Sunday, April 30, 2023

Minore (2023) FANTSPOA 2023


In a small Greek village some of the towns folk, tourists and musicians must fight off some evil eye creatures from the sea.

Wonderful mix of horror and comedy is an absolute delight. Taking the time to create real characters and situations this film gives us a group of people we like and with whom we want to fight the monsters. More importantly, while occasionally having its tongue in its cheek it never lets things spin wildly out of control. The jokes come from the people and situations and not just the need for a cheap laugh. The film creates a splendid sense of good will that carries us from start to finish.

One of the things I love about the film is the monsters. While on one hand they are kind of funny, on the other they are creepy as all hell. We want to see them die because despite looking kind of silly, they are also incredibly unnerving. In a weird way they are some of the best designed monsters I've seen in years.

I loved this film and I would love to see it again at a festival where I could see it with a theater full of people all on the same page, or in a drive in movie where it's wonderful 1970's or 1980's Euro Horror vibe would be right at home.

One of the best films at this year's Fantaspoa, MINORE is a must see for horror fans.


CEMETERY of CINEMA is the story of filmmaker traveling across his home country of Guinea, other places in Africa and finally France. He is looking for a print of MOURAMANI which is supposed to have been the first film shot in his country by filmmaker Thierno Souleymane Diallo 

I absolutely love most of this film. The film is not only a glorious celebration of cinema, but also kick ass history of Guinea. It may seem unexpected but in looking for the film and what may have happened to it we are required to look into the history of his country since the societal shifts may have been responsible for the films disappearance and perhaps indicating a possible hiding place for it. The result of all the searching is a series of conversations and encounters that open up our eyes with unexpected turns.

What an absolute joy.

As much as I love the actual searching and encounters I’m mixed on some of the flourishes that director Diallo inserts into the film. There is a lot sequences where  he walks from place to place that wear thin rather quickly. Other bits add coloring but don’t need to be there.

Over all though this is a must for anyone who loves cinema and those looking for its importance to the culture of a country. This film makes clear that our heritage shouldn’t be allowed disappear.


Echo Of Everything (2023) Hot Docs 2023

ECHO OF EVERYTHING is a trip. My basic attitude is just buy a ticket and take a ride, but since that doesn’t really work for a review, let me talk for a couple of minutes.

ECHO is a meditation on the nature of music, or it starts off as a meditation/essay on the nature of music and then goes off into all sorts of unexpected places like the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Nominally it is an illustrated talk where director Cam Christiansen‘s talk is illustrated by Andy Curtis in Caligari like make up and segments with different musicians whose music help to illustrate the points he is making.

It’s very hard to really explain what this film is because the film isn’t a film, but a trip. Where we get on to the train of celluloid is not where we get off. The film changes as it goes along. More importantly the film changes us as we go along. Whether you like the film or not the sheer act of seeing  THE ECHO OF EVERYTHING is going to alter your DNA. The questions it raises, and the thoughts it puts before you will force you to engage with them and as you wrestle with the implications of each point your view of “everything” changes. You are not the same person you were at the start.  This isn’t am idle statement, but the truth since each piece of information builds on the last. It’s like a perfectly selected play list of music and ideas meant to your head and heart dancing in a new direction.

I can only imagine what second and third or more viewings will result in since, as I said above, everything builds on everything else.

And while that may make the film sound overly heady, it isn’t. It is instead a fun ride that delights you in the best ways. Its such a blast to just watch, that odds are you aren’t going to realize that it got your mind going until sometime after the end credits have finished rolling and you find you are still thinking about the film.

What an absolute delight.

A must see.

Cynara (2023) Hot Docs 2023

CYNARA is a hell of a film. The film is the story of Cindy Ali who called the police after her house after a home invasion.  She was knocked unconscious and her daughter Cynara who had cerebral palsy died. The paramedic who arrived on scene wasn’t comfortable with what he saw and Cindy ended up convicted of killing her daughter, however it became clear that it wasn’t as clear  as the police were making it out to be and that that some of the testimony was dead wrong. 

You will not be able to look away from CRYNARA once it gets going because you will have to see how it all comes out. What happens is not what you think and by the time you get to the end of the film you will still have a ton of questions. As this film makes clear life is not neat and easily slotted.

Told with a mix of interviews and recreations the film truly puts us into the middle of the case. Told as the case is heading toward an appeal for a new trial, director lays it all out for us. It’s clear that things are not as cut and dried as the police make out (I mean the paramedic instead there was snow on the walk way when photos show there was none) …and most amazingly the film, rightly, leaves questions as to Cindy‘s story.  Weeks on from seeing the film and I’m still trying to figure out what exactly happened.

This is wonderful puzzle box of a film and you need to see it.

One of the must sees of Hot Docs it is highly recommended.

Rowdy Girl (2023) Hot Docs 2023

This is a look at a farm family who decided to get away from raising animals and switched to more environmentally sound farming of plants.

This is a good look at how some people are looking to treat animals ethically and switch all plant based diets. We watch as the couple spread the word about ethical farming. How you react to the film will depend upon how you feel about a world without meat. My personal opinion is that this is a good film, but the years long battles I’ve had with friends about veganism have taken it’s toll and I have a hard time rehashing battles I’ve had in my own life. If  that sort of thing doesn’t bother you ROWDY GIRL is definitely worth a look.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Logger (2023) Fantaspoa 2023


Logger is a cinematic horror tinged tone poem. It’s a film where form over comes substance making it a cinematic work of ghoulish art.

The film follows what happens when a logger finds a dead body in the woods and death shows up to help him sort things out. It’s nowhere near as silly as that sounds.

This is a film best seen in a theater or in a darkened room with no distractions. You need to fully give yourself over to the film and let it work it’s magic. I say this because the construction of the film is very deliberate. It take awhile before anything happens. It’s not that it’s draggy or anything, rather it’s operating on its own time table. It’s doing so not to build scares but create an uneasy uncomfortable mood that is going to haunt you.

Logger is all about that mood. It’s not a film of jump scare but something darker. Logger is one of those small scale films that crawl under your skin and root around with you. There are things I the film that just aren’t right, more so when they are attached to all of the other things rattling around in the film. I wasn’t scared by the film, rather I was bothered by it for the seven or eight hours that passed from when I saw it until I went to bed. I also suspect that some of the images were the reason I didn’t get a good sleep that night.

While Logger leans a bit toward the more artistic end of the horror spectrum, I still recommend the film for any horror fan because I suspect there is something inside it that is going to stick with you.

NIGHT ORCHID (1983) Old School Kung Fu Fest 2023

Bridgette Lin stars in a breakneckly paced film based on a 65 episode TV series about a Robin Hood like character.

I’m not going to lie, I have no idea what the plot of this film is.  Its just wild and crazy motion with lots of characters coming and going with the need for everyone to storm a trap filled temple.  I could follow who the good guys were and who the bad guys were but I really had no idea what any of the details were.  That said the battles are cool and if you love crazy Hong Kong period martial arts films give this a look.


Friday, April 28, 2023

Coven (2023) Hot Docs 2023

A look at young women who are attempting to reclaim the word witch as something other as being something evil. They are seeking to return the notion of what a witch is back toward a healer and a spiritual person in touch with nature and the universe.

Coven is a good film. While it hues close to the expected course on the subject it still manages to throw its net wider than most similar studies by taking in related matters from other cultures. This is the sort of film that is going to find it’s audience among young women who are looking for outside of the so-called conventional spiritual channels.

If I am going to quibble about the film it’s going to be that while Laura who is the main focus of the film is a charming young woman we would follow anywhere, the fact that she has a “goth” like appearance is going to make some people think that the film is less than it is.  That would be a mistake on their part since this film has a great deal to say about the path to becoming one with the universe.


Thursday, April 27, 2023

Legend of the Sacred Stone (2000) Old School Kung Fu Fest 2023

A true martial arts epic done completely with puppets.

Yes, that's right its a dead nuts on target xuxia epic that's all puppets and it will blow your mind.

The film begins with a voice over saying that 400 years ago when a sage sends the three heirs of the sects and the six Representatives of the major sects (that's what my translation says) to fight a demon who has escaped and is seeking to take over the martial arts world.

Basically the film starts with a bunch of heroes and armies battling a demon in the mountains. The heroes beat the demon and lock up his mortal remains. They then send it off to be entombed for eternity. Unfortunately the Unfriendlies arrive and release the demon and then set off looking for the pieces of the Heaven Stone. (that's about the first 20 minutes.) After that things calm down as some of the heroes try to stop the The Unfriendlies and help a young woman and her father.

If you think any of this makes any real sense you're seriously mistaken and you've never seen some of the classic wu xia films like the Zu films, The Storm Riders films, many Bruce Lee films or even the "classic" The Blade. You have to remember the details of the stories don't really matter in many of the classic films, it's motion, and ideas and feelings, three things that this film has in abundance.

Each time I'm watching the puppets go through their battles I've always been struck by how the moves are perfectly executed. Here is everything you've seen in many of the martial arts films of the 1970's and 80's but done in such away that you really forgive the wire work and over done special effects. Watching real people go through the motions I'm always slightly distanced by the fantastic (and ultimately silly) moves. The fact that its a movie is always front and center. However watching these puppets I get lost. The unreality of the characters meshes perfectly with the overly theatrical moves and effects.

Ultimately this is everything you've ever seen in a wuxia film, but real.

I really like this film a great deal and it's been a film that I've loaned a lot over the years to friends and family who love "kung fu" films. Every time I talk someone into seeing it, generally it's something people to do reluctantly. They don't think they'll ever get past it being puppets. Amazingly in all but one or two cases people do. More amazingly everyone seems to be stymied at how some of it was done. Yes it's all tricks and wires and angles, but it all blends together into something...well amazing.

Now I want to be completely honest.

In deciding to write this film up I pulled the film out and watched it, really watched it again, for the first time in several years. Seeing it again from start to finish for the first time I found that I was not as in love with the film as I had been. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a great film, but I think I've seen it way too many times...

...however that doesn't make me recommend the film any less. This is still a spectacular film that anyone who loves the movies and what movies can do should see.

This is a treasure.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Once Upon A Time in the Future: 2121 (2022) Fantaspoa 2023

In a future where mankind has been driven underground due to war and environmental destruction the young control society. As new children are brought into the world old folks are eliminated. When a family unit is expecting a new baby things begin to change.

Polemical science fiction film seems more like a selection of dystopian greatest hits than anything that has is its own thing. Its a film where the world it is creating doesn't feel real but more something that was cobbled together in order to get it's point across. (Adam and Eve, Logan's Run, THX1138)

I'm personally trying to figure out what that point is. 

On some level this would have played better on a stage than as a film. On stage we would have been willing to forgive more of the bumps because we fall into the events that are happening right before us. In a film we need some sort of reality created for the film to work since it's not right there before us. We never get a real world here.

While not bad, it's just never compelling, and my feeling is if this had to be a film , it would have been better as a short since it could have moved faster and not given us time to think.

Behind the Lines (2023) Vision Du Reel

BEHIND THE LINES is a portrait of Amani Al-Ali, the first female cartoonist in Idlib, Syria​. Her village is a strong hold of jihadists fighting President Assad. As we watch her draw images of life in her village she ponders how much longer she will be able to remain in her home.

Part of the Draw For Change series about female artists looking to make changes through their art, this is probably the most serious and important film in the series since  Amani is literally drawing matters of life and death. We are with her in her home and in her village which is on the front line. Assuming the bombs don't kill her what she draws could determine if she lives or dies.

This is a slice of life stripped of any sort of flash. We are going through the days and life of Amani and all that entails. Its a low key affair that is going to please  wants to know what life is really like in Syria. This is not people going and doing all over the place , but simply being at home drawing and trying to stay out of harms way. Its a film that is very different than most other films that are structured with large emotional arcs.

While I completely understand that some people are not going to like this owing to the structure and pacing, I fell into it and was delighted at seeing a side of things we don't normally see.


Freaks Vs The Reich (formerly Freaks Out) (2022) opens Friday

FREAKS VS THE REICH maybe the greatest X-Men film ever made. It could be argued that it is one of the best superhero films ever made as well.  It is certainly the most weighty, leaving it’s audience feeling as though it’s had a fine 12 course meal instead of typical circus cotton candy, popcorn and soda.

Set during the war in 1943 Italy the film is the story of four circus freaks who are in a small traveling circus run by a Jewish musician. When the war intrudes and destroys their tent they are sent scattering. They run into a German pianist with 12 fingers and the ability to see into the future. He knows the group is key to perhaps winning the war.

Deliberately told, this is a film crafted by a master story teller. It's deliberately paced giving the film time to create it’s characters and set up it’s situation. This is a film where the characters and their interaction are perhaps more important than the action. It’s a film where everything has a weight. There is a cost to every action. Characters die. We are left as heartbroken as the people on the screen.

I was moved.

No I was rocked. There is a moment late in the film that was one of the most terribly beautiful moments I’ve ever seen in any “superhero” film. Nay, make that in any film. The fiery image killed me because I could feel the weight of what caused it to happen.

Where most similar Hollywood films, say those of Marvel and DC characters treat the material as kind of disposable and commercial, FREAKS VS THE REICH treats it as an actual examination of humanity. There is no thought of connecting it to however many other commodities. This is the only story it is telling and these are the genuine stakes, stakes that will not be compromised by knowing there is more.

It is the most satisfying “superhero” film I’ve seen.

This is a truly great film.

It is highly recommended.

RMN opens Friday

Cristian Mungiu's R.M.N. is a damning look at racism and the fear of the other that pervades the world.

The plot of the film has a man named Matthias returning to his home after punching his boss through a door when the boss called him a gypsy.  In the small village he really can't find work, there are no well paying jobs and most people are fleeing to elsewhere in Europe for the same well paying jobs. The lack of decent pay is a problem since the local bakery can't find workers so they are bringing in people from Bangladesh. As the villagers, many of them actually transplants from Hungary, begin to threaten the dark skinned new comers Matthias finds his life unspooling.

Mangiu's film is a killer. This is a look at the world as it is as people flail about in fear of the "invaders" coming into their towns unaware that they are seen the same way elsewhere in the world. My jaw was hanging open through much of the film since a lot of this plays as if its actually a documentary.

The feeling of this being a documentary was  strongest in the film's centerpiece a 17 minute single take town meeting where the layers of civility are peeled away and the darkness in everyone's heart is laid bare. It's one of the truly great moments (or 17 minutes) in the cinema of 2022.  It's based on a video of an actual town meeting from the area where the film is set. The real video shook things up and forced resignations. Here the sequence left the audience dazed and broken as we see just how badly we are screwed.

After the film there were long long conversations. So many people wanted to talk to Cristian Mungiu he said he would go on instagram to talk to anyone with questions. Hubert Vigilla and I  were so rocked we ended up going to a late dinner because we had to talk about the film. A week on I'm still pondering the film and what it's revelations say about the world.

What a shattering film.

Highly recommended- especially in this "us vs them" world we live in.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Coffee Table (2022) Fanataspoa 2023

Blacker than you can imagine black comedy/tragedy about a a couple of new parents who buy a coffee table  that they are told will "change their lives."

I'm not going to give you details because this is a film where all of the tension comes from the worm turning as events transpire that may result in them being found out. Think of the Hitchcock films were a bomb is hidden and we are waiting for it to go off. It's not a bomb, but we are curled up in a ball waiting for the true horror to be revealed.

This is a very very uncomfortable comedy until it isn't (it's horrifying), and even when it's funny again it's catch in your throat, "I think I'm going to be sick" sort of funny until it just stops being funny altogether.

I can completely understand people walking out of the theater because they don't want to go there.

And I completely understand if my saying that makes it seem not as bad when you sit down and see this, and I'm sorry for that, but some of you need to be warned.

If you want to go to a really dark place THE COFFEE TABLE is highly recommended. Me I don't know if I want to go there again.

TS Eliot's Four Quartets (2022)

Ralph Fiennes performs TS Eliot's four poems on the nature of man, the universe and the divine. 

A recorded stage play (oh how I wish I could have seen this live) has Fiennes turning Eliot's words into a theatrical experience. He stands, sits and wanders the stage speaking the words as if he were a man lost and lost in thought. 

Its a staggering experience that is going to be best seen in a darkened room where you can get lost in the words which are amplified and expanded by Fiennes' physical performance. This is a performance that sucks us in an makes us feel what he is feeling. Its as if Fiennes' body explains what Eliot's words are trying to say.

This is a masterclass of acting and magnificent film.

See it

Winter Boy (2022) opens Friday

This is going to be shorter than it should be because  WINTER BOY kicked up a lot of things that I still can not deal with after the death of my dad 3 years ago

This is the story of Lucas a 17 year old young man who is devastated by the death of his father in a car wreck. Uncertain if the death was an accident or suicide he goes into a downward spiral. Going off to stay with a friend in the city he begins a series of random sexual encounters as he works out who he is and how he feels.

Real and raw in a way that few films are WINTER BOY has the feeling of real life. It isn't surprising since it is based upon the director's own experiences. This is an often painful film  as Lucas and others will periodically talk directly to us as if they are explaining what they are feeling. It feels more like a documentary in those moments even though they are coming from the actors and actresses. Its a trope that hammers the emotions home as the walls between the audience and the characters on screen come down.

This was for me, someone who is still not processing the death of either of my parents, a gut punch. I from reading some reviews from earlier screenings that that the film laid out several people who saw in Lucas echoes of their own lives when they were coming of age and coming to terms with their sexuality.

My refusal to discuss the film aside this is a great film. It has one of the best casts you'll see all year and a connection to life that is like an electric high voltage line. 

Highly recommended.

THE CURE FOR HATE: Bearing Witness to Auschwitz Pittsburgh’s 30th annual Jewish Film Festival on April 25

There have been dozens of films where a member of a hate group relates their change of heart and realizes the error of their ways but few have ever been as powerful as The Cure for Hate: Bearing Witness to Auschwitz. This film is one of the best films I’ve seen in 2023.

Based on the book by Tony McAleer this film follows  McAleer as he takes a trip to Auschwitz and takes a tour of the concentration camp. As he tours the camp he talks about his life. That may sound like it’s been there and done that but the truth of the matter is that some how the actual visit transcends the form to be something that ends up being an emotional gut punch.

There are two reasons the film works. The first is McAleer himself.  A compelling speaker and presence he is a young man who is very aware of who he is and why he felt as he did. He is at a point in his life where he has taken stock of his life and come to terms with everything to such a great degree that he can explain it to us in such a way  that we understand why it all happened. And we do understand it, probably more clearly than at any time previously.

The second reason the film works is that the film takes time to really be in Auschwitz. The film doesn’t stroll the grounds but instead puts us into the various locations  so that we get a real sense of place. I can not tell you how many documentaries I’ve seen where we either get a single shot of say the crematoria or the grounds and then boom on to the next thing, or the camera keeps moving so that we are simply moving in a place. Here the discussions take time. Not only do they take time but they also show us shots so that we get a sense of the space. The sequence by the first ovens really gives us a feeling of what the place is like, it’s not just the ovens but a complete room. As a result we are in this place and we can feel the roof above us and the walls around us. We feel the history and understand what happened there.

I can't stress this enough this film is something special and is not something you have ever experienced before. This film will move you.

I can’t recommend the film enough. 

Monday, April 24, 2023

Hot Docs 2023 runs April 27 to May 7


Opening Thursday  is the always glorious Hot Docs.  This is for me the first indication of what the year will be in regard to documentaries since a lot of films get their start at this love fest of things that are real.  I truly love this film festival as it brings together many of the best docs from the first part of the year together in a smorgasbord of cinematic goodness.

I’m having a blast going through all the films I’ve been sent. The best of that bunch of films are as follows.

EURODONBAS is a look at the Donbras region of Ukraine, particularly its history as the place that was developed by countries other than Russia. It will open your eyes.

CYNARA a murder mystery about a mother accused of killing her daughter an whether she did it or not.

ECHO OF EVERYTHING while nominally about music it speaks volumes about  everything.

WHO'S AFRAID OF NATHAN LAW?  is a look at the leader of the Hong Kong  protests.

UNSEEN is a look at Pedro an undocumented man trying to earn his social work degree. Told in a style that frequently mirrors his limited sight, the film truly puts us in the shoes of someone else for a while.

At the same time the fest is screening some of the many docs I’ve seen in the last year and if you want to see some great stuff you could do worse than wading into any of these films.

20 Days in Mariupoul

EL Equipo

Angel Applicant

Iron Butterflies

Is there anybody out there

Satan Wants you

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood

A Still Small Voice

This World Is Not My Own

Twice Colonized

Do yourself a favor and make the trip to Canada and see some great films.

Buy tickets here and see some movies

Sisu (2022)


SISU of the title is an untranslatable word that has to do with not giving up even when you know that everything is against you and your back is against the wall and facing certain death. It is a quality that the hero of the film has in spades. Aatamiis a man who had his family killed by war. He then became a killing machine the Russians called The Immortal because he wouldn’t die. When a German soldier asks one of his prisoners is asked if Aatami is indeed immortal he is told “no. He just refuses to die.”

When SISU opens Aatami has had enough of war and wandered off to prospect for gold in Lapland. After striking it rich he runs into some retreating German soldiers who decide that they are going to take the gold for themselves. To say it was a bad mistake would be a grand understatement, and it’s a move that results in a running battle which will leave all of the Germans dead.

That is not a spoiler.

SISU is a violent nihilistic, often very funny, spaghetti western refashioned as a mean and nasty nihilistic Euro-war film from the 1970’s but with today's sensibilities. It’s a film that if it came out in the 1970’s and played in Grindhouses would have ended up with legendary status with tales of crazed happenings as the audiences cheered and threw up. As such it is a film that demands to be seen in a crowded theater with an audience ready for insanity.

While the film is over the top, it doesn’t go completely into unreality until the final set piece. Everything before that is kind of possible. We end up buying the end of the film because we have seen everything that has gone before so the action conclusion is a “sure why not” instead of a “WTF”.

I need to warn you all the violence is graphic; people and animals die horribly. Blood flows. The thought of suffering some of the wounds will make you wince. Be prepared.

Aatami is a killer character. He is John Wick on steroids (The line I mentioned above about Aatamiis refusing to die is a classic line second only to the John Wick line about Wick being the one you send to kill the boogeyman.). The line in Predator about not having time to bleed would be a gross understatement here. Aatami doesn’t have time to die.

This film is totally batshit crazy and I loved it.

Highly recommend it.

Let’s hope it makes a mint and they never make a sequel.

32 Sounds (2022) Opens Friday April 28

With 32 SOUNDS opening this week here is a repost of my review from last year's Sundance Film Festival.

Sam Green and JD Samson take us on an exploration of why sound is so important to us, using 32 sounds to illustrate their points.

When you see 32 SOUNDS wear headphones. I can’t imagine a sound system, short of a very high end one, that will give you the real special sense headphones does. I say this as someone who watched the theatrical/home version twice and I found the headphones made the film so much better.

I don’t know what to say about this film other than see it.  I’m not saying that as ploy not to write it up but because the film is not really a film but an experience. It’s a journey you take that takes you from point A to Z with a hell of a lot of stops in between. The joy and wonder of the film is taking the trip, watching how the sounds and the stories around them build on each other. It’s a cinematic companion to the work of the theater group Complicite which use sounds and image to tell you a story that takes things to another level.

I had a blast watching it smiling and laughing as I went-which confused the people around me  since they couldn’t understand why I was verbalizing when they couldn’t hear anything.

This film is a stunner and it’s a hell of a lot of fun

See it.

I should also point out that there are two versions of this film- a theatrical/ home version of the film  and one that will tour with live sound. A version of the live version was done on line. I missed the Sundance show, but having seen live performances by Green I’m looking forward to seeing the film in person

32 SOUNDS will be playing theater starting Friday. Some theaters like Film Forum will have screenings where the audience wears head phones

Sunday, April 23, 2023

San Luis Obispo Film Festival Runs April 25 to May 7

The Always  awesome San Luis Obispo Film Festival starts this week and if you are in the area you should make an effort to go see some movies.

In the past I’ve made an effort to really wade in and cover the fest, however because of situations outside of the film world I have to step back. However that shouldn’t stop you from going. Indeed since I’ve already seen a number of titles I know that they programmed some winners.

What Have I seen? Here’s list of links.



Go buy tickets and go.

ANA’s FAREWELL (2022) Fantaspoa

Fantasy and dream collide with reality in the tale of a young girl who has to reclaim her mother’s fantasy world in order to move on.

Small scale gem of film might sound like few other films, but that's kind of saying that all houses are the same, some are buildings and some are homes and ANA's FAREWELL is a home. 

Mixing live action with different types of animation the film sucks us in and pulls us along. While we may think we know where it's going we can't really know what the trip will do to us, in this case it will take is to some place wondrous.

I truly love this film. Its a lovely trip to an unexpected place.


Mother Superior (2022) Fantaspoa 2023

A young woman take a job as a nurse working for a rich countess, She hopes that the woman will be able to help her get information on her parents. As the questions begin to be answered magic is performed and things begin to take a dark turn.

Marie Alice Wolfszahn​ first film is a stylistic tour de force. It’s a beautifully made film that sucks us in with it’s mix of technical wizardry and nicely drawn characters. It’s a super creepy film that for the most part works like gangbusters.

The only problem for me is the ending which is much too cliché. Its unremarkable nature is made worse because Wolfzahn has otherwise created one of the most enjoyable horror films in ages.

This is truly a small gem of a film and not only will you be watching it repeatedly you will also be jonsing for Marie Alice Wolfszahn​'s next outing.


HAWAR, Our Banished Children Visions du Réel - Nyon


You need to be patient with HAWAR, like it’s subject. The film is a slowly building power house that is going to kick the legs from under you.

The subject of the film is called Ana. It is not her real name. Indeed, while we hear her voice we never see her face.  She is a Yazidi woman who had her village invaded by Isis jihadists. They killed many of the men and the  raffled off the eligible women and carted them off. Ana was raped by her “owner” and gave birth to a little girl.  When she and others from her village were rescued they were told that they could not take their children with them when they went home. While the villagers had no ill will against the children, they didn’t want them in the town because they were the children of the invaders. While most women begrudgingly went along with the wishes of those around them, Ana sought to find her daughter and quietly looked for and found her child. The film is a record of Ana’s secret trip to once again see her daughter.

While Ana is on screen for most of the film, we only see the back of her head or face somehow obscured. No one can know what Ana is doing and as such all details of the trip are removed. What we left with are her words and her voice. Over the course of the film we listen to her tell her story and we are crushed. More so after we see the mother and daughter reunion.

I was deeply moved.

I absolutely loved this film and you should make an effort to see the film. However because of what the film is, largely listening to one woman talk for the better part of an hour and a half it can seem a little slow. I say this as a warning because it took me a little bit to fall in with the rhythms of the film. If you can let the film work its magic, you will end up being rocked.

GHOST HILL (1971) Old School Kung Fu Fest 2023

Final film in the Swordsman of Swordsmen trilogy, involves a group of martial artists storming hell in order to get revenge for the death of one of their number.

This is a good, if slackly pace martial arts film that kicks it into high gear when the group finally storms hell and some insane things happen. (Decapitated head attack!)

How you react to this film is going to depend upon  how you react to the pacing and martial arts segments. Slower paced and more like dance than fighting this is not the mad motion that would be the norm in another year or two. While the end of the films craziness make this film a must see, the very deliberate pace of the first part of the film may have you checking your watch. But stay for the end and the insanity contained there in.

Hideout (2023)Fantaspoa 2023


Hideout just misses.

The story of a get rich quick scheme involving a briefcase full of cocaine that goes horribly wrong the film is never really compelling.

The problem with the film never wholly feels real. The characters feel like someone’s idea of what characters would be in a crime drama instead of actual people. That might have worked if there was a real sense of urgency to the proceedings but we never feel that. This feels like just a bunch of people interacting over criminal matters instead of people doing illegal things that will result in a bunch of them dying. While I appreciate the film trying to simply make events seem like they are just part of life, the fact that there is no real effort to be a crime drama works against this film. The film looks like a family drama is going to break out at any moment instead of an act of violence so we never feel the need to lean in.

While I think the script works, I’m not sure the directorial choices do.

A rare Fantaspoa miss

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Orphea in Love (2023) Fantaspoa 2023

One of a kind musical dance romance drama is for anyone who doesn’t want your typical Hollywood style film.

A retelling of the story of Orpheus gender flipped and set in the modern day the film focuses on a dancer and a singer who fall passionately in love.

This film let’s you know early on when Orphea is working at her job in a call center and her  boss comes over and shifts from yelling at her in sentences to pure jibberish. Soon after that people are bursting into song and others are dancing. Everything has a heightened sense of reality that you only get in theater. Its an effect that causes us to lean in and go along with the story because we get the feeling that anything is possible  and we want to see what that entails.

This is pure cinematic magic, and while there are some missteps, most of this is just glorious and delight.


WORLD WAR 3 (2022) Fantaspoa 2023

Iran’s entry for last years Oscar is kick in the pants. I completely understand why the film was chosen for a run at the Oscars and I’m  completely at a loss as to why the film hasn’t had more buzz surrounding it. Then again the film comes from Iran and it deals with difficult subjects.

The film concerns a day laborer who is in a relationship with a deaf woman. When one of his jobs puts him on a movie set he finds his fortunes are changing. However his bringing his girlfriend to the set and his getting a role in the film, which is about the Holocaust, spins things out of control.

This is a difficult film, partly because the subject matter is heavy but the whole layer of Holocaust deepens the feelings of a world out of balance. While you might think that the mixture might be showboating, the truth is the  mixture works and it forces us to really consider what we are seeing.  When the film ended my first thought was I had to see the film again, which was followed by my thought that I would wait for the film to get off the festival circuit because I need to get some distance.

You will forgive me if I don’t do a lot of discussing of the film, my thoughts have yet to transfer from the pure emotional reaction I had to the film into words I can express.

What I can say is that it’s nice to see a film that was picked to be in the Oscar mix that belonged there. I also love that this film completely blindsided me and left me staring at the screen trying desperately to get the words to full engage with it.

While not for everyone, I think this is easily one of the best films I saw at Fantaspoa.

Highly recommended. 

Yoshihiro Nishimura's Onimanji (2023) Fantaspoa 2023

Yoshihiro Nishimura (Mutant Girls Squad, Tokyo Gore Police, Meatball Machine Kodoku) returns with a sequel to his earlier The Great War of Torakage. Its more bloodshed and weirdness as our hero takes on various bad guys and bad demons

Nishimura’s films are hit or miss. Narrative is not always a priority. He prefers to go for effect, blood and fun. They tend to be lean mean fun machines that are best viewed in theaters full of like minded audiences. When he hits they are a blast and a half, when they don’t they can be a bit draggy.

Despite having some awesome sequences, Onimanji is largely a miss. Blame the unwieldy  run time (it’s just under two hours hour) that allows the narrative to be looser than it should be. Nishimura’s film are better around 90 minutes. As a result there are some overly rambling bits that wear us down.  The film also suffers from being a sequel. Despite this being about a secondary character from the earlier film I kept thinking I was missing something.

While never bad Onimanji is not up to some of the director’s earlier classics, however fans of his work will still find a lot to delight in.

Meltdown: A Nuclear Family's Ascension into Madness (2023) Fantaspoa 2023

In the 1950’s a typical family puts on a brave face as the father begins a run for Mayor. However things take a turn for the weird when the meal is spiked with LSD

Carefully crafted thriller is predicated on the notion of showing us that the perfect American families are not so perfect on the inside. While Meltdown doesn’t really cover any new ground the film scores thanks to its icy visual sense, as well as a sure hand by director an Coiton VanTil who keeps things moving along at a good pace.

Worth a look.

The Assassin (2015) Old School Kung Fu Fest 2023

This is my 2015 NYFF review.

Coming out of Cannes with great fanfare not to mention a boatload of awards Hou Hsiao-hsien’s THE ASSASSIN was one of few films that you could find on pretty much every film writers must see list. The press screening I attended was packed to the rafters. With people wanting to see the film before everyone else in New York.

The film is the story of a young woman,Nie Yinniang, given over to a “nun” for training as an assassin who is sent back to her family with orders to kill her one time betrothed. There is more to it than that but the film is so obtuse in its plotting I never quite worked out more than that.

Intellectually I admire the film a great deal. I could wax poetic about the use of differing color palates, black and white, the changing frame size and the sparse use of music. I admire that the film requires that the audience to work with it to figure things out. As film of the head its extremely good.

On the other hand the film has no really heart. I never connected. Worse it’s need to be a puzzle for the head makes for some odd choices.

The biggest problem with the film is it falls into the chasm where it doesn’t explain enough. I’m all for a film not explaining things and I’m against a film explaining too much but this film leaves chasms where we don’t have details enough to explain where things stand. Late in the game our heroine returns a horse to some people and I was left scratching my head as to why this was such a big deal. Who are these people? And even after we are clued in to who they are- why are we seeing it? There are numerous characters whose role in the events elude me. There are plot threads that come and go.

The film is also a film of silences and monologues. People don’t so much talk to each other but talk at each other. There are long silences where nothing happens. Unless you are a fan of words unspoken this film is going to bore you.

When the ASSASSIN was announced as being a martial arts or period film from Hou a good many people I know were excited. Would the film reinvent the form, or if not so much reinvent the form would it reinvigorate the film as Wong Kar Wai’s return to the genre had done, or even Ang Lee’s?

While the film has several action set pieces, its not until the latter half that they become anything more than fleeting. The bits in the second half- in particular the battle in the jungle- are quite good but there is not enough here that is going to make this a must see for wu xia fans. I feel sorry for anyone seeing this film expecting anything approaching an action epic because this film is going to confuse them to no end. (The film is being released in the US by Wellgo who normally handle action films from Asia. Anyone picking up this film expecting their usual fare are going to be very upset)

I have a few other reservations about the film -particularly why Hou shot several sequences so they are obscured by hanging cloths when there is no reason for it – but it’s not worth beating a wounded horse(and don’t tell me the it’s because Nie is watching because she is not around for some scenes and in different places for others)

As I said intellectually I know why things were being done, but emotionally the film made no sense to me.

Personally I’d rather have a film resonate emotionally then being of interest intellectually. If a film is emotional I’ll want to see it again because I’ll want to feel again. An intellectual film I never need see again because its all in the head.

Halfway Home (2023) Fantaspoa 2023


You are either going to love HALFWAY HOME or you are not. It’s a whimsical tale that is going to those of you who don’t see the magic in everyday life.

The film is the story of a couple who met when they were infants in a burning hospital. One was rescued by a nurse, the other by a woman who took the child and raised the boy as her nephew. Years later  they literally collide while riding bicycles. It’s a meet cute that leads to a an almost first date. When the boy misses the date the girl ends up killed in an accident. He body is brought to the morgue where the boy works as a security guard who is tasked with helping the dead come back to life for a brief period to finish up things before they pass one.

It's an incredibly whimsical tale that will put a smile on your face.

It’s also a film that has its own tone. Playing kind of like what might have happened if Tim Burton directed the TV series PUSHING DAISIES, the film seems like it’s something else, except that it’s not. This is a film with it’s own sense of the universe and it’s own mythology. That’s something that I didn’t fully appreciate until I saw the film for a second time. It was only on that repeat viewing that I truly heard the film’s unique voice.

This is a sweet and charming film and one that is worth your time, especially if you want a little magic in your life.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Wraith WIthin (2023)

A wraith that was trapped in a teddy bear for years is released and causes all sorts of damage.

Okay horror film is much better than most low budget horror films that are dropping onto digital these days. Thank the script which takes the time to actually create characters that are more than cardboard victims to be killed off by the evil spirit.

The cast nicely leans to things and actually seems invested in what was happening on screen. Though featured performer Michael Madsen largely phones in his role and looks more unwell then the wraith of the title. 

While not the next great horror franchise, it does entertain. And considering how many recent releases I've been turning off half way through the fact that I took the time to write it up says a great deal.

TOUCH OF ZEN (1968) Old School Kung Fu Fest 2023

This is a repost of my NYFF review from a few years back

Female fugitive on the run is pursued by the agents of the men who killed her family. Hooking up with a painter and a monk she struggles to get revenge

When King Hu made A TOUCH OF ZEN I doubt very much he thought he was changing the world forever. I'm very serious, for better or worse changed the world.


Quite simply A TOUCH OF ZEN is the film that pretty much codified the historical wu xia film as we know it. All of those films from the 1970's and 80's came from this film. There is a through line or at least a dividing line, films before and films after. You have real settings, characters that re more than cartoons, fights that enhance the plot, and the film was technically a notch above everything else. It upped the ante and showed everyone what could be done. People copied it and in so doing started to revamp a genre that would influence culture the world over.

Yes I know that this is a wild over simplification, so don't send me nasty letters. I'm trying to get people to go and see it not to provide the be all and end all historical record.

The film is a trip... and it's also really long. The film is 200 minutes. Its a breezy 200 minutes so don't worry.

If you've never seen this you need to make an effort to do so

Thursday, April 20, 2023

RIVER (2022) arrives for Earth Day

A look at rivers and their importance to the world

This is a film that needs to be seen as big as human possible. This is a film that should be released on IMAX screens so that  we can truly be overwhelmed by the maginificent visuals. They are so arresting that you will be saying “wow” out loud through out the entire time the film is on.

I was floored.

While the narration by Willem Dafoe is largely what you would expect from a film like this, it still manages to blend perfectly with the visuals to create a head space that makes you come out of the film wanting to make sure the rivers are protected.

This film kicks ass and is highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Abruptio (2023) Panic Fest 2023 Fantaspoa 2023


I completely missed ABRUPTIO until Liz Whittemore DM’d me to say she was being really bothered by the film. I instantly went and tracked it down and now I kind of never want to see it again.

This is the story of a down on his luck guy who ends up with a small bomb placed in his neck. If he doesn’t do the tasks given him, the mysterious people following him will cause the bomb to explode.  The tasks are a series of horrible acts that leave a trail of bodies in his wake, and result in our hero being richly rewarded.

This is as bleak and black a film as they come. It’s a film that posits a world of ugliness and cruelty where we are not in control and the only way to get ahead is to do the most horrible things.  It is deeply disturbing.

The disturbing nature of the film is enhanced by the fact the whole film is told via life size puppets. It may sound like a weird thing to do, but the truth of the matter is there is a very good reason beyond the obvious notion that it shows we are not in control. The payoff is in the final minutes and it’s a  genuine “whoa” moment.

Watching the film is like being strapped into a chair and watching a slow motion car crash. You want to get up and walk away but you can’t. You can’t look away as the turn of events keeps getting worse and worse. It is a dark and nightmarish place that I didn’t like to be in. (that’s a rave)

Absolutely not for anyone looking for a safe Hollywood film, this is a one of a kind film that will leave you battered and bothered.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

King of Wuxia (2022) Old School Kung Fu Fest 2023

This film is everything you ever wanted to know about King Hu whose films codified the martial arts as we know them, as told by the people who knew and loved him.

And when I say this is everything about Hu, I’m not kidding, this really is EVERYTHING. This is an almost four hour  documentary on the man and his movies. It truly seems to cover everything you would want to know about the man and his films. It’s a film that reveals not only his work but his influence on the cinema as well since we get a sense of how what he did affected everyone and everything that came after him.

For those who don’t know, King Hu was a director who took martial arts films and raised the bar to unheard of levels. His epic film A TOUCH OF ZEN literally rewrote the genre’s rules. Everyone tried to copy it. He then refined what he was doing with his other films and everyone

The film is a towering achievement that I am still processing. There is just so much to take in that I wasn’t far into the film before I realized that I was going to have to see the film again just because I wasn’t catching everything, partly because there is so much information here, but also because the film was opening so many doors to things I never knew before.

What I should also mention that this may be the most beautiful cinematic biography I’ve ever seen. All hail director Lin Jing-jie who has made a film that looks like a work of art. His sequences seamlessly blend with the film clips making this not just an informative film but a visual delight. Going through this films four hours was delightful just because I liked the act of watching the film.

This is a truly great film about a truly great director and it is a must see. 

Monday, April 17, 2023

Plan 75 (2022) opens Friday


Plan 75 is a bleak little film.

Spinning off from a short film the director made for a film about the future of Japan, the film concerns the Japanese government creating the title plan which entails convincing anyone over 75 that they should commit suicide to help the younger generations. If they will end their lives they will get a small stipend and arrange to go with their friends.  The film follows a woman who makes the decision to end her life, one of the salesman who ends up rattled when a relative signs up to die and a young woman whose job it is to sort through the possessions of the deceased.

There is much to think about here. The whole question of suicide is complicated by the notion of the “greater” good. Is it really for the greater good especially when the people involved are nominally healthy. Are we on the way to something like Logan’s Run where people are forced to die?

While I like the film on it’s own terms is that it doesn’t ask any questions many people have already asked. While the film does show us what the effect of the law would be on people who “work in  the industry” it doesn’t give us any answers we didn’t think of beforehand.

On the other hand the film is deeply moving.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Nightcap 4/16/23: Old School Kung Fu, We Are Going to Tribeca (and other festivals,), Bolting Twitter? , and this is the week I review the final THE WEEK I REVIEW


Made with this

In what is supposed to be a quiet period a lot of stuff is going on….


Subway Cinema’s Old School Kung Fu Fest returns for two weekends of films at the Metrograph in NYC and on line.  Our coverage will be running closer to each weekend as we look at some of the films playing days after.

The big film of the festival is the documentary KING OF WUXIA. The film is an almost four hour look at the career of King Hu who was the director who revinvented martial arts films into what we think of today. The film is everything you ever wanted to know about the man told by the people who knew him. It’s a wonderful film that is just getting a single screening Friday night so if you want to see it  clear the decks and go.


Both Ariela and myself have been accredited for June’s Tribeca Film Festival, so expect a lot of coverage from both of us, and from Liz Whittemore since we will be sharing posts with Reel News Daily again.


Look for a bunch of coverage of Hot Docs at the end of the month. The curtain raiser will have a ton of links to what we covered previously and then look for a lot more reviews after that.


I will be the Riverside Drive-in’s April Ghouls Monster-rama the final weekend of April, so look for reports from the road.


Cabane A Sange has announced it’s slate for their fest next month and I’m working on getting coverage.

If you are on Montreal you need to go because this is absolutely the best programmed festival I have ever seen. There is almost never a bad film.


A couple weeks back I spoke of slowing down and stepping away for a bit.  As it stands now that’s going to continue to Tribeca and the kick off of the summer festival season. Yes there will be  films every day, but there is going to be catch up post of recent films as well as some old stuff. This will all be supplemented by some new releases and festival coverage.


Because everyone is once more talking of bolting Twitter because Elon Musk continues to prove he knows nothing except how to spend money poorly, I just want to say I’m not leaving it just yet. Yes it maybe a cesspit of misinformation thanks to it’s out of touch with reality CEO, but it’s still the only game in town since everyone who left ended up scattered. If I end up jumping I’ll let you know.


Finally tonight, yesterday marked the final episode of Unseen Films friend and contributor Alec Kubas-Meyer's final THE WEEK I REVIEW.  It's an absolute loss since over the last five years he has turned out some wonderful pieces on all sorts of subjects from films, books,plays, social movements and vasectomies as well as other things. It's a something that took him to London where he did a live version of a show...It opened all sorts of doors for him... and now because the one man operation takes so much time he is putting it to bed. 

Officially he says he's done, unofficially I wouldn't be surprised if episodes occasionally pop up. 

This final episode is on EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, which could have been the name of the series since if you've ever seen the series you understand that Alec was always connecting things up that didn't seem connected until you realized they were.

Here is the final episode, it's one of Alec's best. It is also his longest running a solid 80 minutes. Don't let that scare you since the episode moves like the wind and covers a lot of ground most of which will probably be unexpected. 

When you realize that you do like what Alec has done there is five years worth of videos to go back through and enjoy. 

A quick note: lot of the longer pieces are better because they allow Alec to go where ever his mind takes him. Additionally as good as the film reviews are I like a lot of the ones that aren't seemingly just reviews but on subjects because again Alec can go everywhere. (It's the fact that Alec is going everywhere all at once was what made the series so much fun)

If you are like me, and have been following along for years you will be sad because in theory there will be no more of these videos, on the other hand one never knows. If you are just discovering Alec, then you have a lot to watch and enjoy.

While I feel bad for all of you because there will be no more, I have Alec's phone number and email address so anytime I need a jolt of THE WEEK I REVIEW I can call him and ask to for to lunch or dinner which always ends up being like the series one on one, which is probably more fun because I get to ask him questions and send him spinning in new directions. 

Now do yourself a favor, go get some popcorn and a beverage of choice and come back here and hit play. You will thank me later.

Minnesota Mean (2023) Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival 2023 Florida Film Festival 2023 Sunscreen Film Festival 2023


Minnesota Mean is the story of the women on the Minnesota Roller Girls Roller Derby Squad. We follow them over the course of the season as the make an improbable run at the championship.

I love roller derby. I used to go with my family to two of the local roller derby teams regularly, even to the point that we had season passes for a couple of seasons. Going to watch the women skate is a great deal of fun (and no offense to the filmmakers, something you need to see in person because no film can really capture what a match is like.)

What I absolutely love about this film and what makes me want to show it to my niece is that it shows a bunch of really kick as woman doing something they love and end up being better for it. This film shows how these woman come together to kick ass and find  a family which allows them to be more than they ever imagined by finding the greatness that was always inside of them.

What an absolute joy.

This is my favorite sort of film, good time with great people.

Absolutely worth a look.

The film just premiered at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.  It plays April 15th, at the Florida Film Festival on April 17th and Sunscreen Film Festival on April 29th