Wednesday, November 25, 2015

GENUINE A TALE OF A VAMPIRE (aka Tragedy of a Vampire aka Tragedy of a Room aka...) (1920)

Robert Wiene's follow up to THE CABINET OF DR CALAGARI was GENUINE A TALE OF A VAMPIRE it was and is one of the most god awful messes I've run across.

The plot of the film has something about Genuine coming to life out of a book or painting (depending on the version) and running off . She then becomes a high priestess somewhere, is taken prisoner by a rival tribe who sells her into slavery. She is then bought by an old man who keeps her locked up. Various people fall under her spell. The old man is killed, Genuine treats everyone badly and then the towns people all come in and kill her.

WTF doesn't begin to describe it. I was watching the version put out by Alpha Video but was so confused I started doing research only to find that what I thought was the plot was more or less the plot give or take some details.

Considered a bomb when it was first released I'm absolute saddened that this piece of crap has survived the last century when other films were lost to the sands of time.

Avoid this one at all costs.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Its Alive (1969) Thanksgiving Turkey

This is a Larry Buchanan disaster about a fish-man kept alive by a farmer who kidnaps people to feed it.

Yes friends another film from Buchanan a man who's awful (and therefore often wonderful) movies scarred generations. Buchanan was a man who would make a film on any subject for a buck. Usually he'd take something from the headlines (say the JFK assassination or Bonnie and Clyde) and turn it in to weird little films (His Beyond the Doors about Jimi Hendrix Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison has to be seen to be believed). In the mid 1960's he was asked to make a bunch of quick films for TV syndication. Doing what any exploitation filmmaker would do, he remade several Roger Corman and AIP films from the 50's with out credit. When the syndication package fell apart the films ended up in theaters.

This was based on a script from AIP that was never filmed. Its got lots of stilted dialog, lots of voice-overs and scenery shots and a monster suit from another movie.

Its awful.And if you're disposed to liking bad films somewhat enjoyable.

Bad movie fans can give it a shot. All others avoid it like the plague.

Monday, November 23, 2015

No Escape (2015)

Owen Wilson and his family go to South East Asia for Wilson's new job. They almost instantly run into the middle of a coup. Worse they are being hunted by the bad guys because his company is felt to be trading "water for blood".

Arriving in theaters in late August and disappearing after a week or two NO ESCAPE got a very mixed collection of reviews. The people I know who saw it liked it enough that when I was offered a chance to review the film in connection to the home video release I said yes.

I really liked the film a great deal. Essentially one long chase the film scores major points for never stopping long enough for you to realize how insane chunks of this films are. There are plot points that don't make sense, owing mostly to coincidence but unless you pause the film you won't catch them until it's over. Mostly you'll be like me, squirming in your seat wondering what else was going to go wrong.

As good an action film as NO ESCAPE is, the real reason to see the film is Pierce Brosnan.  Taking a small but pivotal role as a British tourist who ends up aiding Wilson and his family he's kicked the door down concerning James Bond and becomes a full on character actor. Who the hell knew he was this damn good? Yea I'd seen him in GHOST WRITER or SERAPHIM FALLS or SURVIVOR and he's given really good performances but this was and is something else- it makes me go "who is this guy and why haven't we seen him before?" He's so good that even if the rest of the film had been bad I'd recommend the film.

NO ESCAPE is one to track down. Its a solid popcorn film and something worth your time when it hits home video tomorrow.

Alexander the Great (1956) Thanksgiving Turkey

Alexander the Great starring Richard Burton is a terrible film. Its a big bloated Hollywood epic and needs to be killed.

Coming in ten minutes from the start when it ran last year on cable I figured I could hunker down and see what all the bad feelings were about. The film has never been held in high regard. Most things I had read called it silly with a bottle blonde Burton looking bored as he tried to carry the film.

Having seen the film I would say that I don’t think he tries. Personally I think he just wanders through the film looking bored and wondering when the next check was going to clear. Its an epic film full of inaction and tableaux.

Nominally the story of Alexander from birth to death the film is a Cliff Notes version of the story hitting a good number of the highlights. It tries to do too much in it’s 135 minute running time and has no narrative flow it’s just boom on to the next thing, boom into the next thing. People talk more then they act. Its uninvolving and deadly dull.

I suppose we could blame part of the problem on the film being trimmed by some estimates by at least a third, the film was planned to run over three hours and have an intermission, but based on what’s here it would have just been an hour more talk.

I know many people hate Oliver Stone’s Alexander. Stone himself has an ever changing relationship with the film which has caused him to re-cut the film four different ways (Original, an American version, a Final version and recently another final cut) but at least it was alive. It moved and had characters and tried to tell the story. Even if there were changes to the story, Stone could explain what he did and why.

With the 1956 film I have no idea why the choices were made. It feels like a wax museum and not real life.

Skip the Burton version and see the Oliver Stone film (any cut)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nightcap 11/22/15 The best of DOC NYC 2015, The Kool Aid List or great directors you never heard of and Randi's links

With DOC NYC done and after seeing 132 of 157 films I thought I’d put together a ten best list- and keep it at ten films. Having seen as many films as I did that was a damn tough thing to do.

What I resorted to doing was removing all of the "short list" films of possible Oscar contenders. I then went through a list of all of the films and the ones I didn’t hesitate for a second went on the list. This resulted in NEW HIGH, WILHEMINA’S WAR, BOLSHI BABYLON, BOUNCE, FRACKMAN not making the list because of a momentary hesitation. Since I didn’t see SPPEED SISTERS that’s not included despite everyone telling me how good it is. I also removed MAN UNDER which is one of the best films I saw in 2015, but I already put on Tribeca’s best of list. I felt bad including it again.

 My best films list ended up being:
And most of the sonic Cinema- SYL JOHNSON: ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS, HUSTLERS CONVENTION, MAD TIGER & THEORY OF OBSCURITY because they all are that good.

While there are a few films I didn’t like putting them on a worst of list is unfair since where DC NYC is concerned they are being unfairly compared to 157 other great films. Its like picking the worst Vermeer- you’ll like some more than others, but they are still all Vermeers

Earlier this month I reviewed Christian Svanes Kolding's END OF THE INTERNET and I mentioned that there were a couple of filmmakers whose work I love but whose names you’d never know and a couple of people asked me who these people were.

While I have a long list of filmmakers where I've only seen a single example of their work but who have impressed me none the less  (Jason Kartalian or the duo of Jordan Harris and Andrew Schrader for example) The group I’m talking about have taken the next step and made a couple of films that I think are as good if not better than their firsts. These are the guys I'm waiting to make the jump to super stardom. These are the guys whose work made my jaw drop and murmur under my breath that I was seeing the emergence of someone great-not just once but twice or three times or more. These guys make up the so called KOOL AID LIST because as far as their ability to turn out great films is concerned I'm all in and I've drunk the Kool Aid.

The list is unscientific and purely personal. While I have seen other directors who may have as much talent as these guys the guys on the Kool Aid List score in one key place- I can't shake their films. These are they guys who's work I keep thinking about. And these are they guys I want to name drop when I get involved in talking about the up and coming talent and the next big film directors. I love these guys and I love that there work has become part of my psyche.

The listing below is not in any order- they are all just great directors.

Christian Svanes Kolding as you know is a great filmmaker. I loved his THE EMERGENCY KIT and now his END OF THE INTERNET is even better. You can read my thoughts on EMERGENCY KIT in the review for END and you can put him on the list of people to watch

Jon Kasbe has made a whole bunch of films including MIPSO IN JAPAN and BEAUTIFUL WASTE (see them at his website) and I love every one of them.  Jon has an eye and a sense of place and beauty that is the sort of thing that in a few years is going to be the style everyone is copying. While the look of his films might be enough for some filmmakers its not for Jon who turns in compelling tales every time. (Here is the trailer for his next film and I can't wait)

Jerimiah Kipp is one of the greatest directors of horror films I’ve ever run across.He deserves to be in the pantheon of guys who will scare the crap out of you over and over again. He’s directed a bunch of films but simply on the basis of this two films THE DAYS GOD SLEPT and MINIONS (not the cartoon) he deserves to be making full length fright films because he knows how to disturb his audience deeply. This isn't to sell his other films short- they are damn scary films, but DAYS and MINIONS still haunt me and make me not even want to think about them.

Chun-Yi Hsieh is one of the greatest directors working anywhere in the world. He contacted me way back in 2011 and told me I needed to see his film THE BRAID and he was right it was one of the best films I saw that year, and it’s a film that has haunted me ever since. When he gave me the link to that film he accidently gave me links to a whole bunch of other films that he had made. It was clear back then that he had the right stuff. He’s now back in Taiwan making feature films and his APOLITICAL ROMANCE just kicked it to the curb as one of the great films of NYAFF 2014.

I debated including Alec KUBAS MEYER in this group for two reasons. First he’s a friend which makes my recommendation suspect and secondly the films he’s made that put him on the list haven’t officially premiered yet. REEL, a Hollywood action film is finishing post-production and NOT TOO YOUNG has been submitted to several film festivals for next year. However based upon those films, plus his earlier film MIRANDA and his student films Alec is a filmmaker to watch. While I’ve talked at length about his ability to handle action in my piece on MIRANDA, it’s the handling of troubling difficult subject matters in NOT TOO YOUNG and two additional films he’s working on that forced him on to the list.

And so concludes my Kool Aid List. Take notes and watch for these guys to break out and do something wonderful real soon....

And now several weeks of links from Randi


If you still have Halloween Candy- How to trade up
Blair Witch the Greatest Horror film?
Potboiler quiz
Pictures from un released Australian films
A kick ass piece on NOSFERATU
Onion Studios Covers
Bring me the head of Winnie the Pooh
The Death of the Yeti
On the newly restored William Gillette SHERLOCK HOLMES
How TRICK R TREAT became a Halloween classic
The original Urban Cowboys
Death Avenue
25 years at a video store taught me
David Lynch talks ERASERHEAD
When Disney was trippy
Films de fin d'├ętudes 2015 – G
Most powerful photos
Serial's place in film history
Still haunted by the Yorkshire ripper
lost disney film found
Sea monster?
Creepy houses
record treasure of Mongolia
You can be too clean
Story Time gallery
The opening of the Lion King on Broadway in 360 degrees
This week look for a bunch of cinematic turkeys as Unseen presents it’s annual Thanksgiving series.
After that look for what has become the usual mix of films- old and new which should head straight on until our 6th birthday in February

Last House (2015)

Jason Mewes plays Ned, a young man in love with a call girl named Love. He doesn’t care that she’s a call girl, he just loves her. She loves that he accepts her. However she knows it’s time to get out of the business and she lets her pimp know she’s leaving. He agrees if she’ll go to this one last party with a couple of other girls. It turns out that the party is with some crazies and it looks like it’s going to fall to Ned to rescue her.

Strangely low key horror film is better than you’d think it will be gains points for not following the typical mad psychos on the loose film. In it’s way the film is actually restrained with nothing too graphic and there being a lot of good talk. I’m not sure that the film is scary but it does hold your attention better than many bigger budgeted or so called better films.

The one place where the film gets wonky is in the casting. While most of the cast is good, there are a few that are less so including top billed Mewes who even after 83 roles, according IMDB, is still stiff. While he’s better than he was in some of his earlier films, he’s still not an actor. Strangely despite being top billed and having a good chunk of screen time he’s not really given a great deal to do.

LAST HOUSE is a good little film. While not likely to become your next all time favorite, it is a pleasant time passer, especially when you want to go off the board and see something that isn’t your typical by the numbers film.

LAST HOUSE hit home video and VOD on Tuesday

Above and Below (2015) DOC NYC 2015

ABOVE AND BELOW played a single time at DOC NYC I'm not sure if it was worth going to see.

The film is Nicolas Steiner's look at fringe dwellers in the American South West. April takes part in a simulated Mars trip, Dave lives in an abandoned bunker and a trio lives in the storm drains of Las Vegas and have to deal with the occasional dangerous flooding. We watch as the various people go through their lives and discuss how they got to this point.

To be honest this film completely eluded me, no not eluded me made me wonder why I was watching it and why anyone thought that this film should run two hours long.

The problem for me is that there have been variations on the stories told here over the last few years and they were done more quickly and much more to the point. The one film that instantly jumped to mind was Steve Birnbaum's LOST VEGAS which covered the stories of people living in the Las Vegas storm drains much more succinctly. LOST VEGAS moved me deeply. ABOVE AND BELOW had me nodding off.

Its not bad, more it's just not particularly exciting.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

the last night of DOC NYC 2015- The Award Presentation and the screening of DREAMING AGAINST THE WORLD and CLAUDE LANZMANN SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH

You would think it a joke if I said the final night of the 2015 DOC NYC was a dark and stormy night, but it was. A wicked rain storm lashed the New York Metro area making it a very unpleasant night to be out. Thankfully movies this time of year screen inside so all one had to do was make it to the theater to be safe and warm for a couple of hours.

I was going to the screening of CLAUDE LANZMANN SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH which was screening with DREAMING AGAINST THE WORLD at the SVA theaters. The original start time was supposed to be 730 but things had gotten moved around because of security issues with Hillary Clinton who was attending MAKERS:ONCE AND FOR ALL which screened earlier in the evening. That was fine with me because I got to have a long leisurely dinner with Mondocurry.

When I got SVA it looked dead, the heavy rain keeping anyone without tickets away from the theater. I picked up my ticket and went inside.

Sitting in my seat I ended up talking to Dave Schachter who produced BARGE as well as Kurt Vincent  who directed and Irene Chin LOST ARCADE. Vincent seemed a bit ansy about the future of his film I assured them that the demand was there as was strong word of mouth and that at the world premiere no one wanted to leave the stand by line even after being told they couldn’t get in. Dave Schachter also made some suggestions about getting the word out to a wider audience. Vivent said that he had already lined up a screening at the soon to open Metrograph theater which is located not far from the location of Chinatown Fair, the subject of his film
Thom Powers and Basil Tsiokos begin the introductions
The evening began with some thank yous and then the announcement of the awards…

Three shorts got special Jury Mentions
Two shorts won top prize and both go onto the Oscar short list
Eric Rockey accepts his award
Stephen Maing accepts his award
Announcing the Metropolis awards

David Shapiro stands to accept the audience applause
Add caption

Marc Levin and subject accept his award
NEWMAN wins Special Mention in the View Finders Category
Nicole Horanyi accepts her award

Directors Justin Schein and David Mehlman accept their Audience Awared
After the awards the directors of the two films came up and introduced their  films

Or not.

Francisco Bello and Timothy Sternberg who directed DREAMING said they don’t like to talk before a screening so they said nothing.

Adam Benzine director of CLAUDE LANZMANN SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH said a few words, largely dedicating the screening to the people of France.

The lights went down and the films started.

DREAMING AGAINST THE WORLD  is a very good portrait of artist Mu Xin.

A Chinese intellectual, he ran into trouble off and on over the years with the communist government and found himself imprisoned. During the time he wrote a prison diary and painted pictures which he hid had to hide lest he be executed. The film is a singular portrait of a singular individual who refused to be broken or to die despite poor treatment by the Chinese authorities. In his way he got the last laugh living long enough to be considered a cultural icon. Its a great little film and seeing the art on the big screen was absolutely  stunning.

An aside, during the Q&A the film makers said that they got the interview with Mu Xin, who had only done two previous, very short interviews by showing up at his home with a collection of Beethoven CDs.

In the time between the films about a third of the audience got up and left. I recognized most of them as filmmakers of other DOC NYC films who had shown up for the awards ceremony. While I know why they left, they were there to see who won the various award, I think it was bad form and thought they should have at least waited until the second film ended.

The LANZMANN film disappointed. The film consists of a 2013 interview with Lanzmann where he recounts his life and the making of SHOAH and some outtakes from the epic film. While its good, it isn’t anything special. Worse there is little here that anyone who knows Lanzmann and his work hasn’t heard before, though the footage of the attack by Nazis that put the director in the hospital for a month is new and chilling. The film is a kind of puff piece DVD extra. I’m not sure what it’s point since it’s clear that there could have been more being told- a fact made clear when director Adam Benzine said he shot with Lanzmann for a week. A week and you only could cull 40 minutes out of it? What we have is good but Lanzmann deserves more-he deserves at least a couple of hours.

After the films the directors were brought on stage as was Richard Brody Film Editor of the New Yorker and Professor Stuart Liebman Media Studies, Queens College; CUNY Graduate School.
Timothy Sternberg tries to remain awake as Richard Brody talks and talks and talks
I'm going lose friends by saying this but the addition of Richard Brody  was a major mistake by the festival. I say this because once Brody started talking he didn’t shut up.

There was one question to Timothy Sternberg and Francisco Bello about DREAMING and the next question went to Brody who then talked for about ten minutes on the importance of SHOAH and going into great deal about several sequences in the Lanzmann film. He apologized for talking so long but after a couple of questions to Adam Benzine and Professor Liebman he jumped back in and just went. What he said wasn't bad but what he didn't realize the night wasn't about him, which is what it became. (there were only two audience questions)

I always hate multiple film Q&As because one  film always gets shut out but this was ridiculous. It would have been better if the only film screened was the Lanzmann doc and there was an hour discussion because DREAMING ended up unfairly forgotten in the discussion.

The evening wasn't bad it just was really odd.

And with that DOC NYC was done for another year.

Over all I had a blast and I can't wait until next year.
Professor Stuart Liebman

For more pictures from the evening go to our Tumblr page

(My personal best of DOC NYC  list will appear Sunday night)

Sunshine Makers (2015) DOC NYC 2015

The story of Nick Sand and R.Timothy Scully who tried to turn the world on to LSD. They made millions of tabs and were hunted by the government.

Sorry if that isn't exciting, but to be quite honest this is one of the duller films that played at DOC NYC. Its a portrait of two mellow guys who had their minds expanded by the drug,  but even with all of the intrigue are much too low key to sustain a 90 minute movie. The problem with the film is that it doesn't pick up steam until we get to the final third when the police begin to take center stage.

This is the sort of a film that you kind of get a bead on ten minutes in and you realize that unless they suddenly make an exciting turn the film was going to remain on one level. I knew after ten minutes that the film was going to end up too long and that this would have been better as an episode of some true crime show on History.

The problem, aside from the slack pacing is that we never really get to know either guy beyond what we know in the first couple of minute. Scully is a scientific genius who has a touch of Asperger's who wants to give the acid away and Sand is ladies man driven to make money turning the world on. That's about it. There is no sense as why we should want to listen to them for 90 minutes. Its an interesting story but not told this way nor as the main focus of a feature. Its a short film, and if someone went at this film with a pair of sheers you's have an great short doc.

Wait for this to show up on TV, either cable or PBS.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ariela wrestles with MUSTANG (2015) France's Oscar entry

MUSTANG was like watching a nightmare. The movie isn't scary per say, but the subject matter is very unsettling.

MUSTANG takes place in Turkey. The film starts off with a group of girls(who we later find out are 5 sisters) leaving school with some boys and going to play in the lake. When they get to their home, an older woman starts yelling at them and one by one locking them in a room and beating them. I was as confused as they were, as to why this was happening. They kept yelling "what is this about??" and they protested and wouldn't let her grab the other girls. She then says that a woman down the street said they were being promiscuous with the boys. They were shocked because they were just playing with them and it wasn't anything "dirty".

The next thing you know, this woman, who turns out to be their grandmother, as their parents both passed away turns the house into a prison. Putting up bars so they can't escape, not allowing them to leave or go back to school and then bringing over women to teach them how to be to cook, and sew. At one point they do escape(to go to a sports game), and the uncle who also lives there, winds up putting up higher and higher walls. The custom is that once a girl reaches a certain age, she has an arranged marriage. One by one this happens to the girls and it was hard to tell what the timeline was..if they just married them off one after another, or if they were actually getting older (not much time had passed between each one and when they were starting to try to marry off the even younger girls, it was disturbing). One of the girls is in a relationship with someone, but the grandmother says if she ever wants to be with him they have to get married, so at least she has a happy ending..the others are just set up with whomever. Some rebel and some don't. One girl befriends a nice man with a car to teach her how to drive.

 It was enraging that the girls didn't try to fight what was happening to them. I wanted to shake my fist at them. I was surprised that they just went along with it. The story really shows oppression of woman. The movie was good, but definitely not a happy good feeling film, though I did have hope for the youngest one, She was a fighter!

A rambling piece trying to work out 13 Million Voices (2015) DOC NYC 2015

A look at the 2009 concert PEACE WITHOUT BORDERS that was held in Cuba. The film follows the run up to the show and what followed. The film also tries to explain how Cuba is seen by people in the country and by exiles.

You can tell that I am very mixed about the film in that I am running the review after it screened at DOC NYC, and after the festival. While I like the music in the film I'm not sure about anything else with it. Part of the problem is the film is  choppy in the editing, especially in the early part of the film where we jump through several years of time depending on what the film wants to get across. The result is a film that for me is very hard to completely get a grasp on.

I'm also feeling adrift about what the film is really about. The film is very much against the lack of freedom of expression in Cuba, but at the same time the concert happened...

You have to excuse me because the film is this really weird  mix of being in love with Cuba and hating portions of it. Its a film that seems to have been shaped by exiles and their families and yet some of what we see isn't the complete anti- Castro Cuba...

Its kind of like the film has some sort of agenda but doesn't really know what it all is. Part of it is the editing, part of it is I don't think the people who made the film have a real handle on what they want to say. I mean they are nominally telling the story of the concert  but there is all this other stuff in there.

I know I'm not making sense. The problem is that recently I've seen a bunch of films about Cuba and expression there be it art (ALUMBRONES) or cars (HAVANA MOTOR CLUB) which paint a differing picture of the country. I'm not sure what to think is the real story.

Actually I'm not sure what the story is of this film either- I've thought about and I really don't know. I know that may inspire hate mail, or people screaming I don't get it-and that maybe true- but if so please leave a comment and tell me what I'm not getting because frankly I'd really like to know.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Reversing the Mississippi (2015) plays Saturday at Union Docs - go see it.

REVERSING THE MISSISSIPPI started off going to be the story of the director Ian Midgley’s life on the road. He grabbed his camera and went off to find America and the people who were creating their own realities . Somewhere along the way he ran into Dr Marcin Jakubowski who was working on the designs of farm equipment that anyone could make via open sourced the designs. The idea was that some could build say a tractor or a bobcat style loader with limited resources and a fraction of the cost of one from a major manufacturer. Later when Midgley was traveling he  hooked up with Nat Turner, an ex NYC school teacher, who is trying to teach the kids of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans to be self-sufficient and grow their own food. Things were going along okay but they really could use some heavy equipment....Through the directors connection the two men are brought together and things begin to happen.

This is a really good little film that plays Saturday night at Union Docs in Brooklyn (the info is here). Director Ian Midgley is going to be there and I think you really should go because this is a really good little film.

I hear you saying "But Steve, we're all documentaried out. We just spent a week and a day at DOC NYC and the thought of seeing another documentary will kill us"

I have no sympathy. I saw 132 of 157 films at DOC NYC and you're not hearing me complain.

Well actually I'm not complaining I'm just not going to do a full on write up of the film because after all the films I saw in the last couple of weeks I don't have it in me to do a straight on review of anything.

On the other hand I can hawk a film that I really like, one that I think is something special and worthy of your attention. In a weird way that's what is a good review is anyway - a writer waving something he or she likes around so it gets noticed and people see it.

This piece is my waving REVERSING THE MISSISSIPPI in front of you in the hope of getting you to see it.  REVERSING is a neat little do it yourself documentary about some do it yourself individuals. Its the individuals such as Turner and the students, that make the film something you're going to want to see.(Sorry I'm not a fan of Jakubowsky). Its the good people who are trying to change the world  that are the reason why you'll want to see the film- and you do want to see this film- you just don't know it yet.

In all seriousness if you live near NYC get off you butts and go to Union Docs and see this film. All the info is right here. If you live outside of NYC put REVERSING THE MISSISSIPPI your list of films to see and as soon as it gets to a theater near you go.

Lost Arcade (2015) DOC NYC 2015

This is a look at the Chinatown Fair which was opened in the 1940's as a a kind of indoor carnival. It evolved over time to become New York City's longest surviving video game arcade. The film is a look back at the arcade by some of the people who used to hang out there, as well as kind of overview of video games in New York.

Despite spending a lot of time in Chinatown over the last 20 or so years I only went into Chinatown Fair once or twice largely be in an "arcade" because arcades had disappeared. When the film was announced for DOC NYC  I asked Mr C, who had spent a great deal of time there, to take a look at the film and let me know what he thought. I posted his thoughts in our curtain raiser because I wasn't sure if I was going to get around to reviewing the film. He said:

The Chinatown Fair on Mott Street was a dive of an arcade in lower Manhattan that was ultimately competing with the neon giants of gaming arcades that were propping up in Times Square. My memories of the Chinatown Fair was during the 80s-90s when it acted as a place of refuge for gaming & time away from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown while I wait for my mom to end her shift working at the sewing factory on Lafayette Street or when my Dr. Toothy dentist visit ended the grinding & clamping sessions early. What I experienced at the fair included watching a culture of passionate fighting game enthusiasts start to brew to catching wannabe Chinatown triad rebel rousers passby the arcade to take a break, or simply those just curious of the Live Tic Tac Toe playing Chicken! THE LOST ARCADE documentary brought back memories of a lost but not forgotten New York.

As someone who isn't well versed in the arcade my take was slightly different. For me the film is an uneven look at the arcade and a few of the people who went though it's doors.

The film started as part of an effort to document the arcade which at the time was rumored to be closing. Director Vincent Kurt began filming in the arcade in order to make a record of the place which meant so much to him. Through that experience he connected with several other people and the tale of what the arcade was for them emerged.

As a slice of life and portrait of a moment the film is very good but over long.As the film stands now it would be a really good short, but the problem is that the film wants to be something more with the result that the film kind of drifts.

For the film to work as feature it really should have given us more of the history of its subjects. First the film should have rooted itself more into the history of the arcade and of the neighborhood. Yes we get some of it but I know from reading and seeing other accounts of Chinatown there is more to it than we see. The fair was there for 60 years so there has to be more to the back story than what we get.  The film could have used more in the history of arcades in NYC and in general, especially since the film talks about Chinatown Fair in relation to other places in the city. In many places there isn't enough meat. What is here seems to be more off the cuff explanation of everything and it works against the film.

I like the film enough that I want it to be better. I know it could be better.(And unfairly the films flaws seem kind of glaring when compared to a few video game/arcade films I've seen recently)

Reservations aside this is a good look at a slice of New York City life that has now passed away.

American Masters: Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015) DOC NYC 2015

Amy Berg's profile of Janis Joplin is a real mixed bag. It has great music, a touching ending but there is there are a lot of problems with it that keep it from ever really soaring.

Berg's film seeks to be a profile of Joplin from her birth to her death. It consists of lots of interviews with the people who knew her (friends and family), interview footage with Janis herself, her letters and lots of performance footage. While it covers her whole life it ends up being rather bland and at times incredibly superficial.

The problem with talking about the film I run into the danger of making you think its a bad film, it's not its good, but at the same time the film has lots of problems. Because I feel I have to I'm going to say a few of the things that bothered me.

-First off there is very little sense of her as a young girl growing up. Yes we her that she's picked on but outside of being picked on as the ugliest man on campus we get very little sense of what was going on. Its a general she was an odd duck sort of thing.

-The sense of time is a tad cockeyed. At one point we're shown pictures marked 1964 and then suddenly the film jumps back to 1963. At other times, outside of the major events there is no sense of when things are happening.

-A lot of people come and go and we have no idea who they are. One of Janis's girlfriends talks briefly about her bi-sexuality but its never mentioned again until we get to Woodstock and Janis is calling her girlfriend to come- who is she and if she's that important why wasn't she mentioned before?

-Janis's drug use is very unevenly dealt with. Its mentioned early on when she was in San Francisco with a fiance and then its brushed under the rug until around the 70 minute mark of the film where it becomes an issue as Joplin was using it after shows to mellow out. At the same time no one but the guy who was her great love thought it was all that bad until it killed her. Even the film kind of underplays it.

Actually until the last half hour or so the film is rather leisurely paced. Then suddenly its a mad dash to the end.

Despite knowing a bit about Joplin before going in through other films and books, I walked out of Berg's film feeling I some how knew less. Additionally the makes a major error is that until the end credits there is no talk about the people she influenced or why-only as the credits whiz by to be hear the women she influenced and why. Sadly its too little too late. I understand that the film is Janis' story but some people really do need to have her importance explained to them.

Over all this its not bad but this film should have been soooooo much better especially since all of the right people are on camera and it has footage from a variety of sources.

That said the film does end up breaking your heart with the realization that had she gotten the telegram that was at the Motel's front desk she might not have taken the drugs that killed her.

The film will be running soon on the PBS American Masters (though how they are going to deal with the language and breasts is beyond me).

Frame by Frame (2015) in LA and opens Friday in New York- Go See it

Currently open in LA and opening this Friday at New York's IFC Center FRAME BY FRAME is a stunning visual experience. Its also one hell of a ride.

The film follows four photojournalists in Afghanistan as they record the events of their country. That may sound like nothing special but consider that when the Taliban controlled the country taking a photo could get you thrown in jail or killed. The journalists show us what they do, talk about their lives and explain why they do it.

Add FRAME BY FRAME to the list of recent films of photography that are great. Add this to the list of films that include FINDING VIVIAN MAIER, EDDIE ADAMS SAIGON '68 and SALT OF THE EARTH. This is one of those films that makes you wonder why a film about stopping time makes such a great subject for something that is all about moving through time. This is a film that will blow you away visually and at the same tie make you realize that you really don't know or even understand what is going on half a world away.

You'll forgive me for not going on and waxing poetic about the film instead of grabbing you by your lapels and telling you to drop what you're doing and go see this. I'm really not in a position or frame of mind to do more than say "go see this". Its not the film's fault it's just that I'm burned out after over doing on a couple of film festivals.

I was not supposed to see FRAME BY FRAME and despite my desire to see it I was avoiding it because I knew that if I liked it I couldn't write the film up in a way that was deserving of it's quality. I was fine until through an exchange of emails with someone connected to the film a chance to see the film right then fell into my lap. Feeling ambitious I said yes...and well I fell in love with the film while at the same time exhausted my ability to write it up by talking it up before I could get to my lap top. I have a very set routine about writing and talking after a film, there are certain no nos and I did them all. The result I lost a large number of my words before I could get them on paper.

On the other hand,the six that survived are the most important THIS IS GREAT GO. SEE IT. That's all you need to know.

FRAME BY FRAME is open in LA and starts Friday in New York. You know what to do.

(And do I need to warn you there are some disturbing images?)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Transfatty Lives opens Friday in LA and will be available on VOD

I saw and fell in love with TRANSFATTY LIVES at Tribeca. I love Patrick Sean O'Brien's giving the finger to the disease that's killing him. The film rightly ended up winning an Audience Award . With in the critical community it was well loved as well. 

With the film opening in Los Angeles & On Demand tomorrow the 20th  (it opens in New York Christmas day) I'm reposting my Tribeca review. The film touched me deeply and it contains some of my favorite writing of the year.

I also want to point you to Hubert's excellent piece cinematic letter films that played at Tribeca where he talks extensively about the film. It can be found here. 

Patrick Sean O'Brien, aka the Transfatty of the title, was diagnosed with ALS, aka Lou Gerhig's disease, aka the same thing that Stephen Hawking has, in 2005 and was given 2 to 5 years to live. Ten years later he is unveiling his autobiographical film as a way to explain to his young son who he is and what he's going through.

Say what you will about Patrick O'Brien he is not one to go into that good night without having the ambulance blasting Black Sabbath. Where other people might get their affairs in order he kept on going, making films, writing on his blog, and oh yea, fathering a child he adores.

The film that we have been gifted with is O'Brien's ballsy warts and all FUCK YOU to the disease that is slowly killing him and a wet kiss with full on tongue to the life he refuses to leave. If you ever wanted to know what it's like to have a disease that would keep you trapped in your body fully aware of everything this is it.

This isn't so much a document of his life but of his mental space- this is how he feels and what he thinks. Its a moving, over powering kick to the nuts. You can not help but be moved by the story. This film will make it damn difficult for you ever again to say you have a tough life or you hate your situation. How can you bitch and complain when someone like Patrick O'Brien is still fighting the good fight despite being trapped in his body.

I don't know what else to say other than its a must see film

In Brief: C-Word (2015) DOC NYC 2015

Meghan O’Hara, the producer of Michael Moore's films discovered she had cancer and her world went into a spin. After recovering from the disease she came upon the work of Dr. David Servan-Schreiber who advocated the best way to beat cancer was o change the way we engage with the world. If we change our diets, avoid toxins, reduce stress and exercise we could effectively end cancer over night.

Odd ball film with narration by executive Producer Morgan Freeman comes off as a kind of hyperactive pep rally cum sales film for Dr Servan-Schreiber's work. I'm not going to argue that what the good doctor is saying is wrong, it actually mirrors what I've heard from many other doctors, rather I'm saying the film is trying to do too much and explain everything and make it's point with too much show biz glitz.

I turned off about ten minutes into the film  and never turned back on having seen the non-personal details many times before elsewhere. I'm guessing O'Hara's Hollywood connections will get the film a release but I don't know about it's staying power  when there are better versions out there.


I want to say a couple of things about this film.

First it's a very good  portrait of Yvonne Rainer and her career which helped to change what modern dance is. Its a kind of everything you ever wanted to know about her with lots of clips and talking heads that put it all into context of dance and performance history.

The other thing is that this is going to play best if you are a fan of modern dance and of Rainer in particular. I say this because I got about half way into the film and I kind of checked out. While I was enjoying the story of what Rainer was doing I was left cold by the dances themselves. Where with Wim Wender's PINA made Bausch's dances compelling to a non-fan, FEELINGS ARE FACTS never manages to cross over with the result I could appreciate what I was seeing intellectually but emotionally it left me cold.

For dance fans.

The film plays tonight and tomorrow at DOC NYC. For tickets and more information go here.

In Brief: Gayby Baby (2015) DOCNYC 2015

This is the portrait of four (pre)teens being raised by same sex parents and the ebb and flow of their lives.

I'm kind of the wrong audience for this film when it comes to the film because I live in New York where I see same sex parents with some frequency on the streets with their kids. To me the trials and tribulations don't seem as off beat as it does in Australia where this was filmed.

I have to stress that there is nothing wrong with the film, it's actually quite wonderful,  but if you were to show the film to someone and didn't mention at the outset the fact that the parents were gay and lesbian I think it would take them a while to catch on since this film is largely just a film where its simply the lives of a bunch of kids of a certain age. The kids really are just a bunch of regular kids going through life just like anywhere else. Yes we see the complications of having or being gay parents but this is really the kids story.

I know that's the point of the film, but to me over selling it as a "gay parent" film is kind of wrong since the film is about the kids.

Clearly that's my own way of seeing the film. As is my feelings that this is just a super portrait of kids regardless of their parents. Definitely worth seeing.

The film gets a single screening at DOC NYC tonight. For tickets and more information go here.

She's The Best Thing In It (2015) DOC NYC 2015

After Mary Louise Wilson won a Tony for Gray Gardens she found herself seemingly unemployable. No one wanted to hire her because they thought the Tony award would increase her salary demands. It wasn’t entirely true, but feeling that she couldn’t even get arrested she took an invitation from Tulane and went down to the school to teach acting. She’s the Best Thing In It is a celebration of Wilson, of acting and a chronicle of her time teaching aspiring actors.

I’m a huge fan of Mary Louise Wilson and I had this film in my pile to watch long before the film showed up on the DOC NYC schedule. I was holding it for a special occasion when I needed a special occasion. The occasion was the appearance at the festival.

To be honest I’m mixed on this film and slightly disappointed. The problem is that the film is really two films stuck together. The two films, one a celebration of Wilson and the other Wilson teaching never really blend together. Each part is fine but they don’t completely click. The sequences with Wilson kibitzing and talking about her life is much more jovial and inviting than the teaching sequences. The teaching sequences, while intriguing, are more the sort of thing that is going to interest someone who is an actor or who is very interested in the craft of acting. Watching them and the interviews with Wilson’s students I kept thinking that the sequences should have been in another film. This should have been another film.

At no point should this film be considered be anything less than very good and entertaining. The trouble is that the two excellent parts of the film when put together don’t make an excellent movie but rather just a good one.