Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

Ph.d Student  pays an Alzheimer's patient and her daughter money to allow them to film them for several months. Almost instantly it becomes clear that something is wrong beyond the diagnosis, and that her trouble might be something more demonic.

Found footage horror film is very hit and miss, even by the standards of the sub-genre of horror. There are some genuine chills in the film but it's undone by some technical issues and some decidedly fiction film camera work.

The chills in the film come in from two things. The physical performance of Jill Larson as Logan and the small  "caught on camera moments" lift the film up from the the middle of the pile it dwells in.

Larson as Logan is amazing. The moments where she goes demonic is truly frightening. She chills with just a look. The performance is made stronger by the makeup and lighting to use to deepen the horrific. Its her performance that makes the film come alive especially in the final half hour where the movie goes completely batshit crazy.

And its the small moments that send the chills. The odd look, a weird thing that can't be explained, say Logan wandering into closet and disappearing, or perfectly framed image on a computer screen say more than most of the dialog scenes. The devil is in the details , or in this case the demon is the odd shot with several images, being some of the most messed up horror images I'm run across all year.

The biggest flaw of the film is the fact the film wants to be found footage but ultimately isn't. Cameras are placed in places they never would be-I mean multiple surveillance cameras in a hospital room? Things are filmed that never would be, no documentary filmmaker would wander around the way these people do and more importantly who would let them film much of what they do? It doesn't make sense.

This would have been soooooo much better as a straight on fiction film since there is  is no reason for it to be found footage. The story doesn't call for it, the budget doesn't require it and the scenes as written don't play out as found footage.

I'm disappointed greatly in the film because when the film works, and it does now and again it's creepy as all hell, with one WTF moment near the end of the film that had me murmuring to myself.

Opening today on early EST and it hits DVD on November 4

Monday, October 20, 2014

Force Majeure (2014)

Award winner at Cannes was shown at Toronto as part of a special screening. I think it's a very good film

The film has a couple and their kids going on a ski holiday. Its one of their rare times together so the family is really excited. Things however get mess real fast. Sitting outside at a restaurant having lunch the second day they witness a controlled avalanche that almost crashes into the resort. The kids freak out. The mother tries to protect them and the father flees. This sends ripples through the clan and their friends as it soon has everyone thinking and dealing with what "happened"

This drama is decidedly less dark then you's expect. Yes, there is darkness kicked up, yes weighty issues are raised but there is abundant humor as arguments take surreal turns or kids toys come crashing in to break the mood.  Despite weaving a great deal of tension at times, the silliness of life is always there.

I really like this film a lot. It's decidedly not run of the mill and the right side of quirky. Its a film full of great characters and funny lines-and some truly amazing visuals- this is an absolute must see on a big screen where you can take it all in and the ending can be seen to be really freaky.

On the downside the film does kick up a few too many threads that go nowhere-the discussion about affairs seems to be from another film, and the film kind of ends twice, once in a cliched sort of way and the final one in a WTF was that sort of way. On the  upside any down side doesn't matter since the characters and the sense of life make up for it.

Definitely worth the time of anyone who doesn't want to see the same old same old.

The film opens Friday

300 Rise of the Empire (2014)

Not so much a sequel as the story of events before, during and after the events depicted in 300. We see how the Persians moved to war and then were ultimately beaten back the the Greeks.

Focused on Greek General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) and Artemisia (Eva Green) the film follows as the  pair circle and crash into and around each other as they try to maneuver their sides in the escalating series of sea battles.

Let me great a couple of things out of the way:

First this film is historically inaccurate. For example Aretmisia fought but she wasn't a great admiral, she had five ships under her.  There are other things that didn't happen as well, but I can't discuss them without revealing plot points. While I know this is a historical story, they changes keep it compelling.

Second thing this is a really good movie. To my mind it's much better than 300. Yes its done in the same way with everything rendered via a computer, but the film is more concerned with the story then just the visuals. There is a lot of story here and ir carries you along.

If there is a problem with the film, beyond the over abundance of slow motion blood and body parts is that there is almost too much story. If you add into all of the flash backs this film covers decades, its almost too much. There is so much story that it's almost diametrically opposed to the first film.

Watching the film I had a blast and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves action and doesn't mind the blood

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nightcap 10/19/14: Final thoughts on the New York Film Festival, DOC NYC is coming and Randi's links

The New York Film Festival ended last weekend and I’m still tired.

I had a blast. It was month of good films and good friends.

For those keeping score the best new films I saw were

The almost on the best list and would be if I didn’t hesitate for a second list

And somewhere in there should probably be THE KING AND THE MOCKINGBIRD on the technicality that it hadn’t officially been released in the US before

The worst films are

My one wish coming out of the festival this year is that next year the selection committee can make some of the selections more exciting going in. Yea the films were largely very good to excellent this year, but what I’d like is more premieres, more big or important films closer to their world premieres. Too many films had played in multiple festivals elsewhere before landing in New York- that’s all well and good, but it kind of kills the excitement when people are telling me how they saw a film at this other festival or another (even the Surprise screening screened elsewhere-with the result that the audience deflated when they realized what it was).

Additionally the festival has to stop taking films from past directors. Just because they had a film previously doesn’t mean they deserve a slot this year. At least a quarter of the main slate films were returning directors, as were a high percentage of other films. There are more and better films out there then some of the films that were made by NYFF alumni. Being a past presenter shouldn't give you an automatic slot. Make a good film then you can be screened.

Forgive me for bitching but this is the New York Film Festival, one of the premiere events for a half century, they need to be more of a stepping off point for world cinema not "the best of the rest" collection it's become.

And while I’m making a wish list the selection would get more daring- I mean really daring. No offense but outside of Asia Argento’s MISUNDERSTOOD the festival wasn’t daring. Every choice was safe and not confrontational. The Festival should be rattling cages, it should be going into going in new directions and picking up new directors. Why can’t the festival do another midnight series-yea I know it’s a union thing, but do a midnight series in the afternoon. The answer that the Film Society does things like Film Comment Selects and Scary Movies at other times doesn’t cut it, those are series are self-selecting- the festival casts a wider net and showing some of those films would get them greater attention.

If you want my unasked for advice on how to correct this change out the selection committee. Some of the people seem to have been there forever, time to get new eyes and uncalcify the group. If not expand the group to include a rotating cast of characters who will bring new eyes. And if you do that don’t go to the same old same old- get some of younger film writers and bring them in, get people not in the old boys secret handshake film club and let them choose- and have them do so from their hearts and not their heads- let them pick what moves them, not what is going to look good for the festival.

As for me time to go through withdrawal and rest up for next year….

If you want proof that film critics and writer can be full of themselves watch the BIRDMAN Q&A above and listen as the panel is stumped by several questions which are either not about the film or make no sense.

And heading on to other festivals, DOC NYC has announced its schedule and put tickets on sale. It’s a killer festival and we’re going to wade in as best we can . Not only am I doing coverage but also John, Hubert and Mondo are wading in….

…but that may not be enough since they are running 152 films across multiple screens in 3 locations. I think on the weekend 6 films will be running at the same time. It’s insane.

I know we’ll have reviews of a good number of the films, but I can’t say how many, but way over 30.. I know I freaked the PR staff out with my personal requests. If we don’t beat last year’s coverage it won’t be because we didn’t try, it will only because the scheduling defeated us.

For details on all the films including tickets go here.

(And yea the stuff is good I've seen a couple already and have a favorite or two-so get tickets)
This week more random titles with a whole slew of new releases thrown in for good measure

And now some links ala the Great Randi

Gaudi's cathedral 
Rarely seen images of Chaplin
20th Century's Greatest Composers
6 hours on Blah Airlines
The annotated Star Wars

Violets (2014)

Jim Vendiola's VIOLETS is small scale subtle piece of horror that the director says is based on true events. While not a film of overt scares it is one that will creep you out.

The film concerns two women, what their relationship is is not explained in the film. Its clear either they are either near incestuous sisters or lovers.  Time passes. They clean houses. They go to the botanical garden, they eat their meals from cans. Then one day they put their plan into action.

I can't tell you any more, I don't want to ruin the film for you since this is a film that not a lot happens but yet a great deal does.

The film works because Vendiola manages to create a mood and a sense of the world askew, from the opening electronic riff that is heard several times threw the film, to the twinning of the the two women, the use of silences and the stark, almost bare visuals this film wonderfully creates a world that is off.

I love the look of the film. I love the starkness of the women's world. There are huge open spaces even in their confined apartment that give us a sense of emptiness. Just how empty their world is is revealed in several of the final moments which kind of flip the emptiness on it's head.

Curse you Jim Vendiola, you've made a film that is damn near hard to discuss unless you're doing so with someone who's seen it.

While I like the film a great deal there is one niggling question that keeps me from calling it a truly great little film - then again it could be me over thinking things. Sadly it's not something I can discuss, lest I wreck a bit of the film for you. However niggling question or no this is a really good, nay near great little film, that is worth your time and the effort to see it when it plays near you. (The film is currently under consideration at a number of festivals for the 2015 season. and it will appear online next year)

"Violets" Teaser (2014) from Jim Vendiola on Vimeo.

Curse of the yellow snake (21963)

Story of a cursed jeweled snake that when has the potential to make the possessor invincible. The snake is hidden in a burial crypt in a pagoda in Hong Kong. When thieves try to steal it, killing someone in the process, the owner knows that a great evil is in the land. Sending his son to London to marry, despite his protest of wanting to stay and find the men behind the attack, the battle for the snake heats up. In London the son meets his half brother, a rich man who is half Chinese, who has designs on the snake. The battle between the brothers becomes a struggle for control of the world.

This is a yellow peril story that is more akin to a Fu Manchu story then the mysteries that are the norm in the Edgar Wallace series. Actually it isn't surprising since Wallace was the man who came up with the story for King Kong, so a tale of high adventure is right up his alley.

This is a very good little film, not just because it breaks with the conventions of the rest of series, nor just because it's a ripping yarn, but the film is unique in that while all of the characters are likable, most of them are not wholly nice. Our hero is roguish and almost rakish, his father is willful and clearly possessing a past of darkness, his brother is charming as well as villainous, the heroine is at times almost mousy, her sister a bit too self centered, and the girls' father is a shady business man who will do anything to keep himself afloat including offering up the girls. No one is spotless, except perhaps for the hero's antique loving friend. It's an interesting group of people and it makes the film have a great sense that anything can happen at any time.

More than worth a bowl of popcorn and a soda.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Foxcatcher (2014) New York Film Festival

Foxcatcher is a great film. It’s a film that perfectly lays out a certain headspace and forces its audience to live there for two hours.

The film is the story of Mark and Dave Shultz, two gold medal winning Olympic wrestlers who get hooked up with John du Pont, a billionaire who wants to train wrestlers for the glory of America. du Pont’s plan relies on getting both of the Schultz brothers to come stay at his Foxcatcher estate. Mark agrees to come and try and get his brother to join them. Unfortunately Dave doesn’t want to come being happily settled with his family. What transpires is a story of madness and murder.

The big talk about the film is about Steve Carell and his chameleon like performance as du Pont, and while he is excellent creating a cypher of madman, the real talk should be about Channing Tatum as Mark and Mark Ruffalo as Dave. Tatum is amazing and if there is any justice he’ll get a nomination over Carell since he makes Marks‘s pain of just being alive tangible. You can feel his pain in a way few performers have ever managed to express. It’s a performance that takes Tatum out of the good looking actors who don’t do much into the realm of being a real actor who doesn’t need his looks to get by.

Mark Ruffalo as his brother is scary good. Bulked up to play Dave with a balding head of hair and full beard I didn’t recognize him for about 15 minutes of screen time. He is like Tatum, scary good.

The film is in some ways a mediation on events. Some details are not spelled out, we are just observers of what the film shows us. Details of events before the events in the film are lacking. The film also takes a few (possibly unfortunate) short cuts to show us the decline of the characters. It all creates a head space that is both other weirdly and deeply disturbing.

Its clear early on that Mark is looking for something more. We can feel the desperation in his life. We know why he jumps at the chance to work with du Pont. Likewise its perfectly understandable why Dave doesn’t want to go. He’s happy in a house and a home and a steady gig for the first time in his life.

As for du Pont, it’s never clear what his motivation is. He’s a man who has everything and yet is still chasing something. He’s a man who wants to make his own way in the world but has no real clue how to do it. We can guess some of what he’s up to but not all of it. His world is big and shiney and full of very empty spaces.

I fell into the film. There was something about the way it presents it world that intrigued me and pulled me in. I was willing to go with it along for the ride, where ever it took me. I was willing to forgive any bumps in the narrative because it was genuinely making me feel something, discomfort, curiosity and fear. For me the strengths of the film all came together into a glorious whole that doesn’t feel or act like any other film.

And what I love about the film is that director Bennett Miller doesn't give us answers. He throws it all out there and lets us make up our own minds. Its a brilliant move that most directors wouldn't have been ballsy enough to do.

I know some people have been less generous to the film despite the Oscar buzz. Two friends after the New York Film festival screening were bemoaning the film’s flaws and short cuts (the depiction of drug and alcohol use for example). I didn’t like them either but I was okay with them. They didn’t pull me out of the very powerful spell of the film.

I’m on record as saying this is the first film I saw this year worthy of the Oscar buzz. I need to correct that, this is the second one since I saw Whiplash two weeks earlier and that too is worthy of Oscar praise. Either way, first or second, this this is one hell of a movie and one of the ones at the top of 2014’s cinematic medal stand

secretof the red orchid (1962)

Yet another film in the long running cycle of Edgar/Bryan Wallace films that flowed out of Germany in the 1960's and early 1970's. This time the story concerns a blackmailer who threatens very rich men with death if they don't pay up. The bodies of those that don't pay are dumped in front of Scotland Yard.

As with many of these films its a bit confusing at first with several plot threads wandering through the story (Chicago gangsters, FBI agent, the blackmail scheme) before coming together at the end.

Unfortunately this really isn't a story where its worth seeing how it all comes together. The plot is more than a bit unfocused, even by this series standards,There are too many characters and too much comedy so that the film fails to be compelling.

My unhappiness with the film could be the result of the English dub which has even Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski dubbed by other actors who's vocal performances don't even approximate how Lee or Kinski would have done it themselves. The result is that you never really buy whats going on screen.

Certainly this would be perfect if you stumbled on it at 2am on late night TV, but I would be hard pressed to suggest actually renting or buying this on DVD and putting it on willingly.

John Zorn Opens a Portal to Japanese Film's Forbidden Zone: 'The Dark Side of the Sun' at Japan Society

When speaking about the influences that have led to my strong interest in many things Japanese, not the least of which involves film, I usually lie. Well it’s a lie of omission, at least. My mentioning Tetsuo the Iron Man and even the anime Akira draws enough blank stares, so I usually shift from there to more familiar ground. My exposure to John Zorn and his subversive cultural imports from the east end up being left out of the picture, not only for this reason but it’s been some time since getting myself back in touch with his highly immersive body of work.

A brief history of my encounters with the cult of Zorn goes something like this:

Early 90's. thanks to older sister with adventurous listening tastes, get a glimpse and an earful of John Zorn squalling away on a saxophone, evincing sounds unimaginable. The old Knitting Factory. On Houston street.

Devour as many CD’s as possible to make up for the legendary performances of his band Naked City that I narrowly missed out on. As well as recordings of various other projects. This would introduce me to Zorn’s penchant for collecting and presenting dark imagery from Japan by way of his album’s artwork, which gets to the heart of how essential a curatorial effort like the one Zorn has put together for the Japan Society is. Throughout I’ve sprinkled assorted artwork displayed in John Zorn’s CD’s, to give a sense of his eye for the extreme. Included are painted pieces by Maruo Suehiro, Japan-based English artist Trevor Brown, and photographs of finely crafted disquieting dolls.

Late ‘90’s. the Knitting Factory’s next incarnation. On Leonard Street.  I would watch, Zorn collaborate on cacophonous improvisations with Eye Yamatsuka, legendary screamer of Naked City and Boredoms; and set air raid siren screams spiraling amidst the plodding dirges of Painkiller, Zorn’s improv unit with bassist Bill Laswell.

Early 2000’s. Zorn’s relations with the Knitting Factory had deteriorated. He opens Tonic. On Norfolk Street. I experience Dizzyingly complex and deeply layered collaborations with vocalist Mike Patton percussionist Ikue Mori.

I would later spend a few years in Japan and Tonic would close its doors.

It was some 10 years later when I’d reconvene with Zorn’s work again. Part of a series of events to commemorate his 60th  birthday. at the Anthology Film Archives. I sat, mesmerized, as he led a group of his peers through live scores of rare archived experimental films. I saw a collection of short animated works he had provided soundtrack work for, including The Cynical Hysterie Hour anime.

And now, we have this new series at Japan Society, The Dark Side of the Sun: John Zorn on Japanese Cinema. A revival, in a sense, of irregularly held screenings that brought Zorn's film discoveries made while residing in Tokyo to the once thriving scene of East Village small venues. Leisurely paced at one film per month between now and February of 2015, it offers a singular glimpse into the shadowy nooks and crannies of Japan’s cinematic past, some more rare than others. All selected by Zorn. All being shown the way cinema should be seen: In a darkened theater. Of particular note is CROSS ROADS (jujiro) a silent experimental film from 1928, worth attention the fact that there will be a live shamisen accompaniment alone; MATANGO, a seemingly straightforward social commentary thriller from the ‘60s that bursts into a vivid Technicolor color bomb of psychedelic imagery; and a screening of 8 short animated films by Osamu Tezuka masterful creator of a wide range of historically renowned manga from Black Jack to Buddha. Up first is the provocatively titled INFLATABLE SEX DOLLS OF THE WASTELAND (still images directly below), a noir-ish looking black and white film from 1967, which plays this Saturday, October 18th.   

For schedule information and a note from John Zorn about the event, visit the Japan Society website. Check back here for more updates.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ben Niles' SOME KIND OF SPARK makes its World Premiere the Fifth Annual DOC NYC

I’m terrible at doing pieces announcing upcoming films and such, which is why I don't usually run them.  I usually just repost the press release- which I'm not always happy with. 

On the other hand occasionally a film comes along that is both by a director whose work I like (I like NOTE BY NOTE) and about something that I feel is important (music education) which is why I’m going to post the press release for SOME KIND OF SPARK which is getting it’s world premiere at DOC NYC this year.

Caption: Kara Charles. Credit: Plow Productions.

New York, New York, Oct. 15, 2014 – With children’s music education sharply declining over 20% since 2001 (according to Music Educators National Conference), Ben Niles, director of the award-winning “Note By Note (The Making of Steinway L1037),” chronicles in his new feature-length documentary, SOME KIND OF SPARK, six kids (ages 8-12) from far reaches of New York City as they embark on a life-changing experience – the opportunity to study music in Juilliard’s Music Advancement Program (MAP), a Saturday outreach program for students from communities that are underserved in the arts. Filmed over a 3-year period, SOME KIND OF SPARK intimately follows the students and their dedicated teachers and captures the budding and profound relationships building upon every lesson.

SOME KIND OF SPARK makes its World Premiere in the Metropolis Competition at the Fifth Annual DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival, on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 2:00pm at SVA Theatre. Niles will participate in a post-screening Q&A with the MAP students featured in the film.

“I’ve always been a big believer in music education and what they’re doing over at MAP got me excited. They’re changing lives through music. I wanted to try and make my own impact through this film,” said Niles. “What better stage to hold the film’s world premiere than in New York City at DOC NYC!”

With rare access to Juilliard’s MAP program, SOME KIND OF SPARK paints a deeply intimate portrait of the students struggles to do well in school and in the program, allowing them to patiently tell their own stories. Spanning borders and ethnicities, gender and class, the film quietly but effectively, illuminates such pressing contemporary social issues as high poverty rates, low family literacy and weak school-family relationships. These kids go on a musical journey, both inspiring and very challenging. This is a new world for these children – many who have never even heard of Juilliard – and the demands are high, even for beginners. Each child has his/her own conflicts and hurdles to overcome. From a first recital and stage fright, to a lack of practicing and dedication, to a shortage of funding for an instrument.

Ultimately, SOME KIND OF SPARK is about transformation – aiming to serve as an inspiration for other programs across the nation to nurture two of our most valuable national treasures: our children and our musical heritage.

In order to channel additional funding toward music education, Ben Niles and Plow Productions will partner with museums, universities, symphonies and theaters to organize screenings for their community members and supporters. Plow Productions is also creating an innovative web space that will serve as a virtual stage for kids across the country to upload videos in which they showcase their musical talent and explain the importance of music to their lives.

About the Filmmaker:
Ben Niles is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. His film, “Note By Note (The Making of Steinway L1037),” won top honors at the Sarasota Film Festival, was nominated for an IDA award and selected to the prestigious American Documentary Association, screening in over 30 countries. It has now been translated into 5 languages and premiered nationally on PBS. He is currently co-directing “Still We Rise” with producer Molly Raskin, a film about mental health in Liberia. In his years in the record industry, Niles created album packages for Collective Soul (Entertainment Weekly’s Best 100 Album Covers 2000), Jewel, Jon Brion, celebrated box-sets for Phish and George Carlin, and packages and identities for jazz musicians Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter and Henry Butler.

Plow Productions
HD | Color | Aspect Ratio: 16:9 | 5.1 Stereo | 89 minutes
Director/Producer: Ben Niles
Editor: Sara Pellegrini
Cinematographers: Hope Hall, Ben Wolf
Editorial Consultant: Purcell Carson

Web and Social Media:
Official Website: http://www.somekindofspark.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Some-Kind-of-Spark/218593588157225

For tickets and more information go here.

And look for full coverage here at Unseen Films when the film pays the festival.


As part of New York Comic Con Super Week the IFC Center ran Rocky Horror Picture Show with a post film screening with Baz Luhrmann and Susan Sarandon. Chocko was there and recorded the Q&A

Brief word on Flight from SIngapore (1962)

Small scale adventure film has  a couple of men starting up their own air service in Singapore. Times are tough  but they muddle through. Things take a turn for the better when they are contacted about making a run with needed medicine. However things don't go as plan and the plane goes down in a storm.

Small scale adventure film gains points by obviously having been shot on location. The location shooting adds much to what would otherwise be a run of the mill story. Actually the two reasons this film works, and is getting a mention here at Unseen is that the script is pithy and full of some great dialog with men being men and the other is that the performances are spot on. Say what you will about the film being run of the mill there is something about the way the cast sells the sstory that carries you along. I'm serious, I was like well that was good...and on to the next thing, but I kept coming back to the film. I kept feeling like I should go back and write the film up because while it isn't earth shattering it is damn enjoyable.

Currently available from Sinister Cinema, the film is definitely worth a look.