Sunday, February 7, 2016

In Brief:Tarzan's Triumph (1943)

Jane is in London, so boy and Tarzan must take on a group of Nazi's who invade the jungle, and more importantly a hidden city where a friend of Tarzan lives.

Its war time action and daring do as Tarzan refuses to get involved until his family and friends are put under the gun by the bad guy Nazi's. Its over done and a great deal of fun with several bits that must have brought cheers (Tarzan go to War Now) and laughs (the final fade out).

Its clear its no longer MGM, this was the first film for the ten or so year long run at RKO, but the film is still a blast as Tarzan and company hit all the right notes (and I don't think we hear the Tarzan yell at any point.)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Face of the Devil (aka La Cara del Diablo) (2015)

Lucero has to talk her father into letting her go with friends to a remote resort. He is worried about her safety. Clearly something happened in the past as Lu pleads with her father to let her start to live a normal life. With great reluctance Lu's father lets her go...he probably shouldn't have let her go since away in the jungle, cut off from phones, the internet and civilization in general the stories of a shape shifting devil called a Tunche prove all too real.

FACE OF THE DEVIL is a good little horror film that is more about creating mood than it is about shocks and jump scares. Terrible things happen but they are not overly graphic and almost all of them occur in such away that the sick feeling in your stomach gets worse instead of being relieved by a shriek and a scream. Its a very deliberate film which spins out probably half it's running time before the killings begin. Its a ballsy move by director Frank Pérez-Garland since most people today want quick shock after quick shock. Perez-Garland doesn't go that way and the result is a film that is much more tense from start to finish than most films where the scares come at carefully timed intervals.

Despite being very low key and in a way rather vanilla, FACE holds your attention for reasons that are frequently over looked by directors interested in shock and awe.

First the film gives us a seven characters we actually like. There are no real jerks here which means there is no one we want to see die. I've seen more than a couple horror films in the last few weeks where you really don't like anyone and you can't wait for them to die. For example a film called INDIGENOUS was released last year introduced all the characters behaving badly and all you could think was "I can't wait to see them die horribly". With FACE that isn't the case. Here I wanted to hang out with all of them and I didn't want them to die.

I appreciate that the film creates not only likable characters, but real characters. You get a sense of who all the people are, they kind of bleed off the screen and aren't one note. I like that they characters are built up in stages, things aren't just plopped at our feet all at once they stories come out in dribs and drabs where they should, The whole back story of why Lu's father wouldn't want her to go is also nicely handled. While Lu's story isn't anything we didn't suspect or know from seeing dozens of similar films, it's brought in so easily that it doesn't seem like a cliche.

And that's the most important thing here, FACE OF THE DEVIL, while dealing with a plot similar to many other films doesn't take the exact same road as everyone else. The story isn't told by the numbers or exactly like other films, here we get real characters, we get plausible changes in the story and most importantly we have a director who is confident enough in his story telling ability to tell the story his own way. He paces it unlike any other film and instead of amping up the blood and gore as many directors would do, he pulls back. yes it's there but its not over done. Additionally he doesn't use loud music and shock cuts to make us jump.  When you watch the film enjoy how the killings just happen and aren't over blown- characters are simply pulled off the screen and are gone.

I really liked this film a great deal. I love that this film isn't run of the mill. I love that the film is low key and creepy as opposed to loud and gross. I applaud the fact we have characters that we like and don't want to see die. I love that this is a really special little film.

Is it a scary film? I think it's more creepy than scary. I think the fact that we have been here before in similar films prevents it from generating shout out loud screams, but at the same time when I walked away from the film I wanted to see some daylight because the film created an nasty mood that didn't go away with the end credits.

Definitely recommended, especially for anyone who wants a film that's more than just blood and body parts.

FACE OF TH DEVIL hits DVD and VOD release on February 8th

Tarzan's New York Adventure

Last of the Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzans has Jane and Tarzan going to the Big Apple after Boy who was taken to America by poachers (who thought Tarzan and Jane were killed in a fire). Boy is put to work in a circus and the happy couple run around trying to find their son.

Brief adventure film is quite enjoyable on its own terms, though I don't know how its going to play if you haven't seen any of the previous five films since any notion of character is out the window. The film starts in the typical manner of the idyllic life being turned upside down by the arrival of a party-this time in a plane-which then results in the main plot being put into motion. Its not bad, just formulaic, as all but the first two films in the series have been. Worth a look if for no other reason to see Tarzan running amok in a modern city and leaping from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Tarzan's Secret Treasure

Fifth of the Johnny Weissmuller/ Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzans is a good if much too formulaic adventure.

The plot has Boy discovering gold in a river. Tarzan and Jane of course don't need it but when a group of explorers come through on their way to a plague site their greed is brought out and all sorts of nastiness occurs.

For me this film is a mixed bag with much of the first half repeating variations on things that have happened in the previous films (jungle romp, torture by natives, etc), though this time with Boy and Cheetah instead of Tarzan and Jane. The film perks up once the explorers come in and the villainous ones, led by the ever wonderful Tom Conway, begin to try and do away with everyone. The climatic battle on the river is high light to the film, though it weakly trots out the alligator fight that has been in least two other films in the series.

A good film that's very middle of the pack as Tarzan films go. Worth a look on cable or with a second feature.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tarzan Finds a Son

Fourth film in the MGM Tarzan sequence is a great step up from the last film, TARZAN ESCAPES (what a dog that one is).

Here the film has Tarzan and Jane having a baby boy brought to them by Cheetah. The baby, who they name Boy, was orphaned when the plane he was flying with his parents crashed in the jungle. The crying baby was rescued by some chimps not long before the plane is discovered by unfriendly tribesmen. (we later learn the parents fates). Five years later an expedition comes into the jungle looking for the plane and some sign of the people on board. It seems a vast fortune hangs in the balance of the location of anyone on board the plane. Will Boy return to civilization or stay with Tarzan and Jane? Good film is a nice step forward in the MGM Tarzan saga.The plot moves along at a good clip, has some great thrills and keeps the stock footage to a minimum. To be honest I can't really say that any bit of the story really stands out but at the same time I enjoyed the film the entire time it was on.

If there are any draw backs to the film it would come in two places, first the basic structure of some one coming into the jungle to find some one, Boy here, Jane in the previous two films, was cliché almost from the get go. the fact that the studio got three films in a row from the plot line shows the films have more to them then the well worn plot lines. The second problem with the film is the long sequences where Tarzan and Boy frolic. Its good in that it establish father/son bonding and their relationship, but it kind of goes on and one too long. Worse its all variations on the Tarzan Jane frolics from the last two films.

Ultimately the pluses out weigh the minuses so this is a great little adventure film. Definitely worth your time.

(Addendum and possible spoiler: I can't believe that MGM was going to kill off Jane. I'm curious has to how the final sequence was suppose to be played since the scene as it stands now is a bit silly with Jane suddenly better.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tumbledown opens Friday

TUMBLEDOWN has been kicking around the festival circuit since it world premiered last year at Tribeca. Ariela saw it at the festival and a review of the film was one of the first things she filed with Unseen.  With the film getting a theatrical release Friday I'm reposting the review:

My first screening that I saw at Tribeca Film Festival was Tumbledown. It stars Rebecca Hall(Hannah) and Jason Sudeikis (Andrew). It's the story of Hannah who is trying to get over the death of her husband, the love of her life, who was a folk singer who only recorded one album prior to his death, but had a cult following, Andrew wants to write about her late husband and so he tries to establish a professional relationship with her in order to be able to find out about the folk singer. This isn't easy for Andrew to do, as Hannah feels she is the only one who can write about her late husband. Hannah's tough, stubborn and still grieving. I didn't love the movie, but I did enjoy it and thought it was sweet. I would recommend seeing it when it comes to video/dvd/netflix, however people watch things these days.

Tarzan Escapes

Using tons of stock footage, not only from TRADER HORN but also the first two films in the series (for example the alligator fight was used last time out) this is one of the weakest films in the MGM series. Its a huge let down after the classic Tarzan and His Mate which is possibly the best film in the series.

The plot has Jane's cousins coming into the jungle to tell her that she has inherited a fortune if she'll come back to claim it. They are kind of in the bind since the relative that left her the money cut them out of the will.Hiring a great white hunter, who secretly wishes to capture Tarzan and sell him, the pair heads into the jungle where they run into the usual jungle troubles (more so because of the stock footage). After lots of talk Jane decides to go back to civilization and we get long sequences of Tarzan and Jame making kissy face. Finally into the last half hour the plot to capture Tarzan is put in motion and things at last become interesting as plans go awry and things look very grim for all concerned..

Painfully dull film is clear evidence of a troubled production. the film seems to have been assembled from several different films with the first half hour playing as an almost exact repeats of the previous film. The middle third shows signs of having to stretch things out and having plot lines that ultimately went nowhere. The last third where Tarzan is captured and the party is put into peril is the point that the film finally comes to life (it also shows signs of the graphic violence that caused much of the need to re-shoot the film). To me its a great wonder how the series managed to continue on from here since this film isn't very good (except at the end).I would be hard pressed to explain it except I would have to say that it was the relationship between Weissmuller and O'Sullivan as Tarzan and Jane which kept people coming back. Its a beautifully acted pairing and really is one of the screens great couples.

I should probably also mention that this is the point that the film became less real and more fantastical with the appearance of the Tarzan tree house.

I really dislike the first hour or so of this film a great deal and find it a great waste of time and energy. If you can come in towards the end I would recommend giving the film a try. Otherwise I would just skip the whole film and move on to the next film in the series.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Knew Her Well (1965)

Wonderful poisoned Italian confection that has been loving restored and hit theaters starting Friday before being released by Criterion. This is a film that really should be seen on the big screen so that you can get the full effect of it's power.

The story follows a beautiful girl named Adriana who moves to Rome in order to become a celebrity. As she makes her climb up the ladder, we watch as she is battered about by the men in her life, who are forever fleeting and who are just out for a good time.

A damning portrait of society's morals and double standards this film is a real poke in the eye. Let's face it we haven't changed all that much and if you really watch TV or read fashion/celebrity magazines you'll realize that we are just as vapid as ever. Watching Adriana bounce through her life with ever changing hair styles and dresses in order to follow the latest fashion you realize just how little things have changed. Frankly it may very well that we've grown more vapid as a society.

The real star of the film is the music. A broad selection of popular songs from the time the film was made, their frequent up beat nature runs counter to what we are seeing on the screen. This is especially true in the films final moments where the  music gives one a kind of whiplash as it goes against the tragedy of it all.

I know some of you are going to wait for the film to be released on DVD and Bluray by Criterion but don't do it.  This is a film you need to see in a theater on a big screen with big sound. Yes its essentially a small scale drama, but like so many Italian films from the same time they were designed to be seen big. I can't tell you how many films I've seen in film class or at a repertory theater, classics of Italian cinema in particular that look fine on a big screen TV but don't play as well as they did when I see them on the big screen. Frankly I'm convinced that the reason that the films of Fellini have fallen out of favor is not because they are bad but rather they don't have the emotional kick in the ass they do on a big screen (Watch 8 1/2 on a big screen and then try to watch it small- it doesn't work). I KNEW HER WELL is going to be like that. trust me I know,  Long ago I saw some of I KNEW HER WELL in a film class and it had power. The problem with the film class was that we only saw part of films because of he way the school rented them (we only saw as much as we could see in one class period). It wasn't until recently when I was given a a chance to see the film streaming that I saw the end. Seeing the film complete again on a small screen I realized not only how great the film is but also I realized that this would have been so much better big-this is film about trying to be larger than life and it really need to be seen big.

I KNEW HER WELL opens Friday at film Forum and its a must see.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Arguably the best Tarzan film ever, this is the second in the long running series from MGM that starred Johnny Weissmuller. This is also one of the greatest adventure films ever made. There is a level of maturity and drama that isn’t found in any of the other films. Part of the reason is that the film came just before the production code was strictly enforced and forced the dumbing down of many movies.

As usual I’m getting ahead of myself, let me start again

After MGM spent a fortune to send a crew to film Trader Horn in the wilds of Africa, they realized that they had way too much footage. They had shot SO much material that the footage would be used for decades afterward. They needed to find a way to use some of the footage. Eventually they decided to make a film version of Tarzan Of The Apes, based upon the first of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books. The film was a huge hit and a sequel was required. (It should be pointed out that Burroughs knew he had a hot property years before and was farming the character out to various producers, including himself, in order to make "competeing" films simply because the demand was there)

The second film has Jane and Tarzan living idyllically until another expedition comes into the jungle, looking for not only the elephant’s burial ground but also for Jane, since leading the expedition is Jane’s old beau who’s hoping to win her back. Picking up a year or so after Tarzan The Ape Man, Neil Hamilton's Holt has asked a rich friend to finance a safari back to the elephant's graveyard to collect ivory. His friend arrives also carrying dresses and perfumes that Holt hopes to use to win Jane back from Tarzan. Before they can leave Holt finds his map stolen and it becomes a mad dash to try and capture a competing expedition. When they finally overtake the thieves, they find the whole party dead and themselves surrounded. They have no choice but to fight their way out and soon find they are out of the frying pan and into the fire. Eventually Tarzan and Jane show up and everyone is off on even more adventures.

Other than the safari to Tarzan's escarpment there is almost nothing that makes this your typical cliched Tarzan film. There is no tree house, no weird inventions, no cleaned up Tarzan. I mention this because the films that followed this one pretty much fell into lockstep with a set number of things that you had to have; intruders, jungle color, inventions in the tree house, danger (but not too much), and conservative clothing.

Tarzan And His Mate has none of that. There is real danger, there is real violence, and most amazing the clothing is revealing. This film was actually made with a full frontal nude swim sequence, which was put back into the film when Ted Turner bought the film library. Actually Turner had the film restored completely since the film had been severely cut down over the years, beginning with requests from the Hays Office (a precursor to today's Motion Picture Association Of America ratings system).

If you hate the "me Tarzan you Jane" cliche see this movie because none of that is in this film. That sort of thing really started in earnest in the next film, Tarzan Escapes (which some people say is the best one; I find it a dull retread hampered by the fact that it had to be reshot a couple of times because it was much too violent...but that's another film). Tarzan And His Mate is a more realistic sort of film where Tarzan is more mute, and more halting in his speech. He's a more real character (as real as he could be).

Actually this is just a great, great film. It's a film where they got everything right. The movies had managed to figure out how to tell a story like this with sound (the first film, while very good, is a bit stilted from the limitations of sound shooting). It's made by adults who didn't talk down to the audience. The emotion between Tarzan and Jane is real. There is a respect. Jane doesn't talk down to him or treat him like a child. There is danger, adventure, and the there is a real cost to what happens. People die. I say that because after this film many of the characters are cliche stock characters; here characters like Holt are real people.

You need to see this film. It's a masterpiece. It's one of the greatest films that Hollywood ever turned out.

This is available in the US in a collection of the first six Tarzan films* with Johnny Weissmuller. These all co-star Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane. It also has an excellent 90 minute documentary on the making of the films. The set is worth picking up because of this film, the documentary, and most of the other films (as I said I find Tarzan Escapes clunky).

A must see, this film will blow your socks off.

*- I need to point out that who ever put the set together did a serious disservice to the buyer since the films, which are presented two to a disc, have the first four films out of order. with the first and third films on the first DVD and the second and fourth films on the second DVD. If you pick up the set try and watch them in order since the story does move from film to film.

Monday, February 1, 2016

In Brief: How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) (2015)

Oat wakes up from a bad dream. He is watching his brother catch on fire. As he stares out a window in a high-rise he flashes back to when he was 11 and dealing with the possibility that his brother may soon leave him alone if he ends up chosen in the Thai military lottery. Oat tries to help his brother beat the odds and it sets in motion somethings that will affect his life there after.

A very good nostalgia piece highlighting what one must sometimes do to survive. The film is a kind of low key mediation on memory and what we choose to remember about our loved ones. Its a film about how we relate to our siblings and our lives.

I really like this film a great deal. I think it's a super film....

...but I have nothing to say beyond that.

Don't get me wrong  it's a great movie. I just have nothing to say about the film except that its great and you should see it- which in this  case is enough.

HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS (EVERY TIME) hits home video and VOD tmorrow

Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)

TARZAN THE APE MAN was not supposed to happen and the series it spawned really wasn’t supposed to happen. The film happened in part because MGM had spent a mint on shooting footage for TRADER HORN and wanted to use it anyway they could. Looking for a way to do so they grabbed Edgar Rice Burroughs hero and put together a spectacle. The film was a hit and a million “Me Tarzan You Jane” jokes were born

The funny thing is that despite all of the jokes the series is actually really good. Yes the series has some juvenile moments but early on the jokes were not for kids and the films were just for adults.

It would be a lie to say that the Tarzan craze started with TARZAN THE APEMAN, after all there had been numerous films going back to not long after publication of the first novel. However it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the series made the character white hot. It was the moment where it was pushed forever into the minds of popular culture. No one in their wildest dreams expected that this film was going to kick off a series that more or less ran for forty years, multiple studios and multiple Tarzans.

This “first” film is the origin story. It has Tarzan being shipwrecked with parents and being raised by apes. The film then jumps ahead to now as Jane, her father and Harry Holt  wade into to jungle looking for the legendary elephant burial grounds where limitless ivory could be found.  Holt, who loves Jane, tries to protect her from jungle dangers but she ends up abducted by Tarzan. Jane eventually returns to her father, however when the party is attacked by a pygmy tribe, Jane send to Tarzan for help. It ends with Jane staying with Tarzan as  Holt and the surviving party members return to civilization.

A huge jungle spectacle, TARZAN THE APE MAN supremely benefits from copious use of the location footage. While not always seamlessly woven into the film, it still manages to create the illusion of the actors being out in the wild. The dangers are real, and as the climax where the party is trapped and Tarzan has to race to the rescue plays out we’re on the edge of our seats as we wait to see who will live and die.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about this film. Part of the reason is greater minds than I have talked endlessly about the film so all I’ll end up doing is parroting what they have said. The other reason I’m not going to talk that much about the film is because I don’t have a great deal to say about it. It is a very good adventure film. It’s a very adult film with the action and violence being, as are numerous pre-code films very adult. People die badly. There is the implication of darkness off the edges of the screen. At the same time the film is really clunky. It’s stilted in the dialog and some of the situations make you cringe. This was a film that feels constructed. You may not realize it right off the bat, but watch the next film TARZAN AND HIS MATE and you’ll realize, not only how clunky this film is but also just how good the series could be. The next film feels organic, arising out of the characters, while this film feels like its following the studios whims.

I understand why this film spawned a sequel, but at the same time it was the sequel that spawned the series.

Keep in mind that my nitpicking is not because it’s a bad film, stilted or no, it’s a great adventure film, but rather what followed is frequently so much better… Remember even on its own terms it’s a film that demands to be seen, not just for its place in history, or the series but because it’s a damn good film.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Nightcap 1/31/16: All February we are looking at Tarzan at "MGM "

In picture from the Saturday Evening Post Edgar Rice Burroughs reads Tarzan
The Tarzan films can be divided into five categories-

-The series of silent films that ran from 1918 until the beginning of the sound era

-The series that began with the Johnnie Weissmuller films at MGM that ran all the way into the late 1960’s and the Ron Ely TV series
-The “sanctioned” films that are not in either series (including one by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself)-most were based on rights Burroughs wished he didn’t sell
-The later films from the 1970’s until now
-Lastly there are the rip offs/knock offs and unsanctioned films that the Burroughs estate has tried to hunt down and destroy.

Beginning tomorrow we are going to look at all of the Tarzan films in the MGM sequence of films. The series ran from 1931 until 1968 when it sputtered out. There have been other Tarzan films before and since, and even during the run, but the bulk of the films are the 28 film series that started with TARZAN THE APEMAN and ended with TARZAN AND THE JUGLE BOY.

Why are we doing it? Beyond the obvious answer that I wanted to watch the films? Because no one really talks about the films much. Actually most people talk about the early Weissmuller films, but no one seriously considers the other films in the series. Having gone through all the films I completely understand why that is, some of them are good but aren’t really memorable. The series went on because of the early films made such an impression and the action sequences tended to be fun enough that the mediocre films were tolerated until the next year came and a good one came out. The key thing here is that there are some really good films here that most people are completely ignoring.

To be honest I probably should have aimed to cover the whole history of Tarzan but that’s a lot of films, probably more than you realize since there were a good number of silent films made, a good number of films made since this series ended , plus because Burroughs made some weird deals there are competing pictures. Most of the competing films arose out of film contracts in the silent era that carried over into sound. And then there is the case of the Herman Brix serial/films which were made because Burroughs wanted Tarzan the right way on the big screen so he made the film himself. Basically it was his property so he could do what he wanted. And of course there are the rip off and homages as well...and if you add them up it's probably over a hundred films

The one thing that most people don’t realize is that the Tarzan for most of his years on the screen was not as Burroughs wrote him. Once he got out of the jungle and once he interacted with people he was a well-spoken individual who dressed like people. It wasn’t until TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE in 1959 (28 years into the series) that Tarzan dropped the pigeon English and spoke normally in the movies. If you want to really see what Burroughs was getting at, see GREYSTOKE the Christopher Lambert headed film where he is a goes from ape to man.

Having gone through the whole series I’m kind of amazed that the films kept being made on the schedule they did of roughly one every year. I'm guessing the early RKO produced ones before the first widescreen color ones were produced just to fill double bills. Yes some are good, but some are really bland and cookie cutter like with long sections killing time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself-talking about the films out of context isn’t helpful, which is why I’m going to stop babbling here and turn you ever to 29 days of Tarzan films. Read the reviews and then watch some of the films. I’m planning on writing a piece to close this out so hopefully at the end we can have a discussion.

For the record out of the 28 films in the series that started at MGM there is probably only three bad films, There is probably another three or four truly great films  and the rest fall in between. Pretty much all of them are enjoyable on their own terms.

And an FYI- some of the posts that follow are reposts of reviews of pieces that ran a while ago. It was purely a time saver on my part

Randi's links

Someone made a film of 10 hours of paint drying
A film about Laurel and Hardy is coming
Bad New Yorker cartoon captions
The Oomphalapompatronium
Trash Museum
Stephen Furst said the problem with the Oscars isn't racism but laziness- no one is watching the films
New York Attorney General investigating ticketing fees
Saving cinemas
The Curse of Pooh
Sundance should have been hits
You might have been able to out run a t-rex
People with a local pub are happier
Stalin was interested in peoples excrement
Was THE HAPPENING not a serious film
For the three of you curious about how many films I see in a year the total for January is over 100 features and thirty or so shorts.

Trader Horn (1931)

Starting tomorrow we're going to run through all of the films that were part of the series of Tarzan films that started in 1932 with TARZAN THE APE MAN. However before we start with looking at the MGM Tarzan films and all that it spawned, I'm going to talk about TRADER HORN which begat the Tarzan films.

If you're wondering how a fictionalized film about a real life hunter in Africa spawned a film about a fictional ape man, consider that when MGM decided to send film crews to Africa they decided to shoot additional material that they could use in other films. They shot so much film that MGM felt they had to do something to use the footage. They thrashed about looking for possible projects when the idea of doing their own version of Edgar Rice Burroughs character came to mind.  Negotiating a deal with Burroughs MGM went into production and the rest is history.

TRADER HORN as a big deal when it was made. It was huge Hollywood project that went on location, and then had to be re-shot because of the coming of sound and because of poor sound quality. One crew member was eaten by crocodiles, another was killed by a rhino (a deathwhich ended up in the film). There were floods and locusts and illness. And when it was done it made over a million dollars in profits- which for the time was huge.

It's part travelogue, part adventure film and part romance. It has something for everyone.

The film is  nominally based on the biography of a real person, but the plot is something else entirely. The film has Horn and a young friend on a hunting expedition. When they run across a widowed missionary traveling at night, Horn promises her to continue her quest if something should happen to her with in  the next week. Not long after Horn and his friend find the woman dead near the bottom of a legendary waterfall.  The two men then head off on the appointed quest, which is to try and locate the woman's daughter who had been carried off as an infant. Raised among a remote tribe she is treated as a goddess... complications of course arise.

Grand adventure film is creaky in some ways, and yet in many others it's  truly spectacular and high adventure. This is the sort of film they mean when some says they don't make 'em like that any more. No they don't.

Full of wild animals, great scenic wonders and barbaric violence (way too many animals were killed for the film) This is, in some ways, what life was like 150 years ago. This is a film that really doesn't feel like most other epics and we are better for it.

The film is spectacular. It’s a grand adventure that feels strangely real. Credit the fact that the film was shot on location and seems to have been done in such a way that it doesn’t feel like its Hollywood on the veldt or in the jungle. The images feel very much like the work of the Johnsons, Martin and Osa) and other documentarians of the period who turned out a steady stream of films showing what life was like in Africa and elsewhere. I think the film is truly more exciting because of it, more so than the films that used the footage shot during the production.

How good is the film? It was a film that ended up in the running for the Best Picture Oscar. To be certain the film has aged unevenly, partly the result of Hollywood conventions of the time, but also the result of technical issues of being a film that was shot silent and then reshot as a sound film. The blending of things isn’t always perfect and some of the sound effects can be uneven, but largely it remains serviceable.

In this age of political correctness I find the portrayal of the native people interesting. Yes there is a condescending nature to some of it (Duncan Reynaldo calls them ignorant children) and the portrayal as savages is at times over done, but at the same time the film has these moments where we actually get glimpses of actual tribal life and dress. When you compare it to some of the nonsense that the Tarzan films gave us with ooga booga pigeon English and war paint TRADER HORN actual has moments of nobility.

I really like this film a great deal and I’m a bit confused as to why the film never really seemed to play much on TV when I was growing up or even on Turner Classics. This is a good grand adventure.

Definitely worth a look.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS was the favorite film of a good number of friends growing up. Way back when there were no VCRs, streaming movies, or 10,000 channels, any showing of the film, even late at night resulted in friends canceling plans and making sure they were in front of the tube. I never seemed to catch the film and it wasn’t until I was out of high school that I got a 2am screening off broadcast TV on my VCR.

The film has two astronauts going to Mars and crashing on the planet. One played by Adam West pre-Batman is killed, the other, played by Paul Mantee is stranded. It then becomes a struggle to survive until he runs into an escaped slave who shows him how to get along. Additionally there are appearances from the war ships from War of the Worlds minus the tentacled death ray.

It plays as a kind of early version of the recent Martian, but with a monkey and aliens, RCOM was meant to be a kind of scientific version of what happened. While the film was made by Byron Haskin and Ib Melchior it actually is a spiritual child of the early 50’s George Pal films like DESTINATION MOON or CONQUEST OF SPACE, but with more adventure and a bit less seriousness. (On the other hand director Haskin was involved with Pal's WAR OF THE WORLDS)

While I am not a rabid fan as some I know I do like the film. Watching the Criterion DVD a few months ago I realized that the film was much better than I had given it credit for. It is a grand adventure and it’s a lot of fun. This a film that you put on when you want a headier adventure over some of the similar films being cranked out at the same time. Though in a weird way, its insistence not to go too far afield with the craziness kind of lessens the film for me. I would have loved this to be a bit crazier and a tad less static or scientific.

In a weird way watching the film one can kind of see a through line to 2001. The drive to be scientifically accurate carried over in Hollywood and Kubrick. There weren't that many scientific based films and I know Kubrick studied any he could get his hands on.

For me this is a grand tale of survival. The interesting for me part is seeing how Draper manages to survive on red planet. The aliens that show up do ad excitement, but the space geek in me is more curious about how the film decided to depict how one might survive.  It is in many ways a kind of early version of Ridley Scott's Oscar nominated THE MARTIAN which also has a lone human trying to survive on Mars.

This is decidedly good and mostly mature science fiction film and is perfect for anyone who is tired of blasters and robots and general pulpy silliness.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Unseen Repost:Baader-Mienhof Complex

Mostly straight forward look at the terrorist group known officially known as the Red Army Faction but is best known as the Baader Meinhoff Gang thanks to press coverage. Actually the film follows the story of the group from its founding in the wake of several events in 1967 until the death in prison of the initial group of members during about the period that was known as The German Autumn in 1977(the organization lasted a further 21 years).

A very good very gripping film the film sheds a great deal of light on the group and their activities For me the group was something frequently mentioned in the news but nothing I actually knew anything about until I saw this film. One thing I read on line about the film said that in Germany the film had the effect of deflating the public perception of the group as anti-heroes and revealed them to be misguided slackers (if you think about it, they were slackers since they talked a great deal but didn't do as much as other groups. the leaders spending a great deal of time in prison).

While I don't find it to be a great film it is one I like a great deal. I have to say that I found after I read about the group after seeing the film that I liked it more. The film definitely plays better the more you know about the group and what was going on in Germany at the time they were operating. What I found interesting is that when coupled with the recent miniseries Carlos is that I really got the sense that the life of a terrorist is really kind of pointless. its sitting around talking extreme politics with no practical application followed by stints of getting pissed off because the police are hunting you down for blowing things up. What a bunch of misguided morons.

Definitely worth a look

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pondering if the Big Chill (1983) matters any more

Does the BIG CHILL matter anymore?

I ask the question not to be flippant, but outside of the film being mentioned as sign post in film history where the director and actors all seemed to peak, the film doesn’t seem to be discussed or even mentioned by anyone younger than a certain age. To be certain the fact that Criterion put out a DVD brought it back into focus, but outside of that does the film matter?

When the film was released back in 1983 I remember everyone going crazy for the film. The film managed to perfectly capture the midlife crisis of a generation. Here were a bunch of good looking actors who seemed to look like everyone in that generation felt they looked. They were going through the door to being middle age at exactly the moment as the rest of the 1960’s generation. Here were a bunch of 1960’s college people looking back 15 years on and wondering is that all there is. For the public of the same age it was their lives up on the big screen and they went to it in droves. Now I never hear anyone mention it- ever. Where other big films occasionally pop up in the mix, THE BIG CHILL is almost never mentioned. Actually it is, as the film that Kevin Costner was cut from or that one of the other stars was in.

I’m in a weird place concerning the film. When the film came out I was in my late teens. I could see that the film was good, maybe even great, but I was not in a place to go orgasmic for it. I would think that I was too young and too inexperienced to get all the nuances. However I’ve seen the film the film at least fifty times in the last 33 years and it never sang to me. Yes it always was a good film, but it never mirrored my life. Was I that different or was it something else?

For me I think the reason that the film isn’t as current as some other films comes fro two places.

First the cast. Where initially these were largely secondary actors and you could accept them as the characters, after the film all of them became stars in their own right. The ability to blend and be real was diminished. This isn’t to imply that they are bad, far from it, rather that when you’re watching the film you’re watching big stars. As anyone knows there is always a danger of stars over powering the sense of place of the film and watching THE BIG CHILL now that’s the case.

The other more serious problem is that 33 years on the film is harder to relate to. Yes, the film relates the disillusionment we all face as we hit middle age and have life make us realize we are mortal, but the characters in the film are special. These are men and women who grew together during the late 60’s during the time of peace and love and flower power. They thought the world would always be theirs and that things, despite Nixon, would be forever sunny. Now some 15 years on that was no longer the case- the dream was gone- really gone- hell, Reagan was in the White House.

Seeing the film now is hard to relate to if you are not of that generation. At no point, other than perhaps he initial election of Clinton or Obama was there ever the sense of anything was possible. Where the various elections brought a sense of hope both were quickly dashed as the politics of the modern word smashed hope and replaced it with fear and ‘us vs them’ factionalism. For anyone who didn’t go to college in the 60’s the utter sense of disillusionment that pervades the characters in the film is hard to relate to. I mean for those my age and anyone younger we’ve had to deal with the disillusionment ever since Trickie Dick, Watergate and the end of Vietnam began the soul crush of the last few decades. People today are disillusioned much earlier. And if they are disillusioned in their 30’s and 40’s it’s only because they realize that partying and video games aren’t the real world.

Does THE BIG CHILL matter?

As a good film and one of historical signifigance yes. But as a cathartic treasure of the cinema no. It’s a film whose time has come and gone, much like the hope th characters felt when they were in college.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Playing catch up with the Oscar noms thanks to some home video releases and trips around the homestead when the trains and weather kept me from going to work.

INSIDE OUT- Believed to be the one absolute lock at this years Oscars disappointed me greatly. Pixar's look into the mind and emotions of a young girl didn't really work for me on almost any level. Watching the DVD I found myself talking back to the film almost from the instant it started and all the way through it. Much of my commentary had to do with the feeling that they were doing it all wrong. I had the feeling that the film was made in story conferences instead organically "and all of the memories are in these balls"  suggested one person and then the others chimed in. I never believed in it for one instant and had I not been desperate to find something to like or even understand why people were raving, I would have turned it off 15 minutes in.

SPOTLIGHT is a truly great film. Put it on my best of 2016 list (because I saw it this year) As great as MAD MAX FURY ROAD is this fim gets my vote for Best Picture as far as the nominees are concerned because MAD MAX doesn't work as well on a small screen. SPOTLIGHT works well on any size screen. The story of what happened when the Boston Globe decided to reveal the scope of the pedophile priest scandal in Boston is gripping moving cinema.  It is a quiet little powerhouse that kicks your ass as it reveals why people have to stand up and do the right thing and why investigative journalism matters.

REVENANT is a cinematic masterpiece that I need to revisit. The film is not what I expected and it kind of confounded me the first time through. I do know several things:
1- the film really needs to be seen on a big screen. Its epic scope is jaw dropping.
2- for the most part this is probably Leonardo DiCaprio's best role and for the first time since GILBERT GRAPE he deserves a nomination
3- The dialog is awful and the vocal acting is terrible. If all the dialog was removed  or of the sort of thing we couldn't understand it would be a better thing.

THE MARTIAN is great science fiction adventure film That weirdly is lacking in tension. Yes it's a great yarn, and yes I had a great time watching it, but I never really felt any danger. Yes I knew how it was going to end. I enjoyed the hell out of it and I cheered at the end, but one of the best films of the year? I think not.

27th Day

27TH DAY is a pulp red scare science fiction tale is the sort of thing they would never make today, or if they did would never come from a major studio. While on some level it’s a solid science fiction tale it’s so infused with us vs them, the commies are bad that it’s dated badly.

The plot of the film has five people abducted by aliens. They are told they come from a dying world and looking for a place to settle. Since they are incapable of killing, they give each person a vial that if opened will wipe out 3000 square miles. The box the vials are in can only be opened by the person it was given to, however anyone can open the vial. After 27 days the vials will be rendered inert. The people are then put back where they came from. One girl throws her vial into the ocean. Another woman commits suicide. The others go about life until the aliens inform the world of the vials. Two go into hiding while the Soviet soldier if grabbed and tortured for information. The Americans try desperately try to determine if the commies are going to destroy America.

Enjoyable on its own terms 27TH DAY, has gotten lost in sands of time with its red scare red baiting. The commies are very much the bad guys here and if it wasn’t for them everything would be great. The attitude is quaint and now quite laughable, though with the saber rattling behavior of the current leader of Russia it may go back into favor. Only if you get past the red menace will you have any chance of enjoying the film.

In its own way 27TH DAY is a perfect addition to all of the other serious science fiction films from the period. Closer to IT CAME FROM OUT SPACE, WAR OF THE WORLDS and other George Pal Science fiction films, 27th Day gets you thinking. If you get past the us vs them  nonsense the film raises some interesting questions about human nature. What would you do if given this ‘gift’? What do you think your government would do and what would other people do? While the answers are less clear cut then when this film was made, the questions are perhaps even more relevant than before.

I really like this film a great deal. While I’m not going to lie and say I’d put this on over something with monsters, but on a night that I wanted something headier I’d gladly put this on.

Definitely worth a look

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Big Game (2014)

If you watch the trailer for BIG GAME you're going to get the impression that it's an action packed, balls to the wall film because the trailer cuts together a good chunk of the action sequences in it's two or three minute running time. The trouble is that's not the film.

The film is nominally two stories that collide. The first is the story of Samuel L Jackson's President. He's not well liked by some people who seem him as a soft. One of the members of his staff sells him out and sets him up to be kidnapped. When the plane goes down he is found by 13 year old Onni Tommila. Onni is in the woods to find and kill an animal on his birthday. Its a test of manhood for those in his family and by all accounts he's loved but not highly thought of. Onni at first thinks Jackson is an alien, but then realizes his mistake. He takes the Jackson along as he goes hunting...and that's when the bad guys show up and Onni has to become a man and keep Jackson safe.

I suspect that anyone who saw the trailer and then the film was greatly disappointed because there isn't a a lot of action. There is tension, but outside of the plane crash sequence there really isn't any conventional action sequences until the final 20 minutes. The film as it is is actually a coming of age story.  Yes we have the whole political intrigue angle, but in actuality the film is about a boy becoming a man and bringing home the biggest game possible, the head of the free world.

I liked the film a great deal. I had read some of the reviews when it came out which kind of inferred that the film didn't work for whatever reason. Going in slightly aware that the film wasn't as advertised I let the film be what it was and was greatly rewarded. While I was disappointed  that there wasn't more action than what we saw in the trailer, I liked that the film was ballsy enough to be its own thing. I liked the the interplay between the leads. It made sense that they would end up as friends. (I also like the cynicism that marks the end of the film)

Why has this film fallen between the cracks? I really don't know. This is a solid little adventure film that is a must see for anyone tired of the same old same old crap from Hollywood.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Meet The Patels hits DVD Tuesday

Ravi and Geeta Patel's MEET THE PATEL's has been kicking around Unseen for over a year now. The film  was a big to do at DOC NYC in 2014 where several Unseen Films people saw the film, but no one wrote it up because everyone thought someone else was going to do it. I realized that there was no review at Unseen when I went to repost the review for the home video release. I could find the Q&A that Chocko shot but no actual review.

No matter, I ended up with a copy of the DVD so I could watch the film and give a report.

MEET THE PATELS is the story of Ravi and his quest for love. Actually Ravi had found love with a red head from Connecticut, but after two years of a secret relationship he wigged out at having to tell his parents about the relationship and broke it off. Ravi then found himself on a whirl wind trek to find a girl, also with the last name Patel, in order to please his parents who thought that the almost 30 ear old should finally have a girlfriend and get married. What follows is a very funny, extremely human film about searching for love, trying to please one's family and just trying to find one's self.

There is a reason that this film has been kicking around for a year and that's quite simply that it a great film. Its an utterly charming film that is full of a whole bunch of people you would want to hang out with. Yea Ravi's family and their ideas sometimes make him crazy, but at the same time his family is very much like families everywhere full of love for their own even if they cant understand why the plans they made for you aren't making you happy.

I can't recommend this film enough.

The film hits various home video platforms tomorrow and is a must see for anyone who just wants a great film.

For those wanting more on the film, below is a Q&A from the 2014 DOC NYC screening of the film,