Saturday, July 13, 2024

FOR ALICE (2024) NYAFF 2024


Tai Bo and Kuku So give performances for the ages in the tale of two lost souls who meet and become friends. It's one of the best films at this year's New York Asian Film Festival despite going a little banana shaped in the plotting.

The film has Bo's character going to stay for a brief time with his brother. He ends up running into a young woman who is trying to get the hell out of dodge because her mother's boyfriend is a creep. 

 A moody compelling film, this is a film where the the two leads give us everything by putting it on their faces and in their movements. It's an amazing film where you could watch it with the sound off and know what was going on because the leads are just so damn good.

I love this film a great deal. 

I love how it looks, which is stunning. It's a film where the images makes us feel we are in the rooms and on the streets with the characters.

I love how, for the most part, the film is all about the characters. I love how the film makes us belt in and go where ever the film is headed because we care about the characters on the screen.  I say this because as good as so much of this film is, there are moments in the last third where it takes a few less than organic turns. It's not fatal, but you'll wish the characters were give something better by the screenwriter. 

My quibbles aside, you need to see this. Tai Bo one again proves he's one of the best actors working today and Kuku So matches him stride for stride.

Highly recommended.

Sing Sing (2024)


Domingo Coleman plays Divine G one the founders of a prison theatrical group in Sing Sing Prison. As they finish up their production of A Midsummer's Night Dream they begin to plot their next production and welcome some new members.

This is more a slice of life then a big dramatic story. Yes, somethings happen, and there is drama but mostly this is a look at the men finding solace and hope in performing in a play. It is a film filled with staggering levels of humanity and a real sense of being lived.

Going in I knew the film was based on a true story, but I didn't know more than that. I say that because there was a moment when the various inmates- who we had seen earlier in scenes- introduce themselves as the audition for the roles in the play and it suddenly occurred to me that these are the real guys playing themselves.  It was a deeply emotional moment that changed the film for me which stopped being a "Hollywood" drama and instead became a docudrama of the realist sort.

What is amazing is that all the guys are fantastic. I know Diego Coleman is being mentioned for an Oscar, but what Oscar needs to do is recognize all these guys and the program because they freaking hit it out the park and then some.

I'm not going to say the film is perfect, it isn't. It wanders dramatically, things are left unsaid, as if we are just seeing moments, but at the same time the film has an emotional power that is unmatched. If the film wants us to feel for the men in prison and make the case that giving them something like RTA (Rehabilitation Through Art) will change them for the better, it does so in spades. It doesn't do it big and loud, but in quiet emotional moments that result in muffled sobbing at the end of the public screening this afternoon when two men who became friends hugged.

This film is an emotional power house with much to say. It is a film that is vitally needed and needs to be seen so that hearts and minds can be changed, and most importantly so that audience can meet som great men who will forever become friends and live in their hearts.

Brief thoughts on Shin Godzilla: Orthochromatic (2016/2024) plays Japan Cuts 2024 July 14 and 21


I'm not going to re-review SHIN GODZILLA now that there is a black and white version. I still think it's one of the best films in the series. 

That said I am not going to lie and say that the film doesn't play differently. The film seems more firmly on the humans and less on the monster.  The film also feels like an old school drama from 60 years ago. It feels like a another version of the same story even though it is exactly the same.


For me the biggest difference between the two versions is how the lack of color mutes some of the reactions we have to things. When the early form of the monster begins to dump  the blood like substance from its gills  it doesn't look like anything. When I saw the film in color in theaters the audience audibly was grossed out. Here it was just a dark liquid.  Additionally when in the color version when Godzilla let loose with a purple ray it was arresting, it black and white it's less so. It's the result of the image loosing color differences in monochrome -certain shades all look the same as white.


To be honest the only really complaint I can level at this version is that shifting to black and white made it possible to see the compositing of the effects into the film. And it is the black and white that's doing it since I rechecked some sequences and they look good in color.

Minor quibbles aside I really like this version of the film. and if you love it as much as I do, you must give this version a try. If you've never seen it, go see it because this is a great film.

Not reviewing Not Friends (2023) NYAFF 2024 Fantasia 2024


This film didn't  work for me. The story of a bunch of high school kids who make a film about their dead friend, egged on by a transfer student who didn't know him, didn't work for me. 

The reason it didn't work is that I never connected to the humor. I could see the jokes but they never made me laugh. The same thing about the touching moments, I know I was supposed to feel something but instead I felt like I was eating treacle.

(I won't go into the echoes of Dr Evan Hansen)

I know this worked for some people, but for me it was along 129 minutes.

Brief thoughts on : Shunga The Lost Japanese Erotica (2022) Japan Cuts 2024


A look at the efforts to restore, reproduce and recreate Shunga erotica which was done in a  wood block style

Don't come into SHUNGA thinking you are going to be aroused. This is an informative, literary and a bit dry look at the erotic art form in Japan. It's a beautiful film which is going to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about classic Japanese erotica and then some.  It is a really well done film....

...that is much too long for what it is. 

Yes it is excellent. Yes it is informative. But it is so low key and detailed that you may nod off. I knew I was going to have a love hate relationship with the film when it showed us what it takes to carve pubic hairs.

It's not bad, but you should be aware of what you are walking into since the film plays at 9PM on a Saturday. Unless you a bringing a scholar you are not getting lucky after this film.

Tenants (2023) NYAFF 2024 Fantasia 2024 Asian Film Festival of Dallas 2024

 

THIS IS A REPOST OF THE REVIEW I RAN WHEN THE FILM PLAYED FANTASPOA EARLIER THIS YEAR

In order to get more money to pay his rent a man rents out his bathroom to a strange couple.

This is a weird ass comedy of the sort that you only get from Korea. Sure, other countries make strange and off kilter films, but the ones coming from South Korea have their own brand of strange. It's as if they want to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible, while at the same time being so absurd that you want to laugh, except that things are so bent you don't know if the joke is funny any more.

To be honest while I intellectually like the weirdness of THE TENANTS I'm not sure I like it. For me it's the wrong sort of weird. It plays so off for me that I'm not sure why I'm being asked to see it. I suspect it has something to do with the weird things we do, but at the same time maybe not

Don't let my not clicking with the weird here stop you. If you like really weird films give THE TENANTS a try

Friday, July 12, 2024

CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO DIE (2024) NYAFF 2024


A young woman takes frequent calls from a man who is trying to get a date with her. Meanwhile she is trying to get her bosses to pay her

We are on the outside looking in as the camera is set up on the edge of scenes looking in with the sequences playing out in seeming real time. There is no camera motion just one shot for each scene. Its a technique that is being used more and more in films aimed at the art house and festivals such as the New York Film Fest where pretensions are often more important than watchability.

While not as bad as some films using the point and shoot technique, CROSS MY HEART... suffers in that this film isn't really long enough to engage us. I kept feeling that there is more we should seeing. Shorts can function with limited information, if they remain a moment of time, but the effort to compress a whole day into 18 minutes made it feel as though something was left out and that this maybe a test run for a feature. 

I think i's a miss in the present form but I'll be curious if this goes to feature.

MOTION PICTURE CHOKE (2024) Japan Cuts 2024


Post apocalyptic tale set in the far off future follows the life of a woman living in a partially collapsed building.

A low budget caveman like tale the film seems to have been built around a limited number of locations all a short distance from each other. Shot in black and white and having no dialog this is a film you are going to either click with or not. 

I have seen way too many similar films, and this film didn’t really click with me. While the basic story is good the execution is mixed. The clothes are too perfect. No one shows signs of bumps and scrapes and their hair and cleanliness are perfect. It all feels like dress up and the wrong sort of make believe.

I never connected.

Bottle George (2024) Japan Cuts 2024 NYAFF 2024


Tonko House and Akihiro Nishino (Poupelle of Chimney Town) will break your heart with the animated gem BOTTLE GEORGE.

The film is the story of a thing in a bottle that lives with a little boy and a fat cat. What happens is the movie.

Actually, what the film is is an allegorical telling of addiction and a family. It’s a beautifully animated tale that will make you laugh, crush your soul and make you cry bittersweet tears.

I was watching the film during a lunch break and an I had to explain to several people why I was a sobbing mess.

Who said that stop motion animation can’t make you cry?

This film is a masterpiece and highly recommended. See it in Shorts Collection One at both Japan Cuts and NYAFF.

All The Long Nights (2023) plays Japan Cuts 2024 July 16


One of the best films at Japan Cuts is slowly finding a permanent place in my heart. It's the quiet story of two damaged people who collide and become better people as a result.

Misa has severe problems wit PMS. She is being treated but it makes as they are adjusting her mes she is still uneven emotionally. Eventually she finds a place she likes working that makes science toys for kids. There she meets Takatoshi who has severe panic attacks which force him to have daily rituals and to be a loner. What happens when they meet is the film.

This isn't what you expect and we are better for it. This is the sort of low key, yet joyously involving slices of life that no one in America really does. Its a film about people, end of story. There is nothing more than that, no grand drama, no romance or comedy, just lives being lived. The films are very much like novels. And yes this is based on a novel.

I was directed to this film by a friend who was dying to see it at Japan Cuts. He had been told by a friend who raved about it in such loving tones that he had been trying to track himself a copy of the film. The love with which I was told about the film made me want to see the film too and instead of watching the new Takeshi Kintaro film as my first Japan Cuts film it was this one. The result was it set a level of greatness for the fest that I don't think any film can match.

This is glorious filmmaking. It's pitch perfect acting. It's cinematic joy of the highest order.

Don't get me wrong- there are no artificial highs and lows- just life as lived and time among people we want to hug and never ever let go. It's simply the story of two people who were changed for the better by knowing each other.

You MUST see this- trust me it's going to be one of you gems of the year-its on my best of the year list.

ALL THE LONG NIGHTS plays Japan Cuts on July 16. For more info and tickets go here

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Look Back (2024) Japan Cuts


Two young women meet in school and bond over a love of drawing comics. Over the course of the film we watch as the pair are shaped by their relationship and their art.

Tatsuki Fujimoto, creator Chainsaw Man goes in another direction in a story about friendship, creation, finding someone who shares your passion, and how our lives go in unexpected ways. It is also a wicked exploration of what if we don't do what we love.

In one way or another this is my life. I lived almost every god damned moment of this film. From being king, to finding out you may not be, to giving up what you love, to returning to it, to finding people you can create with and then having life intervene. I lived some form of this, and I sobbed ugly repeatedly a I connected to the tale of the need to create at all costs played out. For  me this wasn't a drama but a waking memory

This is the cinematic version of the the song from A Chorus Line, What I Did For Love. The song is not about romance with another person, but the love of the things we do, and what happens when we can't do it any more. (It's sung after an injury has a dancer leave after a probable career ending injury occurs). This film is a look at what we all do so we can do the thing we love.

I have no words. I suspect that if you create, especially if you do it with friends you too will have no words - other than to express how the film will make you feel seen. 

As a straight forward film it's a very good film. Yes, the narrative is bumpy with some links missing, but at the same time, it's not the literal narrative that's important. It's the emotional journey. Its that journey that will kick your ass to the curb.

This was an unexpected treasure. It is a film I will forever hold tightly to and press closely to my heart.

LOOK BACK is currently sold out at Japan Cuts. Keep checking the website to see if they release more tickets because you need to see this.

Whale Bones (2024) plays Sunday at Japan Cuts.


This is not going to make sense until you see the film- so just go with it and see the film

Takamasa Oe, who co-wrote DRIVE MY CAR with Ryusuke Hamaguchi, strikes off on his own in a tale of loneliness and strange turns.

The film follows a young man who, after getting dumped, tries a dating app. The first date he has goes sideways and things happen, with his date disappearing. Obsessed with the young woman, he begins to track down the site specific messages she left around the city.

If that seems awkward in the telling, not to worry the Japan Cuts write up isn’t much better. This is one of those films where I can tell you what it’s about but if I do that I’m going to wreck the trip that is what the film is about. It’s a film that changes as it goes on, making you thing and feel different things all through it, including a sense, for a while, that this doesn’t seem to be working…. Which is gamble because you can’t bail on the film because what doesn’t seem to be working does eventually pull it together. Once it does pull it together it becomes a film of quiet power.

More succinctly put this is a film where the power of storytelling over comes our expectations to become something truly special.

If you love good, a typical movies, or if you loved DRIVE MY CAR, give this film a try.

The Six Singing Women (2023) Japan Cuts 2024


Yoshimasa Ishibashi who's Milocrorze: A Love Story wowed the Japan Cuts Audiences a little more than a decade ago, returns with an environmental tale wrapped in a strange mystery.

When a photographer's father passes away he is has to return home to sell his father's things which are located deep in the woods.  While heading home with a real estate agent of questionable motives, they find they can not leave the woods. They are in fact held captive after a fashion by six beautiful but strange women.

The hows and whys of what is going on takes some time to unravel and as it does the films shifts from a kind of mystery into the territory of environmental fable. It's an odd shift that allows for some amazing sequences that draw us in  as the beauty and strangeness of what we are seeing makes us lean in. This is for much of its running time a very compelling film 

At the same time the shift untethers the narrative just enough that Ishibashi can't reign it all in. Plot threads shoot out from between his fingers and there is a sense that everything doesn't matter so long as his point is made. The result is a film that almost works but doesn't quite do so because the director stopped caring one connecting the path to the ending and just jumped there.

I was disappointed. 

While the film isn't bad, it also doesn't work the way it should.

despite over all reservations there are enough moments that the film is worth trying, especially if you are a fan of the director.

Liz Whittemore on Missing From Fire Trail Road (2024) Tribeca 2024

This originally appeared at Liz's home REEL NEWS DAILY

Sabrina Van Tassel‘s TRIBECA 2024 documentary MISSING FROM FIRE TRAIL ROAD speaks for those without a voice. Indigenous women are in crisis. Why aren’t we talking about the statistics of missing native women? The number is vastly higher than any other group in the United States.

The film focuses on the story of Mary Ellen Johnson Davis, missing since 2020, as her family tries to piece together all the information they can, while also showing up for those in their community with similar circumstances. There are far too many unexplained disappearances and deaths for one community not to call it an epidemic.

The reservation has its own justice system, under which not a single white man has been prosecuted in connection to a disappearance. Families must rely on the Feds to intervene. They never do. It is endless, lawless mayhem.

Story after story, family after family, one thread connects them all. That is abuse from white outsiders. You can’t tell this story without delving into the trauma of native children stolen from their families and physically and emotionally tormented in boarding schools. MISSING FROM FIRE TRAIL ROAD delivers the horrific truth through the words of survivors.

A quote from a manual given to households when children the government was ripping from their homes reads, “The goal is not to make scientists, or doctors or lawyers out of these citizens. The goal is to make domestic housewives and farmers and laborers.” Keeping the population suppressed remains the goal. It’s cyclical genocide. It is the continuation of colonization, plain and simple.

The question remains. How many of these documentaries need to be made to get the message across? Tribeca 2024 audiences can share the native plight and, perhaps, move the dial toward justice. Do something.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Box Man (2024) Japan Cuts 2024


Those who obsess about the box man become the box man

Gakuryu Ishii tells the story of a "box man", a man who lives inside a cardboard box. Based on a novel by  Kobe Abe, this film follows the Box Man as he talks about his life and his haunted by a photographer who is obsessed by him

Contemplating this film during the long period of time between watching and writing I think THE BOX MAN maybe Ishii's best film. A perfect marriage of story and cinematic skill this is a film that  perfectly showcases Ishii's skills as a filmmaker to tell a story that rocks us. I know that's an odd thing to say especially since Isshi has been rattling the pillars of cinematic heaven ince 1980's CRAZY THUNDER ROAD, but it maybe true. I know I will need to see the film again to be certain.

Even if it isn't Ishii's best, it's still a hell of a film and a must see. 

Feeling like a film from the 1970's with modern sensibilities the film is a heady mix of thought provoking ideas and off kilter turns. Sure the basic notion that we are all in our own boxes is there but at the same time there is so much more going on. Trust me on this there is plenty to think about on every level.

If you love movies or cinema or film you need to see this film. This is the sort of film that any lover of cinematic storytelling is going to eat up.

One of the great films at Japan Cuts.

A pointer toward August in the Water (1995) which plays Japan Cuts 2024 July 14


I saw AUGUST IN THE WATER decades ago. There was a time many years ago, before the internet when you had to track things down via books and magazines and other things. During that time I started to seek out the weird films from across the globe that I had heard about from other film fans and things like Video Watch Dog magazine  and Asian Trash Cinema. Through them I found various sources where I would get VHS copies of films that never played here.

Among the films I tracked down was the work of Gakuryu "Sogo" Ishii, whose THE BOXMAN is Japan Cuts.  His films like CRAZY THUNDER ROAD (1980),  BURST CITY (1982) and CRAZY FAMILY (2024)  were rewriting the rules of cinema. His films were low budget affairs but filled with vision and heart.  I wasn't always certain I liked his films but I always knew that I was watching was something special.  More importantly when you were watching the works of other young filmmakers working in Japan at the same time you could see how he was opening minds of the guys who wanted to also push the envelope.

As I said at the top I saw AUGUST IN THE WATER decades ago. Somewhere along the way I know I had a bootleg of it and I devoured it.  It was another work by a master director who was growing as a filmmaker but at the same time hadn't lost his vision. If you want proof watch his growth from BURST CITY to this and on to his current release THE BOXMAN, while at the same note that he never ever is conventional, but instead using the story  to inform him how tell the story in the best way possible, no matter what that is.

He is one of the best directors working today that you probably never heard of.

If you want to see  an early singular film by a great director, see AUGUST IN THE WATER. See it and see a film that will grab you and carry you along.  See it and see a film that influenced a generation or two of younger filmmakers.

And while you're at it see his THE BOX MAN on July 13th because it's a masterpiece.

Liz Whittemore on Don't you Let Me Go (2024) Tribeca 2024

 

This originally appeared at Liz's home REEL NEWS DAILY

Filmmakers Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge bring their new film DON’T YOU LET ME GO to Tribeca 2024 audiences. At the funeral of her best friend Ele, Adela experiences the bizarre buzzing about of grief-stricken visitors, some recalling funny stories, others weeping. Feeling entirely overwhelmed, Adela seeks solace in her car only to find a mysterious bus pulls beside her, destination Solis. Dropped off at a seaside home and finding Ele asleep in bed, Adela curls up beside her until morning. Back in time, Ele and Adela relive a weekend filled with beer, drugs, music, gossip, and mayhem.

Victoria Jorge gives Elena a tangibility that keeps us engaged. Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge write a fun and authentic character, putting us at ease. Chiara Hourcade delivers a self-aware performance that allows the audience to ride this emotional rollercoaster alongside Adela. Hourcade and Jorge capture our hearts with genuine familiarity in their chemistry.

The film opens with a slick visual bait and switch. Such a choice sets you up for the magical realism that takes hold in this exploration of grief and the purity of female friendship. Playing out in chapters like the ones in Elena and Adela’s detective novels, a narrator gives the audience insight into Adela and Elena’s past, sometimes possessing an otherworldly power over Adela as she speaks. Small absurdist details remind us that none of this is real, but what joy it would bring if it were. DON’T YOU LET ME GO is a delicious journey through the looking-glass story that conjures a yearning jealousy for those we’ve lost.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

A pointer toward Kyrie (2024) Japan Cuts 2024


Shunji Iwai (Swallowtail Butterfly, All About Lily Chou-Chou) is at it again and creating a one of a kind film that brings back some of the musical creatives from his earlier film.

The film is a long rambling tale of a young woman who can only communicate by singing. 

I'm not really going to review this film. Having seen many of Iwai's earlier films I know that there are times (SWALLOW TAIL, LILLY CHOU CHOU, RIP VAN WINKLE) where you just have to throw up you hands and just go with it.  Iwai is going to make the film he wants and you are in for a unique experience. Whether not you love this film as a whole you are going to find things to love - some of the music performances are arresting with some of them reminding me of one of the greatest concert films I've ever seen LIVE TAPE which played briefly in NYC several years ago. (That is a compliment)

Say what you will Shunji Iwai is one of the great cinematic visionaries and as such you need to see any film he makes. If you can make the screening you need to go because what I say is pointless since Iwai's films hit everyone differently and even if you don't care for them they are still glorious cinematic rides of the best sort.

BETWEEN THE WHITE KEY AND THE BLACK KEY (2024) opens Japan Cuts 2024 tomorrow


Set in the  1980's and based on the memoirs of jazz pianist Hiroshi Minami, BETWEEN THE WHITE KEY AND THE BLACK KEY is the story of a man who wants to play jazz. Directed to go to the cabarets by his teacher, he ends up on an odd adventure partially set in motion by playing the Love Theme From The Godfather to the wrong person.

This is film as jazz. It's a film that is loose and seemingly improvised and yet tight and focused. It's a film that has the rhythms of jazz quartet playing a set. Its a film that doesn't feel like any other I've ever run across even, though it feels very familiar -- just like great jazz.

If you want to see to see a film that Hollywood would never touch, this is it. This is a film full of life and quirks and the sort of off beat nature that Hollywood would destroy if they ever thought that they could cash in on it.  It's a prime example of the sort of wonders that lie outside of the American cinematic mainstream.

As much as I admire this film's construction and uniqueness, it is not a film that I full warmed to. Sure I enjoyed it, but at the same time I never fully connected to it.  Blame it on the quirkiness of some of the characters keeping me arms distance from the story. It's far from fatal but there is so much I love here I wanted to love the whole package.

My pickiness aside, this film is a cinematic joy. Buy a ticket and go.

Sorry Not Sorry (2023) opens Friday


This is a film based on the  New York Times article that outed  Louis CK's sexual harassment of women that paused his career briefly. 

Looking at the women who were brave enough to speak up, the film is a damning look at the state of comedy  and society. It's a frequently funny film, it is a  film that deals with comedians after all, that is also bruising portrait that will leave you feeling sad about the state of comedy and society.  

I should state that I was never fan of CK's. I don't know why but he never clicked with me. When he fell from grace it barely made a dent in my existence. My friends were beside themselves. Watching the clips of CK after several years I still am left to wonder why he ever clicked.

Charting  Ck's career from rise to fall and rise again the film also charts the lives of three of the women who told the truth. We know what they said was true because CK said it was before he slunk away. The fact that he admitted it right at the start is the reason that many people are welcoming him back with open arms. While we should forgive, I'm not so sure we should completely forget since what he did wasn't  a willing sex act but a one where some one could help your career wants you to do them a favor or else. It kills me that because CK cultivated a shlumfy persona many people think he didn't mean it... yea he did. His shlumpiness is why he is still standing and other shits who were more authoritative (Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer) are still pariahs. 

Watching the film I was saddened listening to hear so many comedians defending CK if not out right but by saying they didn't know with big smirks on their faces.   I was troubled seeing other predators talking to (Charlie Rose) or about (Matt Lauer) CK when they themselves were doing the same thing. But I am most saddened by how the fans really never paused to question what he did. It was as if nothing had happened. (Don't get me started on Dave Chappelle)

There is much to unpack about the film and the situation it discusses. It is a film that requires careful consideration. It is a film very much for our time and the issues raised are important.

You must see this film.

( And if you look at various review sites for more info, consider that low audience scores seem to be due to CK's fans working to to get the algorithms to tank the film by posting low grades without seeing it) 

Liz Whittemore on Arze (2024) Tribeca 2024

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

Director Mira Shaib brings a story of perseverance to Tribeca 2024 audiences with ARZÉ. A single mother living with her sister and teenage son makes pies to support the family. Delivering them on foot loses them potential clients. Arzé secretly pawns a piece of her sister’s jewelry to put a down payment on a scooter, but when it’s stolen, she and Kinan embark on a wild goose chase through the streets of Beruit in a race against time.

Mother and son hit the ground running, quite literally, in a manic search for the stolen scooter. Arzé tries every trick in the book. Her negotiations for information include swapping whichever religious icon will get her to the next clue, though her delightful pies become the slyest currency.

Betty Taoutel gives agoraphobic Layla a delusional sense of hope that her estranged husband will return. She is a wonderfully character-driven foil for Kinan and Arzé. Her mental health and emotional trauma hide her deep love for her nephew and sister. It’s a lovely turn.

Bilal Al Hamwi plays Kinan with ferocious energy. His head is in the clouds. A push and pull between childhood and adulthood, Kinan longs to escape Beruit but feels tethered to his girlfriend and the mother he thinks holds him back.

As the titular Arzé, Diamond Abou Abboud shines with a palpable determination. Her relentless pursuit to make things right will capture your heart. She is abundantly charming. Abou Abboud delivers a shockingly powerhouse performance that sneaks up on you.

The cinematography is beautiful in the ever-changing natural light of Beirut. The script is a thoughtful mix of sadness, desperation, and hope. The score is almost comically upbeat but perfectly suits the surprising highs and lows in all the shenanigans.

Screenwriters Louay Khraish and Faissal Sam Shaib offer moments of levity amidst the seriousness of Arzé’s plight. It is also an interesting commentary on blame, the dangers of stereotyping, and tribalism. They give our leading lady a level of observant intelligence that reigns supreme.

ARZÉ is a delightful and entirely unexpected film in Tribeca 2024’s lineup, but undeniably one of the best.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Surprise! A brief NYAFF 2024 Curtain Raiser has appeared!

 


SURPRISE!

Here is a brief curtain raise for the New York Asian Film Festival.

I know it sound weird because there has been a curtain raiser for the last 15 years, however this year  things seemed to be conspiring to keep it from happening. Then things freed up at the end of last week and I've been in the bunker doing little except watching films and snatching a few minutes of sleep here and there.

This year there are 90 films playing. They are a selection of films from across Asia and they cover everything from family films, to crime to horror to comedy. There are several films about the game go, a bunch about runaways, several involving time travel and too many involving dating apps and all sorts of bang bang shoot'em ups and crazy ass action. Basically, there is something for everyone.

Buy tickets and go.


As this posts I've seen around 30 films, I'm planning on seeing  around another 35 so belt in a lot of coverage is coming.

I have tickets to several of the big events, so there were reports, and pictures

One word of warning, this year the festival is spread out over four locations  which means there is a good chance that you may have trouble getting from venue to venue if aren't cabbing/ubering (more teleporting) it. I mention this because there were a couple of times when I was buying tickets I had to make a choice of what and who I wanted to see more(Josie Ho or Nicholas Tse?) making the decision as to what film isn't getting covered. I wouldn't complain, but the festival has programmed some must see events/films against each other and I am unhappy I've had to choose which limb I'm going to cut off. 

My TED talk having ended I will say the festival has programmed some bangers so if something appeals to you buy a ticket.


While there are a lot of great films, based on what I've seen there has been a lot of niche programming. A number of films are going to be great for, say, the art house crowd but not the general movie going audience. Other films are great for those who like slasher films but not those who want a romance. My initial hesitancy to do a curtain raiser was that of the first 15 films I saw,  only one was not a niche film. I didn't want to do a recommend list that was all qualifiers.

Now that I've seen another dozen plus I can honestly do a recommend list, small though it is where I think the films will play well for most film fans:

FOR ALICE - A world premiere film about two lost souls will rock your world. It's all about the two lead performances where Tai Bo and Kuku so knock it out of the park.
CITY OF WIND - fantastic coming of age film about a young shaman who collides with a young woman who changes his world.
PATTAYA HEAT- one of the best films of 2024 is a multi-character wide ranging tale of crime and corruption that is mixed with the right amount of humor. You must see this.
CAREFREE DAYS may not be the best of the fest but it heralds the arrival of director Liang Ming who crafts sequence after sequence and image after image that will make you sit up and go WHOA.
BREAKING AND RE-ENTERING is a reverse caper film that gets better as the plot really kicks in an we get to know the characters.

I've also covered ESCAPE which just opened in theaters and is playing the festival next weekend. My review is here.

Addendum: on a more serious note please be warned the WOMEN FROM ROTE ISLAND contains several sequences of sexual violence. I mention this because I know people who will have problems with the film.

As I continue to watch goodies from the fest go check the website and buy tickets (I bought tickets for 6 films and looking to get more)

HEART OF AN OAK (2023) 7/12 in the UK

 


HEART OF AN OAK is a look at the animals living in and around an oak tree in France over the course of a year. We watch as the eat, fight, mate and everything in between.

This is the sort of film that used to play limited runs in theaters in the 60’s, 70’s an 80’s before these sort of films shifted to cable and stations like Discovery or Smithsonian. It’s a modern take on Disney’s Wilderness Adventures. It's a film I would have eaten up as a kid where the thought of seeing the animals on the big screen would have delighted me.

As an adult I really liked this a great deal.  It was so cool at times that I really wish I was sitting in the old Cove Theater back in 1974. The  awesome micro-photography made the thought of seeing them on a huge screen (the Cove was an old school movie palace)  made me sad I didn't manage it.

This is good stuff and worth a look when it opens in the UK Friday. 

National Anthem (2023) opens Friday


NATIONAL ANTHEM is the story of Dylan, a young man living at home with his mom. He is helping to raise his younger brother. He is putting money aside to by a RV so he can hit the road and see the world. Working odd jobs, he takes a two week job at a ranch way out of town and falls in with the people of living there. They are a collection of LGBT people who drifted in over time.  Entranced by Sky he slowly becomes friends with everyone at the ranch as he tries to find his place in the world.

NATIONAL ANTHEM is good time with great people. This was like hanging out with some of your best friends over the course of a several weeks. It’s a beautifully crafted collection of people who bleed off the screen in ways that will leave you insisting that these aren’t performances but people you know. Hell, by the time the film was done I wanted to leave the theater and go find the ranch.

Deliberately paced this film takes its time going where it’s going. Honestly I am glad I saw this at a screening instead of via a link because I was forced to allow the film to happen. I couldn’t get distracted in the dark theater so I had the time to fall in love with everyone on screen.

The film has several lines of profound wisdom floating through it which made me love it more. Lines like “She loves you but she needs him” and “You’re not boring you just haven’t found your people yet” kind of put things in my own life into perspective.

On the downside the film doesn’t really have a strong narrative drive. Yes, there are some questions of romance and some family conflict with Dylan, but at the same time there are no big “problems”, life kind of happens and Dylan and friends drift through it. I kept waiting for something big to happen but it never did despite the film constantly angling that it would.

Still I love the film and I would love to show this to any LGBT kid who didn’t think they will find a place.

If you think you can go with its mellow rhythms or if you want to meet some characters who will become your new best friends go see NATIONAL ANTHEM.

Twice Colonized (2023) hits VOD on July 12


There is a moment in TWICE COLONIZED when the film won me over completely. In the scene the film’s subject Inuit lawyer Aaju Peter is seen in a hotel room dancing on her bed. There was something so quietly screamed "she's just a person!"  in the shot that it removed any and all distance between me and the subject and made think of her as my best friend.

This is a quietly great film. The film is the story  of  Ms Peter who, in the wake of her son, begins to move toward reconnecting with her Inuit heritage and working toward breaking with Denmark who still control Greenland. It’s the rare recent film that manages to balance the portrait of its subject so that we not only feel like we know her both personally and professionally.  We get to know about her and her fight for autonomy in courts, and of her coolness and as a result we walk out of the film feeling we know the whole woman.

What I really like about the film is that in addition to getting to know Peter we get a good look at not only the fight for indigenous rights but also life in Greenland. That may not sound like much but for most people the country is simply this large island in the Atlantic about which we know nothing. I was talking to a friend about the film and I mentioned that the films was about the Inuit in country and they said they had no idea who lived there.

This is a great film. It delighted me because it made me think and feel and taught me a great deal about things I didn’t know.  I was so happy with the film that I was emailing friends to tell them to watch the film at Sundance.

Recommended

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Japan Cuts 2024 Starts This Week


This Wednesday the Japan Society’s Japan Cuts starts and we are better for it.

Bringing some of the best and unheralded Japanese films from the last year to the streets of New York. It’s a festival I discovered years ago when everyone at a rival film fest NYAFF mentioned that I should be going to see the films that were playing there.  I did and ever since I have been wading into the fray.

While I follow what is happening at the Japan Society, I am notoriously not covering the films there as much as I should. However while I do bits and pieces through the year I always dive in to Cuts and do as many films as possible simply because they have so many great films, most of which I never heard of until the screening.

This is one of the best festivals every year. It’s a fest that has never disappointed me, and always surprises me in in the best sort of way. Need an example? I had no hope for WHALE BONES because it is from the co-writer of DRIVE MY CAR which disappointed me. However because it’s at Cuts I gave it a try and I ended up loving it.

What makes the festival rock is that the people at the Japan Society care about everyone attending. If you have a question, they’ll answer it. Need help? They will help you. They are like a big hug from a family member you never knew you had.

I love this festival and the people who run it.

You need to buy lots of tickets and go. (Information here)

If you need direction as to what to see may I make a few suggestions: 

SHIN GODZILLA – whether in black and white or color, this is one of the best Godzilla films ever made. Sure it doesn’t have a ton of monster scenes (some people I know dislike the film because it’s about people) but it still kicks ass and won the Japanese equivalent of the Oscar for Best Picture.

THE BOX MAN- sure the central notion that we are all living in our own boxes is obvious, but what legendary director Gakuryu Ishii does beyond that is stunning. It is probably his best film of his 44 plus year career and  it just shows how under appreciate he is. (And while you’re at it also see his WATER IN AUGUST, a classic from 30ish years ago that still rocks)

WHALE BONE from Takamas Oe who co-wrote DRIVE MY CAR is a hell of a ride. A film that requires you stay to the very end because what it is and what you feel about it changes as the story goes on, it is filmmaking of the highest order.

ALL THE LONG NIGHTS is a film that will live in your heart forever. The story of two broken individuals who find a way to fix themselves through a friendship it is a film free of false drama and infused with life. A must see.

KADONO EIKO'S COLORFUL LIFE is a glorious look at the woman who wrote Kiki's Delivery Service and at 88 keeps going.

LOOK BACK left me a sobbing mess. The story of two women who bond over a love of comics is a story of creating because you have to and what happens when you find someone who shares your passion. I lived much of this. A must see.

They are sold out but if you can score tickets to either SHADOW OF FIRE or KUBI do so.  They are the new works by two of Japan's greatest filmmakers. But be warned they will kick you to the curb.

Also Shorts Collection Two has the first film from master animator Rinatro in 10 years. It’s a film that ponders what a great director from the 30’s had made a film about a rogue. Trust me it’s something wonderful (and not like his earlier films)

For tickets and more information go here

Liz Whittemore on Darkest Miriam (2024) Tribeca 2024

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. 

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Liz Whittemore on Shelf Life(2024) Tribeca 2024

Give me all the cheeses. It’s a phrase I should embroider on a pillow in my home. We have an entire drawer dedicated to cheese in our refrigerator. Spending two years in New Haven, my husband and I had the privilege of eating at a restaurant called Caseus (RIP). Their famous five-cheese grilled sandwich was a taste bud revelation. Tribeca 2024 documentary SHELF LIFE is tailor-made for cheese freaks such as myself.

Tribeca alum Ian Cheney (The Search for General Tso) features an array of cheese fiends from all over the world, like Mary Quicke, a 14th-generation cheese maker in Devon, England, Alisha Norris Jones, a cheesemonger on Chicago’s West Side, equates cheese and decay and death. A continued thread of philosophy seamlessly weaves into each discussion. Cheesemaker Jim Stillwagon describes eating cheese as “a sensorial adventure.” He’s not wrong.

Immersive camera work and fast-paced editing keep the audience engaged throughout. At times, the film feels like those great visits to factories on Mr. Rogers. Footage from Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm features mesmerizing close-ups of both machine and human.


We study the microbiology of cheese. Cheese mites are a thing I didn’t need to know about, but now I do. The science of cheese isn’t something I contemplated before watching. Now, I appreciate the process and the immortality of a thing I love so much. SHELF LIFE is a doc about the art of cheese and how the universal savoring of this singular wonder brings people together. Could cheese bring world peace? Anything is possible.

Friday, July 5, 2024

Beautiful Faces (2024)


Portrait of doctor Larry A. Sargent who specializes in helping children with facial deformities. The film charts his work through three of his patients, Josh who was born with a cleft palette and lip and is now an accomplished singer and actor; Greer a young woman who was kicked in the head by a horse and Beth who suffers from Pfeiffer syndrome which cause some of her bones to fuse to early.

This is everything you ever wanted to know about facial reconstruction but were afraid to ask. I'm serious about that because this film does not look away during the difficult parts. It's a film that goes into detail about the conditions and reveals how the surgery can and does change lives.

As informative and important as the film is the film has one key flaw and that is it is a bit too clinical. Or if it isn't clinical it is a bit distant. I felt too much on the outside everyone. I never felt close. The doctor was the doctor and the patients were his patients and none of them ever felt like more  than that. The result is a film I admire more than I like. 

Worth a look for those who are interested but not a must.

Liz Whittemore on The Everything Pot (2024 Tribeca 2024

This piece originally ran at Liz's home REEL NEWS DAILY

In the Tribeca 2024 feature film THE EVERYTHING POT, two couples in vastly different places collide, and it all starts with a wedding gift.

Claire and Charlie are engaged. Charlie insists on inviting his former co-worker Rachel and her husband to the wedding. Newly empty-nesters, their overly enthusiastic RSVP triggers both couples to reevaluate their feelings.

Claire is irrationally jealous but without any specifics. Rachel and Adam are a lovely pair, filled with the familiarity of being with a partner for a long time. The film suggests that Rachel has lost interest as of late, but the mention of marital boredom only comes in the form of eye-rolls and innuendos from neighbor Gail.

There are many gaps that the audience needs to fill in. Charlie’s unresolved feelings towards Rachel go without much detail, and his waffling in making a move leaves Charlie coming off as flaky and inconsistent. It is a common theme as THE EVERYTHING POT plays out.

The most successful aspect comes in the natural dialogue between Rachel, Adam, and Gail. In the scene where they co-opt Adam’s phone over Claire’s childish shenanigans, the plot finally picks up the pace. Lisa Edelstein, Erik Griffin, and Gina Torres‘ talents feel wasted. Despite their delicious chemistry, there is a feeling as if entire scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Not that I’m suggesting making the runtime longer because I’m not.

The cast delivers enthusiasm and charm, but that “it” factor is missing in the script’s flow and pace. THE EVERYTHING POT ultimately falls flat.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Escape (2024) starts Friday in theaters and plays NYAFF later in the month


North Korean soldier has been plotting his defection for years, making maps and working out the best way to go. When things go side ways, he finds someone else blamed and himself hailed as a hero thanks to the intervention of a "friend". Put into a new and dangerous situation he begins to plot anew.

This is a good but kind of by the numbers film.  While I wasn't really certain how this was going to play out at first once the initial escape attempt is turned on its head I had a pretty good idea who this was going to go once the friend intervenes.  I don't blame the filmmakers rather the seeming need to make a rah rah North Korean soldier escapes tale. I would have been shocked if this had ended as badly as the film seemed to hint at times.

While completely enjoyable, I still wish the film had been a little grittier and a little real world meaner. Say what you will the North Koreans are kind of cartoony, even if they kill people, and it takes the edge off everything.

Worth a look when the film opens Friday in theaters or if you miss it to catch it when it plays at the New York Asian Film Fest on the 14th or 18th.

Liz Whittemore on Family Therapy (2024) Tribeca 2024


This film orginally appeared at Liz's home REEL NEWS DAILY

Sonja Prosenc‘s Tribeca 2024 film FAMILY THERAPY features a nouveau riche household that operates in rigid formality, slowly cracking upon the arrival of a new member.

The film opens with Aleksander, Olivia, and daughter Agata picking Julien up at the airport. He is patriarch Aleks’s twenty-five-year-old son from a previous relationship. Following an awkward evening, they awaken to loud knocking in the middle of the night, setting off a chain of events that will make or break these four people.

Their home is modern, essentially a glass box with cement walls. The production design team’s selection of art inside the house speaks volumes. They are strategically placed on vast walls, begging for your eyes. The music by SILENCE is based on Henry Purcell‘s King Arthur Opera. This decision creates an entire mood from the first frame. The camera work is delicious.

Mila Bezjak gives Agata a suspicious sass. Her personality gets a boost from her severe hairstyle. Blunt bangs and thick coiffure make her resemble an overgrown doll. Her attention-seeking behavior has everything to do with her parents’ infantilism.

Aliocha Schneider is Julien. Down-to-earth, kind-hearted, edgy, and fearless. Schneider connects with each family member in a layered way. It’s a compelling turn.

Olivia is mean, anal retentive, gallerist. Actress Katarina Stegnar gives off a genuine wicked stepmother vibe, a cover for genuinely feeling powerless. Her arch is visceral.

Aleksander never shuts up. He flaunts his eccentricity most ignorantly, fancying himself a writer despite only writing a single piece twenty years prior. Marko Mandic is loathsome in the best way.

Writer-director Sonja Prosenc does a spectacular job of holding back information, leaving us small breadcrumbs of this odd family dynamic. The symbolism of fracture and subsequent healing comes in multiple genius forms. Bites of fantasy further the nuance of unresolved trauma and the search for joy. FAMILY THERAPY is brilliant stuff.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

America (2022) opens Friday

 


After ten years away a young man returns to Israel from Chicago in order to close up the estate of his estranged father. Reconnecting with a childhood friend and his fiancé things become complicated when tragedy strikes.  

A rare cinematic love story with such finely drawn characters that you can’t help but be torn about the fate of everyone concerned.  We genuinely like everyone and want them all to come out of this happy.  This is a solid drama whose only flaw is a title that has absolutely nothing to do with the film other than being the place where the film begins.

Liz Whittemore on 1-800-ON-HER-OWN(2024) Tribeca 2024


This was originally posted to Liz's regular home REEL NEWS DAILY

Ani DiFranco was a force of nature in my high school and college years. Her songs informed my passion, my power, and my voice. 32 Flavors remains my theme song as a woman. Dana Flor‘s 1-800-ON-HER-OWN gives Tribeca 2024 audiences a sneak peek behind the righteous audacity of Ani DiFranco. 

An editing wonder, the doc opens with performances of her song Shameless throughout the years and mashes them into one great montage. As a fan, it is electric. Ani talks about the extreme highs and lows of fame. She has always been entirely honest about the traps of the industry, but her fans clammer for her fearless writing. 

1-800-ON-HER-OWN-Clean-16x9The revelations in the film are astounding. In a collab session, Ani confides in Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) that she’s never written a song with anyone else. Her warmth and honesty are not simply for show. Witnessing this creative potion-making is chill-inducing. At 18, Ani and Scot Fisher created Righteous Babe Records. Their partnership proved to be an emotional rollercoaster, for better or worse. The remnants of that time echo in her present-day reclamation of her power. 

The doc chronicles Ani during lockdown, leading her to discuss her childhood in Buffalo, NY. Her mother’s feminist anger and the household’s minimal parenting drove her into survival and creativity mode from early on. 1-800-ON-HER-OWN boasts a brilliant amount of archival footage with voiceover stories from all the artists in her life. Lockdown also brings uncertainty and the relatable chaos of forced homeschooling our kids, Zoom glitches and attempting to maintain an identity and sanity under the circumstances. Her vulnerability spills off the screen beyond the songs. Ani’s unfiltered confessions hit you square in the chest.

1-800-ON-HER-OWN-21-800-ON-HER-OWN is a celebration of an artist in a league of her own. Ani DiFranco‘s relentless magic hangs in the air in my house. This film reintroduces her to the world. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

COLD BLOWS THE WIND (2024) hits VOD July 2


A couple run over a jogger in a drunk driving accident. Instead of calling the cops they take the body into the country with the intention of burying the body only to find there are complications.

Supernatural thriller with a dose of humor has some wicked moments but never quite gets the tone quite right. The problem is that instead of playing this straight the film has a thread of humor running through it all which takes the edge off everything. We are not pulled into events but kept outside and as such there is no real suspense.

It doesn't help that the the film is shot so that it looks less like real events, but like a movie with striking colored lighting and camera placement that largely gives us an artificial distance from events. It looks like a low budget TV show and not anything close to reality.

While I liked the film I kept wishing that the filmmakers played it straighter and with less tongue in cheek.

Worth a look for the moments that work.

Liz Whitttemore on Hongfu Hotel (2024) Tribeca 2024


This review originally ran at Liz's regular home REEL NEWS DAILY

Undoubtedly one of the most visually spectacular short films at Tribeca 2024, Tian Xu’s THE HONGFU HOTEL finds a father and son on the eve of the demolition of their family hotel in New York City. Feng arrives to check in on his father, Chan, the proprietor of their generations-old Chinatown hotel. Sold and marked for destruction to make way for a new road, Chan’s mission to see the spirits of the hotel’s old inhabitants reincarnated has seemingly failed. He plans to return to China and wishes to sign over the hotel and the profits to Feng. 

Feng battles demons past and present as he agrees to bid farewell to the upper floors one last time. What he finds has little impact on him but transfixes the audience with the lush production design. The set is intricate from ceiling to floor. Without spoiling the magic of THE HONGFU HOTEL, the film delves into Chinese mythology and religion in a mesmerizing way, challenging the viewer to open their minds to intergenerational trauma and the things we cannot see. 

Tian Xu and the entire HONGFU HOTEL crew have something indisputably special on their hands. I would be incredibly interested in an expanded universe here. The possibilities are endless. THE HONGFU HOTEL is spellbinding.

Monday, July 1, 2024

Paris in Harlem (2022) is hitting VOD July 4

This is my brief review from Slamdance from 2022. It should have been a longer film but it was the best I could do at the time. 


Life in around a jazz club in Harlem when the no dancing law is repealed.

This is a slice of life film with lots of people coming and going. It’s also full of great Jazz and is highly recommended


Liz Whittemore's thoughts on Beacon (2024) Tribeca 2024


This review originally ran at Liz's regular home REEL NEWS DAILY

Director Roxy Shih brings mystery and tension to Tribeca 2024 audiences with her film BEACON. Emily’s solo sailing voyage ends when she shipwrecks in rough seas. Her rescuer is the lighthouse keeper on a remote island. They are wary of one another, trading sailor superstitions while they wait for the weather to comply. 

Demián Bichir plays our suspicious keeper l, Ismael, with grace and calm but always quietly keeping Emily at arm’s length. His apprehension is palpable. Bichir delivers a complex portrayal of a man haunted by his isolation. He is magnificent. Julia Goldani Telles gives Emily a slick darkness. Holding her own on-screen opposite Bichir, Telles brings a mesmerizing feistiness that pushes the envelope. 

Daphne Quin Wu‘s cinematography is inviting. The intimacy, the lighting, and the beautiful framing draw you in. Two strangers in a small space automatically lead to distrust and claustrophobia. Screenwriter Julio Rojas challenges us at every turn as Emily and Ismael continuously manipulate one another. Clever fantasy sequences and questionable behavior from both parties have you guessing from moment to moment. BEACON is a heart-pounding psychological thriller of the highest caliber. You’ll be questioning everything the second the screen goes black.