Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Don't Kill It (2016)

Dolph Lundgren is Jebediah Woodley demon hunter in DON'T KILL IT and with it Lundgren has found what could be his iconic  role.

The plot of the film has a body hopping demong getting lose in a small town in the American South. First possessing a dog it then jumps to its own after it dies, The hunter then kills his family before killing the family next door and being killed in turn... As the town reels from the deaths the FBI comes calling as does Woodley who thought the demon had been locked away years before.

Bloody as all hell, funny through out and occasionally scary DON'T KILL IT hopefully will be the start of a long series of films- or even a TV series. Woodley is guy who has been around the block way too many times and knows how it goes, even to the point of knowing no one will believe him. A vaping man of cocksure swagger Woodley knows exactly what to do at all times, unfortunately it takes awhile before anyone will listen to him.

A film of pure entertainment, this film plays like an old school B horror film or one of the best SYFY originals. This not to imply anything bad about the film- hell I want to see this film again and I want everyone I know to see it- rather I want you to get a sense of what the film feels like. This is the sort of film you will return to again and again- probably on rainy Saturday nights with a big bowl of popcorn.

That the film works as well as it does is entirely thanks to Lundgren who wanders through the film with a world weariness that seems to match his own way of being.Walking across the screen with a take no prisoner attitude one can't help but be drawn to him. Sure there seems to be a hint of tongue in his cheek as he goes through his motions  but it becomes endearing and part of the character. It's the sort of a performance where you can't imagine it not leading to more appearances.

This is a great great horror comedy action film. Yes it's low budget but it's a hell of a lot of fun

While I can't in good conscious call it one of the best films of 2017, I can call it a favorite and probably one of the few films from this year I know I'll watch 20 or 30 times before now and the demon apocalypse

Highly recommended when the film hits theaters and VOD Friday

Monday, February 27, 2017

Django (2017) Rendez-Vous With French Cinema 2017


DJANGO is the story of the great guitarist Django Reinhardt during 1943 when he realized that his talent and friends in high places would only keep him safe for so long. Knowing that he had to get out of France he made an attempt to get out into Switzerland.

The film is kind of an old school look at life under the occupation but with awesome music.

After a brilliant and fast moving first third the film slows down a Django and his family flee toward Switzerland. There not far from the border they wait to be escorted to safety. I suspect it’s this portion of the film that is going to make or break the film for many people. While things are not bad the film is essentially Django waiting. Little narrative motion happens but we get a sense of the man and his extended family. The film picks up as Django is forced to play a concert for the Nazis.

And of course there is the music. What can I say but wow. Its all killer stuff and even when the film slows to a craw there is always the music to move us.

Reda Kateb is stunning as the man himself. Based on the films I've seen of Reinhardt he captures the man himself. He has the swagger right and the hand movements seem on target. That the film works as well as it does is due entirely to Kateb who make the roguish musician some one we'd like to hang out with

I should point out there are several stunning sequences, all music related that will delight. The opening concert and the third act one that ends unfortunately are both full of fantastic music. Additionally the sequence where Django’s band arrives in a church where he is playing the organ is absolutely magical. Its only a couple of minutes long but it took my breath away.

I really liked this film a great deal and it had me searching the web for videos and CDs of the Reinhardt's music.

A must see and a great way to open this years Rendez-Vous With French Cinema on Wednesday the 1st.

The Last Laugh opens Friday

I saw THE LAST LAUGH last year at Tribeca last year and I filed this review:

This film is a look at whether taboo subjects, primarily the Holocaust can be made fun of. Using a who's who of interviewees (Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman Gilbert Gottfried, Robert Clary to name a very few) and tons of clips the film tries to unravel the Gordian knot of taboo humor.

This is a very good, very funny film that gets to the heart of the subject matter nicely. Its a film that takes the time to show all sides of the subject, going so far as to go to a convention of Holocaust survivors in Las Vegas. If you don't mind the subject matter odds are you are going to at least like the film.

While the film stays rather close to the notion of the Holocaust and humor, the film gets into a bit of trouble when it tries to broaden the discussion since the excursions off the central topic don't quite lead anywhere and point out that film should have not gone too far afield. I say this because a more general subject about humor and censorship called CAN WE TAKE A JOKE which played at DOC NYC last year covered similar territory and rocked the pillars of heaven. This isn't to say that THE LAST LAUGH is bad. That's not remotely the case, more its to point out that the film isn't as good as it should have been.

Slight reservation it's highly recommended

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rendez-Vous With French Cinema 2017 starts Wednesday- Here's our curtain raiser


Rendez-Vous With French Cinema (RWFC) is back once again and if you love French film you need to buy tickets and go. Every year the festival runs some of the best films you’ll see all year.

I’ve been attending the series for years now and I always find a few films that absolutely delight me. I’ve seen all sorts of films, animation, comedies, dramas and musicals that I would never have had a chance to see any other way. It is not so much that they don’t get US releases, most of the films will be seen in the US later in the year, but rather when they slip in one at a time it’s easy to miss them. RWFC puts out such a big spread of films you can’t not sit up and take notice and go.

In some circles RWFC gets a bum rap. Some writers hate that most of the films already have US distribution. I don’t know why since good films are good films. Other writers hate that the films are more often than not "popular" films and not pretentious arty ones. But just because a film is popular doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing.

I love this fest since it always shows me some real treasures. This year I loved DJANGO about Django Reinhardt. It’s a great war time story with wonderful music. STRUGGLE FOR LIFE is a very silly comedy (ala Jerry Lewis) that had me laughing all through it. IN THE FOREST IN SIBERIA is a great adventure. THE STOPOVER is a vital film about the troubles of returning vets.

Below capsule reviews all the films I've seen so far except DJANGO (A review runs tomorrow) . Don’t let the brevity of the reviews fool you, some of them are  so good they are destined for my personal collection when they hit home video. The reviews are short because I had too many reviews to write and not enough time.

Do yourself a favor and go buy tickets and go see a film or two. Go because the films are good and many have filmmaker Q&A’s. For more information and tickets go here.


STRUGGLE FOR LIFE
An middle aged intern is sent to Guyana to build an indoor ski resort in the middle of the Amazon. Chaos ensues. Very silly comedy is no holds barred humor where everything is thrown at you with wild abandon. The jokes are very much the sort of things  that Jerry Lewis might try in his most manic mood. Normally I'm not a fan of Lewis style humor but this one caught me in the right mood and its laugh a minute style kept me going from start to finish. High art it's not, very funny (for some) it is. As silly as you think the real world is this will one up it and make your cares go away.


IN THE FOREST IN SIBERIA
Wonderful true life tale about a French man who decides to spend a winter in a cabin on a Siberian lake. We watch as he deals with poachers,bears and the climate. This is a gorgeous  big screen film that will make you feel like you're there. This is one of my favorite films from the series.

150 MILLIGRAMS
A pulmonologist takes on big pharma when she discovers a link to a diabetes drug and heart valve problems. A good little film about which I have very little to say.

RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW
A young woman finds her  life complicated as her new bosses have unexpected tie to her father and the new office beau adds to the possible complications of her rise through the ranks. Backstabbing and betrayal all around is on the menu in this good drama. While not my personal cup of tea, this will delight those who  like Isabelle Huppert fans

THE STOPOVER
On their way home from Afghanistan French soldiers top in Cyprus for 3 days in order to decompress. Two of the three women in the unit confront a variety of problems with in the unit and themselves. Very good look at the problems faced by female soldiers in military. Nicely handling all of the complications, especially the psychological ones, the film is score points for not having easy answers nor following the same old plot threads. Highly recommended.

DAYDREAMS
Past present and dreams collide at a French Academy for artists. Interesting film is going to be something where you admire the craft more then the story. Throw back to the artsy horror films of the 1970's  I really loved the craft with which the film was made but I never fully connected to the story which seemed to be trying to be about something. Gorgeous to look at with moments of real intensity, all the parts didn't add up to a satisfying whole for me.

JOURNEY TO GREENLAND
Two guys both named Thomas go to visit friends in Greenland. Quirky (no this one really is quirky) comedy is low key and occasionally dry. How you react to it will depend upon your tolerance for the two guys at the center who are kind of slackers odd balls. I was amused by some of it  and not but other bits. Worth a look if you're interested at seeing Greenland on the big screen. A Netflix release

IN BED WITH VICTORIA
Hot shot criminal lawyer whose personal life is a mess finds that she may have a shot at putting it all back together when a former client comes into her life. Amusing romantic farce is rather light weight but very enjoyable. Virginie Efira stars as Victoria, a role that seems bound to be played by Katherine Heigel in the eventual American remake.  She is disheveled enough to make you frightened of engaging any lawyer showing signs of being like her yet friendly enough you'd want to be her friend. Worth a look.

For tickets and more information on the series and the films go to the festival website.

Be Afraid (2017) Winter Film Awards

A solid entry into the modern resurgence of horror, BE AFRAID manages to squeeze some genuine chills out of the audience to be a delightful monster on the loose film.

Beginning with a chilling teaser as Dean Booth tries to protect his family from a unknown danger  he thinks is outside his house BE AFRAID grabs you by the throat. What is out there and why is it after his daughter? The answer isn't coming just yet...The film then jumps ahead a bit as Dr John Chambers moves into the town with his family. As he tries to acclimate himself to a new home and a new job, strange things begin to happen. His son has nightmares and he is afflicted with sleep paralysis during which he sees dark figures. What is going on and what is the dark secret of the town?

While the basic plot is one that most horror fans have seen before the film manages to keep things fresh via a few new twists and a cast that sells what they are doing. With so many low budget horror films being churned out it is the rare horror film these days that generates genuine fear, more so when you think you know where you're going. All hail director Drew Gabreski and writer Gerald Knott for creating a film that feels well worn and then uses that against us to create genuine scares.  Their ability to generate fright is not to be under estimated.

Forgive me for not saying a great deal about the film. This is a genuine gem of a film. A wonderful old school B horror film that if it was made in the 70's or 80's would now be considered a cult classic. I also don't want to over sell it. This is not a big splashy horror film with blood and gore and jump scares but one of slowly building tension.

An absolute must see for any horror fan who likes real terror but doesn't require blood and jump scares

A must see when it plays at the Winter Film Awards Thursday(tickets here) or when it hit theaters in April.

Cut to The Chase (2016)

Gambler Max Chase is in hock up to his eyeballs again. If he can only get in tough with his sister she should be able to get him the money that will get his life back. Unfortunately his sister has gone missing and the goons have come calling so Max has to talk fast and look faster if he ever wants to see daylight again.

Excellent modern crime film starts as a kind of black comedy and then goes darker and loses a bit of the humor as Chase goes down the rabbit hole. A compelling crime film from the get go the first twenty minutes has some high stakes gambling, some well written verbal sparring, some nasty violence and a bit of sex. By the time Max starts his quest we're locked  in and willing to go anywhere the quest takes us.

Beautifully shot there is a wonderful sense of place in the film. This was clearly filmed on location and it adds to the feel of the action. This isn't the rented sets you frequently get in many similar Hollywood produced films.

The cast is first rate from top to bottom and the bad guys are scary enough that even as they are threatening your fingers or your life you believe that they would be cracking wise..

CUT TO THE CHASE is a damn near perfect noir. It's only real flaw is that it doesn't completely get the balance between dark noir and dark comedy quite right so some of the humor lessens the shivers. That said this is other wise a top shelf film and one of the best modern noirs you'll run across.

CUT TO THE CHASE opens in New York February 28th, and LA & Shreveport March 6th. The film hits VOD/digital on March 7

NYICFF Day 2: IVAN TSAREVITCH and YOUR NAME (spoilers)

Day two of the New York International Children's Film Festival was a double feature split with lunch with JB and Hubert who were both attending the first film with me. It was also a day in the low 60's which is odd for a February afternoon.
The one quiet moment when SVA wasn't full of people

The theater was all decked out for the 20th anniversary and there was a truly festive mood to everything all day.

IVAN TSAREVITCH AND THE CHANGING PRINCESS: FOUR ENCHANTING TALES
The first film was from Michel Ocelot. Its four fairy tales that are linked together by actors and director putting them together and performing them.

One story concerned a girl who lived in a cave who was able to tame the monsters that kept her and her people trapped inside. The film is allegory about not letting superstitions and wrong thoughts get in the way of finding happiness.

The second story concerned a a young man who was taught by a sorcerer all his tricks, but there was a catch to the knowledge.

The third story had a young pirate who liked his cat more than anyone and what happens to him.

The final story was the titled story and it's based on a Russian folk tale that Ocelot modified so that the Prince is attempting to cure his father of a fatal disease and involves a princess who changes when a man touches her.

All the stories are told in Ocelot silhouette style of animation. The tales were originally created for Ocelot's earlier TALES OF THE NIGHT but ween't used.

To be honest the tales themselves are very good. The trouble is that Ocelot has linked them artificially and by the time the last one ends you don't know why the stories are linked as they are. Call it a lesser Ocelot film, not because the pieces are bad rather because the whole is lacking.

After the film Ocelot spoke to the audience via Skype and he was absolutely charming. He answered all the kids questions and was only cut off when tie ran out.

You can see the Q&A below


Heading out to lunch with JB and Hubert I stopped to talk to several VIPs from the festival. We discussed what I had seen, what they had seen as well as other things. The one thing everyone told me was that the real hidden gem of the film was RUDOLF THE BLACK CAT. Apparently it's not what you expect from the stills of the film and is actually something wondrous. I'm seeing the film on the 19th so a report is coming.


YOUR NAME (Warning there are spoilers below)
Makoto Shinkai's YOUR NAME is one of the hottest animated films in the world. The film has set all sorts of new box office records, it's won all sorts of awards and caused shrieks of disbelief when it failed to secure an Oscar nomination.
The Front half of the line to get into YOUR NAME

The film is hotly anticipated and the line to get into SVA was the longest I've ever stood in for an event at the theater in the last 7 years. Almost everyone on line was well past being a child. This didn't stop everyone from leaping during the T-Shirt toss largely because they were throwing a lot of YOUR NAME shirts into the crowd.

The film concerns a teenaged boy and girl who each night swap bodies causing havok in each other's lives. The are are complications of course involving among other things a comet that is passing by earth.

I know that the film has made a mint and I also know that many people have been laid low by it's revelations but while I did get misty at two points, I was largely befuddled by the film. I truly don't know why people are reacting as they are, it's good but it's not amazing.

For me the film has two big problems:

The first is that the film looks and sounds like a good number of other Japanese animated films, especially Shinkai's own films 5 CENTIMETERS A SECOND, VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR, and THE PLACE PROMISED IN OUR EARLY DAYS in particular. Numerous shots and sequences seem lifted from the earlier films. The opening credits look like several dozen other films (ESCAFLOWNE anyone). The music while good seems to have been picked to sound like the music from several classic anime series.

I could probably have let it slide but Shinkai is on record as saying that the film was carefully constructed for effect with everything constructed in an almost mathematical precision to play on the audiences emotions. He made the film to be a blockbuster and not to tell a story close to his heart. I'm guessing that's why he lifted so much from so many sources including the Korean romance IL MARE.

The other problem with the film is the internal logic doesn't work. Much of the film hinges on the notions of remembering and forgetting, This allows us not to know things because one of the characters doesn't remember- or for the director to milk a moment by having someone forget a name or a person for no really good reason other than the film can make us feel terrible that the young lovers don't remember each other.

On some level that's all well and good except that the film stretches the memory loss to all the characters. For example a huge plot point hinges on trying to find the name of a certain town where one of the characters lives. That's all well and good except that all of the major characters seem to have forgotten that the town was obliterated three years earlier when a piece of a comet smashed into it. I can't really believe that no one wouldn't remember what the town was called after 3 years when some one said the name. I could understand if they couldn't recall the name themselves but when someone said I'm sure they would know it. (I have friends who can't come up with the name of  the town that got hit by the tsunami with the nuclear reactor but if yu say Fukushima, but if you say it they know it)The film almost completely lost me at that moment and I never forgave it. Indeed it was at that point where I started to pick all of the troubles with the film apart.

Normally I can go with the bumps in Makoto Shinkai's scripts (5 CENTIMETERS doesn't completely make sense) and still love the film, but here in YOUR NAME and JOURNEY TO AGARTHA what he is asking is simply too much. The film simply doesn't work on it's own terms there is too much that doesn't connect up if you think about it.

That doesn't mean I hate the film, I don't. Its a good little film on it's own terms and I did get a bit misty at two points, but to be honest the film, especially the second time, didn't earn it it simply had hit the requisite ticky boxes.

By all means see the film when it opens in the US in April- I would just suggest you don't look for the next greatest thing under the sun.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Levinsky Park (2017) CineQuest 2017


LEVINSKY PARK is a great film. An even handed look at a country dealing with a refugee problem, the film should find a place in the current American debate about helping those fleeing repression.

I love how good this film is at showing a meeting of cultures, in this case that of Israelis and the African refugees who are fleeing the dangers of their home countries. It is a film that introduces us to numerous people who are all sides of the issues and makes us understand their points of view. It beautifully makes the refugee issues very human. It’s a great film that moves your head and your heart. This is one of the best recent wave of films on refugees that I’ve seen because it keeps everything even keeled and doesn’t let the emotional overwhelm the intellectual (or vice versa).

The trouble is that here in America it is impossible not to really take the film to heart. Here is a film that illustrates all the issues that Donald Trump’s refugee mandates have kicked up. We see the lives of everyone on all sides, the twisting of language for a political advantage (in Israel the refugees are infiltrators, in the US terrorists), the economic questions raised by the new comers, and we are left to ponder what is the right thing to do. It’s hard to be an informed American and not see the parallels to our own country- if not now down the road. (I should point out director Beth Toni Kruvant helped out at Newark Airport after Trump's ban went into effect)

This is a must see film. If you truly care about humanity and not political ideals this is an important film. It is a film that will help to clarify what is the right course and why the refugee “problem” is about real people and not labels

LEVINSKY PARK will make its world premiere on Thursday, March 2nd at 7pm at Cinequest. For tickets and more information go here.

Opening Night 2017 of the New York International Children's Film Festival- REVOLTING RHYMES and MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI East Coast English Language Premiere


The t-shirts have begun to be tossed so it must be time for the New York International Children's Film Festival.

Hubert and I waded into the the craziness and have returned deeply moved by all that we've seen. As always it was a blast and we had great fun even as we were moved to tears by the evening's selections

Having been going to the opening night for at least the last ten years I found it interesting that Nina Guralnick spoke about how her favorite memory of the festival is the opening nights. On some level I would have to agree because very often magic happens. Either great films are revealed or something special occurs. This year was no exception- two great films were revealed to the New York audiences.

The first film of the evening was the to part REVOLTING RHYMES.  Based on the book by Roald Dahl the film reimagines the six stories as one tale combining the stories of Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella into one tale. Broken into two half hour parts I can't imagine the film actually being broken up in two viewings or by commercials. What I mean is that despite being clearly two distinct parts-the point of view readjusts for the second half- the emotional impact is made greater by seeing the story straight on through where you get the emotional resonances to kind of lay you out in the stunning, in the truest sense of the ord, conclusion.

The film is essentially two stories told by a wolf. The first is to a woman in a diner waiting to go on a babysitting gig. This is the true story of Red and Snow White. The second is the story of Jack and Cindy- and I'm not going to say to whom or why- only that there is a great deal of tension.

To be honest the film is a wonderful reinvention of the book and a subversion of the original stories into something greater. This is the sort of thing that I suspect many kids and adults will see as their version of the tales.

For me the film was an absolute delight until the ending when the film in four or five shots goes from a really good fairy tale into quite simply a truly great film, There is something about the emotion in the ending as revealed in the vocal performance and the animation that makes this one of the best films so far in 2017. It is,,,just wow.

After the film Jakob Schuh went to the stage and did a brief Q&A. As you can see below it was a great talk and a perfect excuse to let the kids of NYICFF do more interviewing of filmmakers (They are better than most critics I know)


After the film there was party for members in the basement of the Directors Guild Theater.

Hubert and I waded into the very large crowd and found a spot toward the back where we watched the people come and go as well as the food and drinks disappear into the hungry members and invited guests.

After the party it was back up to the theater for the East Coast Premiere of the English language version MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI.

I'm not going to do another full review since we've posted two reviews already (both Joe Bendel and myself have reviewed it) however I do want to make some observations.

The English voice cast is excellent. Other than a one or two moments here the adult voice cast fumbles the dubbing is perfect. Any problems is due more to the syncing of voice to mouth movements.

The audience clearly got the film. There was laughter and applause in all the right spots which was nice. I could tell that many of the adults were clicking with the underlying sadness in the story as one person near me mumbled something about the film being bleak.

Hubert was deeply moved by the film, Both by the sadness and the hope affected him.  Even after the film ended and we were walking to the subway one could hear the emotion in his voice. It was something that I could hear in many other adults in the audience who seemed to have red weepy eyes and a distraction which puzzled their kids who were ready to bound to the next adventure even as mommy and daddy were wiping away tears in stoic silence.

After the film Gkids' Dave Jesteadt who put the English language edition together as well as voice actors Ness Krell (Camille) and  Erick Abbatte (Zucchini) went on stage to do a Q&A.  They also had one of the puppets for Zucchini on stage.

It was a wonderfu evening and a great way to start the festivals 20th year.

Remembrance (2017) Cinequest 2017

The story of two sisters and a husband- and what happened one day...

This is a tough one to write up. reading the material I was sent after the fact I find that the promotional material gives little tidbits away. If one is clever one can piece together what exactly is happening.  I really don't want to do that since the film was more fun not knowing anything and watching the twists unfold.

I will say this is a killer little film.  This is one film.that you can talk about in several different ways without revealing too much...(and not knowing too much is key)

First is the story which is nicely compact. Its a beautifully constructed story that is the perfect length for what it is. I love that everything we need to know about the film is right there in the film. There is no need to expand it. It twists and turns perfectly creating a wonderful sense of suspense.

Secondly the film is beautifully shot. I love how this film about memory has all of these images of things going in reverse. It's beautifully done and it creates the perfect mood. This is clearly the work of someone who really knows how to make a thriller work on all cylinders. I love the sound design. The music and sound effects are spot on.

Actually this is near perfect little thriller. The only bump is early in the film during the one scene where Selena Moreno is on screen as both sisters at a breakfast table. Everything  is fine but there is something about the dialog that comes across as a bit awkward. Its no big deal other than it's a hiccup in an otherwise perfect little film.

The film plays Shorts Program 9B on beginning March 8 at Cinequest and is highly recommended.

For tickets and more information go here

Friday, February 24, 2017

CHEERLEADER (2016) Winter Film Awards


Irving Franco's CHEERLEADER is a one of a kind film. echoing the teen comedies/dramas of the 1980's and 90's the film is an unstuck in time character study of a cheerleader who sets out to make a guy jealous by dating a nerdy guy with unexpected results.

A knowing comedy/drama the film is not going to be what you expect. This is a film calculated to make you feel and experience what should be a well worn story in a new way.  Old school technology mixes with modern day to create a film set every time, Cliche mixes with a knowing structure that forces us to ponder what we are seeing. Viewing the film is a unique experience as our buttons are pushed as we are made to feel and think about what we are seeing.

To be honest I have no idea what I think of the film. I have no idea what I've seen- but I do know that it is a truly one of a kind must see.  It is a film that will leave you knowing that, unlike the vast majority of American films, you have seen something that is going to stick with you on more than an oh that's cool level.

Recommended

CHEERLEADER  plays Sunday night at the festival.

For ticket and more information go here.

Voodoo (2017)

Voodoo is a bad movie. I mean a really bad movie.

A found footage piece of nonsense it is poorly acted, weakly written and dully shot, There is no reason for us to be seeing anything we are seeing other than the fact that one of the characters is literally filming everything. The found footage explains why the sound is bad and the film looks as amateurish as it does.

It has something about a woman going to LA to get away from her past only to run into the middle of it. I'm quoting the email that I received concerning the film because at a certain point early on I stopped caring and simply waited for something to happen- when it finally does- I completely lost all respect for the film as the woman is abused by a demon while a bunch of followers look on.(it's so sillily done that it's bound to be picked up and used for anti-Trump Memes) The sequence looks terrible as people wrapped in clothes with over done black and white stage make up and dime store plastic teeth look on as a demon rapes the girl. The whole thing looked as if it was shot on a half assed set that was lit all wrong. I simply stared at the film and then replayed the sequence to be sure I was seeing what I was seeing. Yes I was- yes this sequence is in a film that people are actually asking other people to pay to see.

According to the press material the trailer for the film is causing a stir on Facebook who has deemed it offensive and keeps removing it. In fairness I can see how an effecting trailer could be cut from this film- but as anyone knows you can make any film look good in two minutes- the other almost 90 minutes are just bad.

Voodoo is so bad I was going to not review it. Life is too short and some movies are just too damn bad - but then I realized some of you might actually try to go see it and I have to make some effort to stop you.

This film is just awful avoid it- even if you love bad movies skip it.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Corpse Series (2016) Winter Film Awards

Screamingly funny, incredibly bloody and very often in poor taste story of two friends who are living together who have a problem- one of them keeps killing people and they then have to get rid of the bodies.

Faced paced series is divided into seven chapters of escalating mayhem. What begins as an accidental killing of a hooker becomes an ever increasing series of mishaps as the pair tries to deal with a body only to be interrupted resulting in the accidental arrival of another body... and then another...and another...and....

Twisted beyond words and always laugh out loud funny THE CORPSE SERIES is an absolute delight. It is a perfect poisoned confection of the highest order. This is a film that has more laughs per minute than almost any comedy of any type and certainly more than any horror comedy of the last twenty years. This may very well be the top of the heap of horror comedies, certainly of the modern gore era.

This is the sort of film I want in my collection because I really want to show it to all of my friends who love horror and things ghoulish.

If you love blood and guts and laughs I can't recommend this film enough.

This film plays Sunday night and repeats on the Thursday night of horror,

For more information and tickets go here.

Wolf and Sheep (2016) MOMA Doc Fortnight 2017

Writer Director Shahrbanoo Sadat spent part of her childhood living in the countryside of Afghanistan. She has teken her love and respect for the land and the people and turned it into the magical WOLF AND SHEEP.

A fictional account that is very rooted in the documentary the film is more a slice of life as opposed to a full on narrative. I know we are supposed to see some sort of narrative in the life of the characters, and the children in particular, but the thread is very fine and it's better not to get tangled up in any notion of plot and just take it as a magically realistic documentary.

Bookended by somber events, the death of a villager by cancer and the coming of unknown gunman the film presents a rather hopeful portrait of life being lived in between. Yes there are hardships and the like but the people go on. They are good people, like anywhere in the world. Its easy to understand why Sadat felt compelled to make a film about them, they are people you would want to meet in real life.

And because of the present situation here in the US it's hard not to reach the ending and ponder Trump Administration's attempt to ban refugees from the US. After seeing the film one would be hard pressed not to offer the fleeing villagers a place to live.

This is one of the best films at MOMA's Doc Fortnight and very recommended.

For tickets and more information go here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Train Driver's Diary (2016) Winter Film Awards

Wonderful black comedy/ drama about a train engineer who adopts a a young boy who wants to drive trains as well. The trouble is the father doesn't want him to drive any trains since there is a very good probability that he will kill someone.

This film completely blindsided me. The write up in the Winter Film Awards site doesn't clue you into how funny the film is. The opening bits with the bus full of musicians being killed is really dark and truly funny. By the time our hero had talked the psychologists off the ledge I was hooked and willing to go anywhere the film wanted to go.

Full of odd people and completely believable twists this is one of those films that sneaks up on you and makes you fall in love with cinema all over again. This is closer to life as it is lived than most run of the mill films simply because everyone is their own shade of crazy- loving but quirky.

I can't recommend this film enough - especially for anyone who wants a palate cleanse from you typical Hollywood crap.

For tickets for Saturdays screening can be had here.

Bitter Money (2016) Film Comment Selects 2017

This observational documentary follows the lives of several migrant workers who leave home travel to the big city and then have less than wonderful lives. Its a film that is going to either thrill the select few who love to watch life unfold in real time or it is going put you to sleep.

I'm not going to lie this film was a tough slog for me. Somewhere in the first twenty minutes as we watched people sitting in a train corridor sleeping I started to drift off myself.  I then drifted in and out of the film for the remaining two and a half hours as we watched the various people hang out, work monotonous day jobs and tried to keep their lives together. Some of it was interesting some of it was not but the sheer unevenness and the the almost three hour running time took it's toll.

Clearly this wasn't my cup of tea.

My sleepiness aside I am astute enough to know that if you are someone who likes observational documentaries with long takes you are going to eat this up. If not stay away.

This film plays February 23rd. For tickets and more information go here.

DOCNYC Submissions are open now


Submissions are now open for DOC NYC 2017!

DOC NYC returns for its eighth year on November 9 - 16, 2017. This year, DOC NYC welcomes submissions via new submission platform FilmFreeway as well as longtime partner Withoutabox. We look forward to reviewing your work!

Submission categories:
Features (NYC premiere requirement)
Contemporary documentaries from around the world – 41 minutes in length or longer – that demonstrate a bold commitment to subject matter, excellence in cinematic craft and innovation in storytelling.

Features will be considered for inclusion in either the competitive Viewfinders or Metropolis sections or in several thematic non-competitive sections.

Shorts (NYC premiere preferred, but not required)
DOC NYC showcases the best new short form content - 40 minutes or shorter - in both thematic shorts programs and in screenings before features.

Pitch Perfect (Works-in-Progress Features or Webseries)
Pitch Perfect is a pitching event that is part of DOC NYC Pro, the festival's industry programming component, open to nonfiction works-in-progress features or series proposals in any genre or style.

EARLY BIRD ENTRY is MARCH 3

To Submit Withoutabox
To Submit via Film Freeway

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

AUSTRALIA’S MONSTER FEST ANNOUNCES TRAVELLING SIDESHOW AND SUBMISSIONS OPEN FOR MONSTER FEST 2017


Monster Fest, Australia’s premier genre film festival celebrating cult, horror and the fantastic, returns for its seventh edition November 22-26, 2017 at the Lido Cinemas in Melbourne, mounted with the support of Screen Australia. These dates include the festival’s industry component, The Swinburne University Media and Communication Monster Academy, which will kick off the festival November 22 and 23.

Submissions are now open for Features, Short Films and Expanded Cinema Projects, with an Early Bird Deadline of April 21, a Regular Deadline of June 16 and a final, Extended Deadline of August 4, 2017.

Founded in 2011, Monster Fest is a genre film festival that showcases films and events that fall into the broadly-defined categories of horror, science fiction, action, crime, noir, animation, dark drama, black comedy, gothic western, erotica and more. Its programming is a mix of Premieres, international festival favourites, challenging new discoveries and curated repertory sidebars alongside industry-focused events such as panels and masterclasses with renowned international guests, and a special emphasis on supporting emerging Australian genre film talent through the festival and beyond.

“We had a huge increase in submissions in 2016,” says Festival Director Kier-La Janisse. “And it really diversified our approach to programming. In addition to horror, which is always a staple at Monster Fest, we brought in more crime films, westerns, documentary and animation than ever before, and our audience really went with it - we ended up having our most successful year to date.”

Submissions for Monster Fest 2017 can be processed via Film Freeway or Without a Box. Details and submission guidelines are available at www.monsterfest.com.au/submit

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What’s more, Sydney-based genre fans will get a taste of Monster Pictures’ annual Melbourne-based festival this March, thanks to a unique partnership with Australia’s largest cinema chain Event Cinemas to present The Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow, beginning at the prestigious George Street Cinema in Sydney March 9-11, 2017 with subsequent dates in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
The Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow will be a mix of horror-centric highlights from Monster Fest 2016 (see the archive of 2016 films and events HERE) and select premieres, including the Australian Premieres of Jordan Peele’s acclaimed racial horror GET OUT and the highly-anticipated all-female horror anthology XX (which is distributed in ANZ by Monster Fest parent company Monster Pictures), as well as the World Premiere of Nik Kacevski’s Sydney-made SKINFORD, with cast and crew in person for a hometown red carpet debut.

The 10-film touring satellite event will open on March 9th with the Sydney Premiere of Julia Ducournau’s controversial “Golden Monster”-winning feature debut RAW, about a young vegetarian whose dark urges are awakened after she is forced to undergo a carnivorous college hazing ritual. The fright-filled weekend will also include the hometown premiere of Sydney-made KILLING GROUND (fresh off raves at Sundance), Ben Wheatley’s explosively funny shootout actioner FREE FIRE, a new 4K restoration of Italo-horror maestro Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece SUSPIRIA, Sydney director Jai Love’s moving and morbid documentary DEAD HANDS DIG DEEP about the traumatized frontman of extreme metal band Kettle Cadaver, Nicholas Pesce’s gothic Sundance midnighter THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (which Rolling Stone called “curdled Americana at its most gruesome and brilliant”) and André Øvredal’s award-winning THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, recently praised by none other than Stephen King himself, who called it “visceral horror to rival ALIEN and early Cronenberg” and warned: “Watch it, but not alone.”

Monster Fest Director Kier-La Janisse says the Sydney weekender will be just the first of many ‘Monster Fest Presents’ events to be mounted by Monster Pictures over the coming year. “This touring sidebar is an incredibly exciting initiative for us,” she says. “It’s always been Monster Pictures’ goal to bring the most pioneering and challenging new genre cinema to fans all over the country, and to create a wider platform for its appreciation.”

Tickets for The Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow are on sale now at:

Event Cinemas George Street
505-525 George St, Sydney Australia
+61 (0)2 9273 7300

https://www.eventcinemas.com.au/Cinema/George-Street/EventsFestivals/MonsterfestTravellingSideshow#cinemas=15

http://www.monsterfest.com.au/events/monster-fest-travelling-sideshow

Single Session Tickets: Adult $21 / Concession $17.50
5 Film Multi-Pass: Adult $82.50 / Concession $71.50
10 Film VIP Pass: Adult $132 / Concession $110

Winter Film Awards Shorts: BEYOND THE CURTAIN, MOON OF A SLEEPLESS NIGHT and ENDORA

BEYOND THE CURTAIN
During China's Cultural Revolution a young boy is given a comic book by a homeless man who insists it's the man's own story. It leads to unexpected things.

This deliberate mixing of cinema and theater is a film that you have to stay with. Watching the film I was enjoying the pieces, which didn't seem to be coming together, however as the film moved toward's it's conclusion and the parts were connected up, I found that I was deeply moved. This story of keeping culture alive during a time of repression, as well as other things (which I won't reveal). It is a wonderful moving piece of cinematic story telling and why one should always wait to the very end before coming to a conclusion about something (ie this film).

A wonderful surprise.

This plays Sunday Evening at the Festival

MOON OF A SLEEPLESS NIGHT
Absolutely charming stop motion film about a young boy who helps a moon squirrel free the moon from a tree so a night won't last forever.

I have nothing to say but this film will make you sit in wide eyed wonder  and feel absolutely tingly all over. A sheer delight and one of my favorite films at the Winter Film Awards.

Another film I can't believe people aren't talking about.

This plays Saturday at the Festival

ENORA
During the battle of Monte Cassino an alien space craft crashes. As she struggles to find the signaling device to get herself home she meets a British Soldier

Sweet little science fiction film that is just extremely well done all around.

Recommended.

This plays Saturday at the Festival.

For more information and tickets to the festival go here

Decanted (2016)


DECANTED is a lovely little film. The cinematic equivalent to sitting in someone’s back yard and shooting the breeze while enjoying a bottle of wine. The film is a lovely look at the making of wine in and around the Napa Valley in California. It’s a nice non taxing way to spend 80 minutes for anyone who loves wine and everything connected to it.

And as enjoyable as the film, unless you love wine this film is going to wash over you and be gone as soon as the credits roll. It’s not that there is anything wrong with it, it’s just that there is no tension, no conflict, it’s simply people making wine for an hour and a half. It’s so beautiful and so nice that it comes perilously close to being an extended infomercial for the wines shown in the film.

I enjoyed my time watching the film, but to be honest about 20 minutes in I was kind of done. There was nothing bad with anything that was on screen but as someone who is not a wine drinker, nor who doesn’t really care about wine making I didn’t have anything to latch on to. This is a year in the life of a winery, which is fine but it didn’t connect to me. I am not like the guy in the film who fell in love with wine making at age 9.

If you are a wine drinker with a desire to see how it’s made in a beautiful to look at film I highly recommended DECANTED. For everyone else this film is worth a shot but not required.

DECANTED hits VOD February 28th

Monday, February 20, 2017

Winter Film Awards - Short films LILA, ZOMBIES, TOKYO COSMO, EYE FOR AN EYE, IN THE DISTANCE, MY LIFE I DON'T WANT and MY KINGDOM

These are capsule reviews of some short films playing at the Winter Film Awards, They are some really good- and a few really great films. For more information and tickets go to the Winter Film Awards Website

LILA
One of my favorite film of 2017. A glorious combination of animation and live action has a young woman's sketches adding magic to life. This film is pure joy with a tinge of bittersweetness. I laughed I smiled and I got misty.

How the hell wasn't this picked up by pretty much every other festival?

Its a gem of the highest quality- and probably one of the best films of 2017 that I've seen

ZOMBIES
Trapped in a room during a zombie apocalypse a couple has a conversation that is probably the wrong one to be having just then- but the result is really damn funny...

And forgive me for not revealing more but if I tell you any more it will ruin it...and I don't want to do that. WOnderfully the laughs continue on all through the end credits too.

TOKYO COSMO
A woman day dreams in her apartment after work. A gentle little trifle that will make you smile at the journeys our flights of fantasy can take us on.. A delight.

EYE FOR AN EYE
Perfectly rendered animated autobiography of Frederick Baer who is on death row. A four minute film that perfectly encapsulates a life misspent. A fine example of what can be done with animation in the hands of a skilled director.

IN THE DISTANCE
A man lives in a tower above the clouds who has to deal with the approach of trouble over a series of days. A beautifully rendered film that is a warning to anyone who insists on putting their head in the sand when danger approaches or thinks that life can't touch him. A sobering masterpiece.

MY LIFE I DON"T WANT
I punch in the face film nominally about the life of women in Myanmar but which could be anywhere that women are abused and forced into second or third class citizenship.I painfully charts the course of a life that starts out happy and joyous and then turns more and more pained. This is the sort of film that should be a rallying point for women's issues across the globe.

MY KINGDOM
A brief song about personal space. The weakest of any of the films I've screened from the fest and suffers by comparison.

The films play at various times during the festival with features and other shorts. Most of them will play together on February 27th in one block. For tickets and more information go here

COUNTRY: PORTRAITS OF AN AMERICAN SOUND

The history of country music as told by some of the genre's biggest names (Garth Brooks, Tanya Tucker, Rosanne Cash, Merle Haggard, Charlie Pride, Brenda Lee, Lyle Lovett, Kenny Rogers...) and the photographs of many of it's photographers (Les Leverett Henry Diltz, Raeanne Rubenstein, David McClister, Michael Wilson...). From the days before it was called country to today the film is an overview of the music millions know and love.

This is a good history of country music that will both entertain and enlighten anyone who wants to have a basic knowledge of the the development of the genre. Filled with lots of remembrances and and even more great photography this is a great way to get to know the through line of the country.

While the film is a good introduction and is entertaining it has a couple of problems that keep from being a great film.

Because the film is nominally, and unevenly, about the role of photography in country music the actual history of the music suddenly stops or goes off on a tangent as we get a discussion of the work of this photographer or that one. Then just as you begin to think it's about to stay on point the film suddenly veers off again to continue on the history of the music.

The other problem is that while the film is full of music there was a point about a half an hour in when I suddenly realized that even though we are seeing all of these stars we are not actually hearing much their music. Yes there are snippets but more often than not the key music (some of the early recorded songs) or key events (Ray Charles's country album) are not represented on the soundtrack. Certainly we don't hear songs by many of those interviewed. While I completely understand the problem is music rights, it makes for an odd doc when you can't hear the sounds that are being talked about. In a weird way discussion of the say the Bakersfield Sound only makes sense if you know the artists they are talking about.

You have to forgive me I really like this film but it's kind of an odd duck- a film that is trying to be about two things country music and photography that doesn't wholly strike the right balance and which doesn't always give us the audio to fully understand the arc of the music. If you can go with the film for what it is I highly recommend it,

Ultimately though the film  points up the fact that some one needs to do a longer deeper history of country music that can get it all together... perhaps even director Steven Kochones who clearly knows what he' doing-he just needed a bigger canvas to do it on.

COUNTRY hits VOD and home video tomorrow


Discount for the Opening Weekend of NYICFF



I just got an email from NYICFF that said if buy six or more tickets 6 certain screenings you'll get 6 dollars off each ticket:

Bring your friends to the Fest!
We've been around for 20 years, but there are many New Yorkers who still haven't experienced the magic and excitement of our groundbreaking, thought-provoking, international films. So we're highlighting the best films for new audience members - a perfect introduction to all the Fest has to offer. Bring a group of six or more to any of the screenings listed below on Opening Weekend and get $6 off each ticket (and prove to your friends you're the coolest in the group)!

The films are:

SHORTS 1 Sat. Feb 25 - 10:30am Cinépolis Chelsea
LITTLE MOUNTAIN BOY Sat. Feb 25 - 11:00am Scandinavia House
RUDOLF THE BLACK CAT Sat. Feb 25 - 12:30pm Cinépolis Chelsea
SHORTS 2 Sun. Feb 26 - 10:30am Cinépolis Chelsea
MR FROG Sun. Feb 26 - 12:30pm SVA Theatre
PANDA GO PANDA Sun. Feb 26 - 2:30pm SVA Theatre

For tickets and more information go here

My Life as a Zucchini (2016) New York International Children's Film Festival

Short (it runs just over an hour) animated film was the Swiss entry in the Foreign Language Oscar race. It is also one of the best reviewed animated films of 2016, and one of those films that is GKids is bringing to US audiences because its a great film that would confound any other studio and they are the only ones who will have any clue how to market it.

Based on a well loved novel by Gilles Paris, ZUCCHINI, or COURGETTE in the original, is a very bittersweet look at childhood, ts a film that is going to play differently depending upon where you are age wise since the older you are the more you are going to connect with many of the notions because you'll have actually lived though more of what happens. While the film has a certain amount of darkness, the film is ultimately a hopeful look at how one gets a family. I'm told the film is toned down from the source novel which could be rather bleak, just like childhood.

The plot of the film has a boy who is called Zucchini by his mother moving to an orphanage. It seems that Zucchini has accidentally killed his mother and his father is nowhere around. As he adjusts to life and makes friends he ends up smitten with a Camille, a rebellious young woman who is dumped there by her aunt.

Told in a series of expanding vignettes that show the passage of time ZUCCHINI is a magical film that really will remind adults what its like to be a child. Granted we were not all orphans but but we all had to interact with other kids and adults and this film manages to reveal that perfectly. We have been here before or at least been there in some form or another. It is beautifully modulated so that there is laughter with the tears.

Everything about the film is near perfect from the voice cast to the visuals it all comes together to make a film that is going to sing in the hearts of many people who see it. Watching it I couldn't help but think how many people I knew who were going to absolutely fall in love with the film. This is a film that is going to go into that warm place that that many people keep reserved for their most cherished films such as the work of Studio Ghibli, not because it shows us an idealized version of childhood, rather because it shows us childhood as lived that makes it okay to remember it all.

I love the film a great deal.

If I had to be pick on the film for anything it is it's incredibly brief running time. Shorn of it's end credits and it's brief mid credit "actor interview" the film only runs about 61 minutes. The film feels much too short. The film has barely grabbed you by the heart strings when it's ending. Its a rare film that you can argue should be longer.

The film hits theaters beginning Friday. That is also the night it is opening the New York International Children's FIlm Festival

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Nightcap 2/19/17 New York Children's Film Festival Starts Friday. Winter Film Awards Starts Thursday, Happy Birthday to Unseen Films, ROOM AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS and THE GREAT WALL

Window Horses one of the best films of 2016 is the hidden treasure of NYICFF 2017

Friday is the start of 20th annual New York Children’s Film Festival

That should have sent you to the NYICFF website to buy tickets if you haven’t already because festivals don’t get better than this.

As I have been saying for the last two decades you don’t have to be a kid simply love good films to go. And if you don’t trust my opinion regarding what’s good consider that it is a qualifying festival for short films for the Oscars. Also consider that they are programing Oscar nominated features a year before they are nominated. Yes they are that good.

Our coverage is going to run through the entire festival. This year I’m not going to be close to covering everything – there are too many conflicts within the festival for it to work for me. (I’m sorry I could ask for screeners and get you coverage that way but NYICFF is one fest you need to be in the trenches for to understand why it rocks- the staff, the volunteers and the audiences are to be cherished and being there is the among the best film going experiences I have each year)

Go buy tickets.

Our coverage begins tomorrow with my review of MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI. Joe Bendel reviewed it earlier for Sundance (link below)- but I’m taking a crack at it as well. Then we’ll be reporting from each day attended- which looks to be most of them.

My advice is not to wait and go yourself- there is some great stuff screening so go buy tickets.

If you aren’t buying tickets to everything here is our NYICFF MUST LIST

WINDOW HORSES (one of 2016's best films)
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI (Joe Bendel's review)
PANDA GO PANDA- Its Miyazaki working in support of Isao Takahata. Its goofy and silly and just fun. (Just don't expect the depth of Ghibli)
Anything else they screen-no I'm serious anything they screen is worth trying. I mean that- and after 20 years there has only been a single film that I really didn't feel that belonged there.

For tickets and more information go here.

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Thursday The Winter Film Awards Film Festival begins and for me it’s one of the great discoveries of the year. While this is the festival’s sixth year this is the first year that I have actually interacted with it. That’s not meant to be anything bad, its simply to say that since Unseen covers around 60 festivals a year so we miss some- even here in our home of New York City.

I had the festival put squarely on my radar when I was sent an email asking if I wanted to cover it. I was originally going to just put together a cut and paste piece concerning the fest but then I started to look at the festival’s films and suddenly I realized that there was a large number of films that I wanted to see – I mean a really large number of films. I then chucked the idea of a cut and paste and emailed the festival to ask about coverage.

What came of the exchange of emails is that I’ve now seen about twenty of the films they are screening, both features and shorts and I have to say that this a festival that is wonderfully curated. As I’ve said I’ve seen twenty films and none of them is really bad. I think the worst thing I have to say about any of the films is that if I was seeing it outside of the festival I would have raved about it but basically it’s the least jewel in an embarrassment of riches.

This is an amazing festival.

What I love about it is that they have scheduled the screenings in blocks of two and a half hours or more. What you get is either a huge block of shorts or a mix of features and shorts together (and even some double features). You are most certainly getting your money’s worth. Pick a film and try something. Odds are you’ll like what you see- and if one thing doesn't float your boat something else in the block will..

We will have reviews starting tomorrow and running through the festival but to get you started here are my personal recommendations:

Rain The Color Blue With Some Red In It- premiered at the Harlem Film Festival. A riff on PURPLE RAIN but set in Africa this film was one of the great finds of 2016 and now it's back and it's a must see. (click on the link for my review)
Be Afraid- a scary throwback to there is something weird going on in the woods horror film
Lila- a beautiful semi animated short about a girl who’s sketches bring whatever is missing into life. One of my favorite films so far this year
Moon of a Sleepless Night- charming short about a boy and a squirrel who have to free the moon from a tree
Train Driver’s Diary- fantastic feature about a train driver and his adopted son. Great people mix with a dark humor to make something special
Corpse Series- one of the funniest films of any length from the last several years is a bloody vulgar comedy about two roommates who keep ending up with dead bodies. One of the best films I've seen in 2017
Zombies-a very good film about two people trapped in a room during a zombie apocalypse

Go see something. Go to the website and get tickets
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It’s birthdays all around- today is my brother  and occasional contributor Joe’s Birthday (Happy Birthday baby bro) and tomorrow is Unseen Film’s Birthday. Tomorrow we will be seven and as I always say at this time – how the hell did we get here?

I have no clue.

I babbled back in January about the future so I won’t do that now-more so because things have shifted again- but more on that another time.

I would like to take the time to thank you all for reading. Over the last seven years where I went from one guy in a room writing to a website that has 17 regular contributors and many more occasional ones. We’ve gone from no one knowing who we were to being a place some filmmakers seek out because we were recommended to them. Our reviews have been quoted in trailers, on posters and in other promotional material.

Who would have thought it?

We are now, as we have always been, rough jagged and imperfect but always heartfelt. We say what we feel and speak our minds. I love that Unseen is a place where you can get a second opinion and are pointed toward things that aren't part of the herd.

I could go on  but I'm going to skip it this year and just say thank you again for coming along on this long crazy trip.

Lastly I have to thank (alphabetically) Alec, Ariela, Bob, Bully, Dave, Eden, Greg, Hubert JB, Joe, John, Ken, Lauren, Lesley, Nate, Pat, Peter, Randi, Roy, for helping make Unseen what it is. You guys and gals are the heart of the Unseen Family and I love you all dearly.
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Briony Kidd's THE ROOM ON AT THE TOP OF THE STARS is currently on the Shudder streaming service. The film is the story of an art student who takes the room of a former student who seems to still be haunting the room.

Its a very good short film that is worth a look see.

(Sorry I'm saying more it's one of those shorts you need to see and not read about)
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I saw THE GREAT WALL in IMAX 3D yesterday and had a blast.

Essentially men and women in armor fighting monsters this film is eye candy of the highest order. There is no depth but that which we bring to it- it's just soldiers and monsters fighting.

I know the casting of Matt Damon has resulted in flack but be honest there are no characters only archetypes. If you dropped in Asian actors into the film it would play exactly the same.

The ten year old in me thinks this is the greatest film ever-its what I would have done with action figures.

THE GREAT WALL is ultimately our dreams made real. It is what cinema is all about.

It is probably one of my favorite films of 2017.
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No links this week- sorry
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This week is full of new releases and festival reviews.

John Wick Chapter 2 (2017)

Beginning with a chase that happens not long after the first film ends John Wick Chapter 2 is a non-stop action film that doesn’t end so much as pauses long enough for the series third chapter to be filmed.

The plot of the film has Wick resetting his life after the events of the first film. Just as he literally finishes burying his past an old ally appears calling in the marker that helped him achieve his impossible task. Since Wick stepped back on the path Santino D'Antonio said he felt he could ask Wick for the return of the favor. When Wick refuses Santino blows up his house. Wick then reluctantly completes the task- killing Santino‘s sister- only to find Santino has put a 7 million dollar bounty on his head- because Wick killed his sister and protocol demands that he get revenge. This sets up a gauntlet as Wick must fight to stay alive and to get revenge.

The Boogey Man is alive and killing. A wild and wonton shoot ‘em up this is high octane filmmaking of the highest order. It’s more of the same and then some. It wonderfully expands the Wick universe with many new details and characters while remaining true to the old formula. It’s a blast and a half. If the film is a degree lesser than the first film, it’s only because the sense of wonder the first film created is missing- we know what we are getting. I had a blast. And while I am not happy that the film sets up a third film, the place the film leaves off is the perfect place to hit pause until next we wade into to the insanity once more.

I do have to say that I was in hysterics regarding the film’s sense of New York City- because the film doesn’t have one. Wick enters the The Continental in lower Manhattan and comes out on a roof garden almost 100 blocks north across from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Wick and Common enter a subway station near Lincoln Center to appear at the Occulus at the World Trade Center. They are on a platform for the Path Train to New Jersey when a C subway train is announced. They then fight on the train as announcements for the E train are made listing stops that are on the 1 or R and W lines.

Silliness of geography aside John Wick Chapter 2 is a must see and highly recommended- just make sure you’ve seen the first film

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)


Hacksaw Ridge would seem to be an odd Oscar contender. The first word on the film was excellent but when it came out critics liked it but didn’t love it. Its odd mix of old school sensibilities with modern realistic war violence jangled some writers who liked part of the film but not the other. For me the film is a masterful technical achievement and if it doesn’t quite nail perfection it still ranks as one of the most arresting war films I’ve seen while at the same time being a grand examination of faith and belief.

The film in nominally the Desmond Doss the first man who was a conscientious objector to win the (Congressional) Medal of Honor without firing a shot. Doss managed to save the lives of 75 men during the battle on what became known as Hacksaw Ridge before being wounded and carried off the battlefield himself. I say nominally because director Mel Gibson and his writers Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight have refashioned the story to compress the battle into a couple of days and leave out that Doss and his men had fought in Guam and the Philippines before the assault on the ridge. This isn’t to lessen what Doss did, rather to say that what Doss actually did was even more amazing.

Gibson’s film is a decided throwback to old Hollywood. The first hour of the film where Dos is seen growing up and going through basic training is the sort of old school Hollywood film we’ve seen a thousand times before. A stern dad, loving mother raise their boy to overcome adversity. The guys in the army are on some level your typical grunt. Gibson is keeping everything simple. In the second hour, as the men get to the ridge the film becomes a hellish nightmare. We get a taste of it at the start but it isn't until the battle actually starts that the notion of war being hell and the true meaning of the chaos of war truly comes into play.

Gibson’s use of old school stylings is brilliant. While it seems to simplify things it actually gives a greater emotional resonance. Gibson can work more starkly- the divisions between characters are greater. Doss’s actions seem more heroic. Because he alters our perceptions to a time before he makes the blood and gore more shocking once the battle happens. The perfect compositions and leisurely paced first hour make the total chaos of the final 80 minutes all that more over whelming.We have no sense of place other than where we are at that moment. There are no wide shots or anything but the ground and the craters the soldiers experience. Rarely has a narrative feature shown the hell of battle this brutally. Even most people’s bell weather Saving Private Ryan wasn’t this graphic or disorienting.

Gibson isn't just telling  a story. Gibson is ruminating on the notion of faith, belief and what a hero is. The notions of it run through the film from start to finish and they are what make HACKSAW RIDGE more than just a war film.

I know some people have scoffed at the religious bent of the film. I've had discussions with a couple of people who think Gibson went over board, but at the same time this seems to be who Doss was. On top of that the film is a kind of hero's journey or spiritual quest of the true believer to find salvation. This is a refashioning of the tale in terms that Joseph Campbell might use. If the belief in god offends you see it as an allegory.

Gibson is also very interested in what is a hero. Yes it's very easy to give lip service to the notion that Doss was a hero, Gibson on the other  hand wants you to understand why. That is and what the notion of his heroics really are. We also get a lovely sense of why and how Doss turned out as he did because of the sequences with his father, in particular the sequence when he shows up at the court martial in his old uniform to essentially join his brother in arms.

HACKSAW RIDGE is a masterpiece. It is one of the truly great war films. It confirms, despite his personal nonsense, that Gibson is one of the best directors working today with everyone of his films being moving visceral experiences.

A must see