Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chain of Evidence (1956)

Complicated Bill Elliott mystery story doesn't become a murder mystery until about a third of the way into the film. For much of the running time the film is the story of Steve, an ex-con trying to go straight. When he's ambushed on the first day of freedom he develops amnesia. Detective Doyle (Bill Elliot) is a friend of Steve's and he tries to run down what happened to him, especially after it appears he may have been killed. Actually he's gone off and managed to get himself a couple of jobs under a new name, one of which is at the home of a rich man. The man's wife and her lover provoke Steve into fighting with his boss, they use it as an opportunity for murder with Steve as the patsy.

Very good solid crime story, it's not really a mystery since we know who done it, is the sort of thing that would end up on TV once the crime dramas went to an hour. This is the sort of thing that would fit nicely into almost any of the police procedurals that dot the various TV stations. While the quality of the story makes for an entertaining evening, it's simple one hour running time and similarity to what you could get on TV doomed the series long run...

...on the other hand as part of the five film Bill Elliot release from Warner Archive it makes for compulsive watching. Worth your time and money.

As for me I can't believe there's only one more to go...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

PATCH TOWN (2014) Fantasia Fest 2014

This is a short review because I wasn't going to see this nor review it. I stumbled into seeing it and fell head over heels for it. But since I never intended in reviewing it I never took notes and was simply pulled along. Consider this less a review and more a mash note.

This is a sure to become a cult musical comedy science fiction fantasy  holiday film about Jon, a man working at Patch Industries where toys are made from the babies literally pulled from the cabbage patch. When Jon a worker on the line discovers the truth (that he is one of the toys brainwashed into not remembering) he struggles to flee the factory. But the evil owner of the company has other plans and in order to save his family Jon has to fight.

Brilliantly off kilter fantasy film is one of the great surprises of this years Fantasia and the year. Where did this wonderfully unique film spring from? I don't know but please send more.

Playing like deranged Tim Burton but weirder, mixed with Grimm's fairy tales mixed with Off Broadway and I don't know what, this film is except truly something unique. Seriously I can tell you what it's like and what it riffs and borrows from but it is truly unique.There is nothing quite like this. This is true movie magic.

If you love unique films you must track this film down.

The film has had it's only run at Fantasia but details can be found here.

(And if you want to know how good Julian Richings who plays the villain  is compare his role here with his truly classic performance in EJECTA which plays next week. You will not believe its the same man)

Under the Electric Sky (2014)

Let me begin by saying something that’s painfully obvious-Under the Electric Sky, about the Electric Daisy Carnival an annual gathering of fans of electronic dance music in Las Vegas, is an 89 minute commercial for the festival. It’s a loving crafted look at the power of the type of music to make people happy that was financed by the festival organizers. This is a film that for 99.99% of its running time only deals with the good things. You’ll forgive me for saying that upfront but it has to be said because if you see the film you have to know that as good as bits of this film is we’re not getting the whole story of the festival or the music culture.

The film follows six people or groups as they make their way to the festival from around the country and the world plus it includes interviews with the festival and organizers. We meet a poly-amorous group who are planning on getting married at the festival, a group of guys from New England who travel in a camper to the festival to honor their recently deceased friend who organized the trip, a couple who met at the festival and now have kids together, a couple in a long distance relationship (he’s in Japan she’s in New York) meeting for the first time in six months, a young man in a wheel chair and Sadie a young woman from a small town who never quite fit in and was bullied to the point of developing anxiety attacks.

To be honest they could have lost half the characters, the poly-amorous group, the guys in the camper, and the long distance couple since they don’t add much. The poly group is just wacky and according to the press notes was included for that reason. The Camper guys are interesting but we never really get enough information to really know them. Actually the real problem is we never get to know much about their dead friend Ferris. Who was he? Why is he so important and what happened to him? The long distance couple is cute and doe eyed lovely but other than looking completely in love with each other and always on the verge of jumping each other there is nothing there.

Actually that the real problem with the film, it is as shallow as the music is said to be my many critics outside the genre. We don’t get to know what really goes into the festival, we don’t get to know about the music, and we don’t see any real sign of the dark side. All notion of drugs and other bad things are pretty much ignored despite news reports of drug arrests and deaths at several festivals recently.

The heart of the film and the reason to take it for being more than a glorified commercial are three of the stories the film tells, the longtime couple, Jose, the young man in a wheel chair and Sadie the girl with the anxiety disorder. In those three stories you have the backbone of a truly great film (that should have been).

With Alli and Matt the long time couple we see the history of EDC. Its this wonderful love story and portrait of these really cool people who have found a wonderful place to be.

Jose’s story is amazing. The film keeps saying the festival is place where people will accept you for who you are and with his story we see it, we watch as everyone gets out of the way as he navigates the crowd and interacts with him as if he’s a person, and we also see, in a bit in the trailer, him lifted up by some guys who just wanted him to see the festival from above. It’s a transcendent moment that we see moves him to tears.

The best story is that of Sdie. Watching her navigate the festival is something amazing. There was this moment where we watch her dancing on the third day that I was brought to tears and the pure joy on her face. Why does the festival matter? To allow people to feel that happy. Oh course that’s not the end of her story and what happens next (which I suspect might have been set up by the filmmakers-though I doubt she knew it was going to happen) is one of my favorite moments on film all year. That’s not in the trailer and I’m not going to tell you what it is.

On a technical level I’m not sure how seeing this not under optimal conditions will affect your reaction. I say this because I saw this at the Dolby Labs screening room with perfect sound and picture. The music was thumping throughout (I was tired from bopping along) and the 3D when it clicked in was wonderful. The 3D seems to have only been in used in about two thirds of the film, with anything at the festival or anything involving computer graphics popping.

Should you see the film?

If you can see the film under optimal conditions, in a theater with big sound and 3D absolutely- assuming you go in knowing the film is not deep but more a presentation of the joy of the music and being at the festival.

If you’re not seeing it under optimal conditions I would say that would depend on if you’re a fan of the music or not. If you’re fan you’ll love it. If you’re not seeing this 2D with small sound it may get tiring, the repetition of hands raised and DJs flipping switches may wear in you.

I would also like to say that if you feel yourself to be an outsider you may want to try the film because maybe you’ll find a place to go. I say this as someone who has always felt outside the crowd. Watching the film I was moved at the possibility, and wonder if it’s true of a place that really has near total acceptance. If its like that I want to go too.

The film opened June 27 in Los Angeles . It opens Friday in New York, Chicago, Miami and Dallas and will be opening around the country over the next few weeks.

Calling Homicide(1956)

You have hundreds of suspects. Anyone who knew Francine Norman well wanted to kill her- "friend" of the dead woman

Third of the Bill Elliot mystery film has Elliot's Lt Doyle looking into the murder of a police officer blown up in his car out side the police station. His final words were that he was on to a really ugly illegal racket. Unfortunately all his notes went up in the ball of flame that killed him and the only thing out of place that could be a clue is a random phone number found in his garbage can. That turns up nothing, until the woman who had the phone number turns up dead and her face obliterated.

Very good murder mystery widens the cast of characters around the police station and adds a big dose of humor as the cops, the press and the suspects crack wise. It also moves along at a good pace with lots of nasty twists from exploding files to people getting shot in a crowded bar. And then there is the late in the game revelation of whats really going on and while its out of left field it is kind of in keeping with the wild nature of the film-this film keeps twisting until the bitter end.

This film is a great deal of fun. Between this and the other films in the Warner Archive  Bill Elliot set it's money well spent
An addendum there is a nice scene that echoes to Elliot's decades long career as cowboy star by having him visit an old friend on the set of a western picture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

JAPAN CUTS 2014: Cross Generation Communications From .5MM, GREATFUL DEAD, TALE OF IYA Screenings

Tetsuichiro Tsuta, director of THE TALE OF IYA
Living up to its reputation, the leading festival of films from Japan Japan Cuts brought a diverse offering of topics and points of view in its presentations of films from 2013 and 2014 to New York City audiences at this summer's event. This year’s slate was enriched by a number of strong independent films offering critical looks at society with no easy answers but plenty of intriguing questions. Standouts include .MM from director Momoko Andou, who adapted the story from her debut novel, GREATFUL DEAD by Eiji Uchida, and THE TALE OF IYA by TETSUICHIRO TSUTA. These films represent the promise of three assured and innovative voices arising in the Japanese film industry.

On an interesting note all three of the directors worked with a cast featuring both young and aged actors in order to wave stories that look at the relationship between different generations of Japanese. At times it speaks of reverence (TALE OF IYA), of both lack of understanding and awestruck fascination (.5MM), and in the case of GREATFUL DEAD, there is allusion to a conflict that is ruthlessly adversarial. In each case, these relations are navigated in such a way that suggests a complex situation at work.

In the realm of filmmaking, however, it can be viewed as a triumph of collaboration, with brilliant performances across generations being invoked by each director.

Below are a few communications between the talent involved in these provocative films and the audience, either in person, via video, or by letter read prior to a screening.

Prior to the screening of .5MM Japan Cuts programmer Joel Neville Anderson read a letter from Sakura Andou (LOVE EXPOSURE, PENANCE) star of the film and sister of director Momoko Andou, to the audience. I was unable to stay for the Q & A via skype with director Momoko Andou after the film.

Director Eiji Uchida prepared a video introduction before the screening of his film Greatful Dead, in which he talks about the film’s shift from serious societal critique to genre hit, and the inspiration behind religious themes in the film.

Director Tetsuichiro Tsuta appeared at New York’s Japan Society in person to introduce his film and discuss it afterwards with Joel Neville Anderson. Below are photos followed by videos of the introduction and q & a.Apologies for the video’s abrupt beginning and end, which captures only a part of the Q & A. At the outset, Tsuta answers a question about his ambitions to make even longer films (IYA ran an impressive 3 hours) using traditional filming methods. Here he speaks on directing the physicality of his leads Rina Takeda, action film favorite and martial artist, and Min Tanaka, a long established actor whose repetoire includes traditional dance.

Me on twitter = @mondocurry

Sudden Danger (1955)

Second of the Bill Elliott crime films that closed out his movie career has his name changing from Andy Flynn in the previous film to Andy Doyle for the remainder of the series. Its a solid program mystery that's definitely worth your time.

The mystery this time around concerns an apparent suicide. A man blinded in an accident five years home returns home to discover that his mother has committed suicide by turning on the gas in the apartment. When Elliot's Doyle begins what he thinks is a routine investigation into the matter he uncovers the possibility that the son may have killed his mother in order to get the money to pay for an operation. As the investigation goes on he begins to uncover information that some one doesn't want revealed.

Good little mystery that presents the Doyle character as a find upstanding sort who will follow the trail of clues and bodies to the bitter end. He's a man who will apologize when wrong and won't stop until he gets his man. While he echoes the Joe Friday just the facts style of Dragnet he is much more human and real since from the get go you get a sense of him being larger than the job and having a sense of humor.

Currently out with the other films in the series from the Warner Archive and worth your time.
Apropos of nothing- the Leonard Maltin guide review of this film and the three that follow it are basically exactly the same listing the murder location and then saying that Elliot  plays the same role in 4 other films. The rating for the remaining films are all 1 and a half stars which is completely out of line and makes me wonder if anyone actually saw the films.

Monday, July 21, 2014

There isn't much to say about Bill Plympton's Cheatin (2013) except it's fantastic Fantasia Fest 2014

The largely wordless CHEATIN concerns a bookish young lady who literally collides with a hunk of a man at a carnival and ends up wedded to him.Things take a turn for the worst when he begins cheating on her and she plots revenge..

Possibly Bill Plympton's most beautiful and lyric film ever. A magical and marvelous marriage of image and sound it unwinds in a series of truly spectacular set pieces that are true delight to behold. Its a film that had me murmuring "oh wow" through out.

I can't say much more than it's one of the truly great animated films I've ever run across except to say GO.

the film plays later today and tomorrow at Fantasia. For more information and tickets go to the Fantasia film page here.

Dial Red 0 (1955)

First of five films starring western star Bill Elliot as a Los Angeles Sheriff's detective lieutenant dealing with homicides across Los Angeles.

Things are set in motion when a vet escapes from a psychiatric hospital and heads to see his wife. When he gets there she's not home.He leaves to try and find her. It transpires that the wife has gone out to meet her boyfriend, a one time friend of her husband's. She wants to celebrate because she's served her husband with divorce papers. The boyfriend is not happy since he's happy  with the relationship as it is since it allows him a girlfriend and his wife and son. When she pushes the boyfriend snaps and kills his paramour. Thinking fast he makes it look like her husband did it.

Low key police procedural cum film noir has Elliot's Andy Flynn (His name would become Andy Doyle in the remaining films) largely outside of much of the action. Yes he wanders in and makes arrests and does some detective work, but the film seems more focused on the romantic triangle at it's heart, the killer and the cuckolded husband. I was expecting a film more focused on the detective and while the film is quite good it's rather surprising that the film was thought good enough to make a series.

Currently out on DVD from the Warner Archive and worth a look as part of their Bill Elliott Detective Mysteries set.

Of interest to some is the fact that Sam Peckinpah was the dialog coach for the film and has a bit part playing the cook in the diner.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Nightcap 7/20/14- taking stock of NYAFF and Japan Cuts, an announcement and links

The New York Asian Film Festival is done and Japan Cuts is all but done. Its time to take stock of the festivities and see how things turned out.

From a film stand point this was a very good year. At least as far as I was concerned there weren’t that many clunkers. I know festival organizers are at the mercy of the film companies and this year they managed to get some really good and truly great films. The real surprise this year was that many of the non-genre films were the best films. Films like Wood Job and The Great Passage and Zone Pro Site scored way above films like Monsterz or Killers.

I was not physically at the festival as much as in past years, with the result I missed much of the big events, however even allowing for that this year’s festival seemed a bit too low key. There wasn’t quite the excitement. Where last year the madness of Jackie Chan happened before the festival, thus shifting the feel of things around, this year things just felt low key. The festival felt more like just going to the movies instead of going to some sort of big to do. I’m not blaming the festival organizers since they tried very much to pump things up via intros by people like Grady and James, rather I’m blaming the audiences who didn’t bring it this year. (I mean people turned down their chance to die like a samurai on stage, where in years past people would have fought tooth and nail to do so)

Where was the excitement? Where was the cheers and the screams of delight? Mostly it was the family just hanging out and having low key fun together. That's not a bad thing, especially when you have such a wonderful family.

Actually where were the new faces? I hate to say it this year’s festivals were a tad too much old home week. I recognized way too many people. There really wasn’t anyone new in the trenches except at the odd screening. I mean that’s all well and good, but for a festival to grow it has to grow its audience and this year it seemed I knew by sight most of the people. Okay yes we did get Christina from Austin who spent the majority of both NYAFF and |Japan Cuts winning friends and kicking ass but largely it was a good number of the same people in many screenings.

Audience aside, this was a great year. The films were good, the intros were great,and the company was joyous. I had a blast...and I can't wait until next year to do it all over again.

And now an important announcement concerning the course of Unseen Film.

As most of you know we've been hip deep in festival coverage and crazy ass madness pretty much since Tribeca.  Most of the posts here between now and April have been festival posts. We haven't picked at most festivals but waded in hammers and tongs and had at them.

Because of  things outside of the film world a good deal of the heavy lifting has fallen on myself  and it's damn near killed me. While we've gained readers it's left me physically broken and not wanting to ever see a movie again.

It's no one's fault but my own since I haven't learned to say no.

While part of the problem has been the sheer volume of the films reviewed, a larger part has been that I simply don't want someone else picking out what I'm seeing. Truthfully festival watching is like being force fed one type of food. I can't do it any least for a while. I have stacks and stacks and stacks of DVDs of other types of films and I have a couple dozen books I want to read, I just haven't been able to get to them because I had to watch this or that movie for review. Yes the movies have mostly been great, but I need to pick my own stuff for a while.

To that end I'm taking a step back and away from Unseen for a few weeks. You probably won't notice it since I have things programmed until the New York Film Festival. But on the other hand outside of Fantasia, which I really want to cover, the number of festival titles and new releases are going to fall away. I just can't do it, nor can many of the other guys and gals at Unseen who have their own things to take care of. (If you're promoting stuff feel free to send it our way- just don't be upset if we say "not right now")

I don't know how this will affect anything past NYFF, though I do have things scheduled roughly and with huge holes until December (and plans into March), but it's fair warning, Unseen maybe less of the moment for a bit.
This week look for the Bill Elliot mystery films that were just released by the Warner Archive as well as more Japan Cuts and Fantasia titles
And now links from Randi

Cookie Monsters 
Can a film truly be anti-war?
monsters in the closet
Behind the scenes with BOXTROLLS
Seth McFarlane steal the idea for Ted

A few words on Zombie TV (2013) Fantasia Fest 2014

With Yoshihiro Nishimura (Mutant Girl Squad and Hell Driver) as one of the directors you know what you're going to get, low brow, bloody humor and Zombie TV is just that.

Opening with a J-pop zombie song from the pit of hell the film then riffs on a day of TV programming with dramas, exercise shows, travel shows, cartoons, wrestling (with a decidedly non PC character), superheros, sex instruction and assorted other stuff.

How is it?

The sort of thing best watched with friends or at a midnight movie screening with an audience of like minded crazies. Its bloody, and funny and utterly tasteless. When it works its good fun.

The trouble is that as a movie and not a shared experience this isn't all that hot. If you can't kibitz with someone the bad jokes and occasional dead spots (some bits go on too long or are repeated too much) make this less than must see TV. This is probably Nishimura's most all over the place film

On the other hand if you're locked and loaded with friends and drinks this is a must see.

Zombie TV's one screening at Fantasia was last night at midnight. For more information on the film go here.