Friday, September 30, 2022

Master Gardner (2022) NYFF 2022


I have no clue what Paul Schrader is trying to say with the MASTER GARDNER. It’s a small scale story inflated up with over sold self-importance and artificial deep meaning. It’s a small story that in a less serious telling would be a sweet little drama of redemption however Schrader pumps it up with a formality that infers some “meaning” that is nowhere to be found.

The plot of the film has Joel Edgerton playing Narvel Roth the gardener on a big estate. He is very formal and has a ton of rules. He is having an affair with the mistress of the property, Sigourney Weaver. When Weaver’s multiracial grandniece Mya, a wonderful Quintessa Swindell,  comes to work at the estate Narvel takes her under his wing. However after Mya is roughed up by a drug dealer and Narvel follows his instructions to keep her out of trouble, Weaver gets jealous and send them off.  And there are other complications, such as Narvel being in witness protection  for turning on white supremacist cronies floating around.

If this were reduced to it’s simplest form this film would work like gangbusters but Schrader is looking to tell us a morality tale of redemption but he tries way too hard. He adds ponderous narration from Narvel’s notebook that doesn’t mean much.  Trumpeted racial and criminal past plot lines don’t do anything other than show how Narvel moved beyond them despite the inference there is more to them. I’m not dismissing them but Schrader doesn’t do anything with the important issues he raises, especially in today's racially charged world. There should be a deeper resonance and a fuller discussion of racism, I mean Schrader parades Narvel’s racism around as it being the core of his soul,  but  Schrader does nothing with it. He simply uses it as a ticky box of things his character must overcome. Mya is pissed at Narvel for not telling her he was a white supremacist and there is a kind of confrontation between them but it  doesn’t go anywhere, and it isn’t enough. I know what Schrader was going for  but the reconciliation that comes after doesn’t work thematically or dramatically even if in a different version of this story the scene would be kick ass.

Honestly I’m left to wonder if the producers or Schrader altered the film because it’s a old white guy talking about race and they didn’t want to start a fire fight.(It doesn’t help that the plot feels like chunk of it is missing)

As for all of the other themes and plot threads that stagger through the film they too go nowhere. Or even if they go somewhere it’s not where Schrader intended simply because there isn’t enough meat here to support anything except a potboiler. This is not a tale of redemption or class or anything else because Schrader’s presentation is half assed and told to us instead of being shown to us.

That said I would love to see a version of the story with no pretensions, or better writing  done with this cast.

Ultimately this film is only for those who must see every film by Paul Schrader or a member of the cast.

ANG MOTEL (2022) TallGrass 2022


This is an absolutely lovely little film  about a young woman who helps an older Filipino woman when her son unceremoniously dumps her at an motel with no vacancies and forces her to fend for herself. Sharing her room with the woman she finds herself enriched.

What a joy. This is an gem of a film that does what great short films do, namely show us a small story where something magical happens that changes our outlook.

Recommended.

Tallgrass 2022 Short Takes 3 ME LITTLE ME and BLACK DADDY THE MOVIE




ME LITTLE ME
Mya, a woman recovering from an eating disorder has her life turned upside down when her job promotes her and her the stress of now being a boss kicks up past feelings, threatening her mental health.

A'Keyah Williams gives a killer performance as Mya in a role that doesn't hit all the expected notes. This is a lovely little gem of a film that gives us real characters to root for instead of just the typical Hollywood cutouts.

This is the sort of film that I started Unseen Films to highlight and as such I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a wonderful off Hollywood film that will touch you.


BLACK DADDY THE MOVIE
Magnificent look at what it takes to be a father. Interviews with several black men  reveal what their relationship was with their fathers as well as how they are handling raising their own children. 

I was moved as I began to understand not only how difficult it is to be a dad but how exponentially difficult it is be a black dad. This film will open your eyes as the men before us speak about what their experiences have been in a way that I've never seen any man do.

This film is a masterpiece and a must see.

Tallgrass Short Takes 2: MIDNIGHT BLACK MIDNIGHT BLUE, and SHALL I COMPARE YOU TO A SUMMER'S DAY

 


MIDNIGHT BLACK MIDNIGHT BLUE
A man ponders a lost love while going through his days.

This achingly beautiful film is a cinematic poem about love, loss and memory.  I absolutely love portions of this film because it gets the emotions so absolutely perfect  that I saw sections of my life reflected in them. And yet other moments didn't resonate with me at all as if I was just watching some random stranger talk at me. The result is a film is that in many ways is  more like life than any other.

Recommended for those who want a unique experience.


SHALL I COMPARE YOU TO A SUMMER'S DAY
Director Mohammad Shawky Hassan turns his love diaries into a one of a kind queer musical that uses the 1001 Arabian Nights as template.

This truly one of a kind film is a prime example of why we need as many cinematic voices as we can get. This is a film that shows us a vision of the world that is unlike anything we've really seen before. Mixing musical number, flights of fantasy and real world interactions Hassan has made a film that grabs us and pulls us in. 

It is a film that is wonderfully alive.

While this may not be for all audiences, for those who want to see a cinematic vision that will knock their socks off should make an effort to see it.

Unstable Objects 2 (2022) NYFF 2022


Daniel Eisenberg comes back with a sibling of his 2011 film. This time out Eisenberg looks at a a prosthetic manufacturer, a glove factor and a factory making jeans. 

To me this is effectively three films of factories in operation sewn together. I had a good time watching the various items being made. I especially loved the prosthetic  factory since I had a girl friend whose dad designed limbs for people in the VA, so I loved seeing how it all came together.

To be honest I don’t know why director Eisenberg linked these films together. It’s not a matter of anything in the film is bad, its more I don’t see the point of sitting in a theater for almost 4 hours watching people work. I never felt the films were connected as one.  As separate films they all are fantastic, but as one block the reasons behind it eluded me (even after reading the material from NYFF).

Uncertainty of the long run time aside this film is recommended.

Corsage (2022) NYFF 2022

 


Vicky Krieps gives  an award worthy  performance as Empress Elisabeth of  Austria during a period in 1878 when she struggles to deal with the restrictions of he social place.

First things first, this is not historically accurate. Intentional anachronistic items aside this is not what happened in real life. I mention that up front because I wanted to see how close this was to what happened only to find it’s nowhere near reality and that this is the same character that Romy Schneider played in the Sissy films.

Director Marie Kreutzer isn’t history but is interested in looking at what it’s like to be a woman in an “important” role and yet being completely ignored.  Actually it’s a film about what it’s like to be a woman who is being diminished just because you are a woman. It’s a trippy account of what do you do when you have more money and power than is healthy and nothing to do. This is a tale of the idle rich who  doesn’t  want to be idle.

I honestly don’t know what the film is ultimately getting at. The ideas and themes seem to be just outside of my putting them together. At the same time I was completely enraptured by the film. Even as the film gets more and more surreal as Elisabeth feel more and more out of sorts I was getting more and more invested. It all just made perfect sense. (Trust me you just have to see this and just go with it)

This is a really good and very compelling film

Recommended when it plays this weekend at the New York Film Festival and opens at Christmas

Thursday, September 29, 2022

PROJECT WOLF HUNTING (2022) Fantastic Fest


A ship full of criminals are sent back to Korea from the Philippines. An escape is attempted and it soon becomes a battle of cops vs crooks in a blood soaked  battle where almost everyone is left dead...and then things get even more dire as a revived psychotic super soldier gets loose and begins killing everyone.

This is a near technically perfect film. It is such an impressive achievement that director Kim Hongsun got to sign a big American contract. Unfortunately as perfect as the film is technically, it is emotionally dead and plotted incredibly stupidly. As a result all  there is here is blood, bodies and broken bones in a film that takes the blood soaked end of Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE and stretches it to close to two hours.

A huge problem is that there are no characters. Everyone is just a body biding time until they die horribly. You can't root for anyone because we don't know them or the are a horrible person, and if they aren't they die almost immediately after we meet them. Why are we bothering when there are no people on the screen?

The plot is a joke as things happen just so people can fire a gun or die horribly. No turn makes any sense since each one just means it's setting up something bad that will happen. Lets take over the ship, but shoot up the bridge. Lets just kill the crew because we feel like it. Someone pisses you off kill them. Lets make sure everyone dies so we'll cross Frankenstein with the Terminator and turn him loose. 

This is beyond stupid. Yes it's fun for awhile - and then it becomes clear there is nothing beyond the blood.

What a waste.

If you want to see truly mindless action where nameless characters kill each other for 121 minutes go for it, other wise put something else on.

Mr Organ (2022) Fantastic Fest 2022

 


Mr Organ will chill you to the core. The film is the story of grand manipulator and son of a bitch who lives to fuck over people. He’s a man who is described as being so evil that if he went to hell Satan would go to Heaven just to get away from him.

The film is the story of filmmaker David Farrier interactions with Michael Organ. He is a manipulator, con man and sick bastard who loves to destroy people mentally. Farrier ran into Organ when he was booting cars that parked in a private car park after hours and then it went from there. If you saw Farrier's earlier TICKLED you know that any story he has to tell doesn’t go remotely as expected and that’s the case here. The twists and turns will knot your stomach as Organ digs deeper and deeper intoFarrier's life in order to ruin it because he can.

This film scared me more than any horror film of the last five years because what happened here could happen anywhere. There are dozens of Michael Organ’s out there looking to get sick thrills out of people’s pain.

If you notice that I’m not telling you anything about what happens and that’s intentional. I want you to see the film as I did, knowing as little as possible. I want you to get punched in the face and kicked in the gut as this just goes weirder and weirder.

This is a real life nightmare.

I can’t recommend this enough.

If you are up for it this is a must see.

QUANTUM COWBOYS (2022) Tallgrass 2022


Genre breaking film is part animated, part live action, part science fiction, part western, part several other things. It's nominally the story of a two drifters traveling across the west however there is a lot more going on including a film crew filming and time travel.

I'm not sure what I think of the film, the mix of visual styles doesn't always come together and the film has too much that is going on. Bonus points for the fact that the film is trying to do way more the typical film.

While I'm not sure  what I think of the film I am recommending this for the long time readers of Unseen, you know who you are, the great people who want to go as far as off Hollywood as possible

Tallgrass 2022 Short Takes 1: ITS STARTED WITH A HORSE, PPP LOAN GONE, DECONSTRUCTING KAREN, and ONCE WAS LOST

IT STARTED WITH A HORSE
Portrait of artist M.T. Liggett who started to make sculptures out of metal and found items. He started to make out door totems that fill his property and line the highway.

This is a good film of an artist and his world. Its hard for me to really discuss this film because I have a family friend who did similar sculptures for decades and I find my discussing the film too in terms of the late Tommy Malloy. 

That said give the film a try.


PPP LOAN GONE
When the Federal government offers loans to small business owners, one is talked into getting a huge loan as a means of getting quick money with little danger but it all quickly spirals out of control.

This comedy is wildly over long, there isn’t enough her to support the two and a quarter run time. If 30 to 45 minutes could be removed this would be a nice little film that moves.

Over length aside the film is good calling card for directors Devon Bray and Naiya Lillu and their crew who manage to pull off some really nice sequences.  I took notice right from the start with a scene in a parking garage and guns drawn. There other some other nice bits here that make me want to see what’s next for everyone involved.


DECONSTRUCTING KAREN
Two women of color invite some white women to dinner in order to discuss racism.

Very good look about race and racism in America. It confronts all of the typical things said  about race head on. 

This must see film is going to get under you skin and make you think in ways that you need to.

The film will play the mill Valley Film Festival October 9 and 11.


ONCE WAS LOST- THE 70-YEAR SEARCH FOR CHAPLAIN EMIL KAPAUN
Excellent look for the body of Emil Kapaun who died during the Korean War helping to keep the American POWs alive and hopeful.  He had been taken to  "the death house" by the North Koreans and never seen again.

This is a moving story about the human spirit and the need to keep the memory of a man who gave up his life protecting the men he considered his brothers. Recommended.

Brief thoughts on the magnificent LOVE,BARBARA (2022) Tallgrass 2022

 


This sort doc is a magnificent portrait of filmmaker Barbara Hammer who made films based on her life as a lesbian. Told by her partner Florrie Burke this is not only a great look at a filmmaker, but more importantly it is a magnificent love story. 

Bring tissues- it will move you to tears in the best sort of a way.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Zombie Meteor (2022) Fantastic Fest

 


Zombie Meteor is a film I sure hope this leads into something bigger. A resetting of the zombie myth it is a blast and a half.

The film is the story of a space station in orbit around earth. Suddenly a spacewalk is interrupted by the appearance of a zombie in space. Where it goes from there is the film and it’s an absolute blast and a half.

Opening up all sorts of new directions for the over used zombie trope to go. I had a blast. I love that it doesn’t do what we expect. The plotting is excellent. I want to see what happens next.

A glorious little gem.

Give me more.

Recommended

MARY DEBOUTEZ ZELLMER FENOGLIO (2022) Tallgrass 2022


Portrait of one hell of a woman over a ten year period. Beginning in 2008 Fenoglio is a married woman running a junk business with her husband and cats. Life isn't good but she's attacking with style and heart. We watch as she explains her life and philosophy. Ten years on her husband is dead, her business is in the toilet but she is still motoring on as the possibility of life raises its head.

A wonderful moving portrait of one of the ballsiest women you will ever run across. My mother would have called her a great broad and would have tried to track her down so she could hang out with her.  That's probably the best thing that I can say about both Fenoglio and the film. 

This is a just a wonderful film about a wonderful woman. It's a film that made me smile from start to finish because there is something wonderful about a woman who just keeps moving despite it all. I was entranced. Yes she is gruff and loud, but its clear this woman is all out there.

What a wonderful discovery.

Recommended.

A note about ATTACK, DECAY,RELEASE (2022) Tallgrass 2022


I am not going to do a review of ATTACK, DECAY, RELEASE. The reason is not because I dislike the film, I don't, I actually love a great deal, rather it is because I did not see the film under optimal conditions.

What are optimal conditions? Being projected on three huge 1:1 screens with a kick ass sound system pouring our the music. I had to see it on a small TV with an okay sound system. Ten minutes in I knew this was not the way to go.  It's still a great film but knowing this needs to be seen on a big screen lessened the impact. (The full image is well over 3:1 so the image on a small TV is really narrow)

The film is a the visualization of H.P. Mendoza's 2012 electronic album 'Tomorrow', a musical narrative about the travels of a human colony to the moon after Earth is ravaged by a deadly virus. Its as stunning an experience as you'll have all year, but it's one that needs to be seen big.

If you can get to the festival this weekend and see ATTACK,DECAY, RELEASE in a theater do so.  If you must see it on a TV screen find as big a TV as you can.

Descendant (2022) NYFF 2022


This is the story of the search  for the slave ship Clotilda. It was the last know ship to transport slaves to America. It was sailed into Mobile Alabama and up the river where it was offloaded and then burned.  The Africatown residents in Mobile, Alabama, are the descendants of the slaves on the ship and have fought to keep their tale alive.

This is going to be brief, because several days after seeing DESCENDANT I am still trying to parse it all out. I say tht because this is a really dense film. Containing more information than four or five other docs this is a film that covers the story of the Clotilda, the surivors, Zora Neal Hurston (she wrote about the story), the racism that that kept the story hidden, life in Africatown, the search for the ship, the discovery, the feelings of the descendants of all the people involved, the notion of reperations, plus the battle for the families to control the story. Any one of those threads could have been a film itself but its all here. More importantly its presented well enough that we havea great deal to chew on. 

I absolutely loved this film. It feels more like a really good book than your typical documentary.

Highly recommended DESCENDANT is a must.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

NO PLACE LIKE HOME: THE STRUGGLE AGAINST HATE IN KANSAS (2022) Tallgrass 2022


A look at what it is like to live in Kansas, a very red state,  while being LGBT+ and how those living in the state are trying to confront hate and change the minds of those who don't like them.

Hands down one of the best films at Tallgrass and one of the most important films of 2022. A heartfelt look at what it means to LGBT in a state where it seems that most people don't want you there. Full of stories of people coming out and becoming activists in the communities where they live in this is one of the best films on the subject that I've ever run across.  I was moved to tears.

I love that director Kevin Willmott just points and shoot. Willmott simply has picked some really great people to sit down and tell their story.  Outside of the connection to the Wizard of Oz, this is a low key film where people just talk. That's basically all there is. As a result is a film that will haunt you.

I don't know what to see other than see it.  I can't recommend this film highly enough.


Sirens (2022) opens Friday


SIRENS is the story of Lilas and her her band mates in the band Slaves To Sirens,  an all girl thrash metal band from Lebanon. After a trip to Glastonberry doesn't send them into the stratosphere the girls have figure out what to do, especially since their country descends into turmoil.

This is a good portrait of a young woman trying to come to terms with her life in a world on fire.  While the film would seem to be about the msic, the reality is this is about the young woman, Lilas in particular, who are living though extraordinary circumstances.

This is definitely worth a look, especlly if you want something you haven't seen  before.

Riverside Dive In's Super Monster-rama Christopher Lee Centenary Celebration.


This past weekend my brother Joe and I went to the Pittsburgh Area in order to go to the Christopher Lee Celebration at the Riverside Drive-in  in the near by town of Vandergrift. As long time readers know Joe and I have been going since the pandemic made us want to go because what else can you do?

As always it was an absolute delight being there. I got to talk briefly to Bill Van Ryn, aka Groovy Doom. Bill is the publisher of DRIVE IN ASYLUM  and the host of the weekly Groovy Doom communal screenings on You Tube and  Facebook. Each week Bill and his guests talk about the double feature they are watching that week. They usually do an hour before, an hour in between and an hour after.  They chat sip fine spirits and talk to everyone who's tuned in. It's a blast.  (Bill's Twitter is here- follow him so you know what the movies are each week)

I also got to talk to Mike and Jake.  This father and son duo are good company. We talk old movies, home renovation and assorted other things. What I love about these crazy guys is that no conversation is short, a quick comment ends up being a 20 minute conversation just because on thing leads to another.


The first night  we made it through three of the four films.

CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a delight on the big screen. I always liked it but seeing it BIG was revelation. Watching Christopher Lee as the monster blew me away. I knew he was good, but really getting to see the facial expressions  took it to another level. It was truly amazing.

I'm still trying to sort out why THE HOUSE OF LONG SHADOWS was screened. Yea it's the only time Lee, Peter Cushing, John Carradine and Vincent Price appeared together,  but is otherwise a dog. The film is based on beyond creaky 7 KEYS TO BALDPATE where a writer bets he can write a novel/play in 24 hours and gets interrupted. It was creaky in the 1920's and it didn't get better in the over 60 years since it was first published in 1983. It doesn't help that Dezi Arnez Jr is the lead and he is terrible. Equally terrible is the direction which requires everyone to overact. It's horrible and a chore to get through.


We stayed for COUNT DRACULA, Jess Franco's version of Dracula which is actually really good. Lee took the role because it was closer to the Dracula of the novel than any previous edition. While there are variations from the book it still is pretty close. I liked it. I also like Herbert Lom being Van Helsing. The best way to describe how good it is is that both my brother and I stayed to the end of the film because we were enjoying the hell out of it.


Night two we only stayed for two films.  TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER isn't a favorite of mine and while I wanted to see HORROR HOTEL, It wouldn't be starting until 2AM and thats too late-especially since we were heading home in the morning.

The screening of THE WICKER MAN disappointed me. I haven't seen any version of the film other than the first restoration in 4 decades. The edition screened was the Final Cut and despite being prepared by Robin Hardy it is really bad and is a throw back to when the film was originally cut up. All the sequences before Edward Woodward gets to the island are removed except for a brief church service. The removal effectively removes all of the details about Woodward's character, thus making him cipher. He was no character just a drive and it's not enough to hang the horror on. Worse since he is one note we don't care what happens to him. This was the first time I understood why some of the reviews from when it was released were so damning (Former ABC reviewer Joel Seigel was not kind to the film). It was the first time the film didn't effect me.

The second film was HORROR EXPRESS about an alien creature jumping bodies on a train in Siberia in 1906. One part scifi film and one part mystery this is one of my favorite films. I will put it on and just fall asleep to it. I actually dozed off for about 15 minutes because I am so comfortable watching it. It doesn't really make sense, I suspect details were removed so the film would move faster, but its so much damn fun you don't care.

As the credits rolled we headed out- looking forward to the spring screenings the last weekend of April 2023. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

Antares Paradox (2022) Fantastic Fest 2022


A woman working on the Spanish version on SETI (the search or extraterrestrial life) discovers a possible signal at the same time all hell breaks loose around her.

This is not a science fiction film. Yes t has elements of it, but this is really a character study of one woman dealing with crisis from every corner all at the same time. 

While I really like THE ANTARES PARADOX, I really dislike the the plotting. There is too much going on - the project is going to be ending because of budget cuts, her life is a mess, there is a major storm hitting her location threatening to shut everything down, she needs  more time with a telescope when her discovery happens but she has to beg and plead to get more, her batteries are dying and on top of that her father is dying and she must decide whether to leave or stay. Its way way too much for a year of a soap opera never mind a 90 minute movie. 

Thankfully this is an excellent showcase for Andrea Trepet who holds the screen from start to finish as she has to deal with a series of life changing choices at a critical moment. We watch the film because we like her, even when we are groaning at the ever increasingly silly plot twists.

Worth a look for Andrea Trepet

Art and Krimes By Krimes (2021)




This is a look at the artist Jesse Krimes.  As the film opens we watch as Krimes is preparing to unveil a massive work of art he made while in prison and had smuggled out in pieces.  Krimes had never seen the whole work in it’s entirety since then. The film then gives us a portrait of the artist and art.

This is a very good portrait of a man and his art. I had never consciously run across Krimes  before this film and as a result I fell in love with his work. What I liked about the film was that in addition to introducing us to an artist we may not have seen before, it makes a case for the importance of art. Art was what helped Krimes cope with his life and it allowed the people in prison to relate to him as something other than a convict.

Definitely worth a look.

Vesper (2022) plays today at Fantastic Fest and everywhere Friday


One of the truly great looking science fiction films ever made VESPER is also a perfect example of world building. As dystopian as the world is this is a film you will want to slip into and disappear.

The plot of the film is set in the not to distant future when humans have effectively destroyed the world. Genetic manipulation and climate change has wrecked the world. Plant based food is non existent, or really close,  animals are a distant thought. The "rich and powerful" live in citadels where the get their way by selling seeds to those outside which can only be used once. A young girl named Vesper, who is trying to come up with a way of growing food, is pressed into action when one of the rich crash lands near her home. She has something that may save mankind, however forces closer to home want to stop her.

Yes the plot is something we've kind of seen before, however co-directors  Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper who co-scripted with Brian Clark, have created a film that transcends the typical. Creating a world that is unlike anything we have seen before, even though we know it is, they have made a film that hooks us on any number of levels. Emotionally this is a film with great characters and great action. Intellectually this is a film that raises all sorts of questions. Yes, the big questions of what are we doing to the planet and each other, but also the small we questions like who can we trust and when is it time to step up. I was full invested.

I love that this film feels like it was filmed in some place real, Watching the film I had the sense that I was someplace I had never been before. The whole thing felt real and lived in. There was never a sense of dress up. The feeling it's all fake and dress up time is something that haunts most films these days. Blame it on the over use of CGI which is doesn't seem to have been over used here.

This is a grand adventure in a grand world. Highly recommended.

Its so good I have to echo the thoughts of Liz Whittemore who insisted I see this film, adding "when was the last time you saw a stand alone film that made you want to see continue on in a whole series?"

Solomon King (1974) Fantastic Fest 2022


This 1974 action film was made in the wake of SHAFT, SUPER FLY and similar films. Set primarily in and around Oakland it is a time capsule of the city at the time.  It was made by star  Sal Watts who wrote directed and starred in the film using the locations he owned as backdrops. It’s a low budget that has been recently restored by Deaf Crocodile from the best available elements.

When Solomon King’s Princess girlfriend is killed in a political assassination, he takes steps to hunt down the men who were behind it.

As long time readers of Unseen Films know I love films like this a great deal and I had a good time watching it. I love the sense of place and a one of kind vision of action filmmaking. Yes the performances are all over the place and the action scenes cross over into comedy, but the film is still a lot of fun. This is a film best seen at a film festival where you can be in a room full of like-minded forgiving people.

I have to say that the current restoration of the film runs about 85 minutes.  This is  25 minutes or so shorter than the run time that is listed across the internet at IMDB and elsewhere. I mention this  because watching the film in its current form it is clear material is missing. I know we are warned at the start  of there are problems with the film but I still had issues with the film. I’m not sure whether to blame the filmmakers or time taking it's toll on surviving prints

Trims aside this is an okay film that’s worth your time especially if you can see it with friends.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

New York Film Festival Turns 60 Friday


The New York Film Festival turns 60 Friday.

A big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the fest and everyone who has enjoyed it over the years.

Unlike the 50th  NYFF the festival is considerably more low key. It’s not a wild and crazy birthday with huge events and World Premieres, but instead it’s more of what the festival has become over the last few years which is a catch all of some of the best art films from the festivals from earlier in the year.

That doesn’t mean the films are bad- hell no- they are running films like UNREST, DESCENDANT and ALL THAT BREATH which are some of the best films of the year.(I'm reposting the reviews over the next few days)


Because of the way the festival is running press screenings none of the films have screened for the NY press yet and anything I  have seen comes from previous festival coverage, so outside of the three films above I can’t comment on anything.

Know that Unseen will be teaming up with Reel News Daily and Liz Whittemore to expand our coverage. This year it’s the only way we’re going to be able to cover even a fraction of the festival. Coverage will start toward the end of the week so keep reading.

If you are looking for more information on the festival or tickets go here.

Liz Whittemore on ANTARAES PARADOX (2022) Fantastic Fest 2022


Fantastic Fest 2022 feature from Luis Tinoco, The Antares Paradox, brings together science, space, and knowledge enthusiasts. The plot revolves around Alexandria as she works the late shift at a radio telescope lab. With a gravely ill father, an absent co-worker, a bitter sister, and the storm of the year swirling around outside, a strong signal begins transmitting to her antenna. With only two hours to confirm 20 years of research, Alex must race against the clock, the weather, other scientists who eschew her work, and her conscience.

Leading lady Andrea Trepat captures your attention from the very beginning. She has the task of carrying this film on her shoulders, as other actors appear only via video call or voice. She nails it. Anyone with a loved one who works unconventional hours understands the emotional complexity of ambition. It often comes at a great sacrifice of relationships. It is the risk we take in search of an unknown reward. In The Antares Paradox, Alex dreams of proving there is life beyond our universe. Her father understood this, even if no one else ever did.

Writer-director Luis Tinoco worked extensively with José Luis Crespo (Quantum Fracture), a YouTuber and science communicator with millions of followers. The script, while technical, is laid out concisely and understandably for all audiences. The entire film takes place in one location. The film's sumptuous score from Arnau Bataller is perfect.

Between family, faith, and space, Tinoco's script challenges our morality and keeps us intrigued with wonder. It is a gorgeous entry that will leave audiences spellbound."

Razzennest (2022) Fantastic Fest 2022 Burnt Ends

 


This spoof of commentary tracks and art film pretensions is a five minute sketch dragged out to 81.

The idea is that an ill prepared moderator talks to a pretentious director and his crew while we watch his film which is made up of shots of buildings and nature. Names are mispronounced. Referential jokes are made about films and Broadway (A Hamilton one is groaner). The voice acting is done in a loud forced broad style that suggest inexperience at acting.

This is one of the worst films of the year and certain to be on the replay list in hell.

The problems with the film are many. 

Having mentioned the voice acting I’ll continue by saying the problem is that the commentary is not like any sort of commentary track you would ever hear. I know it’s supposed to be a spoof, but spoofs work best when you keep things close to the way things are, but having someone so ill prepared from the start would never happen.   While I could see, and have seen, something like that at a festival, it would never be something on a commentary track because no film company would dare put it out. Yes I know it’s supposed to be a commend, but it’s not really funny.

Another problem with the film is that the filmmakers really don’t seem to understand what films like this are. Yes the visual part of the film is close to any number of the hundreds of similar films that have played in the experimental or Avant Garde  sections of festivals like New York (actually as an assemblage of image it’s actually really good) however the pretensions that the pretend director imbues the film with are unlike anything that I’ve ever run across. In the half century I’ve spent watching films I’ve never seen an actual discussion like occurs in this film. Yes they are sending up pretentious filmmakers but they are doing so in a way that Hollywood does in throw away gags.  I’ve spent the last decade plus seeing bad art films and talking to pretentious directors and I’ve never seen anyone be this over the top pretentious. As I said this is so over the top as to only work as a throw away. Frankly Roger Debris in The Producers is a better representation of real pomposity.

I think  all the jokes are not funny. A collection of half thought out maybe funny in a vacuum  japes, they never land. I sat there listening and not reacting other than to groan at a riff that was just bad or to check my watch to see when this was over.

And what absolutely kills the film is that   Mystery Science 3000, Riff Trax and The Mads exist. For decades  and decades the group of movie riffers that spun off from MST3K have been deflating cinema pomposity with seeming ease.  They have taken down films of every sort – including films of the sort that this film is attempting spoof  - and made them funny. They are so good at it that that very few people have managed to riff/spoof with any success.  There is a reason that there is a niche around them and not really anywhere else.  Knowing that MST3K and there extended family exist and are doing this sort of thing for real we are left to wonder why we should bother with a bad imitation of a riff of a fake film? I have no answer 

Preman (2022) hits Digital, Blu-ray™ and DVD September 27


A deaf gangster soldier must fight his way out of a small village with his son when the gang murders a friend. 

This is an intense and one of a kind action film. One part action film, one part suspense drama and one part character study, this is film that puts us into the head of are hero. The film moves us in and out of the the psyche by showing us what he sees and more importantly what he doesn't hear. Time and again the soundtrack drops out. It forces us to focus. Honestly I want to go back and rewatch the film and figure out how the soundtrack drives the film.

Its also a film that makes us feel the violence. There is a visceral quality. Its dirty and ugly. Yes the blood doesn't always look real, but it feels real. It feels painful in ways we don't normally experience in the movies.

This is a killer film. It gloriously doesn't behave like most film I've seen. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

TALLGRASS FIlm Fest starts Wednesday


The Tallgrass Film Festival starts this week and were I not committed to covering the New York Film Festival I’d be on a plane to Kansas to attend. I say this because Tallgrass always programs some of the most interesting films of the year. I usually miss them and have to play catch up. This year I’m going to try and cover it and NYFF at the same time because Tallgrass has so much potential good stuff I can’t miss it.

I know that Tallgrass is programming winners because I’ve seen a good number of them already:

FOUR SAMOAS
ALL MAN THE INTERNATIONAL MAN STORY
Ariela Rubin on BUTTERFLY IN THE SKY
IT IS IN US ALL
HIDDEN LETTERS
LOWNDES COUNTRY AND THE ROAD TO BLACK POWER
BLIND MAN WHO DID NOT WANT TO SEE TITANIC
DEATH AND BOWLING
DISFLUENCY
PARIS IN HARLEM
CIVIL DEAD
Liz Whittemore on UNKNOWN COUNTRY
PEZ OUTLAW
A PLACE IN A FIELD
Ariela Rubin on GOD SAVE THE QUEENS
KLONDIKE
REFUGE
AFTER SHERMAN
OUR FATHER THE DEVIL
Liz Whittemore on Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying
FRANK AND EMMET (This maybe my most favorite film of 2022)
STRANGER THAN ROTTERDAM WITH SARA DRIVER
EVERYBODY GOES TO THE HOSPITAL
STARFUCKERS
FUCK EM RIGHT BACK
EL CARRITO
CRUISE
BLENDER

I also recommend 

NO PLACE LIKE HOME a deeply moving film about LGBT activism in Kansas. Probably the best film of Tallgrass

ATTACK DECAY RELEASE is a music album shot to be be seen on 3 screens- see it as BIG as possible

Mary DeBoutez Zellmer Fenoglio is great film about a woman who keeps going forward despite the roadblocks life toss her way. This is a woman my mom would have taken a plane to hang out with because she's a great "broad" in my mothers terms.

BLACK DADDY THE MOVIE possibly the best film I’ve ever seen on what it takes to be real father. Never mind that the film focuses on black dads, the truth is what they have to say transcends color. A must see. 

 LOVE, BARBARA Nominally a celebration of the life and work of lesbian filmmaker the truth is the film is a love letter between a couple of great women. Bring tissues.

I’m hoping to catch a few more before the fest starts and then to wade in once the fest is in full swing. It should be fun, so keep reading.

For more details and tickets go here.

Everyone WIll Burn (2021) Fantastic Fest 2022


A woman about to kill herself by jumping off a bridge is stopped by a strange little girl. Taking the little girl home with her they are stopped by the police who don’t like the woman’s answers and attempt to arrest her. The little girl causes one officer to kill the other before he bursts into flames. And suddenly and genuinely shocking clear we are not in Kansas anymore. We are in a small town in Spain where the outsiders are bullied  and pushed to the point of suicide. However things are about to change.

From the first frame this is not a film that does what we expect. Sure it looks kind of familiar but director David Hebrero bends things in ways we never expect.

This film is disturbing. It’s not just the violence but the cruelty of everyone. People are cruel to each other in ways that are shocking. We may live in a world where people are mean to each other, especially on social media.  Add to that the dark  supernatural forces at work and we are in a world that looks like our but is toxic to the touch.

I loved this movie. I watched the opening sequences and instantly that I had to let people know that they had to cover the film at Fantastic Fest or wherever the film plays.  

I should say that I don’t think you will be scared by the film, rather deeply disturbed. This film left me bothered  for hours after this ended. I even had to put something on when I went to bed just to distract me from thinking about it  as I drifted off to sleep.

You really should see this film.

Recommended

Searching for Ingmar Bergman (2018) play Ovid starting September 27

Neither a career overview nor typical biography Margarethe von Trotta‘s SEARCHING FOR INGMAR BERGMAN maybe the best cinematic portrait of a director I’ve run across. There is something about how the film brings the cinematic god down to earth that is absolutely delightful. Purely a look at the man himself by the people who knew him the film ends up giving us a sense of who he really was.

I’m not sure where to begin, there are so many great stories that I don’t know where to begin, or even if I should bother relating them since you’ll want to hear them yourself. The one that hangs with me is the one told by his son of making a film his father wrote. The elder Bergman who really didn’t spend a lot of time with his kids and was so deeply affected by a scene where an older son confronts his father who realizes all that he had missed who his wife and family were that he wanted the scene cut. Bergman’s son refused to do so and after an emotional discussion allowed him to keep it saying he would never see the film again. The man who made films of great introspection and emotion didn’t always want to do the same as his characters.

Seeing the film I suddenly felt I understood his films better than before because I could kind of see where they were coming from and what he was trying to do. Not on an intellectual level but a personal one. Discussions by Liv Ullman and others makes you realize that many of his characters are not other people but Bergman himself. Additionally themes and ideas that run through the films are connected to life as lived and not life as intellectualized. When it was done I wanted to pull his films out of my collection and watch them again with this new insight.

If you love or even like Bergman’s films this is a must see. I can’t imagine any sort of fan not getting something out of this film. While I’m not sure how this will play for anyone who doesn’t know Bergman’s films, I do think that it is a very good examination of a filmmaker at work.

One of the great finds of 2018, it is highly recommended for any and all film fans.

NIGHTSIREN (2022) Fantastic Fest


A woman returns home after many years after the death of her mother. The towns folk don’t know what to make of her and are wary of her after she takes up residence in the abandoned home of the local witch.

Nominally this is supposed to be a film about witches and things that go bump in the night. The reality is that this is less horror film than a look at superstition and how our pasts affect us and the choices we made.  This is more a drama with a supernatural tinge and we are so much better for it.

NIGHTSIRENS is one of the great surprises of the 2022 film year. It’s a “genre” film that really isn’t, even if it hits all the marks. It’s a wonderful character study of a young woman haunted by her past. It is also a killer thriller from literally the first minute when something happens that makes you sit up and go “hello”. It was at that moment I had to see where the film was going because it was clear that nothing was off the table.

I love this film.

What I love about this film is that it has a great deal going on. Its film that has a great deal on its mind. It’s a look at life in a backwoods town, a look at a the male female dynamic, a look at motherhood (and the loss of it), at superstition, and how we view all of that.  Several weeks on and numerous discussions I’m still turning the film over in my mind and still trying to sell the film to anyone who is willing to  listen to me talk about its wonders.

This film is a must.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Bandit (2022)


Bandit is the true story of Gilbert Galvan Jr who has gone down in history as the bank robber with the most robberies (59) before capture. He was called the Flying Bandit because he would fly across the country hitting numerous banks in the same day. Josh Duhamel stars as Galvan a young man who fled to Canada after escaping a minimum security prison.

This is a breeze crime bio that moves like the wind. Full of charming rogues, the film tears through Galvan’s story at speed making us co-conspirators as he makes a mountain of money in a relatively short time. He is aided and abetted by a solid cast including Elizabeth Cuthbert and Mel Gibson. Gibson is only in the film briefly as connected crime boss Galvan gets hooked up with.

I enjoyed the breezy tale a great deal.

If I have to quibble with anything about concerning the film is that Josh Duhamel is twice the age of Galvan when the events were going down. While I was okay with Duhamel being older in an early flashback (especially since he was relating the matter to us) things seemed a bit off in the rest of the film since he seemed too old for what was happening. The feeling was confirmed when we see the boyish Galvan at the end and we realize just how young he was (he was 30 when arrested). On the other hand Josh Duhamel is so charming it really doesn’t matter since he hooks us from the get go.

Worth a look.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Carmen (2022)

Carmen is based on director Valerie Buhagiar​'s Aunt. She was the unmarried sister of the director’s uncle who was a priest. He then acted as his housekeeper and assistant. 

In this film  Carmen’s brother unexpectedly dies and the 50 something Carmen is turned out. With no where to go she initially hides out in the church. She eventually ends up masquerading in the confessional as the new priest and slowly finding her true self.

The Problem with this movie is that if I try to explain what happens it sounds incredibly dumb. I know because I was initially turned off by the description of the film I read. It didn’t sound all that good.  Fortunately I just put the film on and went  for it.

This film is a charmer. To be certain the set up is a bit by the numbers but once it gets going it will win your heart.  And once Carmen gets the red dressed you’ll be totally invested in this small scale gem. This is a glorious celebration of life.

What a Joy

Highly recommended.

Dig (2022)

Thomas Jane plays a man whose wife is killed and his daughter is left deaf after a road rage incident. Not long after the daughter leaves the hospital Jane is hired to do demolition work at a house. However it's a cover, and father and daughter are kidnapped to be part of a heist.


A great set up and a moving ending bookend a way too talky middle section as the cast (Thomas Jane, Harlow Jane, Emile Hirsch, and Liana Liberato) manage to do the impossible and keep us invested  I'm not going to lie and tell you that this is the best film in the world but It kept me watching, genuine wanting to know how it was going to end.

The problem with the film is the script. Once things are set up the film slows to a crawl as Jane and his daughter try to escape and Emil Hirsch's bad guy just begins to talk... and talk.... and talk. It's too much and it tips the film into the wrong direction. It's kind of like having the Bond villain prattle on for 45 minutes. (And no it's not all about the plan but it's still the same thing)

Prattling aside the cast is good enough that as the film moves to the climax it actually works. The emotion between Jane and his daughter is on target and when they finally make the move to escape I was genuinely moved because the bond between father and daughter was real.

If you want a good but nowhere near great thriller it's worth a look.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Facing Monsters (2022)in theaters 9/22 and VOD 11/15


FACING MONSTERS is a portrait of surfer Kerby Brown

I love really good surfing films. I got hooked at my first Tribeca when I saw a film about river surfing knocked my socks off.  Ever since then I am on the look out for films on surfing, particularly at film festivals, because the visuals usually floor me. 

As good as Kerby's story is, the chief reason to see this film is the visuals. Containing some of the most amazing images I’ve ever seen in any films the frightening power of the sea is revealed. I couldn’t believe that people would willingly take on waves of the sort we see in this film. It absolutely blew my mind and then some.

I love this film a great deal. 

This film is a stunner on so many levels.

Recommended.

BURIED: THE 1982 ALPINE MEADOWS AVALANCHE (2022)


If you can See BURIED: THE 1982 ALPINE MEADOWS AVALANCHE on a big screen do so. I say this because the oversized images will burn their way into your brain and make you wonder if you should ever go skiing again.

The film is a recounting of the 1982 avalanche that crashed into the resort during a storm that was dumping many feet of snow. The snow was coming down so heavily that the ski area was closed down so that nothing bad would happen. At the same time the crews attempted to go out and create controlled avalanches. However conditions were so bad they couldn’t be sure what they were doing was working. And then with the wind blowing and the snow making an odd sound the snow let go and crashed into the resort.

A mix of talking heads, recreations and archival footage BURIED packs a punch. Yes the film follows closely the expected patterns of documentary but this film scores over most other docs in that from the opening minute it’s clear that the film will have its heart on its sleeve as one of the survivors breaks down simply as he is beginning to tell his tale. He isn’t the only one since pretty much everyone is still gut punched from the events in March of 1982. Voices crack and tears are wiped away. Friends are missed.

I was moved.

Highly recommended – more so if you can see it on a big screen.

The Family Statement (2022) Camden International Film Festival 2022


Damning portrait of the Sackler family, the family made rich by the Oxycodone. We see the family messages between the family members as they try to hammer out a statement about their liability and connection to the opioid crisis over two years. The film ends with the actual statement.

If you didn't have enough reason to hate the Sacklers, this film will push you closer to the edge as the group tries to sort out what will get them into the least amount of trouble. Its clear from the start  they knew they were in the wrong but they wanted to keep their cash.

Inter-cut with the messages are statements by people affected by drug addiction. It hammers home how much damage the family has caused.

I don't know what to say.  The Sacklers are rich evil bastards and as can be seen here, their words confirm it.

This is a must see because it reveals just  how bad rich families are.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Thoughts on the passing the Gerald Wright

 I woke up this morning to find one of the nicest people I’ve known, Gerald Wright, had passed away. I am crushed. I was looking forward to seeing him next week when the press screenings started for the New York Film Festival.

Most of you don’t know Gerald, though if you were a film writer in New York you knew him as he was a fixture  at press screenings and festivals in New York. Also if you went to any of the Tribeca Film Festivals over the last two decades you probably ran into him as he ran his theater during the festival.

Gerald was one of the old guard. He was one of the older writers who had been around for years. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. Everyone delighted in talking to him.  When I started writing on film twelve plus years ago he was there. Not only was he there, he actually said hello. Film writers can be a snobby lot and they don’t always acknowledge that other writers exist until they see them fifteen or twenty times. Gerald wasn’t like that- I passed him as a real newbie and he said hello. We kept talking (once I got the nerve to say hello back) ever since. When we came back to NYFF last year I got a big smile and greeting from him outside the Walter Reade Theater as we both realized that friends were okay. There was delight as more of the regulars came in and saw Gerald  and we knew that all was right with the world.

I was not a friend of Gerald’s where we hung out outside of films or festivals, but we always took the time to say hi and talk to each other between screenings  sharing information or just shooting the breeze. I don’t know what he got from me but I got invaluable lessons about films and film festivals. He told me so much I could never have ever have hoped to find out through any other means.

I last spent time with him  at Tribeca.  We met at the badge pick up and we talked as we walked to the subway about the changes in the festival since the Murdochs bought it. He was not happy. To him the festival was less about the films and more about making money as the new masters were driving anyone who knew anything away by refusing to pay anyone what they were worth. He said that he was originally not going to work the festival but they made him and offer he couldn’t refuse. He said he was going to end his relationship with the fest on his terms and not on anyone else’s. While he was unhappy with the festival management he didn’t want to leave the volunteers and the people he worked with on the ground in the lurch. He said he would teach them everything he could before he moved on.  It was this desire to help his friends and co-workers that made him so special- and was why everyone knew him and always said hello.

I saw him everyday during the festival and we exchanged notes about good movies and gossip it was blast. I think I talked to him more during this Tribeca than at any other festival.  I looked forward to seeing him in September at NYFF when we could talk some more.

But now that’s not going to happen and the world is a little less bright.  

I don’t know what to say other than I will miss him greatly. I think everyone who knew him will.  We are all lessened by his passing- on the other hand we were made so much greater by having him in our lives that we we are still a head of the game.

Rest well my friend.

Nothing Compares (2022) hits theaters Friday. It streams on Showtime 9/30


I should say at the top of that while the film is called Nothing Compares as a reference to Sinead O’Connor’s biggest hit, the song is not heard in the film because the Prince estate refused to allow Nothing Compares 2U to be used in the film. I say that because I kept waiting to hear the song.

This is a warts and all look at the life and times of Sinead O’Connor in her own words. Full of film and photos from her life it is a trippy, one of a kind film that covers the highs and lows of her career. O’Connor is heard in voice over telling her story while her friends and family fill in details from the outside.

NOTHING COMPARES was the one film within my circle of  that everyone seemed to be looking forward to seeing. Writers, programmers and film fans all wanted to see. The desire to see the film was such that I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. I am happy to report that the film is actually quite good.

This is a good film and I need to see it again. Its full of great music and stories but the heavy nature of O’Connor’s life does not make this your typical upbeat music bio. Director Kathryn Ferguson rightly doesn’t try and fashion a shiny happy story. This is the life as lived and as a result we come out of it feeling a deeper respect for the singer. What I like about the film is that the film watching it you come to understand the choices she’s made and understand why she did the things she did. I’m sure that anyone who sees the film will come away with their view changed. She will seem far less crazy then the media has made her out to be.

It’s a super film, though one that required that I go and sit somewhere quiet when it was done because it put me in a place that required contemplation for a while before I could move on.

Recommended.

Monday, September 19, 2022

This Much We Know (2022) CIFF 2022


Director Lily Frances Henderson tries to sort out the death of a friend by looking at the death Levi Presley, who also took his life in Las Vegas.

Bleak and unbelievably sad film will leave you shaken . It's a film will make you never want to go to Las Vegas ever again and shake what you think you know about the people around you. The film will also completely freak you out with it's look at nuclear waste, which is being stored  in the mountains not far from Las Vegas.

I don't know how to write this film up. My thoughts on the film are more a deep sense of sadness for everyone as they try to come to terms with the death of a loved one. Its a place I don't like being in because it raises a lot of questions that don't have answers and leave us feeling uncertain. 

I think it's brilliant film, but since this is such a troubling topic and one that not everyone will want to handle, especially in a film as effecting as this. I leave whether to see the film up to you.