Wednesday, July 24, 2024

BRUSH OF THE GOD (2024) NYAFF 2024 Fantasia 2024

 


BRUSH OF THE GOD was written when director and special effects legend Keizo Murase​ was working on MIGHTY MIGHTY PEKING MAN back in the 70’s. The film  was worked on but never went anywhere until Muase published his memoirs and people started to say that he should make the film. Managing to pull together a willing team of people  the film went into production. It is billed as Muase's first and last directorial effort.

The film is the story of a young girl whose grandfather was a special effects wizard. After he passes she wants nothing really to do with him or his work. However a mysterious person appears and tells her and a friend that she must complete the quest and save the world from disappearing. The girl and her friend are then transported into the world of her grandfather’s passion project “Brush of the God”. While there they make friends with a rabbit like creature that uses it’s ears to fly and can make what we desire real, weird insects, a couple of outlaws and some giant monsters.


The film is a sweet little delight. Very much geared toward being family friendly the film is an unscary but smile producing romp where giant monsters of the practical effects variety battle and tear up some buildings.  It’s far from high art but it is damn entertaining especially if you like giant monster movies.

My brother Joe and I went to the NYAFF screening just to see the film on a big screen and we, along with the rest of the crowd, had a wonderful time.


The NYAFF Q&A was very good. Daisuke Sato, the producer spoke at length about his career, he is a director and special effects master in his own right, and how he became a producer when no one else was able to do it.

With BRUSH OF THE GOD done at NYAFF you should look to try to get to Fantasia to see it where it plays soon, it’s a lot of fun.

Director and Producer

I Know What You Need (2024) plays San Diego Comic Con Friday

 Stephen King based short feature (it's 45 minutes long and technically a feature film) is the last of the dollar baby films where king would allow filmmakers to use his short stories for only a dollar.

The plot of the film has a young woman meeting a man who gives her everything she wants, before she knows she wants or needs it. Of course they fall in love...and since this is a Stephen King tale you know this isn't happy.

Put together as if it was an after school special from the 1970's the film is a nifty little tale of love gone wrong. It's a film that perfectly matches the 1970's time frame when it was written. It feels of the time.

The problem with the film is that at 45 minutes the film feel a bit padded.  While the run time would  match an episode of an old anthology series, as a film unto itself it feel a tad long. Several scenes feel as if they could have been trimmed.  It's not fatal, however it diminishes the suspense because it gives us too much time to think about what we are seeing.

I like the film a great deal, I don't love it.

Bushido(2024) NYAFF 2024


Don't go into BUSHIDO expecting clashing swords and a high body count, this is another sort of film.  Yea, swords are drawn but this is a film more about characters, and the game of Go, than it is about sword fights.

The basic plot has a samurai turned engraver getting into trouble again when some gold goes missing. He had been framed and sent off years earlier for theft and now everyone thinks he did it again.

This is a mannered tale focused on the characters and not an action film. I'm sure if you've seen films like AFTER THE RAIN, SWORD OF DESPERATION (2011), LAST RONIN, TATAR SAMURAI and others, you'll know what you are getting into.

I liked this film a great deal. I think I would have liked it away from the festival mix, where I could see the film on it's own terms and not as part of an endless line of films. 

It's a solid film that is worth a look.

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Latin & Spanish Film Roadshow Opens Exclusively at Cinema Village in New York on July 19 and the Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles on July 26


Festival coverage has me behind on the things I should be also covering such as the Latin and Spanish Film Roadshow which has a couple more days at Cinema Village before moving on to Los Angeles on Friday.

Consisting of five films which are playing in rotation each day the roadshow is highlighting  films that are not going to get a big splashy release but should be on your radar.  All of them are good and worth your time.

How good?

I paused my coverage of NYAFF and Fantasia to watch four of the five films instead of what I sold my soul to cover. (The fifth film, CREATURA I covered previously and the review can be found below)


THE PUNISHMENT is a real time thriller about a couple trying to find their son. They left him for a moment for teach him a lesson and then he disappeared. What follows is a microscopic look at a couple in crisis. It will keep you riveted to your seat.


LULLABY is the story of a new mother dealing with her life and family and especially the baby.  It’s a film that doesn’t take the typical path and as such becomes a compelling look at one  woman’s life.


SICA is a good look at a young woman trying to figure out if her fisherman father was lost in a storm or lost because he was up to no good. It’s a nice little drama/thriller that score point because it isn’t the sort of film that Hollywood or most American filmmakers would choose to tell. The result is film that feels fresh.


YOU HAVE TO COME AND SEE IT is the story of the meeting of two couple for dinner and what follows. I’m not going to lie, this was my least favorite of the bunch, largely because it’s the most conventional. It’s a good look at the interaction of two couples, that wasn’t my cup of tea.

Ultimately all of the films are worth your time and money and I recommend you make time for some or all of them.

For more information on the whole series go here  5 FILMS – Outsider Pictures

For tickets at CINEMA VILLAGE GO HERE. 

For tickets at the LAEMMLE ROYAL GO HERE 


CREATURA (2023)
A young woman moves in into a house with her boyfriend and suddenly has to deal with a sudden lack of desire. She then begins o reexamine her life to see what brought her to this place.

I’m not going to lie, while I can admire CREATURA and I could tell you how good the parts of the film are I always felt like an outsider. I’m not sure if its because a number of things are left unsaid, the filmmakers not spelling certain things out specifically, or because the film is very much rooted in the female experience. I say this because through much of the film I kept feeling that had I been a woman it would have made more sense to me.

Very well done, but I think this is going to play better for women than men.

A pointer toward FLY ME TO THE SAITAMA: FROM BIWA LAKE WITH LOVE (2024) Fantasia 2024


This is just a pointer toward FLY ME TO THE SAITAMA: FROM BIWA LAKE WITH LOVE. This is only a pointer because the film really requires that you have seen the first film. There is no set up, no introduction to the characters, it just goes.

The film is set up in an alternate time line where one of the province of the country  has broken off and won its independence. It now wants to set up a beach resort.

Wildly crazy and off kilter the film requires you click in with its sense of humor and reality. 

Yin Yang Master Zero (2024) NYAFF 2024 Fantasia 2024


Abe no Seimei was an actual Yin Yang master. By the time he died he had become do famous all sorts of legends were written about him.  Those legends formed the source for a series of novels by Baku Yumemakura’s. Those novels were then turned into a couple of earlier films.

This time out we are going back to Seimei‘s days in the academy. He is learning to perform the rituals needed, as well as the psychological tricks that help him be the great wizard like master. He is of course much more advanced (even more than his teachers), the craft running in his family. Hooking up with a fellow student with whom he forms a Holmes and Watson like partnership, he gets involved with a princess in trouble and a series of murders taking out teachers in his school.

The film is a weird mix of magic and mystery, this feels like the set up for a period detective series. More focused on the characters then magical set pieces  the film makes us care about what happens and worry about what is going to happen next. While  there are some cool “magical” sequences they aren’t the film exists. There aren’t huge set pieces like in Hollywood film but something else, which actual makes the magic more magical. One I realized that I fell under the spell of the film and enjoyed myself that I am hoping for a series.

Recommended

FAQ (2024) NYAFF 2024 Fantasia 2024


Dong-chun is a feisty grade school kid who wants nothing to do with school or growing up, largely because she doesn't understand why she has to do all these things. While on a trip she ends up with a bottle of rice wine which begins to send her signals via Morse code.

This is a one of a kind film you must see. It's a look at growing up and life that goes into some really unexpected places. I'm serious about that, the denouncement was completely from out of left field. It works, I have no idea why, but it does.

I suspect that there are going to be a number of people who are going to wonder what is going on. I am intentionally not being specific about what happens because I haven't been able to make some of this sound less crazy.   I don't want to put you off the film, because this is something truly special. Its a film that has a story to tell and it does so wonderfully.

Trust me, this is a film that is just wonderfully it's own thing.

Highly recommended.

A pointer toward Reversi (2024) NYAFF 2024


A man who can jump back in time, uses his ability to keep his wife and son safe.

I'm not going to  review REVERSI. It's not that it's a bad film, rather it isn't my type of film. The film is basically a thriller remake or riff of the 2013 film ABOUT TIME which was made as a kind of romantic film from Richard Curtis, except that each time our hero jumps he shortens his life.

My issue with the basic story is that the constant jumping back in time raises all sorts of questions that distract me.  Additionally it results in a narrative that cheats it's audience by making it so it can undo what has been  done. Sometimes it works like in TIME CRIMES or the films of Junta Yamaguchi, but mostly the trope collapses at a certain point because it becomes a story in search of an ending. I had issues.

On the other hand, some people are not as picky as me so it you like constant time travel films give it a shot.

KINGDOM:RETURN OF THE GENERAL (2024) NYAFF 2024


Before we start you don't need to have seen the first three films. The brief piece to get you up to speed at the start is enough. I say this because I haven't seen parts 2 and 3 and I have no memory of the first part. 

Set during the wars that unified China, this manga based film is the story of a young man named Shin who is working to be the greatest general ever. As this film begins Shin and his men are waiting to battle the enemy. One of the enemy generals, known as the God of War, appears and decimates the band. Shin is wounded and is carried off by his friends. They are fleeing into the night because Shin lead is small force to victory and the enemy fear them. Re joining the main force the Shin and his men end up in a huge battle.

Trust me it's infinitely better than it sounds. This is a film of grand spectacle and perfect performances. For all the war this is a film about the characters. Seriously this is a film where we fall into the characters and are brought to tears by their trials. Unlike Hollywood and the Marvel films no one gets lost and everyone shines.

This is a staggering achievement. It's a film that moves our hearts. Details are filled in in such away that give new details to those  who know what went before and enough detail that new comers like me can follow along.

No film series with a continuing story ever has had a fourth film this readily accessible- nor has a fourth film been this good.

I need to go back and watch the earlier films.

This film is one of the best of 2024.

Highly recommended

Brave Citizen (2024) Fantasia 2024


Web comic based film has a new teacher, and former fighter with anger issues, taking on the bully of the school and his minions by wearing a cat mask and kicking ass. 

This exploration of school violence in Korea is a compelling thriller with doses of humor. The fights are brutal and bone crushing with the outcome of it all very likely to make you cheer.

What is troubling about the film is that the film seems to be a brutal take down of the violence that, at least according to Korean cinema, is rampant in the country. The school where this all goes down is the leading one in the nation for anti-bullying. At the start of the film we are told how great it is, something we then instantly learn is a lie as we see how rampant the violence is. It's a deeply troubling film in its way because it very clearly shows that under the shiny veneer  there is extreme ugliness. Considering what we see in other Korean action films it makes you wonder why anyone would want to go there.

...I'm probably over reading things...

Taken on it's own terms and as a stand alone action film BRAVE CITIZEN is a solid little thriller. The bad guys are bad. The good guys aren't perfect but the sort of people we want to root for. The film has danger in that all of the violence leaves marks and bruises so you don't know what is going to happen to anyone. It's a solid film where you'll want to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and see how it comes out.

Recommended.


Liz Whittemore on Darkest Miriam (2024) which is playing Fantasia

This originally appeared at Liz's regular home REEL NEWS DAILY

Someone seems to be leaving Miriam cryptic notes and clues connected to her life. A kind-hearted and observant Toronto librarian at a quiet branch filled with an eclectic group of patrons, Miriam’s mundane existence gets upended by increasingly weird incidents and a new love affair with a young foreign cab driver. 

Britt Lower’s narration moves this enigmatic story forward. The entire narrative flows as a reminder that this is a splendid adaptation of Matha Baillie’s novel The Incident Report.

The notes are poetic in their veiled threats, filled with delicious language choices. It is a pensive tug-of-war between love and grief. 

Britt Lower commands the screen with not much more than a stare. Miriam is mired quietly in grief. Lower is effortlessly magnetic, capturing every bit of nuance inside of Miriam.

The film delves into the fact that libraries are often a public refuge for the misunderstood. More importantly, the love story is a haven of intimacy and honest expression. As the plot shifts, her unresolved trauma, tinged with the macabre, becomes a worry for the audience. You are rooting for Miriam, full stop. Tribeca 2024 should settle into the pros of the script and allow themselves to live with Miriam, if only for a short time. 

THE GUEST (2023) NYAFF 2024 Asian Film Fest of Dallas 2024


A hot sheet hotel with the rooms bugged is  looked after by two young guys in hock to the mob. They need to pay off their debt or else they will harvest their organs and toss them into the ocean. If they can get a drive full of sick stuff from the guests they will be able to pay off their debt in one go.  On a rainy night a strange guy comes in carrying a woman on his back. The guys realize this guy maybe their savior...until they realize that the guy is even more dangerous then they could imagine.

A long slow set up (the whole first third) gives way to  a tense run to the end as the psycho begins to hunt his prey. It's a well made film that doesn't do anything new, it simply follows the well worn path you expect. While I enjoyed myself once it got going, I was disappointed that it was a bit too by the numbers.  I could live with it not being the next new thing, except that it' good enough that it could have and should have been more memorable than it is. Sadly I'm going to remember the film because I don't remember it.

If you like films that are a nameless psycho hunting people (ala the recent IN A VIOLENT NATURE) you will love this. If you want a bit more you can skip it. 

Monday, July 22, 2024

Kryptic (2024) Fantasia 2024


Young woman wanders off during a group trip to a mountain with a dark past. She has a weird encounter with the beast that lives on the mountain and when she returns  to the party nothing is the same for her.

I'm going to be honest and say that this film didn't work much for me. Very much a member of a horror sub-genre involving weird encounters in the woods that change people, it echoes other similar films a bit too much.  

While there is nothing really wrong with what we see here, and despite my grumbling, I do like the film, the problem is that the lead character isn't interesting enough to make this work.  Simply put we don't get enough of how she was before for us to really understand the change that has happened to her. Because we don't really get any sense of her as a character before, the fact that she is wandering through things that seem familiar from other films are more noticeable. We lean into what we know from outside the film because the script doesn't give us enough to go on.

I enjoyed this but honestly this should have been stronger.

Quibbles aside, its worth a look for cosmic horror fans

BREAKING AND REENTERING (2024) NYAFF 2024


After a band of thieves break into a bank and clean out the vault, they find that they have to put the money back because the leader's  girlfriend is blamed.

It's much more complicated than that but that is enough to get you started with this delightful caper film that riffs on all the recent Hollywood caper films while turning them all on their ear. This is just great fun.

To be honest you have to stay through the set up. I had a hard time warming to the film for the first few minutes because it was spinning out in such a rote method. It was so obviously riffing on films like OCEAN'S 8, 11,12 and 13 that I was bracing for a ride I could plan from start to finish. Thankfully there was a point where the film just flopped and shook off the copying and then began to really knock my socks off.

What an absolutely delightful film.

Ultimately it doesn't entirely chart a new path, but it manages to be so damn entertaining you really won't care.

Highly recommended.

It hits Netflix August 1

Tiki Tiki (1971) Fantasia 2024


Restoration of a 1971 animated film that mixed animated sequences about the executives in an ape run world (remember Planet of the Apes was huge when this was made) and mixed it with a Soviet children's film Aybolit-66, that was a Doctor Doolittle rip off to tell the story of a filmmaker making a film about humans sailing to Tiki Tiki to rescue apes and fight pirates. It's all dubbed to play like a WHAT'S UP TIGERLILY film.

This is a painful viewing experience to thanks to the really awful Soviet footage. It's so bad I can't imagine Rifftrax, The Mads or MST3K ever touching this. Yes, well over an hour of Aybolbit-66 was removed but what remains is so WTF as to be near unwatchable. It appears to have been inserted randomly.

This might have worked but the studio messed it up. In reading on the film, it was clear the studio didn't know what they wanted and waffled as to whether to make this for kids or make it for the midnight films crowd, or as one person said the kindergarten set or stoned high schoolers. The lack of knowing who the audience was going to be made it a film for no audience.

Avoid this turd at all costs.

ASTRONOTS (2024) Fantasia 2024


As two astronauts prepare to be launched to mars one of them has a panic attack.  This is an amusing little twi hander that is going to make you laugh. It’s a perfectly done comedy that nails it in so many different ways.

The fact that it had me laughing out loud says so much

This is definitely one to track down.

(There is a post credits scene)

Brief thoughts on SNOW IN MIDSUMMER (2023) NYAFF 2024


This is a look at the vents of May 13, 1969 in Kuala Lumpur​ when the Chinese minority was attacked and massacre. Using a dual structure where events of the past are inter-cut with events today, the film looks to plumb the depths of tragedy and how we remember it. 

In all honesty I can't really provide an objective review. This is very much an art house film that is deliberately staged to look like a theatrical performance- much of the film is shot to look the Cantonese Opera performance that begins the film.  It's a mannered presentation that is not going to work for everyone. 

That said if you want to see an extremely well done, if mannered art film.

A pointer to Mash Ville (2024) Fantasia 2024


This is more a pointer than a review. I say this because the off kilter nature of the film didn’t quite connect with me, I suspect because I saw it after a long day watching films.

The film has three brothers selling bootleg hooch. When a batch of their alcohol kills someone they have to go out and get it back. They then run into a bunch of cultists who are going around killing people and then praying over their bodies.  It’s a crazy battle for survival.

Well done with it’s own sense of reality, this is a nifty little comedic thriller that will grab your attention.  The problem for me was that while I was watching the film I found I wasn’t in the mood for a film that wasn’t straight forward.  Its wasn’t that I wasn’t liking it but more along the lines of not finding the thing you want to eat.Sure you have good food in the house but you don’t want that.

That said- I know MASH VILLE is very good and worth a look.

In brief: The Missing (2023) NYAFF 2024 Fantasia 2024


Mute young man begins to lose himself  when after he finds his uncle dead.

The first film from the Philippines submitted to the Oscars for Best Animated Feature is either going to thrill you or bore you to tears. A long convoluted tale concerning our hero's quest to heal himself walks a path you'll see charted almost instantly. The aliens and the dressings aren't real, though the molestation is.

I applaud the film trying to do more than just tell a story of abuse in the typical way, but at the same time I don't think it works at all.

Hell is a Teenage Girl (2024) Fantasia 2024


A young girl who is ostracized b y her high school, because her father is the undying killer that strikes every Halloween, decides to put a stop to his rampage.

This is a sweet smart little film that is really enjoyable. Sure we kind of figure where this is going, but it is still a delight.

I enjoyed the hell out of it. 

Recommended

Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Old Man and the Demon Sword (2024) Fantasia 2024


THE OLD MAN AND THE DEMON SWORD is a just over an hour long joy,  It’s not deep and meaningful. It’s a bit clunky, but at the same time it’s entertaining as all hell.

The film has an old guy, who some call delusional getting a demon infused word from a neo templar who is tasked with using the blade to rid the world of demons. The pair become friends.

Not operating on the biggest financial budget OLDMAN… has a over abundance of heart. Filled with actors who sell the craziness on the screen, its film that over comes any and all questions about quality with force of will and charm. I was simply delighted to be watching the film and when it was done I watched it again.

This is not high art, this is get a bucket of popcorn and beverage of choice and enjoy sort of a film.

Recommended

MANTRA WARRIOR: THE LEGEND OF THE EIGHT MOONS (2023) Fantasia 2024


Giant robots and reincarnated gods mix in a retelling of the Ramayana.

The plot has group of rebels trying to rescued a captured princess before her powers can be used for evil and gaining the powers of gods who are to protect her.

Good looking film didn’t work for me. The problem is that in trying to be too many things the film is kind of a bit of nothing. The mythological orgins get lost in the crashing robots. The drive to be family friendly resulted in the film not having any bite.

Yes the film is a visual ballet but nothing stands out and when it’s done you really won’t remember a thing.

A disappointment. 

Escape Attempt (2023) Fantasia 2024


Set in the future the film is the story of a couple heading off on a romantic trip who agree to drop a man they meet on a quiet planet along their way. Things go side ways when the uninhabited planet isn't, and has a concentration camp on it.

Great looking film with a large chip on its shoulder. This is a film that is very much about something. It's a film that wants us to think and consider. Its also a film that is going to play very differently than when it was conceived thanks to the march of world events.

It's a gorgeous film, echoing the work of many Eastern European genre filmmakers of the past. I can only imagine how great this film is going to look on the big screen.

If there is anything that bothers me about the film is that it has an insistence that it must tell us this story or else. Perhaps its the need to make sure we get it because of the shortness of the run time, or because there is a real desire in the filmmakers to make a change, but either way the film  goes a little bit over in pushing the fact that the film means something, beyond the obvious parallels in the tale.

Quibble aside, this film is a kick in the ass and recommended.

One For the Road (2024) LA Shorts


Two guys help a waitress with a creepy guy who wanders into the diner at 2am.

Stephen King based short is a creepy little film. Sure, after a certain point you'll be able to figure out where this is going, but at the same time it's so well done you really won't care. (I'm not saying more because I don't want  to spoil it.)

What a scary little delight.

Recommended.

ANIMALIA PARADOXA (2024) Fantasia 2024



If you love weird and off kilter films this is for you. This tale of amphibious humans is like a waking dream. While there is a loose narrative thread this is more a collection of sounds and images that burn themselves into your psyche.

What is is like? Imagine the works of the Quays mashed  with E. ELias Merhige's Begotten, mixed with Bill Morrison and some of the more avant garde Eastern European genre films. The movements are more dance than normal motion. Live action mixes with animation and experimental imaging.

You can't go into the film expecting a typical film, you have to go expecting an experience. You can't fight it, rather you just let it wash over you. There is magic here and you have to be open to it.

I'm not going to lie and say it all works. There are bits that didn't work for me. However at the same time so much of it worked that I am looking to see it again when I can sit in the dark and let the take me some where else.

Highly recommended for the adventurous



OPERATION UNDEAD (2024) NYAFF 2024


The programmers of NYAFF have buried one of their best films in the late night slot which is a shame because people other than night owls deserve to see this glorious rethink of the zombie genre.

Set during the Second World War the film has the Thai government surrendering to the Japanese after they see the effect of a new chemical weapon that turns people into zombie like beings. The turned men are faster, largely unkillable and cannibalistic. The idea is that there will be a brief show of resistance and the surrender-but the the brief skirmish releases one of the test subjects who quickly begins to turn the Thai soldiers and civilians.

What starts off as an amusing film turns by degrees darker as it becomes a bloodbath and then into a brutally sad film as some of those turned have animalistic cravings but also their morals and memories. They continue to do terrible things but can't stop themselves. It's crushing.

Brilliantly made, it is wonderful rethink of the the zombie genre that gives us much to think about even as the blood and guts are flying. It is a very serious very well thought out pondering about the cost of war and violence on ourselves and out psyches. (It's a blood relative to Ted Geoghegan's BROOKLYN 45 because of the similar themes)

While I am certain that some people are not going to like some of the more serious turns, the film stands tall because of it's refusal to play by anyone's , even the genres rules. If you can accept that you are going to end up having found one of the great anti-war films of the least few years, not to mention one hell of a horror film

Highly recommended

Brief thoughts on THE MAKING OF A JAPANESE (2024)


Closing film of this year’s Japan Cuts is a good look at 1st and 6th graders in a Japanese school as the new year begins.

Playing as a kind of Frederick Wiseman film for the younger crowd. The film is several slices of life as we watch the various kids as they learn the skills and are molded into proper Japanese.

I enjoyed the film a great deal, an I kind of which it was a series more than a single feature because I would have tuned in every week to see what happens next.

If you are wondering why this piece is short it’s more that since the film is the closing film for Japan Cuts I was expecting something meatier. This isn’t a knock against the film, which I enjoyed the hell out of, rather I was ready and primed to see a film full of ideas and thematic threads and instead I got a light, but informative and entertaining film. All of my desire to attack the film and really discuss it disappeared in the cute faces of a bunch of kids I wanted to hug.

Most definitely worth see THE MAKING OF A JAPANESE closes the 2024 edition of Japan Cuts

Adrianne & the Castle (2024) Fantasia 2024


Cinematic portrait of Alan St Georges and Adrianne, the love of his life. As he works to complete their castle like home, Havencrest, after her death he talks about their love and he recreates moments from their life together.

How you react to this film is going to depend upon how lost you get into the lives of Alan and Adrianne. This is is a very concentrated deep dive into their lives and their world which is kind of a work of art unto itself. It is a great deal of navel gazing that you either love or hate.

While I would have loved to to hang out with the pair and shot the breeze, I'm not certain I really needed a 90 minute look at the relationship. Yes, they were funny and charming, but twenty minutes in I started to become a curmudgeon. There simply wasn't enough here to stay connected, especially since the film doesn't really go anywhere.

While the film isn't bad, there is a point where I realized this would have been a glorious long short  instead of a feature film.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

The Sin (2024) plays NYAFF 2024 on July 20 and 23


Two  women are hired to dance for a film in an abandoned building. The problem is that once they dance weird things tart happening and people begin to die.

This troubling puzzle box horror film is going to play best the less you know about the twists and turns it takes. I say this because as I was watching the film I was certain I knew where and how this was going to go only to find that the film had other plans.

What makes the film work so well is that the film never goes over the top. The film is low key and quiet. It's a film where you watch it expecting it to go completely crazy-and while there is some of that, but at the same time there is a restraint that  helps to build tension because you want to know see a big boo...and we wait  and wait until it comes and it gets under our skin. 

Trust me this is a creepy and disturbing film that is going to hang with you.

I want to see it again knowing where and how this goes...

A solid little horror film.

Recommended

Brief thoughts on 18x2 Beyond Youthful Days (2023) NYAFF 2024


After losing his company a young man ponders where it all went wrong and remembers back 18 years to the romance that got away. 

Soapy pot boiler is either going to thrill you or send you running for the hills with it's over wrought and predictable plotting. You'll see it's turns almost instantly and whether you want to go there will depend upon your tolerance for tragic romances.

It doesn't help that the couple at the center of the tale doesn't really click. They seem more a couple because the script say they are rather than because there is any chemistry between the actors. It's strange because outside of the lovey dovey stuff the performances are spot on. No one is phoning it in.

Clearly this wasn't my cup of tea, on the other hand if you love romances with a down beat note you are going to eat this up.

Respati (2024) NYAFF 2024


Young man, who recently lost his parents in a car accident finds that the dream and spirit worlds are crashing in around him. He will have to look to some friends to help him put a stop to the evil that is growing and trying to cross over.

This is a great looking horror film with images that are going to stick in your head. You will be haunted by some of the things you will see. It is also a film with a great story that  might hold you in the grip of suspense...

... or maybe not  because there is a lack of urgency in this film that kills any scares. Cut together as if it was just a drama there is no real effort to build tension. The pace of every sequence is a step or two too slow. People flee from the ghosts with less urgency then people jogging to the fridge during a commercial break. No one really seems scared.

Scary? Only if you are under five.

While I bitch about the pacing, the ghostly stuff looks really cool and f you like that sort of thing, as I do, it's worth a look.

Wolf Hiding (2024) NYAFF 2024


Action star Eric Ma's debut debut is a mixed bag. Containing some staggering fight sequences with a plot that is bizarrely over the top and dialog that borders on nonsensical.

In an unnamed country, the head of a criminal organization that specializes in the kidnapping and trafficking of women and children is going to make a play and run for political office. In order to achieve this he has his stooges crush protests.  As he moves toward taking power his daughter is kidnapped and this sets off a cat and mouse game as he tries to get her back-and his minions make other deals.

Great looking film with some truly eye popping fight sequences is a must see for action lovers. The fights and other action sequences kick serious ass to the point you are going to want to replay them over and over again to see how some of it was done. I was in awe.

That the same time the plotting is a real mess with turns making no sense what so ever. Why do somethings happen? Your guess is as good as mine. I just threw up my hands and waited for the knives or fists to come out.

A big part of the problem is that a lot of the dialog doesn't seem to make sense. I would like to hope that it was simply the subtitles but portions of the film are in English and it left me scratching my head.

Then again you aren't going to ever thing about the plot  because the fights are so good.

Highly recommended for action fans for the action.

Following the Sound (2023) Japan Cuts 2024

 


For a film that has sound in the title it may seem odd that there are so many silences, but that is the case.

The film is the story of two women who have a chance meeting and who end up circling in each other. The film is moment of their lives  apart and during their meetings. It’s a film that has its own rhythms. It’s a film you have to go into and just let it happen. You can not go into the film and expect it to be something, you simply have to take it for what it is. I say that because I spent the first fifteen or so minutes fighting with it. I wanted something to happen other than what was happening. It wasn’t until I went Zen and let it happen that I clicked. It was only then that the silences hit me with their power.

If you like small quiet gems of a film seek this film out when it plays Japan Cuts this weekend.

Carnage for Christmas (2024) Fantasia 2024


Lola, a true crime podcaster, returns home for the first time since transitioning. It all instantly goes side ways as it becomes clear that the supposed long dead boogey man has come back to life and is killing once more.

Breezy horror film feels more like an episode of a TV crime show than a feature film. There is nothing wrong with that, since the film entertains and holds our attention. However because of the way the film is told, there isn't a great deal of suspense. We kind of know that Lola is going to make it and tell the tale on her show. If nothing else it's so low key that the supposed gotcha  ending falls flat.

Still the story is gripping enough that you will want to see how it comes out and who ends up living and dying.

Worth a look.

A brief pointer towards Granny Prostitues aka Lola Magdalena (2024) NYAFF 2024


A group of older women do what they must to stay in their house after a man claiming ownership threatens to evict them.

I'm not going to do a review of this film. It's not because there is anything wrong with it, rather it's because the film's mix of humor and melodrama wasn't my cup of tea. Playing like a silly sitcom that occasionally shifts into serious territory before going back again, I found myself not really clicking with the film. Yes I smiled, but to be honest it really didn't hold my attention and I only stayed to the end because I was reviewing it.

I need to state this again, the problem is that it wasn't a mix I cared for, though I know several people who will eat this up.

ICE CREAM FEVER (2024) Japan Cuts 2024


The lives of four women intersect at a local ice cream shop.

Director Tetsuya Chihara adaption of  a short story by Mieko Kawakami is a nixed bag. A moving story with a great cast the film is undone by a filmmaker who doesn’t know what to do with the camera.  While the film is shot in a kind of verite style, the images seem to alternate from jiggly hand held shots that feel like the camera person couldn’t get a grip on the camera or in ultra tight  close ups of faces.  It feels like the work of a young  filmmaker making his first film, but while this is Chihara’s first feature he has been working in design and advertising for years so one would think he would know how to frame a shot.

After a while I stopped looking at the images and just focused on the subtitles.

Call me an old fart for not getting it, but I’ve always been one to argue that that the images we see should have a reason for existing, especially with in the context of a film. Why are you showing us this image in this way. Most times I know, but I’m not certain here, with the over riding decision seeming to be we shot it this way because it will be cool, or hip or happening or whatever the kids say these days.

This is a good story with good characters messily told.

Blue Imagine (2023) Japan Cuts 2024

 


An actress is sexually abused by a film director  and left shaken. Her brother, a human rights lawyer, suggests letting it go because of lack of evidence. She eventually drifts into a women’s safe place called Blue Imagine. There she finds support and meets another actress  who was also abused by the same director.

Damning look at the treatment of women in Japan and the film industry in particular. It's a film with a matter of fact and non-histrionic presentation that does more than move the emotions but gets you thinking and  seriously considering how we behave.

This is a film which quietly rattled my cage. I can only imagine how this played in Japan.

I'm going to be honest and say that while I really like the film a great deal, I am going to need a second viewing down the road away from the festival crush, and some recent similar incidents that occurred around me where I can more carefully consider the film and it's low key approach.  That's not a knock only a suspicion that perhaps on a second viewing this film may kick me to the curb.

Recommended.

Friday, July 19, 2024

OLD FOX (2023) NYAFF 2024 Asian Film Festival of Dallas 2024


Set in 1990 during the economic boom in Taiwan the film follows a young boy living with his widowed father. They have plans to open up hair salon as soon as they save up enough money. The boy becomes friends with a crafty old man, their landlord, who is a master at manipulation.

Solid drama that in some ways echoes films like A BRONX TALE, minus the gunfire, about a young man finding a surrogate father in an unexpected place. It's a film that manages to overcome the occasional expected beat by showing us things we never quite expected. 

That the film is so compelling is thanks to the cast who lift up their characters and make them into something more than run of the mill.

While the film isn't going to rattle the pillars of heaven, the film does entertain from start to finish which is always enough to recommend it

A Long Shot (2024) NYAFF 2024


This is an under the radar thriller that may very well end up on my end of year best list.

Gu, a former professional sharpshooter is forced to take a security job at a factory. Things become complicated when a tensions in the factory, hurt by the Chinese financial reforms, turn things into powder keg. At the same time his girlfriends son is close to going off the rails.

Social commentary collides with slow burn thriller in a film that slowly builds suspense until it’s almost unbearable. Credit the films low key gritty presentation  and the films take no prisoners attitude that makes up fear for the safety of everyone on screen.  It’s a hell of a ride that had me wondering where it was going to at the start and then staring blankly at the screen in fear for the characters I had come to love.

This is a great thriller of the sort that we only get from China.

Highly recommended for anyone willing to wait for the slow burn to pay off in spades.