Magnificent portrait of Richard Wayne Penniman, aka Little Richard. This is a film that covers Richard's entire life and being with an openness and honesty that I've never seen before.
A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Little RIchard I Am Everything (2023) Oxford Film Festival 2023 SXSW 2023
Magnificent portrait of Richard Wayne Penniman, aka Little Richard. This is a film that covers Richard's entire life and being with an openness and honesty that I've never seen before.
Panda Go Panda plays NYICFF 2023
Back again after several previous appearances at NYICFF, PANADA GO PANDA is Hiyao Miyazaki working in support of his friend and co-founder of Studio Ghibli Isao Takahata.
Other People's Children (2022) Rendezvous With French Cinema 2023
Other People’s Children is one of those very rare films where you see real life reflected back at you. Its an even rarer film in that it is a film about a step-mother where she isn’t evil or histrionic. It is a glorious blast of fresh air.
The plot of the film concerns Rachel. Married to a wonderful man she is the step mother to his five year old daughter who adores her. She has a near perfect life. Despite being a mother to her husband’s child she still would like one of her own. In formed by her doctor that he window to have a child is closing she has to come to terms with perhaps not being able to have the one thing she wants.
Quietly powerful, this film shines because of the performance of Virginie Efira. A beautifully modulated performance she manages to say so much with each look and movement. It’s a stunning performance that isn’t showy, but which kicks you in the heart. She clearly knows how luck she is to have what she wants but the need to have a child of her own haunts her. This is the sort of real life performance that the award bodies should be rewarding because it is so hard to pull off, but which they always overlook because it isn’t big and loud and screaming “look at me!”
As I said at the top this is the rare film that feels like we are watching life. Because I am so trained on waiting for a big turn, I was on edge waiting for some giant twist that never came. Life just happened. When the film was done I was pleasantly surprised and I waded into the film again to see it on it’s own terms, free of expectations.
More films should be like this.
Go see this at Rendezvous with French Cinema (March 3 and 12)
Monday, February 27, 2023
The New York International Children's FIlm Festival opens Friday
Friday the New York International Children’s Film Festival starts and the world is better for it.
I’m in heaven at the thought of spending several weekends in the dark seeing great films with great people. In all seriousness the people running NYICFF are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They love to talk and discuss the films and they everyone feel welcome. The audience too are marvelous full of adults and kids who love to share their enthusiasm for the films. There is nothing like talking to kids who explain to you why the film they just saw was the BEST.
The thing all of you adults need to realize is that the films and the screenings are for you too. Yea it’s a festival that says it’s a children’s films fest but it’s for everyone of any age regardless. Everyone is welcome as long as they like great films.
I’ll be at the festival the entire first weekend. I’ve got a lot of films to go through so expect lots of coverage. I’m still working out the second weekend and trying to see if I can get out to Sag Harbor for the third weekend.
There are just too many films to see and not enough time.
As this posts I’ve seen few of the shorts and five of the features. I’ll be posting the new reviews and reposting the old reviews beginning in a day or so.
I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve seen so far so my advice is just go see what ever tickles your fancy. I say this because most of the coverage of the fest is going to be after the fact since I will be going to the festival so I can’t do a big recommended list.
Go buy tickets. There is great stuff there.
Tickets can be had here
And if you see me and my monster bag come say hi
Revoir Paris (2022) Rendezvous WIth French CInema
Virginie Efira is amazing in REVOIR PARIS. Between this and another Rendezvous with French Cinema film, OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN, she makes a strong claim for the next great actress that Hollywood is going to bring to these shores for Oscar gold.
Origin of Evil (2022) Rendezvous With French Cinema 2023
A woman decides to leave the factory where she is working and make amends with her billionaire father, not realizing she will have to contend with the family he has put together since she left.
Harkis (2022) Rendezvous WIth French Cinema 2023
Harkis is the name of the locals who worked for the French in Algeria. They are part of the fighting force and they have joined up hoping that they will get the same rights as the French themselves. They want to go to France for a better life. As the occupation is winding down it looks like there may be a snag.
In an age where countries like America are going into countries to keep the peace or fight a war, like Afghanistan or Iraq, the question of wat happens to those who help the occupying country is a tricky one. What are we to do for those who put their lives on the line for us. The answer is we should take care of them but that isn’t always the case.
Harkis is the story of what happens from the guys in the trenches. It’s the story of the guys on the razor’s edge. They know there is a danger and a problem. There is a scene where one soldier is talking to his father who hates the French but loves his son and despite wanting the French out he wants the possibility of a better life for his son that working for the French represents. It’s a small scene that echoes down the rest of the film.
I was moved.
This is a really good film that raises a lot of questions about how we treat the the countries we go into and what happens when we leave.
A must see at Rendezvous With French Cinema
Sunday, February 26, 2023
Rendezvous With French Cinema Starts this week and it's all great
I’m going to cut to the chase, this year’s Rendezvous With French Cinema is the best one that I have covered in the last 12 years. I’ve seen fifteen of the films and there is only one I can’t recommend.
If that doesn’t get you to go out and buy tickets I don’t know what will.
The reality is that this annual survey of films from France has always been one of my favorite fests of the year. Every year I see any number of films that end up on my end of the year best lists. The selections are just wonderful.
This year the selections are so good I’m not going to wax poetic and ramble on about the series I’m just going to say go buy tickets. If you love thrillers this is especially the case since the thrillers they are running are incredible. Some may even curl your toes.
If I was to pick five must sees I’d say:
REVOIR PARIS about trying to recover from a mass shooting
GREEN PERFUME a romantic mystery thriller about murder and a secretive group
NIGHT OF THE 12th about a murder investigation in a small town
SATURN BOWLING about two estranged brothers and murder
HARKIS about the local soldiers who help the occupying force
I previous reviewed OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN and THREE NIGHTS A WEEK so if you read those reviews you’ll know those are films are musts as well.
Coverage starts tomorrow.
I should also mention that between REVOIR PARIS and OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN maybe the launching pad for Virginie Efira into the American consciousness. Her performances in both films are Oscar worthy. You need to see both to see how good she is.
Again- go buy tickets. There is great stuff here and you need to see it.
Step Right Up (2023)
When Glen’s coffee maker goes down he is forced to try and track a new one down, chasing the model he saw on TV commercial
This is a funny little short film that came as a big surprise to me. I say that because the email about this film seemed to come from nowhere just as I was going into a deep dive on a film festival. As a result I pushed the film aside until I had a clear moment. It finding films like this that is why I continue to do Unseen Films
Sporting a game cast who sell everything STEP RIGHT UP just is a constant joy. While a couple of the bits go on a bit too long in the hope of getting one more laugh, the reality is that I didn’t really mind because all the jokes land. Its rare that we get any comedy where it all works which is what makes this film worth a look
Saturday, February 25, 2023
The Oxford Film Festival Starts Wednesday
Make no mistake this is a kick ass festival. This is one of the best places to see great films. It's a place where you can just walk into any theater and no look at what they are screening and know you are more likely than not see a film that is going to delight you.
I wish I had more time to cover it, but I can't do it this year.
On the other hand I’ve already seen a good number of the features. So far I’ve seen:
EVERYBODY GOES TO THE HOSPITAL
Additionally I’ve seen the opening night film LITTLE RICHARD I AM ALL THINGS. It’s a fantastic film that is full of great music and stories and gets to the heart of the man himself in a way I’ve never seen before.
If you are near Oxford Mississippi go. Just buy tickets and go.
HAMLET SYNDROME (2023) Kino Polska at BAM
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine five actors ponder Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” speech in the wake of their experience with war. This is a kick ass film that mixes literature with the hard truths od warfare. Less about the speech than the damage done by war this is a film that will rock you thanks to the march of current events. This is a small gem of a film.
Friday, February 24, 2023
Eo (2022) Kino Polska at BAM
EO is a beautiful film it’s a film that draws comparison to Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar since both are about the life of a donkey. However unlike the Bresson film EO is wildly all over the place.
Nominally EO is the story of a donkey who lives and works in a circus is taken away by authorities. He is brought to a farm and eventually ends up wandering the country side having adventures.
The truth is this is like 9 or 10 films mashed together. We get all sorts pieces of stories that could be longer films unto themselves. More to the point as the film goes on Eo is just a link say between the truck driver story and the suspend priest tale. They are short and sweet but other than giving director Jerzy Skolimowski to do little vignettes (and work with Isabelle Huppert) they kind of go nowhere. Additionally after a certain point it’s not clear how we get from place to place. When Eo is beaten by the soccer thugs he goes to a hospital and then we see him working in a guy with animals he seems to be electrocuting, how did he get there?
The pieces themselves are fine but that’s all they are, pieces. There is no sense of ending. Even the end of the film was out of left field. Walking out of the film I spoke with a couple of people who were scratching their head. I also spoke with one journalist who had seen the film at Cannes and loved it but on seeing it a second time found it didn’t hold together.
Its a beautiful film, and has moments, but it never comes together as a whole.
Thursday, February 23, 2023
Woman in the Front Seat (2022) is on Amazon
WOMAN IN THE FRONT SEAT (WITFS) is a look at a group of women who love motorcycles and get together to do a motor rally.
WITFS is a film I wish I could have seen with my dad. My dad was a big motorcycle enthusiast and he would have had a great time watching all the motorcycles, and all the motorcycle love. I also wish I could have seen this on a big screen because the riding sequences are spectacular and had I been sitting down close in a theater I could have felt like I was riding along.
Ultimately this is a super little film. It shows that cycles are for anyone, not just guys. You can love bikes and be a girl, because frankly the bikes don’t care they just want to be ridden.
I had a good time.
WOMAN ON THE ROOF (2022) Kino Polska at BAM
To be honest I wish I had not seen it in the middle of a festival. I know that seeing it as the 52nd film at Tribeca worked against my absolutely loving it. I mean Dorota Pomykala gives absolutely seismic performance making this a moving film but in the crush of other festival films it was over whelmed. This is one of those films where I know I will have to revisit it. Its something that happens at festivals where you are seeing so much that smaller films get pushed aside because you’re so hyped up trying to see as much as you can you can’t give some films the thoughtful contemplation the film deserves.
I know that WOMAN ON THE ROOF is an infinitely better film than what I feel for it right now. I say that know that when the fest is done and I can catch it again down the road I will.
On the other hand since odds are you will not be seeing as many films as I have been seeing for the fest, and if you love great performances and quite dramas that kick you to the curb then see WOMAN ON THE ROOF when it plays at Kino Polska at BAM on the 25th
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Brief word on BUNKER (2023)
A squad of British troopers with an American soldier attached is sent to investigate an enemy trench work. When they get their they discover that that the trenches are empty...and a bunker has been sealed shut from the outside. They enter and find a dying soldier. A short time later they end up sealed in the bunker themselves when the Germans bomb it. AT that point things get weird as everyone turns on each other...
Running similar to any number of haunted war time bunker tales, this film hits all the expected notes of the subgenre. While it hits the regular notes the film scores by not having the expected reasoning behind it. What is behind it all wasn't what I was expecting.
I liked this film. I had a great time with it. It kept me guessing , which in this day and age doesn't happen often. This is worth a look. It is the perfect film to hunker down with while having popcorn and a soda.
When I saw LINOLEUM at SXSW last year I described my thoughts in a tweet to Liz Whittemore (who had seen the film before me and insisted I see it) as follows:
"Its one of those films you get to the end and then suddenly realize what you thought you were watching is not what it is but something else because the whole thing is this trip that... yea...and its one of those films you need to see again to discuss because the first time through you are not so much seeing it as experiencing it...and if I didn't have 12 other films I'd watch it again before reviewing it but thats not an option."
Liz's response to the tweet was "Absolutely"
Or to put it another way- this is one of those movies that's going to leave you slack jawed staring at the screen for a while as you try to process just what the hell you just saw and jonesing to see it again several more times.
Or to put it even simpler- it's a film that will remove spoken language from your brain for several minutes after you finish the film.
I honestly don't know what to say beyond that partly because I don't have the words, but also because I'm still processing the film.
The official plot reads as follows:
"When a satellite falls from orbit and crashes into the home of a dysfunctional family in suburban Ohio, the father seizes the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut by re-creating the machine as his own rocket ship. While his wife and daughter believe he is experiencing a midlife crisis, surreal events begin to unfold around him, forcing him to reconsider how interconnected their lives truly are"
And that's what it is at the start, but where it goes and how it goes is something else entirely.
I am tempted to try and talk more about the film but I'm not. I don't want to be the one to spoil this film for you. I say that because I know most of my fellow writers are going to tell yu everything- which is their right- but its going to change how you see the film- which is wrong. You need to see this full on with no turns revealed.
One of the gems of SXSW
LAMYA'S POEM (2021)
Alex Kronemer's LAMYA'S POEM concerns a 12 year old girl in Aleppo Syria who is trying to continue her studies with a traveling teacher. Her teacher gives her books and asks her to help teach her friends. The latest book he leaves with her is a book of poems by Rumi. As the war closes in the stories in the poems echoes in Lamya's life.
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
God's Time (2022) opens Friday 2/24
I think this might be the great discovery of Tribeca 2022. Where did this film come from and why wasn't it on anyone's dance card?
The film has two friends in an addicts support group trying to stop a woman they are interested in from shooting her boyfriend.
This film rocks. Its a film of charming characters that grab us and pull us in. Yea they aren't always nice, but we like them. All hail the cast, especially Ben Groh, Dion Costelloe, and Liz Caribel Sierra. Everyone from top to bottom hits it out of the park.
The script is also truly amazing. Its a beautifully written film that works on levels we don't often see in any film. I mean the film's listing as a dark comedy, and it's funny but it's really more a drama, one with deep resonances about life and friendship and soooooo many things.
Honestly I don't know what to say. I wasn't planning on seeing this film, but I put it on streaming and thought I'd go through my email, instead I stopped surfing and just watched...and then I started emailing people.
This film is a gem.
Delegation (2023) Berlin
While on a school trip to the Holocaust sites before graduation three friends find their relationship under pressure as past and present collide in the wake of their soon becoming full-fledged adults.
I’m kind of uncertain what I feel about Delegation. It’s not that the film is bad, more that the mix of a coming of age drama set on a trip to holocaust sites makes for an odd viewing experience. While I know this sort of thing happens in real life all the time as school groups visit the sites, seeing it played out on the big screen is odd to me since it has been beaten into us that the sites are to be treated with reverence. And I should say the subject of the Holocaust is handled reverentially. It’s simply that that we are watching teen angst play out in Poland.
On it’s own terms Delegation is a good look at a bunch of kids growing up. The cast is excellent and they sell everything that is going on. The mix of genres is something that Israeli film have always managed to do well going back to the long running Lemon Popsicle series in the 1970’s. Its films like this that truly make you understand what bittersweet means.
Worth a look.
Brief thoughts on Properties of Metal (2023) Berlin 2023
An American scientist goes to a small village where a young man who can bend metal lives. The pair become friends as the young man slowly comes of age.
Lyrical coming of age film about life in a small Italian town is a sweet little film. Its full of nice characters and a sense of a life that’s lived. It’s so nice on it’s own terms that I’m not sure it needs the McGuffin of the metal bending. While it is there as reason to bring in the scientist( surrogate father) and serves to set up thematic elements the film doesn’t need it.
What a real joy.
UNDER THE SKY OF DAMASCUS (2023) Berlin 2023
A group of women in Damascus come together to put a play together about the treatment of women in the country.
The idea behind the film is that the women are going to put a play together but the misogyny in Syria. The film is lays bare the abuse of women at the hands of men and by the structures of power. What starts out as a large group of women slowly dwindles as the subject matter takes its toll on their lives. Then a series of unexpected events occur which cause everything to fall apart.
This is an atypical film. The film was put together by Heba Khaled who is living in exile in Berlin. She directed the crew remotely in Syria. The film is bookended by the story of Sabah Al-Salem an actress who was tossed into prison and broken by the abuse she suffered there. Through the women's research and their own stories the full extent of the abuse of women in Syria is revealed.
It's also very messy in that things happen unexpectedly. The films final third is a series of events which are stark reminders that life sometimes gets in the way. By the time the ending comes things are not fully resolved, and some of what happens is not concluded. However I was still left staring at the screen feeling beaten up by what I had seen. Life, messy as it is has a way of punching you square in the face.
Because of the rough edges and bumps I loved this film. Because of them this film is closer to life and felt more connected to the whole story. I loved the strength of the women in it. I loved the way the film shows us a side of Syria that is not what we typically see. It is not all bombed out cities, but a place of life. I also love that the film goes full bore on the misogyny that is running rampant in the country (and in other countries as well) it's a clear indication that the relationship between men and women in many places, is a war geared toward the destruction of one side by the other.
The full on revelations of the misogyny echoes out from the film. As the stories come out we see begin to see that it is not just in one place but everywhere. There are parallels to the world outside Syria. It's something that we may intellectually have know before, however this film brings it to the fore front. If you doubt that consider how some of the stories of control mirror efforts to limit the right for women to control their lives and bodies even here in America.
Make no mistake this film is an absolute gut punch. It’s a film that opens your eyes and rips out your heart concerning the treatment of women in the world. If you had any doubt about how bad the misogyny is this film will set you straight. As the film makes clear the abuse is the result of the abusers having control issues, as well as being sadists.
I was rocked. The audience I saw this with was too, as it fell unnaturally silent during several portions of the film.
This is a great film. It's the best film I've seen from this year's Berlin slate. It may be one of the years best as well simply because I can’t shake the film and I’ve been discussing it and rewriting this review ever since I saw it. .
Monday, February 20, 2023
Happy Birthday Unseen Films
Now we are thirteen.
Unseen Films is now officially a moody anti-social teenager who would rather sit in their room talking to friends than hang out with their parents.
The sad truth is that I’m a moody anti-social adult locked in his room trying to meet a deadline.
It’s been a wild and crazy ride that has not gone remotely as expected.
After doing twelve previous Happy Birthday To Us posts I’m not quite sure what to say that hasn’t been said before.
A huge thank you to the entire crew of friends/writers who have come along on this crazy ride. I love you all.
While time had caused many of us to go separate ways, and one of us to be lost to the sands of time, I’m hoping to reconnect with a lot of you this year (I’m talking about you Mondo, JB and the terrible twosome from Jersey). Hopefully we will all be able to break bread or eat popcorn or get BBQ in the next few months.
Actually what I’m hoping is that in addition to reconnecting to the core of Unseen Films I can get to meet a large number of the friends who I’ve made since covid crept in. There are a bunch of us who have been talking on line and who have never met in person and it would be nice to have a physical presence with the words and images.
Beyond that I don’t know. I’d say I’d like world peace and sanity to return in the next year but I don’t want to provoke laughter.
As for the future of the site. Who knows. After thirteen years I don’t know anything. Every time I think things are going to break one way they go another and then go back again. What ever is going to happen will. If nothing else you’ll have things to read until at least the end of October….maybe longer if I start to move things forward.
And with that I’m going off.
There will be no more posts today. I could lie and say that I’m taking a break to just chill but I’m writing this two weeks in advance and I know the odds are I’m going to be watching some film or other for some festival or other.
Thank you all for coming along.
Big hug and bags of popcorn to everyone
Sunday, February 19, 2023
Silver Haze (2023) Berlin 2023
When Jacky was a child she was severely burned when the pub she had fallen asleep in burned. Years later she is still haunted by the events of the day and looking for closure. Meeting a young woman in her job at a hospital she begins toward getting closure.
Marking the glorious return to the screen of Vicky Knight, an actress who rocked the pillars of heaven in director Sacha Polak’s DIRTY GOD, Silver haze is an emotional rollercoaster. A trip into the depths of a pained soul the film carries us along as Knight shows us the pain and suffering caused by a painful event almost two decades earlier. We are carried along as we follow one woman tries to find redemption and peace. Knight is again working at the highest levels of her profession and if the gods should deem it she should be in the mix for yearend gold.
As much as I am willing to follow Knight anywhere, I kind of wish the script was a little more surprising. While there is nothing wrong with what happens, there was a point somewhere along the way things seemed to be falling onto paths we’ve seen before. I felt a little too much that I knew how some of this was going to play out. I fully blame Knight and the rest of the cast being too good for the material. Everyone on screen push their characters right off it and into the realm of real people and watching them go through a movie plot makes it a little hard to accept.
On the other hand they are all so good that by the time we get to the final blackout there are some tears shed.
Recommended for the excellent cast and made a must by it’s star Vicky Knight
The Harvest (2023) Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2023
Based on writer and star Doua Moua's experiences, THE HARVEST is the story of a Hmong son who returns home to help his ailing father. This sets up a clash between his traditional parents who fled Southeast Asia and himself. It is a story of life and family and things we don't always recognize bind us together.
While nominally a "family drama" THE HARVEST is much more. It is an example of why we need to have diverse voices making art in the world. On the most basic level it shows us something new. I say this because until I saw THE HARVEST I had never heard of the Hmong people. I didn't know their story or anything about them. However because this is their story I had to look things up and see who they are. In doing so I opened a door to a group I don't think most Americans know anything about.
More importantly THE HARVEST artistically makes it clear that there are more stories waiting to be told. While the story in film is on the face of it the story of a family and the "prodigal" son, the film doesn't behave like a typical Hollywood or even American Inde film. The rhythms are slightly different. the world view is different. We are looking at the characters in a different way. Moua by focusing on the life he knows is showing us a family in different light. The dynamics are different and as a result we get a better understanding of not just the life of the characters on the screen but the lives of everyone everywhere. This new view gives us insight and wisdom.
This is a wonderful film. It's a beautifully moving story acted by a fantastic cast who seem more entwined than most casts. There are times when you will wonder if they aren't all related and not just actors since there is a naturalness to their interactions. They behave like family in small moves and gestures that clue us into the bonds between them.
I really like THE HARVEST a great deal. I wish I had seen it at the start of the festival so that I could have directed you to it's small wonders. As it is, please put the film on your must see list and catch it at it's next stop on the festival circuit.
Teachers Lounge (2023) Berlin 2023
When things begin disappearing in her school and a student is accused of doing it a teacher begins to look into the matter and ends up causing all sorts of problems as she tries to negotiate between various groups.
This very mannered film walks the fine line between drama and uncomfortable comedy as a do good and principled teacher finds the way she sees the world is not compatible with the way things are. The drama comes from the situation and the dark humor comes from the way things just don’t quite play out the way out heroine wants them to. It’s not really funny as such but it’s in that uncomfortable place where bad things happen to good people and you laugh lest you squirm.
While everything in the film is really well done I found that I never connected to what was happening. I blame it on the tone which really didn’t connect to me. I’m not really a fan of cinema of discomfort and I usually need something to hold on to in order to make the connection. Here I didn’t have it and while I could intellectually appreciate everything on screen there wasn’t any emotional connection.
Because there is enough good here and because several other reviewers loved this I think this is worth a look.
Mutt (2023) Berlin 2023
Fena, a trans man living in New York City has a trying 24 hour period. His ex-boyfriend from before his transition reappears, his half sister wants to spend time with him and his father is coming in from out of town.
I really like MUTT a great deal. Its a solid drama with good cast. Lio Mehiel is great as Fena. They are on screen for the entire film and they carry the film on their back. While the rest of the cast is just as good, Mehiel is the one doing the heavy lifting and is the reason that we remain fixed at what is transpiring on the screen.
If there is any weakness in the film it is the single day construction. While setting the film in a single 24 hour period drives the film, X,Y and Z have to happen so Fena can pick up his dad, it creates a sense of artificiality. We know everything will be resolved by the fade out because the structure that the script is using requires things to end in closure.
Reservation about the structure aside the film still moved me. Yes it's artificial at times, but Mehiel is so damn good that they carry the film and your emotions to a misty conclusion.
Saturday, February 18, 2023
Golden Cage (2023) Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2023
Golden Cage is a beautiful film. It’s a film whose final shots are utterly beautiful and heartbreaking.
The film is the story of a mother and son going to meet each other after years of not seeing each other on either side of the US/ Mexico border. Both are looking forward to the meeting and both are afraid that the other will not recognize them.
The end of this film is the very definition of bittersweet. It’s the film that is full of the happiness of a mother and son reconnecting in person and heartbreaking in how it occurs. It’s a film that had me talking to the screen in the best way.
I truly love this film. There is a simplicity to it that hides a brick. This is a simple film with and emotional punch. It’s not flashy or showy or anything like that. It’s just a story that creeps up on you then pounces.
I can’t recommend this film enough.
Sea Sparkle (2023) Berlin 2023
After her father, a sea captain, is killed at sea, a young girl becomes convinced that he was killed by an undiscovered sea creature. Wanting to clear his name she begins to hunt the beast.
This is a good coming of age story that is not what you expect. I thought this was going to be an adventure instead I got a film about dealing with the death of a parent and the things we do in order to make sense of them. Yes there is the quest for the “beast” but the reality is this is about the part of us that can’t let go.
I really like this film a great deal. It feel like it’s an honest portrait of todays kids. I got lost in the girl‘s quest and I felt like I was watching a real kid and not a movie kid that was working from a script. Actually this was the sort of thing that I could imagine my friend Randi or her friend Janni going through when they were the same age.
This film is definitely worth a look. It’s good enough that I fully expect the film to be playing the festival circuit for a good long while before finding a home on home video.
American Outlaws (2023) Santa Barbara International FIlm Festival 2023
After the cops threaten to throw one of the Dougherty boys in prison for the hell of it, the three siblings decide to leave and go to Costa Rica. Unfortunately things don't go as plan and it turns into a running crime spree.
Based on a GQ story, AMERICAN OUTLAWS is a ripping crime drama. One of the best crime films I've seen recently the film manages to entertain as it roars along. There is a real weight to the proceedings and the fact it's a true story keeps us on edge.
Going into the film I thought the film was going to be a lighthearted romp with guns. I was quickly corrected as things played out and you realize that everyone is in over their head. It's an attitude that's reflected in the dialog when two FBI guys come to the conclusion that you really can't win any more because it's all stacked against us. It's clear the Dougherty's have it all stacked against them.
What a great film.
I love that the film is more than just a crime film. I love that we have a film that is doing more than being a bang bang shoot 'em up. You can take it as that if you want, but you don't have to.
Finding films like this is why I love festivals.
Quiet Migration (2023) Berlin 2023
A nineteen year old adopted Korean man ponders his future on the Danish farm where he was raised. He wants to see what is out in the world and in the country (South Korea) where he was born.
Beautiful and lyrical film about how we see ourselves and how we struggle to find our place in the world. It’s a film that ponders the age old question of where do we belong and what makes us who we are.
A film of stunning beauty, I really wish I had seen this on a big screen, I found I was moved by the very human story. I liked how the film gave us people we could really feel for. What is it that makes who we are the place of out birth or the people who raised and loved us? There is a shot late in the film of mother and son toward the end of the film that seemed to answer it and which made me misty.
What a delight.
If I may digress for a moment - in some ways the film would make an interesting double feature with the recent award winning RETURN TO SEOUL, which is also about a Korean adoptee from Europe trying to come to terms with her heritage. While the course of both films are completely different some of the themes are similar and seeing them presented from different perspectives had my mind working over time.
Worth a look, especially on a big screen.
The Legend of Mexman (2023) Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Portrait of Germán Alonso as he works on his first feature film, MexMan while grappling with his crew and himself.
Friday, February 17, 2023
Vishniac (2023) Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2023
This is an excellent look at ROman Vishniac and his family who went on to achieve things int their own right. Filled with interviews, films and recreations the film fills in the blanks on a man who most people know only through his photographs. Its a film that wonderfully reveals a living breathing man to be behind some amazing images.
What I knew of Vishniac going into the film was that he took hundred of photographs on the eve of the Second World War and preserved a record of a way of life largely wiped out by the Nazis. I didn't know that at time he was making scientific films which millions of students for decades. I also didn't know about his children's role in all of this.
Giving full breath to the man behind the images VISHNIAC does what all good biographies should do which is not only give us a fuller appreciation of the subjects achievements but also reveal them as a person. The highest praise I can give the film is that Vishniac comes across not as some mythic figure but someone just like us. He's someone we'd want to hang out with because he isn't that far from us.
I was delighted. I was moved.
This is a super film.
KILLING ME SOFTLY WITH HIS SONGS (2023) Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2023
This portrait of Charles Fox had me smiling from start to finish. Fox may not be a name you know but you know his music which runs from hit songs to film scores to TV theme songs. This is a wonderful celebration of the man and his music.
I really liked this film a great deal. Fox is an engaging man and listening to him talk about his life to his friends and family is a great deal of fun.
Actually the film really kicks into high gear about a half an hour in when we finally move from his early life and time as a musician to the point where he starts writing the music we all know (Happy Days, Lavern and Shirley and Wonder Woman theme songs, Killing Me Softly and I Got a Name are just some of the hit songs he wrote). Its at this point you will start singing along until the end credits roll.
What an absolute delight.
Unless have lived under a rock for the past half century and never listen to the radio or turn a TV you will want to see this film and you will fall in love with it.
Nate Hood on WOMEN TALKING (2022)
[Trigger Warning: This review involves discussion of sexual assault.]
In 2014, the Christian film studio Pure Flix Entertainment released the movie God’s Not Dead. Though the studio had been producing and distributing movies since 2004 to moderate success within evangelical circles, God’s Not Dead—the story of a Christian college student debating and ultimately defeating his belligerent atheist professor—unexpectedly broke into the mainstream. Despite critical revulsion and noted disgust by many non-Christians for perpetuating ugly stereotypes of atheists, the film made over $62 million on a $2 million budget and gained enough word-of-mouth to become a shorthand for a specific strain of Christian media. Chances are you know the kind I mean—films with confrontational titles like I’m Not Ashamed, Do You Believe?, and War Room where faith is frequently paired with eyebrow-raising Christian nationalism. Over the last two decades, these movies have become a genre unto themselves, simply labeled “Christian films.”
I personally find that term a misnomer. Certainly, these represent a kind of Christian film. But the idea that these are the only films that can be called “Christian” spits in the face of over a century of filmmaking that has piously (and sometimes impiously) struggled with what it means to follow in Jesus. These are films that embrace the ambiguity of faith, acknowledge the true fallenness of the world, and refuse to shy away from the darkest historical crevices of organized religion. Whereas Pure Flix-esque “Christian films” reassure believers with one-dimensional victories against straw man opponents, to watch this second species of film is to feel one’s faith tested, tried, stretched, yet ultimately strengthened. These are films like Roland Joffé’s The Mission (1986) which interrogates the Catholic Church’s complicity in the colonization and genocide of indigenous South Americans. These are films like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), a devout work of pious imagination that dares to grapple with what it meant for Jesus Christ to face the earthly temptations of the spirit and flesh. These are films like Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life (2019), the biography of a real-life Austrian farmer whose faith led to his murder in a Nazi prison.
And these are films like Sarah Polley’s Women Talking. Not only is it one of the best films of 2022, but I’d also argue it’s destined to take its place as one of the most theologically nuanced and morally courageous films ever made about Christianity. It takes as its inspiration the horrific true story from 2011 where seven men from the Manitoba Colony—a community of ultraconservative Mennonites in Bolivia—drugged over 100 of their neighbors with animal tranquilizers and raped them. These men were eventually caught and surrendered by their community to the secular authorities where all but one of them were sentenced to decades in prison. This film, however, takes a different approach. Describing itself as a work of “female imagination,” it relocates the narrative to the American countryside and wonders what might happen if the men of the community closed ranks around the rapists and gave the women with an ultimatum: forgive their attackers or be excommunicated and exiled from the community.
Sounds farfetched? Hardly. Consider the bombshell report from 2022 that revealed the Southern Baptist Convention had covered up hundreds of their pastors being accused or found guilty of molesting children. In each of these congregations, powerful men—Christian men—had cudgeled the victims and their families into silence and submission, sometimes with threats of excommunication, sometimes by using Jesus’ command to forgive one’s enemies to guilt them into not pressing charges. But one need not think of this most recent scandal; ask any group of women from any congregation and chances are at least one of them has at least one story tucked away where they were told to shut their mouths, look away, and keep quiet when some man was found doing something they shouldn’t.
Women Talking, then, wonders what might happen if the women of this Mennonite community called the men’s bluff and seriously considered leaving. After an initial vote results in a tie between those who want to stay and fight and those who want to leave, eleven of the women are elected as representatives to meet, debate, and ultimately decide their collective fate. Most of the film is comprised of these deliberations where they weigh the pros and cons of staying or leaving. Some of the arguments are practical: how are they supposed to survive outside the colony if—being forbidden to receive any education—none of them can read or write? Having never left the borders of the colony, many of them literally can’t imagine the outside world. Are there mountains out there? Rivers? Other groups of people who might help or hurt them? And what of their prepubescent sons? Should they be brought along or have they already been poisoned by their fathers’ misogyny so that one day they might pose a similar threat?
But what truly makes Women Talking special are the moments when the film turns towards the theological. As stated, the film is based on a true story, but it’s also an adaptation of a novel by Miriam Toews, a now excommunicated Mennonite who grew up in a community not dissimilar to the one in the film. As such—despite its director Sarah Polley being an atheist—it never once questions the existence or providence of God. The result is a film of devout Christians navigating an impossible situation with their faith, not in spite of it. For example, one of the women named Salome (Claire Fox) reveals that if she stays in the colony she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from killing the man who raped her four-year-old daughter. Would it be more “Christian” for her to refuse forgiveness and leave the colony if it meant saving the rapist’s life? Is forgiveness even forgiveness if the offending party remains unrepentant? Could one even call their community “Christian” if the women remained and allowed their men to continue raping with impunity? What if, instead, as one of the women named Ona (Rooney Mara) suggests, by leaving they might forge “a new religion, extrapolated from the old but focused on love.”Entire books could (and should!) be written on the theology of Women Talking, but what makes it a truly great “Christian film” is how it gives Christians the language and a model for how to address such scandals within their ranks. Early in the film, the narrator reveals that sex and the discussion of women’s bodies was so taboo among the community that the rape victims literally didn’t have the language to describe what happened to them. It was their confrontation with an unknown—indeed, an unknowable—cruelty that made their situation so existentially and spiritually horrific. But no more. These terrors have been named. They have been confronted. And in God’s name, may they never force victims into silence ever again.
ALAM (2022) Santa Barbara International FIlm Festival 2023
A young Tamer is a Palestinian Israeli who is typical teenager, trying to deal with school, parents and girls. When a beautiful new girl arrives he falls hopelessly in love...and becomes more politically awakened as his new love causes him to take a stand politically.
This is a wonderful mix of teen life and politics. Normally in similar films from Israel or its neighbors films like this lean heavily into to politics of the situation. The filmmakers want to make a political point and focus on that forget that the characters don't live in a vacuum. Here director Firas Khoury never lets us forget that while Tamer is growing politically aware he is also growing up as a human. He is still trying to find his way and looking for guidance from the people in his life. Additionally he doesn't stop being himself. We are watching him become a man. It's a simple thing that many filmmakers forget to do. By giving us rounded characters from start to finish ALAM is a film that we love with our hearts and not just our heads.
21 Miles in Malibu (2023) Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2023
A look at the city of Malibu and the 21 mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway that runs through it. Because the high speed highway has to slow down, the 21 mile stretch has become super deadly taking the lives of hundreds of people over the last few years.
Good but a bit unfocused look at a serious problem in one of the most famous parts of the state 21 MILES IN MALIBU wants to be two things the same time. First it wants to be a look at the very real and very serious problem of traffic fatalities in the beach community. At the same time much of the film is angled toward being a memorial for one of the victims Emily Shane. While I have nothing against the family for making a film that focuses on their daughter the film should have been expanded to include more stories of the loss and devastation the PCH is causing in people's lives.
While not a bad film it should have done more to make people really feel the danger.
Thursday, February 16, 2023
North Circular (2023) Santa Barbara International FIlm Festival 2023
NORTH CIRCULAR is the story of Dublin’s North Circular Road, from the Phoenix Park to Dublin Port. Shot in moody black and white and full of fantastic music and stories the film is a trip across the city and through time.
I really wish I had seen NORTH CIRCULAR on a big screen. The images are truly breath taking. This is a film that absolutely would not work had it been in color. The duotone is everything and it puts us into the land of dream where the world of past and present merge.
This film is wonderful. As I said this film full of great stories. If you ever wanted to know why we are always influenced by the past this film will give you a good idea since through the songs and stories we see how the course of out lives and those around us affect us all.
The truth of the matter is that this film is not a film to read about or discuss. This is a living breathing cinematic trip. You have to travel the road from start to finish to understand why it’s so special. You have to see and hear it all. Yes some of it may not be your pint of beer, but I’m guessing most of it will be. I’m also guessing that there are going to be times when the words/music and images come together to into a glorious transcendent moment that brings tears to your eyes.
Highly recommended, NORTH CIRCUAR is a must.
THE LEGEND OF GATOTKACA (2023) hits Yi-Ha! 2/17 before hitting home video March 21
Yuda is a college student who doesn't believe in the old legends. When a masked assassin begins killing people he discovers that he has superhero like powers and must use them confront an ancient evil looking to take over the world.
That's a simple retelling of the plot, but it is enough to get you started with this insane film from Indonesia.
Wild and crazy superhero action film is exactly the sort of thing that Marvel would never do, namely leaning into the darkness (they kill kids) while going big with the crazy action sequences. Basically this a balls to wall crazy ass action film that is going to delight those with a love Asian style action. Seriously no American studio would try to do something like this, or if they did they wouldn't succeed.
Or more simply put I had an absolute blast watching this film. It pretty much goes from the first frame to the last. Sure the film is probably a bit over long at 130 minutes, but it's not because the film isn't trying. There is a lot going on here and it takes time to spell it all out. The film also manages to mix the serious with humor in a perfect balance that manages to keep things on an even keel.
If you are tired of the same old same old superhero nonsense from places like Marvel and DC , or just need to fill time until the next Hollywood release then THE LEGEND OF GATOTKACA will keep you happy.
Actually if you just want a good action film this is for you
Recommended with a big bowl of popcorn.
SAVOY (2022) Santa Barbara International FIlm Festival 2023 (2022)
Story of the 1975 terrorist attack on a hotel in TelAviv as told by Kochava Levy a hostage who survived the attack.
One part recreation and one part conventional documentary the film recreates the attack via the descriptions of Levy’ diary. The aftermath is told through news footage of what happened in the aftermath.
This is a very good film. It’s a film that not only reveals what actually happened in the attack but also how the media bent things in the aftermath, resulting in Levy‘s reputation being destroyed as a result. It’s a cautionary tale for the modern media obsessed age.
As good as this film is, and it is a must see at SBIFF, I kind of wish the whole film had been a recreation. Its not that there is anything wrong with the documentary sections, rather we are so invested in the “characters” I wish we could have ridden all the way to the end of their story for a bit more instead of marching to the end.
As it is this is a fil that will grab you and hold you.