Monday, July 21, 2014

There isn't much to say about Bill Plympton's Cheatin (2013) except it's fantastic Fantasia Fest 2014

The largely wordless CHEATIN concerns a bookish young lady who literally collides with a hunk of a man at a carnival and ends up wedded to him.Things take a turn for the worst when he begins cheating on her and she plots revenge..

Possibly Bill Plympton's most beautiful and lyric film ever. A magical and marvelous marriage of image and sound it unwinds in a series of truly spectacular set pieces that are true delight to behold. Its a film that had me murmuring "oh wow" through out.

I can't say much more than it's one of the truly great animated films I've ever run across except to say GO.

the film plays later today and tomorrow at Fantasia. For more information and tickets go to the Fantasia film page here.

Dial Red 0 (1955)

First of five films starring western star Bill Elliot as a Los Angeles Sheriff's detective lieutenant dealing with homicides across Los Angeles.

Things are set in motion when a vet escapes from a psychiatric hospital and heads to see his wife. When he gets there she's not home.He leaves to try and find her. It transpires that the wife has gone out to meet her boyfriend, a one time friend of her husband's. She wants to celebrate because she's served her husband with divorce papers. The boyfriend is not happy since he's happy  with the relationship as it is since it allows him a girlfriend and his wife and son. When she pushes the boyfriend snaps and kills his paramour. Thinking fast he makes it look like her husband did it.

Low key police procedural cum film noir has Elliot's Andy Flynn (His name would become Andy Doyle in the remaining films) largely outside of much of the action. Yes he wanders in and makes arrests and does some detective work, but the film seems more focused on the romantic triangle at it's heart, the killer and the cuckolded husband. I was expecting a film more focused on the detective and while the film is quite good it's rather surprising that the film was thought good enough to make a series.

Currently out on DVD from the Warner Archive and worth a look as part of their Bill Elliott Detective Mysteries set.

Of interest to some is the fact that Sam Peckinpah was the dialog coach for the film and has a bit part playing the cook in the diner.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Nightcap 7/20/14- taking stock of NYAFF and Japan Cuts, an announcement and links

The New York Asian Film Festival is done and Japan Cuts is all but done. Its time to take stock of the festivities and see how things turned out.

From a film stand point this was a very good year. At least as far as I was concerned there weren’t that many clunkers. I know festival organizers are at the mercy of the film companies and this year they managed to get some really good and truly great films. The real surprise this year was that many of the non-genre films were the best films. Films like Wood Job and The Great Passage and Zone Pro Site scored way above films like Monsterz or Killers.

I was not physically at the festival as much as in past years, with the result I missed much of the big events, however even allowing for that this year’s festival seemed a bit too low key. There wasn’t quite the excitement. Where last year the madness of Jackie Chan happened before the festival, thus shifting the feel of things around, this year things just felt low key. The festival felt more like just going to the movies instead of going to some sort of big to do. I’m not blaming the festival organizers since they tried very much to pump things up via intros by people like Grady and James, rather I’m blaming the audiences who didn’t bring it this year. (I mean people turned down their chance to die like a samurai on stage, where in years past people would have fought tooth and nail to do so)

Where was the excitement? Where was the cheers and the screams of delight? Mostly it was the family just hanging out and having low key fun together. That's not a bad thing, especially when you have such a wonderful family.

Actually where were the new faces? I hate to say it this year’s festivals were a tad too much old home week. I recognized way too many people. There really wasn’t anyone new in the trenches except at the odd screening. I mean that’s all well and good, but for a festival to grow it has to grow its audience and this year it seemed I knew by sight most of the people. Okay yes we did get Christina from Austin who spent the majority of both NYAFF and |Japan Cuts winning friends and kicking ass but largely it was a good number of the same people in many screenings.

Audience aside, this was a great year. The films were good, the intros were great,and the company was joyous. I had a blast...and I can't wait until next year to do it all over again.

And now an important announcement concerning the course of Unseen Film.

As most of you know we've been hip deep in festival coverage and crazy ass madness pretty much since Tribeca.  Most of the posts here between now and April have been festival posts. We haven't picked at most festivals but waded in hammers and tongs and had at them.

Because of  things outside of the film world a good deal of the heavy lifting has fallen on myself  and it's damn near killed me. While we've gained readers it's left me physically broken and not wanting to ever see a movie again.

It's no one's fault but my own since I haven't learned to say no.

While part of the problem has been the sheer volume of the films reviewed, a larger part has been that I simply don't want someone else picking out what I'm seeing. Truthfully festival watching is like being force fed one type of food. I can't do it any least for a while. I have stacks and stacks and stacks of DVDs of other types of films and I have a couple dozen books I want to read, I just haven't been able to get to them because I had to watch this or that movie for review. Yes the movies have mostly been great, but I need to pick my own stuff for a while.

To that end I'm taking a step back and away from Unseen for a few weeks. You probably won't notice it since I have things programmed until the New York Film Festival. But on the other hand outside of Fantasia, which I really want to cover, the number of festival titles and new releases are going to fall away. I just can't do it, nor can many of the other guys and gals at Unseen who have their own things to take care of. (If you're promoting stuff feel free to send it our way- just don't be upset if we say "not right now")

I don't know how this will affect anything past NYFF, though I do have things scheduled roughly and with huge holes until December (and plans into March), but it's fair warning, Unseen maybe less of the moment for a bit.
This week look for the Bill Elliot mystery films that were just released by the Warner Archive as well as more Japan Cuts and Fantasia titles
And now links from Randi

Cookie Monsters 
Can a film truly be anti-war?
monsters in the closet
Behind the scenes with BOXTROLLS
Seth McFarlane steal the idea for Ted

A few words on Zombie TV (2013) Fantasia Fest 2014

With Yoshihiro Nishimura (Mutant Girl Squad and Hell Driver) as one of the directors you know what you're going to get, low brow, bloody humor and Zombie TV is just that.

Opening with a J-pop zombie song from the pit of hell the film then riffs on a day of TV programming with dramas, exercise shows, travel shows, cartoons, wrestling (with a decidedly non PC character), superheros, sex instruction and assorted other stuff.

How is it?

The sort of thing best watched with friends or at a midnight movie screening with an audience of like minded crazies. Its bloody, and funny and utterly tasteless. When it works its good fun.

The trouble is that as a movie and not a shared experience this isn't all that hot. If you can't kibitz with someone the bad jokes and occasional dead spots (some bits go on too long or are repeated too much) make this less than must see TV. This is probably Nishimura's most all over the place film

On the other hand if you're locked and loaded with friends and drinks this is a must see.

Zombie TV's one screening at Fantasia was last night at midnight. For more information on the film go here.

Ghostwatch (1992)

Legendary BBC movie about a live TV investigation is one damn creepy film. Originally broadcast in such away that if you missed it you'd think it was a real broadcast, the film scared a large portion of the audience.

The film is the story of a Halloween broadcast from a council home in England which has been a hot bed of paranormal activity. As events transpire in the house, host Michael Parkinson talks to a parapsychologist and takes viewer calls in the studio. What happens in and outside of the house ends up leaving everyone shaken and worse...

If want to see a scary movie see this film. I can only imagine how I would have reacted to it if I didn't know if it were real or not. Even knowing that things were not real this film unnerved me. It bothered me so much seeing it in the middle of the afternoon that all I could think was how glad that I wasn't seeing this at night.

The power of the film is that it plays it all straight. You fall into everyone selling you the story completely. The film also sets up all of the expected tropes of ghost hunting shows and found footage films like Paranormal Activity. Those shows/films owe a huge debt to this film.

Not to put too fine a point on it, a classic.

Kazuki Kitamura at Japan Cuts 2014 for MAN FROM RENO and NEKO SAMURAI

Today may or may not have been my last day at Japan Cuts. As days go, it was a nice day in the city not too hot nor too crazy. I got to talk to several good friends though I had to bail early on the Neko Party because the screening and Q&A went too late and endangered a reasonable train home (sorry Mr Powers)

The big do today was that Kazuki Kitamura was going to be on hand for three of his films and to get the CUT ABOVE award before NEKO SAMURAI. I've posted lots of pictures on our Tumblr page and they can be found here.

Both screenings were sold out and a little crazy.

First up was MAN FROM RENO which has been winning awards allover the place.

Dave Boyle's riff on neo noir concerns a mystery writer from Japan who unexpectedly leaves her book tour to fly to San Francisco nominally to see friends, but it soon becomes clear she's considering checking out permanently. Her life gets thrown a curve ball when she meets a Japanese man with whom she spends a passionate night. He's gone in the morning leaving her in a tizzy and in a bit of trouble. At the same time we follow the story of a small town sheriff who runs over a man in the fog and ends up on a course that will connect with our heroine.

A mostly solid little mystery and a very good film, has me scratching my head with all of the laurels it's collecting. Its a good little thriller that has some nice twists on what you expect from a mystery such as this but it's not that great. I had that feeling even before one thing that happens that makes no logical sense except in the director and writers mind. This is also one of those movies that goes on three steps too long since the story is effectively over at a certain point.

I would love to explain what I meant but I don't want to ruin the film when you see it- and you will want to see it.

The Q&A was interesting with director Boyle talking about how he put the film together and used Kickstarter.  I do have to applaud the woman who asked about the point that bothered me and he said that he did it that way because he wanted to. He knew it didn't make sense in the real world but he did it anyway. I suspect from the way he answered the question the point  bothered a lot of other people since the answer seemed well rehearsed. (And no it doesn't make sense I explained why to some people between the films and they agreed it really doesn't make sense at all in an otherwise realistic film)

Yes the point really annoys the hell out of me. And no it doesn't ruin the film for me since it's effectively over before it.

Before NEKO SAMURAI Kitamura was given his award and he spoke eloquently. I don't remember one word that he said, I just remember it was pretty cool.

NEKO SAMURAI was not as Alec hoped the best film ever,it was however quite enjoyable. The film is the story of a disgraced samurai  who is looking for a job. He is paid by a family of dog lovers to kill the cat belonging to their enemies. He is, however, unable to do so so he fakes killing the cat and carries it off, never intending to fall in love with it.  What happens after that is the film and it's utterly charming.

Is the film great? Oh hell no. I have no idea why it sold out in about an hour of going on sale, though the fact that a couple of rows plus were reserved may have to do with it, though I guess New Yorkers are cat lovers, or they know the TV show it's based on.

Its a good film, but did everyone need to feel bad for missing it? Oh hell no- this will play fine on TV.

After the film Kitamura did a Q&A in which he covered his varied career, working with Takashi Miike, Quentin Tarantino (both of which geeked out at meeting the other); the sad fact that the Japanese film industry chases awards, surefire hits  and has no creativity(many films are TV show based); and how he never planned to be an actor. It was a great talk and I'd like to see it again (if you find it on line send me a link)

After the film there was a Neko party. I popped in but because the last film went so late I was in danger of potentially missing the last reasonable train home. I wandered around, said some goodbyes and headed off.

It was good evening capped off by a security guard  calling after Alec and myself to report that someone had turned in Alec's wallet...which he didn't know was missing. Everything was there which says a great deal about the great people who go to Japan Cuts.

Alec and I then walked and talked before parting in Times Square he to go up down, me to go down.

And now time for sleep since I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

JAPAN CUTS 2014: The Not-So-Secret Lives of Third Graders in HELLO! JUNICHI

Say ‘Hello!’ to a viewing object that is an enigma in itself.  What you behold on screen will seem for the most part straightforward and entirely logical. But think about it for a moment and its existence is a marvel. What could bring this uncharacteristically ecstatic work into being? It’s hard to imagine it being possible anywhere except perhaps another galaxy, and then of course Japan.

HELLO! JUNICHI drops in on the lives of a band of third graders: their love interests, their hang-ups, their dreams and the hardships they bear. Although wrapped in some good-natured zaniness and baring the hyperactivity that comes with such an age, it’s an uncondescending, thoughtful portrayal, continuing a tradition of taking kids seriously that we often see in the films of Kore-eda.

Imagine if you will who would take on such an endeavor in the West? It’s not so much of a stretch to see realistic on-screen enactments of adolescents. It’s a time period close enough and relevant to adults’ experiences for them to be willing to return to.  And adolescents themselves are forming tastes and have a vested interest in seeking out stories about characters they can closely relate to. But children right in the middle of their elementary school days? I’m trying to imagine a scene of 8 and 9 year old mumblecore fans getting walked to or dropped off at an arthouse cinema in Shimo Kitazawa or perhaps Koenji. I can’t quite picture it. Nevertheless, JUNICHI exists, thanks to eccentric visionary director Katsuhito Ishii (FUNKY FOREST, THE TASTE OF TEA) for third graders, should they come across the opportunity to see it, and grown up fans of unadulterated merriment alike.

The scenarios the kids face arise with the subtlety of a week’s worth of afterschool sitcoms crammed into the length of a movie. They range from central character Junichi’s inability to muster the confidence to return an eraser to a girl he likes to another boy, whose family faces financial hardships, considering shoplifting in order to get birthday present for his overworked mother, to a child actor’s desire to woo a young woman working as a shop clerk who also models and has been in commercials with him. The kids have a range of economic situations and personality types, and the fact that this does not affect their friendships is evidence of a wonderfully idealistic sentiment at work. So too is the ambition and sense of achievement we get among the kids, particularly Tanaka, a tough girl who won’t take guff from anyone including the older neighborhood bullies, determined to be a successful pop singer. When she sings her heart out over the requisite musical number, it’s both a charming and profoundly uplifting moment.

Meanwhile the acting is remarkably genuine. At the outset and several times throughout, they appear to have been given a scenario and asked to improvise. It’s conceivable that they did sometimes and not others since two people are credited as co-directors along with Ishii.
Adding quite a bit of flair is Hikari Mitsushima’s (similarly electrifying in ‘mean girl’ roles in LOVE EXPOSURE and VILLAIN) performance as a student teacher whose garishness and straight from the hip talk is far opposed to the expected nurturing teacher role. Is she employing clever psychological techniques to help the kids find their way or just being 100 percent true to her audacious self?

HELLO! JUNICHI is absolutely peppered with instances of singular strangeness too: impromptu pro wrestling matches break out between classes,  refereed by lucha libre mask wearing individual who suddenly appears; a duo of an African gentleman and free spirited Japanese woman rides a bicycle past Junichi on his way to school, greeting him with a hearty ‘hello!’ in English. Perhaps the latter is a symbol of boldness and embracing a friendly spirit toward all? Then there is the infectiously silly and simple dance shown repeatedly over the closing credits that will have audiences dancing in the aisles…or at least wishing they could return to a time of youthful innocence when they could actually do so.

HELLO! JUNICHI plays at the 2014 JAPAN CUTS festival of contemporary cinema at 3 pm on Sunday, July 20 at Japan Society. Click here for more information or to buy tickets.

Me on twitter = @mondocurry

In Brief: Jelly Fisheyes (2013)

Takashi Murakami's Jelly Fisheyes will either thrill you or disappoint you depending upon what you go into it looking for. If you want to see Murakami's art brought to life then you're golden. However if you're looking for anything beyond an okay kids film then you're going to be seriously disappointed.

The plot has a young boy and his mom moving to a new town. The kid discovers a little creature he decides to hide from everyone. However he soon discovers that all the kids have creatures themselves...and all of them are some how connected to a super secret research facility in the town.

Lets cut to the chase I love the monsters and creatures and visuals of the film they are truly cool.  Unfortunately the rest of the film is a mess. Its a by the numbers kiddie film that you could write in your sleep.You've seen it all before. Granted Murakami handles the cliche deftly, but if it wasn't for his monsters there would be no reason to see this.

If you're six years old or a fan of Murakami's creations give it a shot. If you want more than that look else where.

The film plays tomorrow at Fantasia. For tickets and information go here.

Warning to the Curious (1972)

Back in the 1970's the BBC did the most Christmasy thing one can imagine and every year on or damn close to Christmas they ran a ghost story late at night.  From 1971 until 1978 right around midnight the English TV viewers got a moody ghost story. (The series has been sporadically revived over the last decade) Most of the stories were by M R James, a man whose work I have no conscious knowledge out side of the adaptions I've seen.

Warning to the Curious is the story of an amateur archaeologist who comes to a seaside town nominally on holiday. In actuality he is hoping to discover one of  three ancient crowns supposedly buried  in the landscape under the belief that so long as they remain buried the town, and England would never be invaded. Unfortunately for him he discovers the crown and there after is haunted by a supernatural guardian.

If you want shocks and jolts this isn't the sort of story for you. However if you want a creepy little story of slow building unease this is a film for you. This is exactly the sort of low key horror that you don't want to see late at night since there really isn't a release, it just goes on. This is also not a film is you want lots of noise  and dialog because even though there are plenty of dialog scenes, its the silences that you'll remember, The unexpressed terror of shadowy figures haunting you.

This is a creepy little film, it runs only 50 minutes, that, assuming you're willing to give yourself over to it, will send shivers up and down your spine. While it was designed to be seen late at night, those who are open to suggestion may not want to wait until daylight hours to view it.

Live (2014) Fantasia Fest 2014

Noboru Iguchi's totally insane take on race to save one's family is probably his most normal film to date. Yes it's a grand send up of films like Battle Royal or Hunger Games  if they were infused with long looks and female bottoms at over the top deaths with spurting blood,  but the film also weirdly has a real spine to it that is played straight would be one hell of a straight out action film (like Hunger Games or Battle Royal.)

Naoto Tamura is an obnoxious young man who'll screw over anyone or anything just to get his way. He seemingly hates everyone even his put upon mother. Then one day he gets a package and a phone call. Someone has kidnapped his mother. If he doesn't work out the directions hidden in Yusuke Yamada's  novel LIVE (the book the film was actually constructed from) his mother will die.  Things become complicated when Tamura finds out that his mother isn't the only one with a relative stolen, lots of people have had their relatives taken, and all are trying to get them back.

What follows is a bloody and funny film that not only sends up the death game genre but also family relations. What would we really do to save our loved ones?

Not to put too fine a point on it I loved it.

While it may not have some of the fall out of your chair laughs of some of Iguchi's other films, it scores a lot of points in a couple of key areas, first it's funny or if not funny compelling all the way through. With something like Karate-Robo Zaborgar the film ran out of ideas before the film ran out of time. Granted the film is a little long at an hour forty five minutes, but at the same time you're invested until the end.

The other reason the film is near the top of Ighuchi's output is the fact that the film has a bit more on it's mind than just being silly bloodbaths.As I said the film is a clever send up of the genre. While that maybe easy to do on the short term, being able to sustain the humor for an almost two hour feature is a feat.  Doing so while asking questions about society and our relationships is a bigger one.

Okay I will admit that this is a Iguchi film so the blood and mayhem does take center stage (I mean we have a battle between a girl with crossbows on her wrists and another with chainsaws for crying out loud) but at the same time he seems to be going for more than just blood and laughs.

I should also point out that high art this is not , unless you like your art soaked in blood. This is clearly not for all tastes, and even those who do like the director's other works may find it too long and they may quibble about the over use of CGI mayhem. Still for those with a certain sense of humor and a taste for blood and guts this film can't be beat.

I can't wait to see it again.