Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Russian Woodpecker (2015)

THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER is a very strange story about Fedor Alexandrovich, a Ukrainian artist who was four years old when the Chernobyl reactor melted down. Forced to flee and almost certainly injured by the radiation he is haunted by what happened, and a weird electronic sound that was once heard on certain radio frequencies around the world. As the result of decades of work Alexandrovich seems to have stumbled upon the possibility that the so called accident was not an accident but something more terrifying.

THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER is a heady film that truly is a trip into the mind of its subject. With the camera locked squarely on Alexandrovich we are right there with him as he takes his theories and investigates them. He’s like this great intellectual pied piper who shows you the possibility of something and as you get close to him grabs you and yanks you down the rabbit hole. It’s a genuine trip into a weird mind space that really gets you thinking about the lengths people will go to hide a major screw up.

As trippy as the story is, the film has a huge problem in that like it’s subject, it kind of goes off the rails in the middle. As Ukraine drifts into possible war with Russia and civil war Alexandrovich goes off the rails and even disappears. Without him in the center the film flounders around for a bit. What was shaping up to be one of the best films of 2015 goes banana shaped. It pulls it together in the end but once was a great time in a fun house becomes something fun but not completely satisfying.

Ultimately this is a WTF documentary about a grand conspiracy theory that may or may not amount to anything. It should be pointed out that the director thinks his subject maybe on to something but at the same time admits he's genuinely crazy. I have no idea what to think, its beautiful and mostly compelling, but it doesn’t all hang together. Don’t get me wrong it raises some interesting points, it’s just its subject blurs one too many lines.

Definitely worth seeing when it opens Friday.

Skin Traffik (2015)

I've been watching a good number of B-movie action films lately, some that have gotten theatrical releases, some that were direct to home video releases. Some have been good, some have been not so good. When I got a DVD of SKIN TRAFFIK I was a bit wary, I've been on a run of not so good films. Thankfully SKIN TRAFFIK is one of the best films I've seen in a while.

Gary Daniels stars as a hitman with a moral code. When a job goes wrong and he shoots a pregnant woman in the stomach he goes into retirement. When the thugs in the neighborhood he lives in push things too far he wipes them out. He ends up on the run with a prostitute whose looking for her sister as a companion.

Yea this is one of those films full of second tier stars doing cameos (Michael Madsen, Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Jeff Fahey and Darryl Hannah looking a bit like Heath Ledger as the Joker) but the cast is really good. Everyone does what they have to and they help keep things moving along.

Actually what keeps things moving a long on at a gallop is the action. This film is pretty much non-stop action. If people aren't beating each other up or shooting each other dead then they are getting ready to do that. This movie is a series of violent set pieces that only pauses long enough to move the pieces into position for the next battle. While these aren't the big budget Hollywood fantasy shoot outs, they are small scale brutal slug fests that stay closer to reality- and they kick ass-literally. The fights are so good that as the plot line drifts in and out of sense you really won't care because as soon as you go "huh?" someone gets shot or hit or something.

I really liked this film a great deal. You know I'm a fan of an action film that as soon as I'm done watching it I go find my dad and tell him "I've got a movie for you."

SKIN TRAFFIK hits home video today and is worth tracking down.

Monday, October 12, 2015

New York Comic Con 2015

New York Comic Con is done for this year. I have to apologize for the lack of coverage here but between this and New York Film Festival I've been running myself ragged. If you don't already know there is tons of pictures of stuff and people over at our Tumblr page.
By the subway a tie in for the Daredevil series

The other reason there isn't a ton of coverage here has been that there wasn't a ton of film related stuff going on. Yes there were lots of things to see and do if you liked books, TV  and of course comics but film wise there wasn't a great deal. I was going to cover the GOOSEBUMPS panel but the crowds were so awful on Sunday that I went home instead of trying to fight my way across the floors to the panel room.
Waiting to get in before 10am

If there was one story about the Con this year was that the crowds were kind of too big. Yes the problem of the uncivil crowds of two years ago was no where to be found, but this year on Friday, Saturday and Sunday things were nigh impossible to get around at times. How bad were they that one journalist friend making her first trip to the con said that she would never come back. I kind of feel the same - but I freely admit that the problem for me was that where in years past there was tons of film related panels there was very few this time out.

I do have to say that I loved that everyone was civil and that this was the one place in NYC where people regularly apologized for bumping into you.

I did for the record poke my head into a couple of panels but they meant nothing to me- I was into rooms on subjects and shows I knew nothing about.

SO what are my thoughts/memories/comments on the con?

I was disappointed in the cosplay this year. Yes there were some great examples of it but at the same time there didn't seem to be as much as in years past. There was lots of Harley Quinns, Black Cats Captain Americas and Jokers.

A most of the cosplay was choice but again it didn't seem to really be as much as in the past.

They had the costumes from BATMAN VS SUPERMAN. Two batman suits, a Superman suit and the Wonder Woman suit above.

There was a crappy energy drink that left Hubert feeling woosy and eventually....

...dead. Yes Hubert was killed by an energy drink that tasted like bad vitamins, plastic or a weird Asian berry in a synthetic form depending on which of its flavors you tried- and we hit most of them until we decided to just cut our loses.

There was tons of Jurassic World stuff at the con.

One Entrance was decorated as the entrance to the park. It also was where they blasted music from the movie at volume all through the convention. It was so bad Thursday and Friday that you could hear it over the din of the crowd- which means it was way over rock concert levels.

AT another point there was another set up but they kind of weren't thinking when they put the Bare Bears totem pole right behind it.

This was the place where they would periodically bring out a person dressed as a velociraptor to take pictures with people.

The weirdest thing was how the press reacted to the M&M costumes- they would run over enmass to get their pictures taken with either the Jedi or Darth Vader M&M when ever they entered the press area which was on the way to their dressing room.

I don't know how things were other days but Friday I bought food at the food court and the people around me were complaining it was under cooked- specifically the hamburger place. I got a plate of spaghetti and was fine, but the other people at my table seemed unhappy.

I don't have a picture of it but Thursday there was one guy who made himself a great costume with a three or four foot long nose. It looked great- the only problem was he couldn't walk anywhere with out banging into something. When I saw him he was so frustrated he finally was tearing it off his face- cursing loudly about the waste of time and money.
From the IFC film THE HALLOW

I had lovely discussion about film and strangely the New York Film Festival with someone from IFC Films. She was there promoting her stuff and we fell into a talk about NYFF. I will not repeat anything said because I think it was best off the record.

I had a long talk with the gentleman manning the booth for the Nightmare Collection masks. He had been brought in to handle the convention presentations and was having a great time. He said that the reaction was great and despite the high prices (they run several hundred bucks each- but are worth it) he said they were making sales. He also said that he's seen whats coming for next year and they are even better.

I got into a animated discussion with a woman promoting the new Takashi Miike film YAKUZA APOCALYPSE. She loved the film and was taken aback that I found it outside of the fights dull. While we both walked away solidly in our own places it was nice to find something film related on the floor.

I don't know what else to say. It was an off year- I mean I spent just over $150 on food and stuff at the con this year and if I didn't get a couple of gifts it would have been under 100.  I know that doesn't mean much but usually I'll pony up for a sketch or an autograph or something special and this year there was nothing. I'm about 500 buck a head of where I usually am.

I'm planning on going again next year. I've been going every year except the first. The blah-ness or blandness to me is just another twist in the long evolution of the Con. Despite my dislike of the crowds I do like going. All thats left now are memories and pondering what next year will bring.

For tons more photos go to our Tumblr page

Inhabitants (2015)

Young couple buys an old bed and breakfast and decides to make a go of it. Unfortunately for them they are unaware that there are some permanent guests in the house.

Creepy as all hell throw back horror film is kind of a kin to AUDREY ROSE,  THE CHANGELING (not the Clint Eastwood film), BURNT OFFERINGS and several others from the 1970's that were heavy on mood and creepiness as opposed to blood and gore.This is a low tech, practical effects sort of film that doesn't over do the violence.

Despite my being high on the film it’s not a perfect film. So let me get the bad stuff out of the way at the top so I can concentrate on the good stuff. The first minor problem with the film is that Dan, the husband, is a little too chatty. Its not so much that he talks too much it’s just that some of what he says isn’t necessary. We don’t need the silences filled with things we can see. The other problem is that the film’s logic breaks down slightly in the second half. There were a couple of events that had me scratching my head.

And yet despite the flaws this film creeped me out. Additionally kept me watching all of the way to the end and not getting up to go get a snack, I wanted to to see what happened and I didn’t want to break the tension.

What I like about this film is the low tech approach to the film. What we see is what we get.

Filmed primarily in and around an actual historic bed and breakfast THE INHABITANTS has a tactile feel of being real. It may be a small thing but when you watch the characters move in and around the inn you feel that’s it’s an old place. Things as simple as the door to the building or rooms look their age. I know you wouldn’t notice it, but I did. I love to look at the small details and when I see something like that it impresses. The reason I’m mentioning this is because many filmmakers will film exteriors in one place and then go and shoot the interiors in another place. Old houses suddenly have new doors. Windows don’t match. The Rasmussen Brothers clearly didn’t do that. They shot their film on location.

I love the fact that the film doesn’t rely on computer generated effects (or blood). Pretty much everything we see is a practical effect. The thing that got me at the start was a simple trick. I know how it was done, but where and when it was done literally had me talking to the screen. Elsewhere in the film the tension is created by someone or something passing by or through a frame, noises or something just not being right. And if you think I’m going to tell you what they are you’re crazy- you’re going to have to face the fear on your own.

And I’m giving bonus points to the Rasmussen Brothers for not filling the film with cheap ass jump scares. So many films are scary not because you’re really afraid of what happening on screen, you’re afraid because you’re waiting for something to jump out at you. Things don’t jump out at you, there is no sudden cuts with loud sounds there is just slowly building unease. We are frightened because an old lady looks old and broken and we can tell her silence hides a terrible secret. It’s a fear that doesn’t go away. Say what you will finding a wheel chair with restraints attached and no explanation is much more scary than a bloody knife. With the knife we know what happened, with the chair we don’t and our mind fills it all in.

This film really is a throwback to when films weren’t crimson bloodbaths. I mentioned THE CHANGLING above and this film bears favorable comparison to that one. Made by Peter Medak and released in 1980, the film starred George C Scott as a man who finds he’s haunted by something. What that something is I won’t say, you’ll have to just see the film, but the fear and the screams the film generated were purely by implication. There was no real blood and violence just shadows and fleeting glimpses. When the film was released critics were thrilled and commented that the best horror film of the year was not a bloody mess ala that year’s big hit FRIDAY THE 13TH. THE IN HABIANTS is like THE CHANGELING and it’s low blood level.

This is a really good film. It’s a creepy little film that will hang with you for a while after you see it. I don’t think it will shift things away from blood and gore, but like THE CHANGELING before it it’s nice to know that there are some people and films out there that aren’t blood soaked endurance tests.


Very much worth your time and money when it hit VOD tomorrow.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Miles Ahead (2015) New York Film Festival 2015

DOn Cheadle talks MILES AHEAD at the New York Film Festival
Don Cheadle's MILES AHEAD is a cinematic jazz film. Its a portrait of Miles Davis told as if it was a Miles Davis composition. It is a film that like a great piece of music requires multiple viewings. It is one of the most complex films of the New York Film Festival and probably one of it's best films.

Less straight biography than an exploration of the psyche of the great jazz musician, MILES AHEAD mixes some fictions with some rearrangements to make us get sense of the man. The film is essentially a piece of music that begins when Don Cheadle's Miles Davis is asked  to put his story into his own words. He picks up his trumpet and begins to blow which zips us into the story of part of his life. Cheadle described it as a film about Miles Davis that Miles Davis would have wanted to star in. Periods of time collide, music plays all over the place and reality, fiction and memory merge. It all plays out as a weird mix of genres, comedy,blaxploitation film, melodrama, romance, bio that is constantly shifts gears and never feels wrong. Then as if to remind us that the  whole thing was jazz piece it ends when Davis stops playing.

Its a unique film that could rightly be called a masterpiece.

Cheadle not only has created a technical marvel of a film (I can't talk about the details I was too busy getting lost in the film to take notes) but he also puts in an Oscar worthy performance as Davis. Cheadle doesn't always look like Davis but Davis is always on screen.  Cheadle's performance is at times a scary ghost of the man himself. In some shots, particularly when we see a young Davis Cheadle isn't so much Cheadle but  rather a Cheadle inhabited by the soul of  Miles Davis. Its a scary good thing to see and hopefully will be remembered come Awards season.

I really like this film a great deal. I love that a film like this is coming from an American filmmaker. Its so rare that a film of this complexity would come from a a major star. Its hopeful turn of events.

I highly recommend this film when it hits theaters down the road.

THE ASSASSIN (2015) New York Film Festival 2015

Coming out of Cannes with great fanfare not to mention a boatload of awards Hou Hsiao-hsien’s THE ASSASSIN was one of few films that you could find on pretty much every film writers must see list. The press screening I attended was packed to the rafters. With people wanting to see the film before everyone else in New York.

The film is the story of a young woman,Nie Yinniang, given over to a “nun” for training as an assassin who is sent back to her family with orders to kill her one time betrothed. There is more to it than that but the film is so obtuse in its plotting I never quite worked out more than that.

Intellectually I admire the film a great deal. I could wax poetic about the use of differing color palates, black and white, the changing frame size and the sparse use of music. I admire that the film requires that the audience to work with it to figure things out. As film of the head its extremely good.

On the other hand the film has no really heart. I never connected. Worse it’s need to be a puzzle for the head makes for some odd choices.

The biggest problem with the film is it falls into the chasm where it doesn’t explain enough. I’m all for a film not explaining things and I’m against a film explaining too much but this film leaves chasms where we don’t have details enough to explain where things stand. Late in the game our heroine returns a horse to some people and I was left scratching my head as to why this was such a big deal. Who are these people? And even after we are clued in to who they are- why are we seeing it? There are numerous characters whose role in the events elude me. There are plot threads that come and go.

The film is also a film of silences and monologues. People don’t so much talk to each other but talk at each other. There are long silences where nothing happens. Unless you are a fan of words unspoken this film is going to bore you.

When the ASSASSIN was announced as being a martial arts or period film from Hou a good many people I know were excited. Would the film reinvent the form, or if not so much reinvent the form would it reinvigorate the film as Wong Kar Wai’s return to the genre had done, or even Ang Lee’s?

While the film has several action set pieces, its not until the latter half that they become anything more than fleeting. The bits in the second half- in particular the battle in the jungle- are quite good but there is not enough here that is going to make this a must see for wu xia fans. I feel sorry for anyone seeing this film expecting anything approaching an action epic because this film is going to confuse them to no end. (The film is being released in the US by Wellgo who normally handle action films from Asia. Anyone picking up this film expecting their usual fare are going to be very upset)

I have a few other reservations about the film -particularly why Hou shot several sequences so they are obscured by hanging cloths when there is no reason for it – but it’s not worth beating a wounded horse(and don’t tell me the it’s because Nie is watching because she is not around for some scenes and in different places for others)

As I said intellectually I know why things were being done, but emotionally the film made no sense to me.

Personally I’d rather have a film resonate emotionally then being of interest intellectually. If a film is emotional I’ll want to see it again because I’ll want to feel again. An intellectual film I never need see again because its all in the head.

The film has played the New York FIlm festival and opens Friday for it's regular run

Saturday, October 10, 2015

My Favorite Cate Blanchett picture

This is my favorite of all of the pictures I took today at the CAROL screening at New York Film Festival. There is something about the light and dark and the sense she is in thought that just resonates with me.

Some New York Comicon Pictures

I have a post or two on this years New York Comic Con coming but I thought you might want to see some of my favorite pictures from the con so far. (There are a ton more at our Tumblr page- also tons of NYFF pictures as well)

Carol (2015) New York Film Festival 2015

Cate Blanchett at the New York Film Festival screening of CAROL
CAROL confused me. I'm so used to bleak Patricia Highsmith stories that I expected the romance at the center of the film to end with some one dead. I'm going to spoil things slightly and say no one dies, and by Highsmith standards its positively cheery. Actually in another five years its going to be considered a grand romance.

The plot of the film has shop girl Rooney Mara and housewife Cate Blanchett meeting in the toy department of the store Mara works in. There i an instant attraction and before long the pair begin a dance that leads to what in 1951 would be called the love that dare not speak it's name.

A well made and well acted romance is classical in construction. If it weren't for the fact that the lovers are two women the film would almost be considered run of the mill. We've seen variations of this story for  years but never like this from a major studio release. Its kind of heartening that so close to the adoption of same sex marriage we get such a solid romance.

As much as I like the film, and I do like the film, I think its being wildly over sold by the Weinsteins. The film is very good but it is not Oscar material. Yes both of the women are quite good but they are not going to win the Oscars  the producers are hoping for. And the HUGE WTF related to the awards quest is that Mara is being considered for a supporting actress nod when she's on screen as much as if not more than Blanchett

Definitely one to see when it hit theaters soon. If you're in New York the film is getting an encore screening tomorrow (10/11) at the New York Film Festival. For more information and tickets go here.

We Are Alive (2015) New York Film Festival 2015

Bensaid with Castillo
One of the dullest films ever at any New York Film Festival ever is Carmen Castillo's WE ARE ALIVE a political tract on how the Marxist/Leftist/Communist/ect/ect ideas that fueled the revolutions of the 1960's are finding real world success in various parts of the world.

A cinematic position paper framed around a celebration of Daniel Bensaid who was one of the loudest voices for worker/human rights over the last 50 years. Bensaid kept the fires burning even while all his contemporaries, including Castillo walked away. We visit various groups around the world, from building squatters in Paris, rebels in Mexico and land seizers in Bolivia, all of whom are fighting the good fight and meeting with some success.

The film sounded interesting going in. I thought we'd actually get to know the groups and what they were really doing and the situations around them, and we get that on a cursory level. There are few details and no back stories with the result the discussion of a strike at a ship yard means nothing.

What we get  are long winded discussion of the ideas of revolution. This is the language of Marx and Guevara where things like dialectics are discussed as if they are the most exciting things in the world. They aren't, they are boring as all hell. It's over intellectualization of  simple ideas. Worse here its ideas with little real world connection.

Its awful and it drones on for over 100 minutes. By the time the ship building union spokesman droned on about whatever the hell he droned on about a good many people at the press screening had fled into the lobby to wait for the next film.

This film will put you to sleep if the inane nature of it doesn't have you throwing things at the screen.

Not to worry the NYFF screening is done so you can simply put this film on your must avoid list and and do something constructive

Friday, October 9, 2015

New York Comic Con posts coming

New York Comic Con is happening.

I have been there. I have reports from the trenches but with the New York Film Fest happening as well I haven't had the time to write

I've been posting pictures over at our Tumblr page. I have more pictures to post as well.

I'll report in soon and I'll cross post some of the pictures.  For now know we're there and things are happening....

Brief word on BROOKLYN (2015) New York Film Festival 2015

Saoirse Ronan stars as Eilis, a young Irish woman who goes to America in the hope of getting a better future. While there she meets and falls in love with a nice Italian boy. However when circumstances forces her to go home for period her world is complicated when her situation turns around and she suddenly finds she can have a good job and a nice Irish boy comes calling.

Based on a novel by Colm Tóibín the film was directed by John Crowley and adapted by Nick Hornby this is a nifty little romance that is based on a story Tóibín had heard as young man concerning a family member who went through a similar experience. You'll forgive me if I don't go into details since what happens is what gives the film its suspense.

A beautifully acted film this is a throw back in many ways to the films of the early 1950's when the film takes place. While the film is more up to date than the films of the 1950's, there were never references to using a bucket for a toilet, the film is pretty much a good old fashion romance and it's wonderful.

The cast is first rate. Saoirse Ronan is almost certainly to get an Oscar nomination in a turn that is going to make her an even bigger star and stamp her as one of the finest actresses working today. Jim Broadbent is wonderful as the priest who helps Eilis in America. Julie Walters is charming as Eilis' land lady. And the rest of the cast is equally good and it's kind of sad that they won't get noticed come awards season.

You want to see this. The film hits theaters in November. However if you're in New York this weekend the film is running as part of the New York Film Festival encore series on Sunday. For tickets and more information go here.

An attempt to say something meaningful about the vitally important The Memory of Justice (1976) New York FIlm Festival 2015

On September 27th the New York Film Festival screened the restored version of Marcel Ophuls follow up to THE SORROW AND THE PITY  called THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE. The film is a five hour look at guilt, memory and history, it was a heavy heavy experience.

The film was made when the BBC asked for a follow up to SORROW. Ophuls began work but found someone had beaten him to the subject. Looking around he began to look at the Nuremberg trials. This widened to take in more modern events such as Vietnam and  the Algerian war. The resulting film runs just under five hours and is something you'll need to see a couple of times to fully grap.

This is a heavy film, While at times over long and rambling, this film overwhelms you with facts and questions about war and human nature. It is epic in scope, but at the same time very personal as Ophul's turns the camera on his own family to examine how his wife and her family dealt with life in Germany during the war. Ophuls' film compresses enough material for ten History Channel series into one huge five hour bite.

I'm not going to lie, I don't know where to begin to discuss the film. I need a couple more times through it to grasp it all. I started taking notes and stopped because I could make notes or watch the film but not both, too much was being said and shown.  I don't know how anyone can say they "get" the film after one time through. I don't think it's possible.  My eyes glazed over the first time through and I ran off at the intermission because my brain was full. All I know is that the film was incredible. It raised a lot of questions that really need answering, specially in these days of fighting wars that are morally questionable.

The film is getting a rerelease soon- so keep an eye out. And check back for a longer review is coming as soon as I piece some words together.

Trash (2014)

When Stephen Daldry and Richard Curtis get together to make a film we at Unseen Films sit up and take note. Daldry along with Christian Duurvoort have made a film that is based on Andy Mulligan's novel which almost won some young adult awards but was rejected because of the violence and language. 

With the film, which has has stopped bouncing around the festival circuit,  finally landing in US theaters this Friday (as well as on VOD platforms) and because I was busy with the New York Film Festival I asked the newest member of the Unseen family Ariela to go to the press screening and tell you all what she thinks.

Intense. If I had to describe the movie TRASH in one word, that's what it would be. I was practically on the edge of my seat the whole time, having to remind myself to breath.

 The film takes place in Brazil,it is mostly in Portuguese with English subtitles. It is the story of 3 boys who live in a garbage dump and also work there. One day they find a wallet which has money, an ID, a key and several other things. The day after they find it, the police come to the garbage dump and tell the workers that they're looking for a wallet and that it's very important they find it. They also said there would be a reward for the person who finds it. Instead of the boys handing it over to the police, it peaks their interest. And so begins the boys adventure to find out what this wallet is all about. It almost becomes a murder mystery of sorts. What will they discover next? How will they avoid the police?

Watching this film was exciting, as we watch the boys quickly run, climb, crawl, and jump all over things. The film deals with corruption and bribery. Some scenes were hard to watch because of the violence.

Martin Sheen is a priest in the movie & Rooney Mara is his assistant. They help the boys, as well as help the poor and homeless people in general. I feel that their roles could have been stronger in the movie.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. I think if I had watched the trailer ahead a time, I wouldn't have been interested, but I'm glad I saw it. Was very suspenseful and you kept wondering what would happen next.

 I recommend it.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Junjun (2015) New York Film Festival 2015

Paul Thomas Anderson's JUNUN is a film record of the recording of the title album byt Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express.

Actually what the film is is several pieces being played by the musicians while we watch them play and occasionally see sequences that are outside of the recording, say getting a harmonium repaired or eagles being fed while they fly just away from the fortress rampart. There is no explanation there is simply music and an occasional comment.

Seeing the film at the press screening on a huge screen with a booming sound track  it was a truly awesome experience. The film sucks you in and you want to bop around the theater. When the music and image click, which is frequently and reaches its peak at the feeding, the film delivers moments that are as good as you are likely to see in a film this year.

The question is how is this going to play on a smaller TV or computer screen? Its a serious question since the film will be available tomorrow (10/9) on the MUBI website which is how most people will see it. Will the sound be big enough? Will the image still dazzle?

I don't know.

I do know that the music kicks ass away from the film. I know this because after the press screening the writers were gifted with copies of the album and I've been bopping to it for a while now- dancing instead of writing.

I will say that despite the visceral nature of the music and image the film is ultimately a glorified home movie (it suns only 54 minutes) with the best score imaginable.  Watching it you kind of wonder if the footge was turned into a film in order to pay for the trip.

I'm being cynical, which is wrong. Under the right circumstance the film is one of the best experiences you can have at the movies.

If you want to see the film as it should be seen- BIG and LOUD it screens Sunday at the New York Film Festival Encore series. For info and tickets go here.

Maggie's Plan (2015) New York Film Festival 2015

Rebecca Miller's romantic comedy is one of the big head scratchers of the New York film Festival. The question is not directed at the quality of the film, it's enjoyable, more it's a question of why is something so light at NYFF to begin with?

The plot of the film has Maggie (Greta Gerwig) charting out her future. Deciding she wants a child she has lined up a pickle maker to be the sperm donor of her dreams. However things get complicated when she meets a writer (Ethan Hawke) who is married to a seemingly over bearing professor (a hysterical Julianne Moore). How their lives, and those of their friends and children, interact  is the film. (I'm cutting it short because it's too complicated to spell out simply).

A small scale charmer where Greta Gerwig does a bit more with a role - she actually is capable all the way through the film- MAGGIE'S PLAN is the sort of film that is going to warm a lot of people's hearts. Its a funny, intelligent film where amazingly you really like every single character, even Julianne Moore.

Julianne Moore's turn as Ethan Hawke's ex-wife is one of those performances that is going to get stuck in people's heads. Playing against expectations its a role with unexpected depth and warmth and the sort of thing that may very well get her into talks for Oscar gold. Personally I love her accent which reminds of a more refined version of John Cameron Mitchell's performance of his character HEDWIG.

As much as I liked the film I'm puzzled as to why it ended up at NYFF. Its a sure fire romcom hit, but at the same time it's much lighter pretty much every film at the festival for the last few years. I guess the programmers had an odd moment and scheduled it. (probably just trying to mess with the critics heads)

The film is getting an encore screening at the New York Film Festival Sunday and tickets can be had here.

Blunt Force Trauma (2015)

Brooding metaphysical semi-action film concerns two gunfighters who take part in an illegal underground competition where combatants get into a ring with bulletproof vests and take pot shots at each other. John (Ryan Kwanten) is looking for a legendary shooter (Mickey Rourke) for the ultimate math. Mean while Colt (Frieda Pinto) wants to kill the man who killed her brother. Traveling across South America the pair try to track down the elusive Rourke all the while falling in love.

Okay little film has me scratching my head for several reasons.

First I really would like to know what the point of it all is. The film has the aire of a film that is trying to be about something, but I really haven't worked out what it is. To be certain the film falls into the raging macho, a man's  gotta do what a man's gotta do existential angst category but at the same time other than being there what is the point it's trying to make. I'm not certain.  Perhaps if this was filmed as a western or that small sub-genre of the southern when the spaghetti west actually went south all the way to South America maybe this would have made more sense.

The other question I have is why is this being sold as an action film when there is almost none in it? I completely understand how this got a small release (it's not a bad film) but at the same time I also understand how the film never really caught on a slipped under everyone's radar because the film doesn't match the title or the art. I mean look at the title and look at the art which highlights the gun. While the image and the title make sense after you've seen the film, at the same time they are highly misleading- this is an existential drama not a bang bang shoot'em up or fight film.

As I've said I like this film I just don't understand what its going for and who they made it for. And don't think that's a bad thing, it's not, films need to challenge us on all sorts of levels. I like that the film is making me wrestle with it to figure out what it's all about. It means that there is something there or else it wouldn't have gotten under my skin. Additionally its so much better than if I had seen it and dismissed it or simply moved on to the next thing because it means it's not disposable

BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA is a good film that is perfect for anyone who wants a film that is far removed from your typical Hollywood film. If you take it on its own terms you'll enjoy it.

The film is now available on Bluray, DVD and VOD

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bridge of Spies (2015) World Premieres at The New York Film Festival 2015

I am still enough of a film geek that the thought of actually going to a screening that is a Steven Spielberg World Premiere warms the cockles of my heart. I say this because when the chance to see the film with Spielberg in the house plus all of the red carpet insanity presented itself I took it.
Not my best Spielberg picture, but the one of him on the red carpet
Sue me. But the chance to see Spielberg on the red carpet is just really freaking cool, I don't care where you're from.

The film tells the story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks) a high level insurance attorney who earned a reputation for fairness and belief in the American way when he served in the Army at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. When the government comes to his firm asking that he defend suspected spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) he takes the case. The case puts his and family's life in danger since most people feel that Abel should just be strung up. Donovan feels otherwise saying the one thing that makes us different than our enemies is we have a "rule book" and we stick to it. This attitude has him clash with the CIA who wants him to tell them about his talks with his client (he refuses). When the Soviet's shoot down a U2 Spy plane Donovan is thrown into a tense political situation as the American's have to rush to try and get their pilot back before he tells all he knows.

A huge Hollywood production this is the sort of film that they really don't make any more. This is the sort of film we might have gotten in the early 1960's except that it would have been politically impossible, especially since Abel is portrayed as a just a guy doing his job and not a psychopath out for world domination. Its a heady mix of history and politics as the film makes clear that while it easier to do the emotionally enjoyable thing-in this case killing Abel   after we squeeze him for all he knows- the more honorable thing and the thing that the country was founded on was and is due process of law. I'm sure it will give the political right kittens.

I thoroughly enjoyed the the film. I just got lost in it somewhere and I completely found the two hours plus blew by despite sitting on uncomfortable seats in one of the boxes. This is an Oscar bait film that actually deserves to be in the discussion- though I doubt, outside of Mark Rylance's performance for the ages turn as Abel it will have much of a chance of winning.

While the film is a blast to watch it isn't without it's flaws. The biggest problem is that outside of Tom Hank's Donovan and Rylance's Abel everyone blends together. Who are all of the people and why are people like Alan Alda and Amy Ryan in the film when they have nothing to do? I suspect that the film as supposed to be much longer but was cut down and all of the supporting roles disappeared.

I really liked the film a great deal.

Actually what I really liked was that the emotion the film generates at the end  for the characters is genuine and is earned. We are moved because what happened genuinely moves us. I say this because two of the big films at The New York Film Festival provoked a reaction in their endings that are in no way deserved- THE WALK moves the audience with reference to 911 which is completely out of place while STEVE JOBS turns all warm and touchy feely in its final five minutes when it throws away two hours of Jobs being a dick to make him into a great guy and loving father. In both those cases I wanted to take a bath to get the stink off me, while with BRIDGE OF SPIES I wanted to go tell some one I just saw a great film.
Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and  moderator Kent Jones

After the screening the Spielberg and the cast sat down for a Q&A. It was mixed affair part congratulations (Ryance's and Hank's hats took a beating) and part informational discussion. For me the best part was when the daughter of James Donovan stood up in the audience and talked about her father and his attempt to meet Abel again years later. It wasn't to be.

The film has finished at the New York Film Festival and will open in theaters October 16th.
Steven Spielberg and his cast in the filmmaker's box after the New York Film Festival Premiere

Yakuza Apocalypse (2015)

Opening Friday in the US in theaters and VOD platforms is th latest from Takashi Miike. It just may be the most violent and deranged film to come from Miike. Certainly he hasn't turned out anything quite like this in a few years (at least in the films that I've run across-I'm behind on a bunch of his recent films). I'm hard pressed to know if the insanity makes the film worth watching. Probably not.

The film concerns what happens when a feared and supposedly unkillable Yakuza boss gets ultimatum from the international gang he once belonged to- rejoin or die. When he refuses a group of killers arrives to put the vampire (yes he's a vampire) down. Before he dies he has just enough strength that he turns his favorite underling into a vampire as well, The new vampire then sets off to avenge his boss. And then things get weird.

I should point out that I'm keeping the description simple because its so out there and off the rails that I'm not completely sure what the hell I just saw. I suspect I could get a synopsis from the internet, but I'm not sure that would help much.

Takashii Miike has made roughly 100 films in the last 25 years. Thats an average of four a year. He's done everything from musicals, to kids films, to action films, to yakuza films to horror to...he's just about done it all.  He is one of the most creative forces in film today and pretty much any film lover worth their salt should have him on their lists of favorite and  greatest film directors. While he has made some truly great films, his 13 ASSASSINS is to me one of the top five or ten greatest films ever made (no seriously it is), he has also made films that made you scratch your head and wonder what he was thinking. Some of his early films have pieces that are very good, but either have pacing problems or just ramble into nothingness.

YAKUZA APOCALYPSE is one of the weaker films, if not his weakest. The film has some of the greatest action sequences he's ever produced but at the same time the film goes on at least an half an hour too long, has too much going on, isn't particularly funny, is really boring- and what the hell is the deal with the furry frog suit?

I have no idea what to say about the film. I love the action, I like the idea, but the way it plays out really isn't funny or watchable.

Should you see the film? If you like great action you may want to give it ago where you can scan through the dull parts. If you're a fan of Miike's you may want to see it to see one of his real misses. Everyone else may want to skip it because it's just not that good even with a frog suited crime boss as a villain.

Tibetan Warrior (2015)

Musician Loten Namling spent the first 25 years of his life in India. He has spent the second 25 years in Switzerland. He was deeply disturbed by the turn of events which had young tibet men and women setting themselves as a desperate means of drawing attention to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Not feeling he is strong enough to set himself on fire Namling instead drags a coffin across  Switzerland in the hope of drawing attention to the Free Tibet cause. When that fails to get the proper change and the Swiss government signs a trade treaty with China he heads to India and eventually meets with the Dali Lama.

This is a good low key look at the Tibetan cause and one man fighting to bring change. The problem with the film is that the film is perhaps a little too low key. While it very nicely tells us the story of Namling, his fight and the cause, it doesn't really light the necessary fire under it's audience's ass. Its not the sort of film that is going to make people join the fight. For me the the film was a nice bit of information but I wasn't really moved deeper into the cause. I saw the film and when it was done I was on to the next thing.

Despite the fact it doesn't get one to take up arms, either figuratively or literally the film still is worth seeing for a couple of reasons, first the film nicely lays out the Free Tibet cause. Secondly and more interesting the film beautifully documents the arc of Namling's quest. We watch how his feelings morph and change from a need to do something at first non-violently to pondering if perhaps a bomb might change thing and finally back again as the Dali Lama puts something into perspective for him.
For me the arc of a how someone things is always interesting and I found that the best part of this film.

If you are interested in Tibet, or Buddhism (the film is steeped in Buddhist ideas) do give the film a shot.

The international premiere is Thursday at Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York. For tickets and information go here. The film will be released on home video the next day.