Mannered horror film about killer and a young woman who gets powers on her 18th birthday.
Thursday, August 31, 2023
Mannered horror film about killer and a young woman who gets powers on her 18th birthday.
Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Skeptical parapsychologist Nandor Fodor (Simon Pegg) is asked to investigate the story of Gef (Neil Gaiman), a supposed talking mongoose on the Isle of Man by fellow researcher Harry Price.
NANDOR FANDOR is a film that annoys me. It should have been great and not merely good. I love a a lot of it. The performances are super, I don't think Minnie Driver has ever been this good (she completely disappears into her role). A lot of the sequences are very well done...there is a sense that if this was more focused hands this could have been a truly great film instead of just a good one.
The problem here is the film feels like some one mashed four different versions of the same story together and this was the result.
Outside of the names of the characters and the fact that Fodor did go to investigate, nothing in this film is really what happened. Fodor never heard, nor saw Gef, let alone got telephone calls from him. I say that up front because you maybe curious as to what is real and what isn't. The truth is despite being a news story that was in the papers for years, not a lot of people ever saw or heard Gef and there was and is some speculation that ventriloquism may have been employed. I am mentioning this up front so that you don't do what I did which was search out all the information I could as soon as the film was done.
A minor part of the film is mucks with the accents of several of the characters. Fodor while American was born and raised in Hungry and spoke with a heavier accent. While Pegg's performance is otherwise fine, his shifting accent isn't. Christopher Lloyd is Harry Price a British paranormal investigator but there is no attempt to make him British. It made me wonder why Pegg bothered. As for Neil Gaiman's Gef I have no idea what the hell they were doing since sometimes he is on helium, sometimes he sounds like a Chipmunk, and other times I have no idea. His performance is great but how he sounds is all ever changing.
The bigger problem with the film is the film's tone is all over the place. Is this a straight story? Is this a comedy? Why do you have a serious discussion of things then a guy dropping his trousers? Portions of this play like a theater piece and some of this is a movie. The Lloyd/Pegg and Pegg Driver discussions are different then the scenes with everyone else. The film clearly is trying to say something about belief and perception, after all it signals that in the opening minutes, but the same time it's sending it up. Clearly writer director Adam Sigal saw something in this tale that made him want to alter history to tell the story this way I don't know what it is.
Speaking of writing does anyone know if Neil Gaiman wrote his lines as Gef? I know things like Yeats were not his, but there are other sections that read completely alien to everything else. I've been reading Gaiman's work for decades and Gef's turns of phrase are closer to his writing then anything else in the script.
I'm frustrated by the all over nature of this film. Yes chunks of it are great but it doesn't hang together. It's worth a look at some point if the subject interests you.
Tuesday, August 29, 2023
The film is set up as a home video recording of a film allegedly lost to time. The film was supposedly banned by order of President Reagan, but saved because some one recorded a late night TV showing. The film follows what happens when the twin brother of one of the characters in the earlier films (which don't exist) switches colleges and pledges at his brothers old fraternity in the hopes of catching his brother's killer- a deadly woman known as Motherface. Motherface wiped out two previous groups of frat boys partying in the woods.
This is a send up of every slasher film and pretty much every horror cliche you can think of.that came out of the 1980's. Having suffered through way too many of the films its sending up I spent a good amount of time doubled over in laughter as I watched the mayhem unfold. They got it note perfect.
To be honest when the film started and the films retro shot on home video look came on to the screen I was groaning because I suspected that this was going to be one of those films that thought it was clever, but wasn't. I figured it was going to use degraded video imagery to cover up all sorts of flaws. I thought it would be rife with errors and attempts at making things seem old, Instead the film started to get all of the the little things right. The film looks and feels like an 80's film filtered through a modern lens. Other than the an occasional out of place line, the film is dead on, including a joke about not saying Fuck (which is a riff on a joke in a 1981 film called STUDENT BODIES). Yes there is a silliness to the performances, but if you've seen what they are sending up they aren't that far off. (and hell they even bring in some stars (Patton Oswalt, Nina Hartley and Larry King) for fleeting cameos)
The film is a a bloody delight. Blood and body parts flow copiously, always to laughable effect. People don't bleed they shoot geysers of blood. And no one dies normally, they die in ridiculous manners.
This is one of the funniest horror comedies in years.
If the film has any flaw it's that 102 minutes the film kind of runs out of steam.
Absolutely a must see for horror fans and for those who love to laugh and don't mind gore.
Ted Raimi is at the cross roads. His company, started by his late father if floundering. The bank wants its money and people don’t want him to sell. What is he to do? Can he do it in an hour?
Raimi gives a tour de force in the story of a man in crisis. As people and phantoms come and goes Raimi has to try and keep himself upright and in control. It’s an impressive piece of acting that should get him some awards at years end.
The film itself is a mixed bag. The problem here is the script which is almost a stage play. It a one room one take film that seems like it would be more at home on the stage. Honestly I would have accepted more of this had I seen it Off Broadway where there is a bigger suspension of disbelief. As it is the film feels unreal and the wrong sort of claustrophobic.
While never bad, the limited staging never allows the film to reach the heights of Raimi’s performance. He’s the reason to see this, nothing else.
Monday, August 28, 2023
This is a three question interview with Jean-Christophe Roger the co-director of ERNEST & CELESTINE TRIP TO GIBBERITA. It was done back in March of this year when the film played the New York International Children’s Film Festival. And there is a story about how it happened and how it ended up only three questions.
Several days before the screening I reached out to the festival and asked them if Jean-Christophe Roger would be willing to do an interview. They said that they would let me know. As time got closer to the festival the folks NYICFF said it was probably going to happen, they just had to lock down the schedule. Eventually I was told that something would happen around the screening but they would let me know…. And they did as I was walking into the theater I was pulled aside and was told it was all good to go and that I would get some time, so I should just go find my seat and they'd come and get me… and then came to find me to say that it would be after the screening.
After the screening things went long. Jean-Christophe Roger was mobbed by the kids and he took time to answer every single question put to him and he gave every kid his full attention. It was a glorious things to watch.
Finally it became my turn and we started to talk in the lobby of the theater….and then suddenly the theater staff appeared in the middle of my asking what would be the final question and told us it was time to go they were locking up.
What follows is the three questions I managed to ask.
I want to thank the folks at NYICFF for arranging this and Jean-Christophe Roger for taking a couple of minutes to answer some questions.
STEVE: First thing I have to tell you is that I have been waiting 12 years to tell you that I loved THE STORYTELLING SHOW. (An aside information on THE STORYTELLING SHOW is here)
JEAN-CHRISTOPHE ROGER (JCR): Oh thank you.
STEVE: I know it's been years and years and years but I finally get to tell you that I loved the film so much.
JCR: Thank you so much. It's been kind of lost in France, so most people don't know that movie.
STEVE: It has always been one of the joys of this festival was that I got to see it.
I know it was a personal project and then there is something like Ernest and Celestine which has the books, the earlier movie and the TV show. What's it like going from something wholly your own to something like this film?
JCR: Right now I am preparing two personal projects. It's much more difficult to bring those projects to fruition. Where the characters are more known to the producers it's easier for them to believe that the project will get some money back. But (personal projects) are really hard work, but its what I want to do now. These two films are completely different subjects and techniques. But I'd like to do more personal projects.
THE STORY TELLING SHOW was very personal because because until then nobody let me do what I wanted.
STEVE: I was looking at my notes for THE STORYTELLING SHOW and with this and I was wondering how it was that you managed to get the voices so right. With THE STORYTELLING SHOW you got these kids and they sound and act like kids and here every voice seems exactly right. The voice in ERNEST AND CELESTINE are also perfect. How hard is it to do the voice casting?
JCR: What I do is voice creation. We record the voice without the film being made. We record the voice from the script and the rough storyboard and the we record and the actors can do whatever they want. If they feel that the character would so something one way they are free to do it. It gives the actor a lot of freedom to express the character. If the actor comes in at the end they have to stick to what is there but if we do it early they have freedom.
We recorded (Erenest and Celestine) during covid times and we did it early. We did it with just four actors and with the other actors came in at the end. It was complicated but we insisted on working that way. We got some new ideas during the recording and thought we could shoot that. During the lunch scene Ernest reacts to his father during the speech, it was not in the script but it follows logically again and again. Ideas come by working that way. It makes it seem very natural.
STEVE: One of the things I have to ask you, because the music is fantastic and I loved watching the kids dancing in their seats... I know you worked with a composer, but what inspired you to pick this music? I could hear hints of things like the English group Madness and others that you seemed to pull from. What music did you use for inspiration?
JCR: Basically, its a kind of Balkanic kind of band, ska music, from salasa and various types of music depending on the sequences.
(And it was at this point we were physically removed)
With the film opening Friday here is a repost of the review I ran when the film opened the New York International Children's Film Festival in March.
This charming film is a worthy follow up to the classic original. It’s a smile producing film that had the whole audience bouncing in their seats thanks to one of the most infectious score in years.
I really don’t know what else to say but this film warmed my heart. It was more time with good friends. I'm not going to say a great deal about the film other than it is very funny, genuinely moving, it has incredible set pieces and one of the greatest uses of music I've seen in years. The kids (and some adults) were literally dancing.
This year, when the sequel was announced, it was at the top of my list of things to see at the festival. When good friend Reid Ramsey found out it was playing he insisted on coming along and we both had a grand old time. Making things extra special was the appearance of co-director Jean-Christophe Roger came to the festival to do a Q&A (see below)
My love for the world of Ernest and Celestine has been around for over a decade. I fell in love with the the characters I don’t know how many years ago when the original film played NYICFF and I was stunned by the magic I witnessed on the screen. The film delighted everyone who saw it and after the screening. After the original film played the magic on screen continued when director Benjamin Renner answered questions for all the kids in attendance. The next year when the English language version played NYICFF Renner returned and sat outside the theater drawing pictures and signing autographs for the kids and adults. At the festival this year, the sequel brought that magic back as co-director Jean -Christophe Roger followed Renner's lead doing a Q&A, signing autographs and taking pictures with the kids and parents who were in love with the sequel. The Ernest and Celestine films are clearly made by magicians who love their audience.
I have to say that Mr. Roger is a charming man who talked until he was forcibly removed from the stage. He was then swamped by kids who continued to ask questions in the theater and lobby. He was so in demand by the kids in the audience that the on the fly interview I arranged with the festival for after the screening ended up cut really short as we were ejected from the theater by the staff who said we had to go.
What a great way to open this year’s festival.
Below is Roger’s Q&A from Opening Night. The video isn’t perfect. While I was in the second row I had to get up a couple of times to let people by so they could go on the long lines to ask questions.
I should also mention that I will be posting the three question interview later today.
Summing up, the film is great, thank you G-Kids for releasing the film.
Sunday, August 27, 2023
Nightcap 8/27/23 -Korean Films at Lincoln Center, I'm Not Ending Unseen Films, Mission Impossible TV, The Flash and things up coming
The Film at Lincoln Center and Subway Cinema series Korean Cinema’s Golden Decade: The 1960s opens Friday. It’s a chance to see 24 Korean films on the big screen, something that is unlikely to happen again for many years. Running the gamut from animation to drama to spy films to war film and giant monsters on the rampage it’s super collection of titles you’ll want to get out and see.
As it stands now my coverage is going to be limited. Circumstance and prior commitments have hurt my ability to really wade into the series. I know I will have a couple of titles closer to their screenings, but I’m not sure how many more I will get to.
I just want to say that stuff happens and my plan to announce the end of Unseen Films after this year’s New York Film Festival isn’t happening.
Between joining the New York Film Critics Online, a new correspondent ( the preverbal player to be named later)and discussions about a possible podcast I’m going to be sticking it out for a while longer. (Assuming things in the personal life don’t explode at least through NYFF) It also helped that I had two people who I didn’t think were reading my stuff tell me they really liked what I was doing.
The reason I was going to close things down was two-fold:
The first things are becoming complicated in my personal life and I was going to have to change things up. I was going to have to do less new release coverage, something I’ve already started to do.
The second reason is that doing Unseen has become a chore for little return. While I do get to see lots of films I might not otherwise, the act of running the site is kind of painful. From the drifting away of friends, to more people insisting that if I want to get access I must be on Rotten Tomatoes, to PR people shifting their gaze to influencers who only post to Twitter and Letterboxd and a ever deepening level of BS, I find I am screaming into the void much too often.
The plan now is to go through NYFF and then kind of coast until year’s end. I’m not going to kill myself, rather I’m going to regear the site and myself and set up the new columnist, the podcast and whatever.
The truth is barring something happening I think we'll be around until at least Unseen's 15th Birthday
Keep reading because it’s probably going to be fun to watch as my head explodes.
I have been watching a lot of the original Mission Impossible series and I think it’s super.
Yes there is a lot of repetition but there is a complexity to a lot of what they were doing that you don’t see much today or if you do it’s spread out over a whole season not just one episode. There is also a complexity of plotting you don’t see in the movies.
I love the first season Steve Hill episodes. I love that there are guest agents and a real sense of danger kind of missing from the Peter Graves ones.
I have kind of fallen in love with many of the late Graves episodes. I love that Gregg Morris and Peter Lupus were really allowed to shine. I also love that the stories broke the mold with them not just taking on the typical dictators. There was one where something happened to a friend of Graves which was a great change of pace.
The way the next month looks to be breaking is coverage of Venice starting Friday afternoon, then Toronto. I’m hoping to get coverage of the Camden International Film Fest mid-month. Then Fantastic fest, The September Drive in Monsterama at the Riverside Drive in before a deep dive into the New York Film Festival. In between all of that some new releases.
I also am working on two interviews one with a director whose work I love and one with an artist I have loved for decades.
I finally saw THE FLASH.
Yea, well, it was something. I'm not sure why DC/Warner was high on it. It's just okay. It's all fan service with mediocre effects. Did they actually think that giving everyone endless cameos instead of a solid plot was what people wanted? Worse you can feel the all the tinkering.
Frankly even without the controversy of Ezra Miller the film would have died at the box office because it's a messy film with crappy time travel story that allows you to cheat.
The plot of the film has the peaceful Jillucia attacked by the evil Gavanas and threatened with annihilation. The king of Jillucia sends out eight Liabe holy seeds into space to find the eight heroes who can defeat their enemy. He then sends his daughter in a space galleon to collect the heroes and bring them back for battle.
Riffing on more than Star Wars, the film steals liberally from things like Captain Harlock, Samurai films, the various TV series like Ultraman, spaghetti westerns and pretty much everything else under the sun. The characters are of a type more than real people but that’s okay because they are all handled by expert actors including Vic Morrow in a kind of Clint Eastwood riff. The battles are huge scale affairs that are (now) refreshingly free of computer generated images.
This is a grand popcorn film that entertains simply because it is just going for it. It actually believes all the nonsense its putting up on screen and after a while we do too.
I know when the film came out I was one of the few people who actually liked it. So many people I knew hated the film and its mash up of everything. Recently I’ve been running into people who are rediscovering the film and falling in love because it somehow connects to their inner geek. In a weird way this film is kind of like what Krull tried to do but failed because while Krull reset classic fantasy tropes in a pseudo scifi setting they didn’t go far enough and they didn’t keep the pace steady (Krull has long travel sequences). Message just keeps going and going to one crazy thing to the next. You can’t breathe.
When I put Message on recently I initially grumbled at how it had dated and how cheesy was. Fifteen minutes in I had come around and was just enjoying the madness.
I love the film a great deal.
Is it a great film?
Probably not in any conventional sense, but in a pure entertainment, go somewhere else for two hours sort of way- its damn near perfect.
Portrait of three people in West Virginia who embody the pioneer spirit. There is Nellie, a seamstress who makes one of a kind clothing, im who is a blacksmith and Jim who is a hospital chaplain.
While I don’t think the film really makes the pioneering spirit theme that is supposed to tie the film together work, I think that three stories of three different people does. These are three really nice people who we would love to hang out with. I really don’t care if they are pioneering in spirit or not they simply people we want to know. The trio fully embodies the the other thing that the filmmakers wanted to highlight, West Virginians who are not poor, criminals or stereotypical.
Personally I connected most to Jim. Because friend and Unseen films writer Nate Hood is a hospital chaplain as his day job I connected a bit more. Having heard tale of Nate’s rounds made me lean into Jim’s story a bit more. Some of the stories, say the estranged daughter connecting with her dying father, moved me.
It should be said that O Pioneer is a visually beautiful film. The cinematography by director Jonathan Lacocque is the tissue that connects the various parts of this film together. The film looks so good that I really wish I had seen this on a big screen where the images of these three individuals could have taken my breath away.
This is a lovely film no matter how you view it and is recommended,
Saturday, August 26, 2023
Director Nicholas Tomnay has made a film that is going to be best the less you know. It's a film where the big picture is almost as shocking as the twists and turns. The result of Tomnay's plotting is a film that is very hard to review lest I give away a twist or two.
A don’t normally watch series, but in a kind of desperation of needing something to fill an hour I put on THE NIGHT AGENT and fell in love with the first episode.
The series is about an agent named Peter who works the night shift on a desk in the White House. He is there to answer emergency calls. They almost never come in. When two assets are attacked they have their niece flee and call the desk in order to get help. He springs into action and quickly finds that he’s in the middle of a grand conspiracy.
Returning to the series a few days after I started it I went through it on a binge. That probably wasn’t a good idea since while I liked the characters and action I found the plot line strained. This was a long action thriller stretched a couple of episodes past where it should be. I felt like I was watching the old movie serials which somethings would stretch things out to fill a prescribed number of episodes. This could be less convoluted and trimmed and it would be an absolute killer.
Don’t get me wrong I liked the series, but where I was sitting staring at the screen for the early episodes by the end I was just going along.
Worth a look. (And I am looking forward to the next season)
Friday, August 25, 2023
As people gather for the wrap party of a slasher film, some one dresses as the killer and begins to off the cast and crew.
Good little slasher film is much better than the recent spate of similar films. Feeling perfectly like a film from the early 1980's this film feels like it should be viewed at a drive in movie as part of an all night movie marathon. While the film doesn't break any new ground it is entertaining.
That the film works as well as it does is entirely the result of the cast who don't phone it in. Too many times in recent films some or all of the cast phone it in, that isn't the case here and as a result we are entertained even if we can pretty much guess how this is going to play out.
Worth a look.
Thursday, August 24, 2023
The evil jack in a box from the Demonic Toys films is back at it again as he terrorizes a young mute girl.
This is a nice little horror film. Doing what it has to do and then getting off (the film runs about an hour) it’s a chilly little film of the sort you’ve come to love and expect from Full Moon. In an age where I am constantly checking my watch to see how much more the latest inde horror film has left, I just let the film run and took it all in. Actually I was disappointed because I had blocked out 2 hours and needed something else to fill the time.
Worth a look- particularly with a co-feature.
Michael Bay’s crazy action film was on several of my friend’s best of the year list for 2022. Most people I know who saw it in the theater were in love with the film. I’m not as in love with the film.
The plot of the film has two brother robbing a bank of 32 million dollars and having it all go horribly wrong during the escape. Hijacking an ambulance with a wounded cop in the back things rapidly go from bad to worse.
Crazy action sequences highlight this over the top action film. Supposedly filmed with most of the sequences via drones that allowed the action to happen in a way that previously could only be done in computers, this is a film with shots that will make you go wow. I can only imagine what this looked like on a big screen and as such I completely understand why people fell in love with it.
Seeing it on my 45inch TV at home I liked the film but I wasn’t as in love with it. I think not being forced to focus on what was happening on a huge screen resulted in my not being able to fully suspend disbelief. I loved the eye candy but I never was fully invested.
That said it’s a hell of a thrill ride and worth a look.
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Burning out mercenary is hired to rescue the son of a jailed crime lord.
First of two films starring Chris Hemsworth was a surprise hit for Netflix. Sure it’s an action packed thriller, but most people didn’t expect so many people to fall madly in love with it.
I’m coming late to the game and after three years of talk I final sat down and watched the film.
Having seen the film I’m kind of scratching my head as to why the film spawned a so much love and a sequel. Don’t get me wrong it has some spectacular action set pieces and mean edge we don’t normally see in films like this, but it is rather by the numbers and Hemsworth, while good, isn’t give a character to play but a coat of clichés to wear.
I liked the film, but when I was done I didn’t race to watch the sequel.
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
A couple who can't stand each other go jogging the morning after it becomes clear that their marriage has imploded. As they jog around a local lake, they realize the path home has disappeared, that events are repeating and sinister figures that look familiar are lurking.
This film didn't work for me. Billed as a time loop film, this is something else. It's a film where the couple are trapped somewhere where things repeat but not in a time loopy sort of way...
The problem is that the internal logic of the film doesn't work at all. Where the film TIMECRIMES, which the film compares itself to, had an internal logic that became apparent once you got to a certain point BRIGHTWOOD doesn't. It's just odd thing after odd thing because it deems that is the way to go. The film is a loop because the filmmakers have called it that, but events don't really seem to replay as in other films, say the recent Japanese film RIVER, rather they just take different paths once they kind of "reset. There really isn't any explanation at all, there simply is just the pair reappearing and things happening.
Frankly this isn't a science fiction film, but more like a couple who hate each other trapped on one of the planes of hell where their hatred for each other causes death and destruction to spiral ever outward. Or not. It depends on how you want to see.
While I think films don't have to explain what it is doing, I always hope there is some sort of internal logic. Films must make sense in their own world. A film can make no real-world sense as long as the world it creates feels as though it is working like a machine of alien origin. This film doesn't. I kept wanting to know why but each turn had things made less and less sense to me. (And I can't explain it because it doesn't make sense in the context of the film, so trying to explain it outside of that will make you think I'm insane.) To me this was just a series of nightmarish turns that happened because they created a kind of tension because we were off balance simply because we didn't know what was happening. This might have worked in the context of regular narrative/horror film (say a Fulci film) where you have the world and dimensions to work with, but in a feature as tightly wound as a loop film, it can't, the narrative is too focused and there has to be something more concrete than what we get here. (Which is why one of the circles of Hell idea works better).
I tuned out somewhere around the midpoint but hung around hoping it would pull it together, instead I got a bigger WTF for an ending.
I'd pass on this.
Marie is a chef at a retirement community who recognizes a new priest as being the bad man behind something that happened to her back in home country. As the priest becomes part of the community she has to find away to deal with the horrors of her past.
This is one of the quiet gems of Tribeca. Everyone I spoke with coming out of the press screening was rocked by the film. The reaction was so strong I had to take steps in order make sure I saw the film. Having seen the film I completely understand the reaction of everyone who saw it. I also know why the film was the Audience Award Winner.
Beautifully crafted on every level, the film puts it's audience in a death grip because it takes takes the time to set everything up. We are invested in characters well before the priest shows up. When we see how Marie reacts we react as well. We react more as we watch how the events play out. I wasn't ready for it and it made me want to climb up onto my seat.
This film is a stunner. I don't know what to say. While many people at Tribeca were talking about Black Phone and the horror films as scary little films, those films have nothing on the suspense of OUR FATHER THE DEVIL creates because this is the horror of real life.
Monday, August 21, 2023
Blue Box is a great film that transcends it’s stated subject to speak volumes about how we see the past. In an age where we are reevaluating our history Blue Box forces us to realize that the stories we have been told may not be the whole unvarnished truth.
The film is the story of director Michal Weits looking at the story of her great grandfather, Joseph Weits. Weits was the legendary man who started building Israel decades before the creation of the state by the UN. What he did was to buy up lands in Palestine create forests and places for Jewish people to live. The story goes is that he bought up lands no one wanted or lands where no one was living and started to turn them into productive communities. It’s a story that Weits family tells with great pride.
However Michael Weits digs deeper. Looking into official records as well as her great grandfather’s papers the reality she found that the truth was considerably different. Her grandfather most certainly bought up land with the intention of giving the Jews a foothold, however the deals he was making to buy the land more often than not ended up displacing families who had been living there as tenants of landlords scattered across the globe who sold the land out from under them. While it was all legal, many of the deals could be seen as morally questionable. If nothing else the lands were not uninhabited. The revelations alter the way how Michal and her family now see their history.
This is a beautifully made film. It’s a film that carries us long with its revelations and makes us thinks about our own history.
This forcing of us to reconsider our history is what lifts the film up to be something more. I say this since where we are in the United States we are struggling to deal with our past. Really looking at our founding fathers and those that followed them has revealed them to be something much more complex, an not always as pretty as we would like to think. This is especially true in regard to the confederate heroes whose statues are being removed at a record pace. While many people have been taught that they were all good men fighting for a question of State’s rights, the examination of their personal papers and the records of the time are painting them in a damning light. In light of how we see the world today they were not nice guys but rather bad guys. It wasn’t state’s rights but racism that drove many of them to fight. For many these revelations have shaken their beliefs
I really loved this film. Not only does it tell one hell of a story, but it also shows us on a large level how we got here and how we have ordered the world to make it so.
The Blue Box is playing at the Film Forum starting August 25
Sunday, August 20, 2023
A few quick random bits
I am now a member of the New York Film Critics Online.
I’ve always been hesitant to join a critics group since my taste in films tends to be outside the critical community so I always feared not fitting in.
I want to thank the board for letting me join.
As Elon Musk continues to pull the wheels off Twiiter (I will not call it X) for no rational reason, I want to restate I am over at BlueSky at @unseenfilms.bsky.social.
I will continue at Twitter until it burns to the ground, largely because I want to see its world burn.
The question will remain what in the holy hell is Elon trying to do as each turn by him loses him more users and more money.
How can anyone think that doing any sort of business with him is a good idea?
There will be coverage of Venice and Toronto.
Before anyone else asks, I am not certain what I will be doing as far as curtain raisers for either. I mention this because I am getting emails asking about my curtain raisers will be. Since I don’t know if I will have seen enough films to put something together I’m punting down the road.
A reminder I am kind of coasting until the New York Film Festival. While I know there is going to be Venice and Toronto coverage over the next few weeks in addition to some new films, I am also going to be covering some older films and releases from the last year that I hadn’t seen before.
I am trying to cover films I want to cover as opposed to those I don’t and have taken out of obligation. I am telling PR people I am passing on some films because I don’t want to write any more boiler plate pieces.
And now some reviews:
UNTOLD: HALL OF SHAME is a look at the Balco Scandal that rocked professional sports as it was revealed that some athletes were using performance enhancing drugs. Focusing on Victor Conte who ran the company, it reveals things were not how the media portrayed them. It’s an interesting tale that,as told here, didn’t need to be as long as it is.
THE MONKEY KING that just hit Netflix World Premiered at the New York Asian Film Festival. I had tickets because I bought them blind. I didn't know what the film was until close to the screening. However since the trailer didn't thrill me I decided to go to dinner with Peter Gutierrez instead.
Having caught the film on Netflix I'm pondering why NYAFF ran it since it's just okay no better than most others the studios pump out. (Oh wait Netflix was a supporter of the fest)
Resembling more some of the "big" Hollywood films and less of the big Chinese animated films, thanks to a lack of background details and the belief that smart ass remarks makes for character development, MONKEY KING only shines in the oh wow action sequences. The lessons of the original stories are to lost to a simple Hollywood style telling where everything is telegraphed.
In a year where Netflix gave us SEA BEAST, NIMONA and WENDEL & WILD THE MONKEY KING is disappointing.
This is a good look at Scientology from members who where in the church for decades and were close to Hubbard and other high ranking officials. Because they were so close to the movers and shakers they can talk about the changes that happened over time. More importantly their low key discussion of their time in the church paints a more damning portrait than the majority of other exposes which shout to the rafters about what an evil organization the church is.
While I was uncertain at the start, BROTHERS BROKEN won me over by the end. At a time where we get various looks at L Ron Hubbard’s grift that deals with the more sensational parts of things, this film simply shows us what life was like over time. We see how the brothers fell in with the church and fell out, doing so in much the same way we’d probably get if we were discussing things over a quiet dinner. The result is a film that changes your heart more firmly than a film that shouts and shrieks about what is wrong.
That isn’t to suggest I like the church, I think it’s ludicrous, I was anti-church from the release of church secrets which happened years ago thanks to a law suit. However this film makes clear that the church is not a healthy place for anyone.
Marik Knight gives a performances for the ages as a 9 year old boy who is questioning his gender identity. Bullied he tries to commit suicide and is rescued by a drag performer with issues of his own.
A clunky opening bit gives way to the boy being taken into dry off and discovering a kindred spirit. Not a lot is said, but the performances from Harrison Kilian-White and especially young Mr Knight rock the universe. It’s all in looks and gestures. The moment that Kilian-White hands Knight a tube of lip gloss the film explodes. Knight’s demeanor changes and magic happens. Suddenly this person who didn’t know where they belonged finds a place to call home. Not in the physical place of the apartment but within them-self. Watch how the uncertainty goes away and is replaced by a fully formed human. A motion, a movement of a lock of hair and Knight has found a reason to live.
I was reduced to loud uncontrolled sobbing.
I can't say anything more meaningful then that.
What a great film.
Track this film down.
Saturday, August 19, 2023
As a small town heads toward a mayoral election, someone is going on a killing spree.
Nominal slasher, the truth is the film is trying to do more than just be a collection of kills. Because the film is twisty, I'm not going to really discuss what happens, I don't want to spoil it. I will say that for the most part the film entertains. I'm not sure that the film pulls it all together but I like that this isn't the road that's well traveled.
That the film works is due to the cast who don't walk through the proceedings. That may not sound like much, but when you are like me and are subjected to lots of B films where the casts phone it in, it's nice to have actors who actually care.
I also love that the film doesn't look like other similar films. Because the film isn't following the typical tropes the filmmakers smartly don't go down the usual paths. We aren't given typical visual clues so it all seems fresh.
I had a good time.
Worth a look.
This is a pointer toward VALLEY OF EXILE.
I was sent a copy of the film and asked to review it. The trouble is that the film arrived at the wrong time and while I was able to watch the film, it is the sort of film I really needed to see a second time in order to really write on the film with the care that the film deserves.
The film is the story of two sisters who flee from Syria during the early day of the conflict. One sister is pregnant, the other isn’t. They fall into a make shift refugee camp where they ponder their future, bith long term and short.
Not looking or behaving like most other films about refugees, the film is dealing with the early days of people’s migration, the film shows us a side to things that we don’t normally see. This is a look that will open your eyes.
While I can’t do a longer piece right now, don’t let that stop you from seeing this film when it plays at Cinequest
Friday, August 18, 2023
A look at the college football legend and NFL flameout Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny Football. Its a warts and all look at the young man who won the world and then lost it. It’s a damning look not only at Manziel but also of college football and the people we put on a pedestal.
I'm kind of shocked that Manziel is pushing this because he comes off as still being an asshole. Sure he was a great player, but he leaned into the rowdy life unapologetically and then choked when he chaffed at having to be a good guy in the spotlight. He won everything he wanted and found he wanted no part of it because everyone was going to tell him was an asshole for behaving like the unsupervised manchild he was (and may still be). You feel bad for him on some level but at the same time its hard to feel for a guy who had the American dream and pissed it away because he was, in the words of his father, never held to be accountable.
Nice thought dad, buy why didn’t you ever stop him when you were in charge of him? Seriously you had him during the first 18 years of his life, so why did you let him become so a bad guy? Why didn't you or anyone else step in?
Oh, yea football. Football forgives everything.
If you want to know why we are a mess as country and species it’s the glorification of bad behavior like this.
Most troubling thing about the film is it doesn’t suggest that we are supposed to think anything different of Manziel now. There is no redemption, I mean there is no indication he changed.. There is nothing other than a guy who says he changed reveling in his bad behavior for over an hour. The film is literally Manziel being an asshole for 65 minutes and in the final five we get him heading home broken and then saying I'm not that guy. Okay- but who are you. Who are you now?
We have no clue. We have no idea what he's doing other than a stray comment from one of the women in his life saying he isn't doing anything. We don’t know if he’s married, or what he does for a living, he just is (and isn’t that guy).
Honestly I enjoyed watching the story but the lack of a conclusion other than “I’m not that guy” makes the film unsatisfying. I could have taken him being unapologetic but the ending here makes no sense because it doesn’t end, it just stops and doesn't explain why the filmmakers are telling us this story.
Worth a look but you’ll not really have your mind changed
Thursday, August 17, 2023
Oh Werner Herzog- your cinematic children are making the most glorious films.
This film is a grand mythic look at the rituals happening in Haiti and it is a cinematic sensory trip the likes of which I have never seen. This film has such a mind blowing collection of sights and sounds that it’s kind of like watching a Werner Herzog documentary that was on a crazed mix of acid and speed. This is a film I was watching eyes wide, mouth agape except when I put my lips together simply so say “oh my god”
I watched this on a small computer monitor- and I have no idea how it will play on a screen bigger than life- but god damn I want to find out.
I am frequently asked why do I go to festivals or why do I search out smaller films, and my answer is to find films that move my soul, that shatter my being and put it together in an entirely new way. I want to see films that make me fall in love with the movies and the wonder of life. Basically I want to see films like KITE ZO A.
You must see this film- particularly on the big screen where it can overwhelm you.
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Looking back, there’s a certain grim irony to the frenzied controversy that surrounded Judy Blume’s seminal 1970 young adult novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Telling the story of 11-year-old Margaret Simon as she navigates the uncertain waters of growing up after her family moves to the New Jersey burbs, the book’s frank discussions of puberty, menstruation, and—shall we say—“bra envy” sparked the admiration of teenage readers and the ire of many of their parents. The result? In the 50+ years since its publication it has been listed by the American Library Association (ALA) as one of the most frequently challenged and censored books in America’s schools. The grim irony of it all is twofold. First, if parents in the 1970s thought this book was too explicit—and having read it I can confirm that there’s nothing more “graphic” in it than what kids might see and learn in any middle school health class—one can only imagine what they’d make of the sex in the Twilight series or the violence in The Hunger Games. And second, if all the parents who decried the book’s examination of budding teenage sexuality as sinful would look beyond the trees for the forest they’d realize that Blume’s book is a marvelously moving and surprisingly pious depiction of faith. Born to a Christian mother and a Jewish father, Margaret spends as much—if not more—time praying to God and wondering what religion might be right for her as she does boys or bras. In our modern secular society, the idea of a novel that treats personal faith as being as important to young people as puberty becoming a hit among teenagers seems unthinkable.
Now, decades later, Blume’s book has been adapted into a major motion picture. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig whose previous film The Edge of Seventeen (2016) proved her deftness at handling the sensitive topics surrounding adolescence, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. isn’t just a faithful adaptation of Blume’s book—although it is that. If anything, it’s the rare film version of a book that surpasses its source material. Fleshing out many of the adult characters while keeping its gaze firmly locked on Abby Ryder Fortson’s wonderful performance as Margaret, the film perfectly balances the humor and drama of Blume’s novel without being twee or preachy. Though set in 1970, the film maintains the universality of Margaret’s experiences which helped make the book so timeless—you may never have been a teenage girl praying for her first period, but almost everyone can relate to feeling like a freak over feelings that their body isn’t “developing” fast enough compared to everyone else. (The few exceptions will be glad to see that Craig maintained Blume’s subplot about one of Margaret’s classmates who got bullied and accused of being “easy” just because she developed breasts in the fourth grade.) Likewise, everyone can relate to the awkwardness of a first crush, body envy, and realizing that the friends you have might not always be the friends you’ll need down the road.
Still, it’s the film’s treatment of religion and faith that makes Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. so refreshing. As in the book, Margaret works through a crisis of faith as she tries to decide whether she wants to be Jewish or Christian when she gets older. She attends synagogue with her firecracker Jewish grandmother Sylvia (Kathy Bates), goes to a worship service at a black Baptist church with her school friend, and even visits a confessional at a Catholic Church during a personal crisis. But above all Margaret prays, prays, prays. She prays with an intensity that would make the Apostle Paul blush, going to God with all of her fears and hopes. She prays in times of joy and sorrow. She even prays in times of doubt when surrounded by people who make her question the very goodness and existence of God—people like her devout Christian maternal grandparents who cut contact her with mother eleven years ago when they learned she was marrying a Jewish man. Like the book, the film offers no easy answers to these difficult questions—it doesn’t try to solve the problem of faith in a God who can sometimes seem remote or absent in our lives. Instead, it’s the portrait of a relationship between Created and Creator, one where both knocks on the doors of each others’ hearts.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is recommended for parents and young teenagers to watch together and is currently available to rent and stream on DirecTV, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon, and other streaming services. It contains frank discussions of puberty, menstruation, and teenage anatomy, but it features nothing more graphic than a diagram of a penis in a medical textbook which is briefly shown for a few seconds.
Bella is a loving portrait of Bell Abzug, the fire brand from New York who told it like she saw it and fought like the devil for her constituents and for the things she saw as right. She was a readily recognizable person due to her always wearing of big hats.
In this age when women are more and more taking the lead politically, Bella Abzug was the herald. Abzug kicked open the door and then removed it, making certain that all the great female politiicans of today would be able to take their place on the big stage. If it wasn’t for Abzug there would be no Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, AOC, Lauren Bobert, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi or any of the other women currently in Washington or on the state level. She made damn sure that what she and other women had to say was going to be heard.
25 years on from the passing of Abzug BELLA stands as an important film. Having passed away at time that many of today’s generation of voters won’t know who Abzug was this film acts as a vital reminder that was once a time when there wasn’t a plethora of women in office. It wasn’t as easy as it is today and it took a bold and brash woman to show the world that some women belong in office.
For me this film was a wonderful trip down memory lane. My mom loved Abzug and she loved that she took the fight to anyone who needed it. Yea, Abzug was a woman, but my mother was drawn to her do the right thing nature. Occasionally my mom would joke and say she needed to get a hat so she could do what Abzug was doing.
This is a super film and worth your time
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
A Hildie and her fatherm Sonny, are forever on the run. Adding a classmate of Hildie's, the family they end up making the acquaintance of some new friends. For the first time they think that perhaps they have found a home. However, neither Hildie nor her father are aware that they are actually after her father's hidden power.
This second film in writer, director and star Ryan Ward's trilogy that began with SON OF THE SUNSHINE in 2009, is at times one of the best films you'll see this year. The film has frequent sequences that are some of the most lyrically beautiful sequences I've seen all year (maybe ever). There is a wisdom and magic in the tale that will absolutely move your soul.
The trouble is the film has some problems that keep it from being the best of the best. The first is the construction of the narrative. As good as the sequences and characters are, the problem is that the narrative thread is one we've seen before any number of times. Granted most times this sort of story has the child being the person being hunted, but outside of flipping the daughter for the father there is nothing narratively new here. The other problem is the pacing. While the 117 minute run time allows for the creation of lyric sequences and the shading of characters, the pace of things is such that we have too much time to realize that we were here before.
My quibbles aside I really do like the film. I'm bitching about the film because so much of this film is so amazingly good, nay great, that I want the whole film to match the wonderfulness of the individual sequences.
Should you see this? Oh hell yea. If you love movies you need to see this, since so much of this will make you feel good.
And don't worry about not seeing the first film. I had no idea it was a second in a series until after I saw the film.
Get some popcorn and curl up on the couch as Michael Pare and Vivica A Fox are among the guests trapped at a winery in an old time murder mystery.
The plot of the film has friends and family arriving at a winery for wedding. Just a deputy arrives to warn the group that wildfire is threatening. As the road is cut off the bride turns up dead. Forced to ump into action the deputy has to contend with clashing personalities as well as more bodies.
If you like old school murder mysteries TWISTED VINES is for you. This throw back film isn't high art but it is entertaining. It's the sort of film that 90 years ago would have been set in a old dark house during a rain storm. Here the film is set in the day time and bright daylight. Clearly the basic set up works anywhere.
What I like about the film is that the cast pretty much sells the story. Sure there is a bit of over acting (I'm looking at you Mr. Pare and Ms Fox) but for the most part it doesn't matter, you'll want to see how this plays out.
As some one who sees and ignores too many of similar films it's nice to say that this one is worth the time.
Monday, August 14, 2023
There is a reason I love Christopher Di Nunzio's films. He's a director who spins things in ways you never expect. Frequently he gives you a situation you've seen before and then he bends it...
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.
Sunday, August 13, 2023
Nightcap 8/13/23 How am I covering CineQuest?, Hong Sangsoo again and again-- again, Babylon, random notes
The plan was to not cover anything except things I repost and things that I just happened upon between the end of NYAFF, Fantasia and Japan Cuts and the New York Film Festival ... and then things happened. Specifically offers dropped for Locarno, perhaps Venice and Cinequest. The Lacarno and Venice films I understand (I wanted to see films playing outside the US that I would have to wait on) but Cinequest just sort of happened. I suddenly ended up with a bunch films and my planned cinematic vacation went away.
This isn't to sell Cinequest short, it's actually a great fest and if I wasn't broken I would have jumped at the chance to cover it , but I needed time off.
I guess not.
The fest is running August 15 until the end of the month. If you are in LA you need to go.
Why? It's running a lot of great films. I know we've previously covered a bunch of the films previously:
And I have several others coming including the short MERMAID which reduced me to a sobbing mess in my office
Buy tickets and go.
For tickets and more information go here>
The New York Film Festival announced their main slate films and for the first time in a long time there are a bunch of main slate films I’m looking forward to. There are films from Wim Wenders, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Yorgos Lanthimos, Marco Bellocchio, Bertrand Bonello and others. For the first time I am excited out of the box.
What has irked the hell out of me is yet again Hong Sangsoo has two films playing at the festival.
For the 3rd time in a row there are two films from Sang soo playing NYFF in the main slate.
I know the programmers have a thing for Sangsoo, but a festival that should be highlighting the best of world cinema taking two slots away from deserving filmmakers is ludicrous. No filmmaker is making two deserving films every year.
Hell no filmmaker is making one film deserving every year. I used to get upset that it used to seem that every time Godard turned out a film NYFF would screen it, but that wasn’t so (Addendum Godard had 25 films in 60 film festivals). Occasionally they didn’t run one of his films. But that’s not the case with Sangsoo, who seems to get two slots every year. Actually in the last 14 years that I have been doing Unseen Films they have run 13 of his films. Because of the double ups they have run 18 films in the last 19 years.
Forgive me, but it isn’t right.
This is nothing against Sangsoo. I do like many of his films (Though let’s be real that the vast majority of them are a variation on the same plot with the same actors with the result that you could cut clips from the films together and make new ones and no one would ever know) but he should not be representing world cinema – or even Korean cinema – every year since there are other voices needing to be heard.
I finally saw the monster that is BABYLON.
I could see it being hailed, on a technical level, as one of the greatest films ever made. Narratively and emotionally it's a complete mess, much like the party that opens up the film.
Part of the problem for me is that the film is so full of ideas, many of them borrowed that there isn't anything we haven't seen before, I've been here before several times before, however not with this much sense of crazed over the top insanity.
Yes the film is vibrant and alive but so is the driver of a car before it crashes through a guardrail and goes over a cliff.
BABYLON is a big beautiful horrific road accident you can't look away from.
---If you can get EXPLOITATION NATION #8 (check Amazon or stores like Forbidden Planet in NYC) do so. The magazine has a killer interview with Terry Gilliam as well as an appreciation of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE which I think will put it into perspective for anyone who didn't like the film