and similar pieces of poo are being churned out by people who think they can simply string nonsense together to win their argument. As much as I want the film to die a miserable death unseen and unloved, I do feel someone needs to call  bullshit. Its bullshit because films like Terf War aren’t really documentaries, they are collections of clips. It’s the cinematic equivalent of sitting next to someone hateful person in an airport and having to listen to all the random YouTube videos they are playing while they spew their hate to some unfortunate soul on the other end of a phone call.

This "look" at how some people say trans women are not women is not only a misguided and hate filled diatribe but it also is a prime example of the blender filmmaking that some pundits and alleged filmmakers are putting together and calling them fact filled exposes. These sort of films don't have any facts in them they are just opinion and supposition pretending to be fact.  They aren’t really documentaries rather they are badly argued position papers that don’t prove a point. They are a collection of clips woven together in such a way that they seem to take a position on something, but really don’t. Yes they show a position but like a sign on a sheet of paper  painted in water color it all falls apart at the first sign of rain. 

Terf War’s clips, like all films of this sort, are just random bits. We don’t know where any of them come from. Any and all statements are given the same weight regardless of what they are or where they come from.  A  line from a nobody on the internet carries the same weight as a comedian’s joke as does an expert on a TV show simply because they show some talking head saying something they agree with. The fact they are on TV or the internet carries the maxium weight to these alleged filmmakers because they clearly have some credential to be on "TV".

This is severe problem in todays biased media where conspiracy nuts cobble together random pieces of things to make their point sound spectacular. So many of the 911 and Sandy Hook hood documentaries do exactly this. They pull one stray piece from a news report or an online report and use it to fashion a leg of their argument. It all sounds good except that nine times out of ten when you check the source of the clips  you find that the context is completely different in the source then in the film quoting it. For example in IN PLANE SIGHT they use a clip from another documentary to say that no plane hit the Pentagon, except the quoted film says one did. In the case of Sandy Hook report from one news organization in one location discounts other news reports. In all these cases a random report from a caller from a news event is gospel truth, even if reporting and video may latr contradict it. 

In the case of Terf Wars the film is supposed to be in support of JK Rowling and her “anti” trans views but it doesn’t really deal with what Rowling said. The film begins and ends with the film saying Rowling said trans women are not women, but it never goes beyond that into the convoluted mess of her other statements. They only focus on what they want to focus on. This is not defense of Rowling, only a statement to point out that these sort  of filmmakers cut and paste what they want even if they have to ignore the point they are trying to prove.

Like other films of this type they  don’t deal in facts. There is only misguided statements that are based on personal feelings. The director of Terf seems to think that the whole trans agenda is for men to put on a dress simply so they can go into a women’s room and rape our mothers, daughters and sisters. There is no evidence of this, or any of the other charges the filmmakers make but they will trot out random heresay statements from across the net to prove it.  The idea is that if we present enough people saying something we want to be true we will will it into existence. Of course it never will happen.

This is the same sort of nonsense that keeps the Trump is still president lie alive. Trump knows if he keeps repeating it not only will he believe it, but so will all the stupid people around him will too. The idea is that if they repeat it enough that people will even discount the facts when presented to them. Dinesh D'Souza, a man churning out documentary after documentary with a right wing agenda does this in all his films.

What kills me is that these sort of films survive because people think that if you make a film or you write a book, you have some insight that is right. Its as if the perseverance to get a film or book done means you are correct.  How often have you spoken to someone who said they believe something because they saw a film once. I’ve seen thousands of films but I don’t believe all of them.  It’s actually worse now since people see films on Discovery and History on Bigfoot or ghosts or whatever and they think its all real. I mean why is it on TV if it wasn’t true?

But almost nothing in Terf Wars or similar films is true. But people believe them  and base their lives on the delusions of unwell people.

If you should ever see a film that is a collection of rapid fire clips, or cut up from listed or questionable or unlisted sources turn it off, or even better yet never turn it on.

Thursday, November 25, 2021


A look at the dancers who dance in the Odoriko clubs in Japan.

A run of the mill look at women who dance nude for a living. Its not bad but at just under two hours much too long and kind of reptative for what it is.

Mateo Sobode Chiqueno records the stories of  his people.

A lovely portrait of a life slowly disappearing. Its a vital and a live film that feels like a ht summers day when you are listening to your family tell stories of when they were children.

Worth a look.

A look at the current economy, young artists and the place of art in the world.

This is an interesting look at the modern art world and what it takes to become successful and how money drives the wheels. This is an eye opening film especially since we live in a world where art isn't just something to see and experience but something to invest in.

worth a look

Funhouse (2021) Thanksgiving Turkey


Funhouse is only a going to be fun for sadists the locked ward on death row. For anyone else it’s going to be an ordeal to get through, not because of the violence,  but because the plotting is so brain dead that you really you can’t believe a living breath person came up with it.

The plot of the film is a spin on Big Brother. A whole bunch of semi-celebrities are put into a house where they are monitored for 24 hours a day 7 days a week . Instead of getting voted out of the house the losers is killed in some sick and twisted way (Beaten by a bat or dipped in acid)

Made with a psychopath’s idea of tongue in cheek the film opens while a young woman is debased into killing another woman by seemingly disinterested man who half heartedly watches the murder as he scrolls on his phone. It’s sequence that is played for laughs. The trouble is that not having a context it just plays as sick and misogynistic. Its simply a well dressed man abusing the shit out of a young woman. Unless you like abusing women the sequence craters interest- and builds up a wall to everything that happens next.  

After a quick introductory series of sequences introducing the characters we are dropped into the “show” and we watch as the people in the house realize that they are in for real trouble as they are not voted out of the house but killed off in gruesome ways.

If the opening sequences wasn’t bad enough what follows is worse as things just never make real world sense. Why is this happening? We really don’t know…at least not early enough for us to accept it. Additionally why are the house mates not okay, and then okay then not…. With the terrible things that are happening? Plot turns just happen. Its as if the filmmakers just wanted to do something nasty just to do it because they thought it was cool.

Its not. Its mean and ugly.

As much as I hate torture porn at least there is no pretense of a plot. The filmmakers behind torture porn are just presenting kills and that’s it. They aren’t giving us a plot that leads somewhere, it’s just violence. You know there isn’t going to be much, if anything there. The problem with Funhouse gives us a plot and makes us think its going somewhere. It never does. It strings us along until the next nasty bit promising a revelation. But it never reveals anything.  For me the saddest thing about this film is it never  rises to the level of torture porn because the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. Or what it is.  It’s attempting to tell a story but it doesn’t know how to. It’s kind of as if the filmmakers spent way too much time in their basements masturbating to real world clips of death and abuse and thought replicating those was enough. They never learned to tell a story and as a result we never care.  

If the film is supposed to be a poke in the eye, it’s a failure. Outside of being offended by the opening sequence I never really reacted to the film except with a steady stream of “ that’s stupid” with each line and plot turn.  Yes the film has some technical ability, but that doesn’t give us a narrative that I’d want to experience. Even a sociopath relating all the terrible things they would want to do with you could relate a better tale than what we have on screen here. Worst of all even as a catalog of terrible things its not that imaginative.

I will not question how this film got made, lots of untalented people have deep pockets,  nor am I asking how it got picked up for release (on Hulu)  because services need content, I’m questioning why this was programmed at film festivals since the film is so bad no rational programmer should have programmed it unless they were paid to do so.

The Facility (2021) DOC NYC 2021


The Facility is a heartbreaking look at life inside the Irwin County Correctional Center in Ocilla Georgia. It’s a private  facility being used to house detainees for ICE. The film documents the events in the facility in the days as covid was spreading across the country and the facility refused to do anything to stop the spread or keep the people it was housing safe

This is a chilling film. Its an ugly indictment of the detainee system, of the use of private facilities and whole system which is putting people into prison for no really good reason (one of the people profiled was coming to the country legally on a tourist visa but was detained because she said she was fearful of her life back home). It’s a film that will make anyone who sees it think about what a horrible system we’ve created.

A must see

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

WRITING WITH FIRE has hit theaters

 This is the story of the a group of Dahlit women, a caste considered the lowest of the low,  who started their own newspaper. The film picks up as they begin to put coverage up on You Tube and their work is getting more and more attention. They are bringing matters such as sexual violence and illegal mining to light and thus taking on the patriarchal society. Its a battle that they face  head on.

This is a good look at a bunch of women fighting the good fight and changing their world. I love that we get to know a good number of the women so that we can really understand what they are doing and what is at stake. Its a dangerous job especially consider that being a reporter in India is tough enough, never mind being one from a lower caste.

Recommended. One of the great discoveries of 2021.

A Tree of Life (2021) DOC NYC 2021

 A Tree of Life is a look at the Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh which was attacked in 2018 by a lone gunman who killed 11 people in from the three congregations that shared the building. It is a film that recounts what happened and celebrates the lives of the people who were killed and the community that rebuilt and went on in the wake of the tragedy.

This is an very good film about the resiliency of the human spirit. It’s a film that has some deeply moving moments, more often than not in unexpected places such as knowing turns of phrase or a perfect image. I got misty several times.

The film is also a warning about the evil of antisemitism. It’s a film that shows how the misplaced hatred can grow and fester and when pushed by a demagogue such as the former president can turn deadly. It’s a warning we need to heed lest this be repeated – though sadly many seem to think that violence will bring about some sort of change- which isn’t the case, except that it brought together some good people together.


Malignant (2021) Thanksgiving Turkey

James Wan returns to horror with a huge WTF disaster of a film that I might have enjoyed as a cheapo direct to video film that had a budget of half a million dollars, but as a 40 million big studio film its a real head scratcher.

The plot of a film has... no f-ing connection to reality. Basically an evil male twin is living in the brain/body of his sister. Why and how this is happening is beyond me. Its physically impossible, but he's pissed off and he wants to kill the doctors, his mother, and anyone getting in his way.

I sat there gob smacked, watching the film, desperately trying to sort out what was going on and failing miserably. This is a film that defines suspense as doing things that are completely unexpected. Frankly I would have not have been surprised if  Peter Sellers showed up because- why the hell not. Nothing in this film-NOTHING- makes sense even on it's own terms. It can't because it has no reality of it's own, it just has things happening because.

Worse this film is derivative of about 97 films. Every twist and turn feels like it comes from another film. I was thinking of bits from I,MADMAN to THE FOG to SISTERS to SAW to...how many films do you need?

And while the film is gory bloody it never makes sense. I mean they break a bone or do something bloody and and all I could think was it this as real it wouldn't look like this.

What a freaking turd ball.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Strings (2021) hits Shudder today

 Musician goes to her aunts seaside cottage in the winter and slowly becomes unhinged.

Moody thriller gets a lot of points for looking good, casting a plus sized woman in the lead and having atmosphere to burn but it loses a few for a slow pace and not sticking the landing. 

While not bad THE STRINGS never fully soars. The problem is that the film doesn't do anything we haven't seen before. Yes, the film has moments where it is properly chilly, however it never quite pulls it all together to be something unique.

On the other hand the film does have Teagan Johnson in the lead. A stunningly beautiful young woman who is not the tyical petite girls that normally occupy the leads of most similar films. She gives us a reason to watch the film because she is just so damn good. IMDB lists this as her first role, but if we are lucky this won't be the last time she blazes across the screen. She is a force of nature and this is her calling card. I want to see more from her.

And if you need more to look at than  Ms Johnson THE STRINGS has a great look. The images are vital to the story and set a mood  from the first frame. This is one of the best looking horror films of the year.

Quibble aside THE STRINGS is worth a look, if only to see the Teagan Johnson before she becomes a superstar.

The Beast Within (1982) Thanksgiving Turkey


Absolutely awful film about a woman who was raped by a giant cicada. Nine months later she gives birth to a baby. The baby grows up 17 years later to be a homicidal maniac before turning into a giant bug himself- who may or may not be possessed by the sprit of someone else...

Despite having a good tie in novel THE BEAST WITHIN is a horrible film that you not only laugh at but also makes you want to throw poo at the screen. This turd ball is quite simply one of the worst films I've ever seen. It's not even so bad its funny, it's just soul killingly bad.

Paul Clemens as Michael, the bug, plays it so far over the top as to be in another galaxy.  Its one of the all time bad performances and kind of needs to seen to believed. Or not I can't honestly inflict this on anyone.

The rest f the cast, RG Armstrong, Bibi Besch, Ronny Cox, LQ Jones and others are fine, but honestly when are they not? But even they can't save the film. 

As for the effects  pure rubber and balloons. Made after air bladders became the rage in special effects e are inflated to the point of looking like children's balloons.

I hate this movie.

I've hated it for almost four decades when I saw it as a senior in high school. (And I know it didn't help that I got dropped off to see this so I couldn't walk out and just go home. I had to wait for my dad to pick me up from the theater)

Avoid it unless Rifftrax does it.

The Family (2021) Blood in the Snow 2021

In what appears to be the late 18th or early 19th century a family is lorded over by a father who reaches fire and brimstone lest the fmily be destroyed by the dark forces just beyond the woods. However the arrival of a new member begins a slide for destruction early on.

I like this film and it's oppresive atmosphere but at the same time I have real issues.

If you like a folk horror films with religious over tones and and evil patriarchy this film is for you. This film is a truly nightarish creation with an evil father lording over his family. Yes, it can be more than a bit over the top but it still sends chills up and down your spine.

Unfortunately the film has two problems with it that kind of keep it from truly being great. The first problem is simply that it doesn't do anything we havent seen before. While that isn't a bad thing, but when it gets so much right the fact that it doesn't brek any new ground is disappointing.

The other more troubling problem with the film is that pretty much from the first frame you know where this is going. I saw something right at the start and I knew if it wasn't a mistake, and it wasn't, it as going to go one of two ways and then it did.Of the two possible ways to go it chose the less interesting which resulted in a big sigh from me at the end. 

While slightly disappointing in outcome THE FAMILY is still worth seeing for the ride.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Ariela Rubin on 14 PEAKS: NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE (2021) DOC NYC 2021


14 Peaks is a documentary about a man in Nepal, Nimsdai Purja, who decided to summit all 14 of the world's 8,000 meter mountains located in Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet, in just 7 months. Others have completed this goal before but the world record took 7 years to complete it. Everyone believed Nimsdai was crazy and that there was no way he would be able to do it. Everyone said it was an impossible goal, so he decided to name his project "Project Possible". 

This documentary is action packed and thrilling as we see Nimsdai and his team of skilled mountaineers face extreme life threatening weather conditions.

I really enjoyed this documentary. Definitely recommended if you want to see passionate people push the limits of what people think is impossible. 

Brief thoughts on Woodland Grey (2021) Blood in the Snow 2021


A man living alonr in the woods discovers a young woman laying unconcious, He takes her home and begins to try to heal her. She discovers the shed behind the house  and opens it before the man can stop her, releasing a dark force.

Obtuse and confusing supernatral and psychological horror film is well made but is needlessly dense. There are flashbacks, flash forwards and just some really odd things. Yes it all looks good but I don't think it adds up to much. Despite taking a look at the film twice I still don't get it.

A miss.

Evil in the Woods (1986) Thanksgiving Turkey


Utterly awful film has a kid reading a book about a crew making a film bout aliens and bigfoot and it kind of coming to life.

This is a bad movie on every level. I know some people like it in a so bad its good way but this movie just is terrible on every level: the sound comes and goes, the acting is dreadful and the script is such a mess that it requires both title cards and a narrator to move it along.

Who is this for? I don't know since there is a little kid as the main character but there is some nastiness along the way. It feels like it should be for kids except that it's  not.

Watching this I stared at the screen in disbelief and was hopeful in a WTF sort of way... and then it hit me that there s no joy to be had here because this movie really sucks

Avoid at all costs

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Nightcap 11/21/21 Upcoming and some random notes


Foolishly I thought DOC NYC was going to be the end of the film festival year but I was wrong. There are more coming, as I kept finding out over the last week every time I opened my email inbox.


Menemsha Films is holding an online Hannukah Film Festival.

Starting November 28 and continuing over 8 nights they will be running 11 films for your enjoyment. The films include some really great ones ( for example THE CROSSING) so if you want to see some great stuff, regardless of whether you are Jewish or not buy a ticket and take a chance.

Details can be found here


Subway Cinema and the Museum of the Moving Image will be holding Subways Old School Kung Fu Fest December 6 to the 13th.

This is a chance to see a number of great and rarely screened martial arts filmts on the big screen. I haven’t seen most of the films they are running so I’m seriously considering make a trip to MOMI in order to see the films.

Details on the in personscreenings, as well as their virtual screening can be found here.


I mentioned this before but I want to remind you The Japan Society  is ending the year with Flash Forward: Debut Works and Recent Films by Notable Japanese Directors which is a look at  some work by some up and coming filmmakers virtually. At the same time they are screening some classic films in person. To be honest I don’t know any of the films screening but I know by the time the series ends I will (I’m hoping to deep dive into the fest)

For details on the films and how to stream them go here.


I saw the first epsiode of  Netflix's COWBOY BEBOP. The cast is fine. The tone is wrong and the editing lackluster. I would have loved someone else to have made this rather than the behind the scene group that killed it.


This week we will be running our annual Thanksgiving Turkeys. A group of old and new films you should avoid. We will be running a few other films as well.


I’m officially burnt out.  DOC NYC pretty much put me over the edge. Blame the fact that I was getting films until the last minute of the in person part of the festival so I never could rest.

Note the the virtual fest runs until the 28th so you can watch many of the great films intil next Sunday.

 While it won't be the avalanche of pieces of the last week or so, I will  have a lot more reviews to running until the end of the virtual fest on the 28th.(I think we'll have reviewed close to 100 films)

Because I'm so burnt, December is going to be a catch up month. I will have some new releases and a lot of films from earlier in the year.  I’m not going to go crazy with having my viewing pre-programmed because I need to find my own films for a while, even if the Japan Society fest look stunning.


Because everyone’s viewing habits continue to be all over the place the Unseen Film Awards are going to remain on hiatus again. Then again if I can pull it together I will be doing a list of the films that made everyone happiest this year because there is no way I'm going to get anyone to agree to the best of anything.(All anyone in the Unseen family says about movies is "I'm so behind")


I’m tired of cancel culture.

This week I was emailed about a certain "minor" actor who is now on some sort of proscribed list and informed that I need to either take my reviews down or at least remove my mentioning of their name because they were now persona non grata.


I don't know you or why you've decided this actor is now disallowed.

Frankly I have those I will steer away from for my own reasons, but I'm not going to follow everyone else'schoices because I may not agree and things are so out of hand it's maing my brain hurt.

Honestly this canceling everyone for everything is getting out of hand and I'm wondering if there is going to be anyone left we can allow to make movies.



Once Upon a Time in Uganda (2021) DOC NYC 2021

This is a look at the Ugandan film industry known as ‘Wakaliwood’. and the mad man at its head Isaac Nabwana. Nabwana makes wild and crazy low budget action films that harken back to the crazy Cannon action films of the 1980’s. They are big on motion and not so big on logic. They are also incredible fun in the best sort of a way because they are aimed at just having fun.

How you react to the film will be determined by how much you know about ‘Wakaliwood’.. If you don’t know anything about it then odds are you are going to love this film. It’s a great film and it shows the mad passion the filmmakers have for turning out films.

On the other hand if you’ve seen an earlier expose on the studio then odds are you will know all of this already. I’ve seen several stories and films on the studio and didn’t find anything new here other than the inclusion of a lot of time on Alan Hofmanis who is the studio’s man from New York. He travels the world promoting the films. (Sadly he is the least interesting thing in the film.)

If I was to have any serious quibble about the film, it’s the lack of clips from the films themselves. Yes we see them filming things but we really don’t get any real look at the films themselves. Clips would have made the film better.

If you’ve never seen a ‘Wakaliwood’. film or know about the films they produce this is a must.

Flee the Light (2021) Blood in the Snow 2021

A psychologist tries to help her sister overcome a deep psychosis but discovers there is something darker than she could have imagined behind it.

This is a genre bending film that often doesn't seem like it's a horror film, at least until later in the film. Its a one of a kind viewing experience that is going to work best for some people over others. I'm not being flip here, I say that because the film is probably not going to work for anyone who wants a film to be one thing. I myself was all over the place concerning the film because going into it I expect a pure horror film (it is playing Blood in the Snow) but I was then confused as it went it's own way. I final just went with it and had a good time.

What I like about the film is that it doesn't do what is expected. I like that director Alexandra Senza and writer Jennifer Mancini chose to mix things up because the result is a film that sticks with you and doesn't get lost among the hundred similar films.

Worth a look for those who want something different.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Ariela Rubin on CUSP (2021) DOC NYC 2021

 Cusp is a documentary about three teenage girls in Texas. They spend their days drinking, smoking, hanging out, talking about boys, and family issues. The documentary has no structure. It's just the three girls hanging out. I had a hard time keeping track of who was who and even following what they were talking about or what was going on. There wasn't much that was distinctive about any of them. 

The most disturbing part of Cusp is how casually the girls talk about a girl who was raped and how common sexual assault seems to be for them. They freely talk about not wanting to lose their virginity or being taken advantage of but being scared to say no. They feel that they won't be listened to. This is probably something every teenage girl has felt at some point in her life. 

As I was at one point a teenage girl, I generally love teen and coming of age movies, however, I wasn't able to connect with any of the girls and found this documentary incredibly dull, aimless, and hard to follow. I want my 83 minutes back.

Chamber of Terror (2021) Blood in the Snow 2021

This comedy horror film is about an ancient evil unleashed in a town and the efforts of a woman with an unexected job tasked with stopping it.

Broad bloody comedy is a mixed affair. While the film has more than it's share of genuinely laugh out loud moments  they over shadow the horror to the point that there never is any scares. Yes we're enjoying orselves but there never is any real sense of suspese since we pretty much know that the nasties are not going to get to the main characters.

I know that may sound like I didn't like the film but I did. I liked it a great deal, I just wished it had some genuine horror in it instead of being a bloody comedy.

That said, I know I wold have lved this more had I seen it in a theater with an audience set for a good time.

A must at Blood in the Snow, and worth a look for everyone else.

Friday, November 19, 2021

DOC NYC 2021 Capsules: Warrior Spirit and The New Gospel


This is a look at Nicco Montaño a UFC champion who ran into trouble when she was unable to make weight in order to defend her title.

This is a good look at a fighter trying to survive with in the combat arts world. It’s a great portrait of what it’s like for women in combat sports.  It is also a damning look at the process of weight cutting, the process by which fighters drop a lot of weight in a short amount of time in order to make weight. It’s a dangerous process that many sports have been critized   for using and for which the UFC has been crucified for. It’s a dangerous practice that that puts the fighters in danger despite UFC claims it’s safe.

A must for those interested in the fight game. 

Director makes a film about the passion of Jesus and makes a documentary about the making of the film and the migrant crisis at the same time.

Shot in and around the city of Matera where both Passolini and Mel Gibson made their films about the Passion, THE NEW GOSPEL is a genre defying film. One part passion play, one part documentary and one part political essay the film forces us to confront not only the story of Christ but what that means in todays world. It’s a film that asks us to consider what his teachings mean. It’s a heady mix of ideas dancing around in a film that seems to be about the making of a film.


Captains of Za’atari (2021)


This is the story of Mahmoud and Fawzi who are living in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. They are Syrian refugees and they are dreaming of making it big and becoming professional football (soccer) players. They are focusing on football to the point that it is making their parents a little crazy. However they are good enough that when scouts come to the camp they have a chance of actually making their dreams come true.

Shot over six years Captains of Zaatari is a documentary that more often than not looks like a narrative film. To be perfectly honest I had no idea what it was going in only the subject matter. However when I was watching it I was completely confused since there was a naturalness that you only see in documentaries but at the same time the sequences often look like they were from a narrative. Additionally the film frames the discussions between Mahmoud and Fawzi in such a way that this is actually a true life buddy film. If you need proof just watch the final sequence.

Clearly director Ali El-Arabi managed to make everyone on screen feel at ease because other than one or two times where a little kid mugs for the camera no one pays it any mind.

As observational documentaries go this film is top of the line. It is a film that firmly puts us into the lives of Mahmoud and Fawzi and their friends.  I kept watching the film in large part because I really had a sense of life passing before my eyes, both the ups and downs.

If there is anything wrong with the film it is that the film can be a bit too low key or matter of fact.  Kudos to director Ali El-Arabi for not manipulating our emotions, but at the same time I really wished once or twice he had goosed us a bit.

At the same time this is a solid film and worth a look for anyone in search of solid observational documentary.



Nic Cage plays a bad ass bank robber in a post apocalyptic world forced to go get the "granddaughter" of a war lord.

Sion Sono makes his first English Language film and it is completely batshit crazy and then some. Mannered, over the top and completely crazy PRISONERS is set in another place and another time part old Japan, part old spaghetti west and part post apocalyptic toyland. Its as if every idea anyone ever had was thrown into a blender and this was what survived when it was poured out.

No one acts, they over act. Everyone is deadly serious and not.

The script looks like it was made up on the spot with sequences often playing like it was a rehearsal instead of a take.

Its all over the place and a complete and total mess.

It's a horrible film and not.

Its a one of a kind nightmare that Sundance did a disservice by running streaming since this film needs an audience. This is a movie that MUST screen  in a theater (or living room) with audience as big as possible. It need to be talked to, talked at and cajoled. It needs to be made fun of and embraced.

How you see this film will determine you love or hate of it.

Peppergrass (2021) Blood in the Snow 2021

Despite what the write up says and despite it playing ata horror film festival PEPPERGRASS is not a true horror film. It doesn't have monsters or a traditional bad guy instead it has a fight for survival and is actually more a thriller than anything else.

The plot of the film has a young woman and her partner going off to rob a hermit like friend of the family of a valuable truffle. It seems like the pandemic has wrecked their business and they need quick cash to survive. They eventually make it to the home of their target but things just go sideways.

I really liked PEPPERGRASS a great deal. It's a film that isn't like every other one. It's a film that is fiercely its own thing. 

For example the film takes a lot of time building characters. There is a great deal of talk before anything happens. It sets the mood and builds the characters. And about those characters they aren't completely likable. These aren't plucky people we fall in love with but wounded individuals who are at the end of their rope.

The film is deliberately paced. It doesn't move like the wind. We feel the time pass at times as the pair drive across Canada, as they end up stuck in their care or have to navigate through the woods. The pacing is deliberate because we ae supposed to feel what they are feeling on screen.

I had a good time watching this. I loved where it went and I loved that it took it's own path getting there.


Thursday, November 18, 2021

King Richard (2021)

This is the story of Richard Williams  who is the father and coach of Venus and Serena Williams and charts his course to making them superstars.

The crazy love that KING RICHARD has been getting from some quarters puzzles me. While it's a good film, and one I enjoyed, isn't that great. Its kind of one note, kind of cliched and there are all sorts of tnarrative problems that severely weaken the film.

The first thing that is wrong is that the film is so tightly focused on Richard and the moment we have no sense of anything outside of what we see. While there is no doubt that the Williams are focused on making the girls stars there is nothing outide of that. Talk of any life outside of that is missing. The three daughter not Serena and Venus are cyphers and could have been cut ut and you'd never know they were missing. Richard's other children and inferred infidelities only are mentioned in one dramatic scene that exists just to give the film a "powerful moment". It's an artifically inserted scene there just to add shading. 

Seeing the other kids scene I truly understood how much was left out of the tale. We see nothing outside of the narrative thrust and I am left to wonder how much was cut out of the film? Other sequences have none of the consequences it should. For example the death of the gang member who beats up Richard seems to be heading toward something, say a dramtic moment or at least a mention but it happens and then falls into the void. Nothing happens in the film unless it is needed for just that one moment with the result much of the film seems empty.  . 

The other and most serious problem is there are no characters. There is no sense of who anyone is and how they relate. Yes we see the Williams family but outside of Richardwe have no sense of who anyone is. Worse even Richard is extremely lacking. The kids are all happy faces, always smiling. At best we barely get any sense of of the difference between Venus and Serena. They are interchangable. We get no sense of the real talent of either despite being told how god they are. Why are we sold that Serena the best that ever played when we really dont ever see her play? Who is Richard Williams wife? There is no sense of her? Yes, Aunjanue Ellis is stunning in the role but it's all because of her talent and not because of what's on the screen beyond her presence. There is zero sense of who she really is, nor and most importantly why she is with Richard. There is no sense of anything. There is no scene that says why she believes in him, why she loves him or why she stays with him (especially when its implied he's messing arond behind her back). She is,like everyone else a cardboard cut out to be moved around.

As for Will Smith performance...it's not that good. Honestly it's quite bad. He never fully disappears into the role.You can always see him playing get an Oscar. His whole performance is his hunched stance and affected speach pattern, which seems to be a dumbed down version of the real Williams'way of speaking. Smith never gives us any sense of the man behind the facade. There is no sense, beyond his persistence, why he managed to get anywhere.  I say this since after seeing the film I watched some video of Williams in interviews and after a few minutes you got the sense that he was more in control than it seems Smith's performance. I never understood why after playing all the games with the coaches and sponsors that no one told him to to go to hell and take the kids and get out. It simply seems like he is a lucky but not particularly bright guy. I can't see him getting an Oscar when his other nominated roles in ALI and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS and his Oscar bait role in CONCUSSION are so much better.

This is not an Oscar worthy film.

On the ther hand it is entertaining. I was carried along. I know a huge chunk of the reason was I know where it was going to go. Knowing Williams was going to be proved right made me willing to forive the narrative short falls.

Problems aside KING RICHARD isn't bad and worth a look if you're undemanding. 

Blood in the Snow 2021: Theatrical Shorts Part 1

 Here is brief word on the first group of shrts playing at this year's Blood in the Snow Festival.

If you are seeing this on Unseen's frontpage do use the cut tag because there are 16 more behind it.

As the world falls to a pandemic a lonely research scientist is told he is mankind’s only hope…

An amusing little film.

La Véillée
A  small boy wanders off at night as a party goes on in the other room and his grandmother talks of en countering the fairies.

This is good little trifle.

The quest to kill a spider drives a man over the edge.

An okay thriller with one hell of a final shot which kind of makes the rest of the film worth seeing.

In a post-apocalyptic world a teen girl must try and help an injured friend.

At a time when the post-apocalyptic tales have been done to death it’s nice to see a well made and heartfelt one that stands out from the pack. Worth a look

A grandmother relates the tale of a long ago murder she witnessed and her being pursued into the night. This is a nifty little thriller that has some stunning and unforgettable moments. A must see.

A chilling super short about a woman told there is someone behind her. Excellent

The Wraith of Rustico Vale
The story of a young woman investigating an abandoned community and what happens. This is a good film that shines thanks to moody photography to burn.



Ivanna is a chain smoking  mother of five living in the traditional house on skis in the frozen lands of Russia. Tired of the traditional ways and her nomadic life she plots leaving  the tundra for a more “normal life”

This is a slice of life most of us are completely familiar with. It’s a warts and all portrait where we get a real look at the way of life Ivanna is considering leaving. It’s a tough life that I don’t envy or wish on any one, especially when one is raising five kids alone. This is an eye opening film that is worth a look.

This is the story of a couple of Cuban nationals who attempt to get into the United States by going through Mexico.

Cinema verité style film that was shot in large part by the people involved on their cellphones. It’s a bracing “you are there” look at what it takes to try and find a better life. It’s a film that humanizes the struggles of migrants that take things way beyond what we see on the TV News.  It’s a film that is must see viewing, especially for those who would rather not think about the people making the trip.