Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A few words on Time Lapse (2014) Fantasia Fest 2014

Three friends who live and work in an apartment complex discover a machine that is capable of taking pictures 24 hours in advance in the apartment of a missing resident. Deducing that they maybe on to something they begin to use the machine to make some extra money. Unfortunately this attracts the attention of some people who want to know how they can win so much. It also begins to reveal some things that some people wanted to keep concealed.

Solid B thriller works pretty much from start to finish so long as you take it on it's own terms t(Just don't over think things).  In all honesty the only thing that I found really wrong is that at 103 minutes the film is much too long. This is an old school Outer Limits episode super sized.  That doesn't mean it's bad, it simply means that by the half way point I was kind of ready for something else. Still it's nice to see a "time travel" film well done.

Both screenings both tonight and on August 2nd are sold out. For more information check the film's webpage

Monsters University (2013)

Prequel to the classic Pixar film is an amusing follow up that proves that Pixar can get sequels right when they aren't a Toy Story one.

The film is the story of the young years of Mike and Sully. Largely focusing n them as they go to Monsters U and eventually end up working at Monsters Inc, the film focuses on how Mike and Sully have to work together in order to survive college. Its an amusing romp that hits every single solitary college cliche and trope you can imagine short of naked co-eds.

Unfortunately while it is a good film it's not great. The film has two problems that prevent it from being great on it's own terms.

First the film is full of references to not only other films (Animal Hose is referenced). Its so full of references that anyone over the age of say ten is going to be able to know where parts of the film were lifted whole cloth from.  Additionally the film's designs are also full of riffs on other monsters. The film is full of Muppet designs and other creatures. Yea I know there is only so many cute creatures you can do but this is a little excessive.

The other problem is that no matter what happens you know its going to be alright since this is a prequel and we know Mike and Sully are destined for greatness....We know they are going to Monsters Inc. How can you fear for your leads when you know where it all ends. (And never mind that the cliches make it even less tense)

This could have and should have been a great film, but the makers went safe and easy and made a good one instead. Bitching aside I do like the film, but at the same time like most sequels and prequels and all of that this film isn't something we really needed, even if Pixar wanted the certainty of a cash payday.

Worth a look but I'd wait for cable.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two from SOUND + VISION : Flashback Memories 3D (2012) and Shield and Spear (2014)

Two capsule reviews for films playing at Lincoln Center's SOUND + VISION series which starts Friday.

Portrait of didgeridoo player Goma, who lost his memory in a car accident in 2009. The film consists of a performance of Goma and his band  while behind them we watch clips of his life and career. Lines of text fill in details and sections of Goma's and his wives post accident journals.

While the film was put together by Tetsuaki Matsue who made one of the greatest music films ever made LIVE TAPE this just doesn't work. The film comes across as a 1960's throw back to where TV shows had just gotten Chromakey and  would put video behind some psychedelic band. It doesn't help  that Goma essentially stands center stage as he and his percussion band plays. Its not bad but after 72 minutes it grows wearying. Personally you could put on one of Goma's CDs, look at a picture of his and read his biography to the same effect.

That said the screening on Friday will have Goma in attendance playing and doing a Q&A and that is worth the admission price more than the film.

For details and tickets go here.

Must see documentary about the artistic community in South Africa after the end of apartheid and how despite  a constitutional right to free expression the powers that be are taking steps to close down free speech and opposition.

Framed around what happened when artist Brett Murray painted a picture of  South African President Jacob Zumba, a man caught in a sex scandal, with his penis hanging out and spins it off to show how artists are trying to battle to keep South Africa free and not under tight-fisted control of the ANC who opposed the painting and oppose other human rights issues (the right to be gay or lesbian).

The film is a wonderfully alive portrait of various artists, musicians and activists in South Africa. who are working to keep the country free. Its a film that explores the questions of race, politics and social issues. There is a ton to say about the film, but to be honest I kind of stopped taking notes during the press screening. I just was moved along by the film.  I want to write the film up down the road when I can sit with it and really watch it a couple more times so I can really do it justice.

A wonderful film and a must see when it plays Tuesday August 5. For more information and tickets go here.

The Search for Weng Weng (2013) Fantasia Fest 2014

Director Andrew Leavold went on a search for the real story behind Weng Weng, who is listed as the shortest leading man in movie history (2 foot 9 inches). The obsession was born as the result of director Andrew Leavold seeing For Y'ur Height Only, a film where Weng Weng played a smaller version of James Bond. The search lasted 7 years (though at another point Leavold mentions looking for someone for ten years) and turned up things that no one expected to find.

Weng Weng was the product of the film industry in the Philippines in the late 1970's and 80's. During the peak years the industry was turning out over 300 films a year. Films came and went and Weng Weng worked for a small independent producer with the result that when the heyday was over he and his films faded into obscurity-except for the few that escaped the country, with the result that most people int the Philipines don't know who he was. He came and went despite becoming an international celebrity of sorts.

This is a great film. While on some level the film would seem to appeal only to those with in an interest in weird B-films, in reality a great deal more.Yes the life and times of Weng Weng  are a blast and the search to find out about him is compelling  but there is so much more here.

What makes this film so good is that despite being about the search for one man, the film encompasses so much more, the film is a cultural history of the Philippines and of the film industry. Starting with a look at freak shows and moving on to the history of films and filmmaking in the country, especially in the wake of
Apocalypse Now making the film a viable place to shoot a movie cheaply. It also acts as a kind of memorial to an industry where 80% of it's output has turned to vinegar or landfill.

Think of the film as a perfect companion to Machete Maidens Unleashed since it takes a look at things from a personal level.

A must see for any film lover who truly loves film.

The film plays at Fantasia tonight and  again on August 4th. For tickets and more information go to the film's festival webpage here.

Dealer (2014) Fantasia 2014

Even if you hold in your shit you’re still going to stain your pants

Dealer is over whelming. I mean that in a good way.

It’s a nonstop sensory overloaded film. It’s a film in constant motion, rapid cuts, tracking shots, flashy visuals, with narration going on at the same time as dialog. It’s a film that forces you to engage with it on any number of levels with the result it sucks you in and drags you along.

The film tells you the story of a dealer looking to get enough money so that he can pick up and move to Australia with his daughter. He’s close to reaching that goal, but not close enough. Then a client asks him to get him a kilo of cocaine within 24 hours (Its fashion week, he wants it for the models) and our anti-hero senses he can make his dream a reality sooner than later. That’s when things go sideways.

I’m not going to say that there is anything new about the plot. It’s something we’ve seen any number of times before. On the other hand the craft of the film the visuals, the pacing, the music and the sense of reality are clearly the work of someone the film world is going to have to sit up and notice.

Jean Luc Herbulot‘s film will leave you exhausted. Running a scant 75 minutes, this film packs the punch of a much longer film. Actually the film runs just long enough that you’re in no danger of your brain exploding. A wild mix of hyper-visuals, booming sound track and constant motion this is a film that looks like it was made by an ADD afflicted chihuahua in quadruple espresso. It walks the line of being almost too much but never crosses over with the result you’re left feeling exhilarated instead of exhausted.

If you want to know what a cinematic calling card looks like this is it.

I have no idea if this is a good film or a bad film all I know is that having been exposed to it’s cinematic delights I want to experience it again…and I want to see what ever director Herbulot has cooking up next.

If you love movies you have to see this.

The film World Premieres tonight at Fantasia. For more information and tickets go to the film’s festival web page.

Epic (2013)

Loosely based on William Joyce's The Leafmen picture book, Epic tells the story of what happens on the one day in a a hundred when a new Queen of the Forest is to be picked. The forces of darkness & decay (the Boggins) know its coming and they take steps to steal the pod containing the new Queen so she can be made to be under their control. Into this mess comes human MK, a girl mourning the loss of her mother who has been sent to live her dad. Her dad lives in the woods and is a crazy scientist who believes that there are tiny beings living in the forest. MK doesn't believe him, until of course she is shrunk and ends up joining the fight to keep the pod with the new queen safe.

As an action adventure the film isn't bad. Its the well worn place of having to leave your place in order to find it. The good guys are good. The bad guys are bad and there is plenty of action to keep even most crazed action fan happy.

I am disappointed that a film with a young lady in the lead gives her almost nothing to do in the way of fighting. She does move the plot along and solve problems, but at the same time she leaves the heavy lifting to the guys, which really isn't fair. Girls can kick ass too.

Its a good film. I liked it. you should see it. As a film I don't have that much more to say about it.

On the other hand as a representation as to the state of animation in America today it's both everything that is good and bad.

First off the film is shows what most big animation studios do when they get a script based on a children's book, they take a small story and make it into something blander. While I know the film does have William Joyce involved (MK is named for Joyce's daughter) it also has been so exploded that the heart that beats in all Joyce's work is gone. Yes I know that the source is episodic, but at the same time the story they have replaced it with is rote and cliche.

For me the only thing that has survived from the book is the Leaf men and the Joyce designs. Yes I'm happy to see any Joyce on the big screen but at the same time I wish they could have kept his story telling.

What kills me concerning most feature animation these days is that the filmmakers seem more and more are relying on a check list of things you must have to make a successful animated film. Its a check list that becomes more apparent when you watch this film with another recent Joyce animated film, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS which I reviewed yesterday. GUARDIANS avoids most of the checklist where EPIC bangs it down the line.

The first thing on the check list is you need smart ass remarks. EPIC is full of characters cracking wise with each other. Its as if you need to have quotable dialog more than dialog that drives the plot forward. (GUARDIANS has pithy lines but not at a rapid fire rate or at the expense of the plot)

I hate that these days there is a thought that you need goofy characters. You can't just have heroes and villains and other people you need to have crazy characters to keep things lively. In EPIC you have the slugs. While there is nothing wrong with the inclusion of slugs their wild behavior is often out of place. In a film like EPIC the craziness under cuts the danger.

You also have passing, meaningless references to adult things in EPIC we have MK talking about her dealing with the death of her mom. From the indication in the film it was only a short time before, but yet she is perky and upbeat. MK references the five stages of grief but outside of that there is never another real reference to the death of her mom, except by her dad (and what is up with that the way he behaves belies the fact that his ex-wife has died. One would almost think that he didn't know- actually the whole death thing is odd since MK arrives with no stuff)

And if you look at the animation you see it's on odd mix of beautiful detailed backgrounds and weak character animation. The characters almost seem like a bit more detailed TV animation. It would be fin except that in GUARDIANS you have sense that they really spent time animating all of the characters to make them look special on the big screen, here they could have come from almost any other animated film.

I probably shouldn't pick on EPIC. Its not a bad film by any means, its a good film, it's just not as great as its trying to be...on the other hand we should be grateful its reaching to be something more.

Definitely worth seeing.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview with Frauke Finsterwalder and Christian Kracht on FINSTERWORLD

NOT Frauke Finsterwald and Christian Kracht
Back in May, I was able to speak with Frauke Finsterwalder, director of FINSTERWORLD, and Christian Kracht, with whom she cowrote the film, when it was shown in New York City during the KINO Festival of German Films. The exquisitely crafted film is filled with richly detailed characters and an intriguing narrative structure, making a conversation about the film with its creators an immediately enticing prospect.

While preparing for a discussion with the pair, I  made a glaring oversight, failing to learn the ever so slightly significant the detail that the two are husband and wife. This made for some unexpected but interesting turns in our conversation. I asked about this relatively unique working relation and how it may have come to affect the film. We also discussed the process of constructing the narrative and its intriguing set of characters, who Frauke and Christian have clearly given a lot of consideration both during and after the completion of the film, and how they are used to represent themes of the story and also possibly the creators of the film themselves.

MondoCurry: Are there parallels between being marriage partners and writing a film together?

(Frauke Finsterwalder) Yeah, I think for a successful marriage you need to have teamwork. And maybe for writing as well you need that. I think we have a good marriage, and maybe we are good writing partners as well.  You need to trust the people you work with. For me as a director, that’s true of anyone you work with, not just the writer. Who would I trust more than my husband? There’s no showing off the way you might do with a stranger.

(Christian Kracht) There are dubious ways of manipulation that come up when working with people you’re not related to. (Working with someone you’re married to), you’re actually more centered.

MC: You’ve worked primarily in making documentaries before. Was FINSTERWORLD a big departure from your previous work?

(FF) In terms of the subject, not really. It’s something we have both dealt with in a lot of our previous works. For me, the whole process of making a film with actors and a big team instead of only 3 people, was very different but I enjoyed it a lot.

MC: One of the character in the movie is a documentary filmmaker….Did this character represent aspects of your own life?

(FF) The character had nothing to do with me personally. Perhaps I wanted people to ask about this, as we share a similar name. Maybe with this character I was making fun of problems that a documentary filmmaker has. They cannot control what people do in front of the camera. They will not do what you tell them to do in front of the camera. They will just be themselves. But she is really an ignorant person. If we had a lot in common, I couldn’t do films. Nobody would want to work with me.

(CK) Maybe creating this character was like exorcising a part of you…a part of you that you’d like to get away from…because now you like to create fiction…

(FF) Yeah, like I had to get it out of my system. But I’ve never been like that.

(CK) I’m more like that.

(FF) I’m more like Claude, the pedicurist. I’m a very sociable person that likes to take care of others.

NOT Frauke Finsterwalder
MC: The title is interesting in that it is so similar to your name. Is there a playfulness to coming up with this title

(FF) We decided in the early stages it would be like a fairy tale, although somehow connected to Germany and within a modern society in general. The title tells you that you’ll be going on a journey into a certain world. It could be mine, the director’s world…Or it could just be ‘finster’ meaning dark world. ‘Finster’ means dark in German. There are all these references, like the children reading ‘Ghost World,’ the comic book. I kind of stole from that.

MC: One of your previous documentaries seemed to be about people doing something unusual in the public eye. FINSTERWORLD also has characters with attributes that would be considered out of the norm by many standards, Are you drawn to dealing with fringe people or characters in your work?

(FF) I have to say the (subjects of my first documentary) building the pyramid were quite normal. They just wanted to make money. Some were business people, some were artists who thought it would be a funny idea. They were normal and just used this shocking idea to get attention for their cause. Or just to get attention in general. So, That film dealt more with another subject we talked about in Finsterworld which is daily facism and how power structures work among people…They went into a small village and the village people were not happy about it. And then this whole struggle began.

(CK) I think one of the themes that you like to think about is humiliation. You had hierarchical structures where people placed themselves within the structure and humiliate others…

(FF) And that’s what happens in Finsterworld. It starts right at the beginning when the policeman and the pedicurist meet. There are all these moments about humiliation. Even in the film before this…That had a large influence on this film actually. That was a film about a summer camp. There is a character that really gets bullied. It’s a really sad, terrible film actually. That film has a really big influence on what happens to the young people in Finsterworld.   

(FF) It was a documentary but a lot of people thought it was fiction. I got so close to the young people at the camp, nobody could believe they allowed us to film. The way I edited and used music made it seem very much like a fiction film.

MC: What was it like now that you could make up characters and control what they do in order to tell your story?

(FF) It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It kind of just had to be the way it is now. It’s hard to say ‘why.’ It wasn’t that we just sat down and said ok here are 12 characters and let’s plot it out with a flip chart…

(CK) The process of writing was completely intuitive. We weren’t going on a trajectory that would then lead us somewhere. We would just start and then see what happened. We would sometimes speak to each other as these characters, like in restaurants. There really wasn’t a structure we were following.

(FF) We were thinking a lot about a classical tragedy, for example. And one big thing in that is there is someone who hasn’t done anything, but through coincidence or fate becomes guilty. So that was something we required.  We never really thought about it but somehow it had to be in the structure of this film about darkness. A person who had to kill happens to be the only innocent person. That’s something that is a very classical theme in tragedy. If you read enough books and think about books, there is something that just had to be like that.

MC: When writing the characters, did you start out with a central one and branch out from there? It seems like there is equal significance among all of them.

(FF) Claude was the one we invented first but it was clear he wouldn’t be the only one. Then we came up with the youngsters who were visiting the concentration camp. It was very clear that their story was going to be a part of it.

The working title for the film was ‘Autobahn.’ We started out thinking we’d have this very German thing where everyone could drive without a speed limit. It looks like a skeleton. We don’t have a lot of untouched nature like here in the United States. It’s a tiny country and everyone drives a car. So we would have all these characters driving on the highway. But it was very clear to me that this would be horrible because you don’t want to see people just driving cars all the time. Especially on the not so beautiful Autobahn. Also we would’ve never been able to shoot that film because the automobile industry in Germany is so powerful. It’s really hard to get streets cleared for film shoots. So I was very glad we didn’t have that many scenes in the car.. That’s where the idea for the couple, the parents of Maximillian, came into being, though.  

NOT Christian Kracht and Frauke Finsterwalder
(CK) It’s very odd because you rent this car and you get in the passing lane and you’re going so fast. You get in this adrenaline zone and in your brain, you don’t even realize you’re going that fast. It’s like a rocket…

(FF) That was also a concept of the film that we were coming up with. We thought of  the idea of people being alone in this bubble and very lonely. And then the bubble would crack and something would enter the bubble and catastrophe would happen, or maybe not… For Klaude something wonderful happens…There are characters that get what they wanted while others get punished. Others get away with things they have done.

MC: It’s interesting that you decided to make this film while living away from Germany. Was making a film about German society something you’d long had an interest in doing?

(FF) (Christian) has lived there for very short periods but has been away more than living there. At the point of writing the film, I’d been away for two years. Actually after doing this pyramid film I’d really had enough of Germany and couldn’t imagine doing another film with East Germans. When we came back I felt like my first fiction film should deal with it because it’s part of me and my history. Even if I live in other countries it will always be a part of me. So is the language. When I first confronted Christian with this, he wasn’t very happy because we had planned to do a film in Argentina, where we lived at that time. I said I’m sorry but I’m afraid we have to do a film about Germany. I’m not done with Germany. Christian was very angry at first. When we started talking about it, we both really thought it was a good idea. Maybe that’s why I really had to do a fiction film where I could control the story in order to say what I wanted to say. Now I can move on. I’m definitely not going to do another film about Germany.

MC: Can you describe your relationship to the characters now that the story is finished?

(CK) Since we spent some time with these characters, they are part of us. A lot of their idiosyncracies are lifted from parts of our very own feelings. Sometimes even though this film is now finished, we still talk to each other as these characters sometimes. We catch ourselves. It’s interesting how they live on in our relationship.

(FF) I’ve watched the film hundreds of time since it was finished. I actually enjoy watching it again because every time there is another character whom I draw more attention to. And I like all of them. And we have discussed that maybe we would make another film with two of them. But now I’ve decided I’d rather do something else. It could be possible though, to have a little TV series. For example Claude going on a cruise ship…Or we were thinking about putting the yuppie couple into a situation where they go to Nepal or some third world country, looking for enlightenment…it would be very funny, but maybe someone else has to do it.

IF YOU MEET KLAUS KINSKI, PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH July 31 to August 10 at Anthology Film Archives

Anthology archives is doing a retrospective of Klaus Kinski films starting Thursday.

I'm a huge fan of Kinski, despite recent revelations about his personal life. He was a mad man who, as an actor, left an indelible mark on cinema. And when I say he was mad I mean it, supposedly the reason he was in so many movies was that he could only take small roles because producers could only take him for so long.

The series at Anthology is a winner that largely has some of Kinski's best films outside of Werner Herzog and the long running Edgar Wallace series in Germany.

We've already reviewed three of the films:
Jesus Christ Saviour (If you see one film in the series see this one)
If You Meet Sartana Pray For Your Death
Bullet For The General

And a bunch that we may or may not get to reviewing:
Paganini is Kinski's directorial debut. Its an insane look at the great violinist. I know many people love the film but I'm conflicted since it has moments but its self indulgent. That said if you're a fan and you've never seen it do so.

Crawlspace- mad slasher in the title location film is a good little thriller. One of the screenings will have I believe the director in attendance.

My Best Friend- Werner Herzog's look at Kinski and his relationship with him. If you've never seen it its a must see

Creature with a Blue Hand- One of the Edgar Wallace series about a killer with a blue hand. Its not the best in the series but it does star Kinski. Worth a shot..

Venom-A combination of a kid picking up the wrong snake for his collection story collides with a kidnapping gone awry and you have a tense thriller that scared the crap out of me when I saw it in the movies. Trust me when I say a good chunk of the audience were sitting on their legs afraid that there was a snake in the theater. A great thriller.

Buddy Buddy-Billy Wilder remake of a French comedy about a hit man bothered by a suicidal man in the next hotel room. Instead of Jacques Brel we get Walter Matheau and Jack Lemon. Its a mess. I know of a few people who kind of like it but it was one of the WTF films that Wilder ended his career with. Kinski plays the head of a weird sex clinic...

For details go to the Anthology website.

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Wonderful William Joyce film based on the stories he told his kids which in turn inspired a series of books which resulted in this film (or something)

The premise of the film has Jack Frost meeting up and ultimately joining the Guardians of Childhood (Tooth Fairy,Sandman, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny) They are tasked with protecting children from the evil of Pitch who feeds on fear. Pitch wants to stop children from believing since if kids don't believe in the Guardians then they will lose their power and eventually disappear. If they disappear Pitch will rule over everything.

Great vocal performances by Jude Law as Pitch, Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny, Chris Pine as Jack and Alec Baldwin as Santa help to create a bunch of characters that anyone could really believe in. Why can't their be a dark lord? Why couldn't Santa be a warrior? Yes the characters look cool but at the same time the voices sell the characters beyond the look and beyond the script.

Also helping to sell things are all of the small little touches that are in the film. First and foremost are all of the little characters that help the Guardians, the elves, the yeti like creatures, the giant eggs, the fairies, the nightmares, the reindeer. The fact that great care was given over to all of these characters says a great deal about the rest of the film. Actually watch the design of the film watch the levels of detail with in each shot and sequence and you'll realize that the film is truly something special. I mean where most animated films simplify their design RISE increases it making each frame feel like a real place instead of a simple background (The Kung Fu Panda films anyone?)

I know the film didn't do well, or super well at the box office. I know when it came out it went head to head with another family film, but you know what, this maybe a better film, at least from a more adult perspective. I think the reason this film didn't do well is that while the good vs evil plot will work fine for kids, the other layers, the need to believe for example are things which are going to go over a kids head.  I mean are kids really going to understand how important one person believing in you is? I doubt it. I doubt they are going to catch all of the things for moms and dads.

I really like this film a great deal. No it's not a perfect film but it is pretty darn good, and it does have some really cool stuff in it so what more could you ask for?

See this film.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Nightcap 7/27/14 Sound and Vision is this week,and some other stuff...

Thursday at Lincoln Center they are beginning their second Sound + Vision series of music films. The series, scheduled to run until August 6, is a mix of concert films and music documentaries on artists from around the world. I’ve seen four of the newer films and we have looks at South African protest music, a Japanese didgeridoo played, rock duo from Mexico and a rocker from the wilds of Pennsylvania. I’ve also seen Stop Making Sense, which is being screened with David Byrne in attendance.

It’s a wonderful way to discover some new favorite music and highly recommended. Reviews will be running through the week so keep watching.

For tickets and a complete list of films go to the festival page here.
You may have noticed that I’ve gone off plan and just run Fantasia reviews this weekend. I’m sorry for mucking you up, but stuff happens. Not to worry, I’ll be back on plan starting tomorrow as we run a week of animated film reviews that have been kicking around for the better part of a year- no really I had this suckers scheduled pretty much 7 other times in the past year (In one review I refered to my three year old niece- the trouble is she's now a year older so I had to update it). I’m not moving them again so expect the kid stuff to crash into more Fantasia reviews, Sound + Vision reviews and  a few new release reviews as well.

On the plus side I have managed to maintain my only seeing things I want to see stance by doing just that with the Fantasia titles and a couple of new releases that I genuinely want to see for themselves.

Shhhhh-a trailer for a must see at Fantasia
A couple of weeks back John, Bully and myself saw the Riff Trax SHARKNADO performance. It was one of the best shows that the boys ever did. They made a pretty awful, funny on its own wretched terms film even funnier. If they ever release it to home video see it.
The Film Society is screening every film John Waters ever made and a few he wish he had. Waters will be there for several screenings so I highly recommend going. Details can be found here.
And Now Randi's Links

Sherlock Holmes as a police sketch
all Marvel films look the same
A kind of Bladerunner anime
An uncensored WW1 poem
Boyhood's black album
BAM's Chris Marker series
The Unfinished Film Project Part 1 Part 2
Cinecitta World has opened in Italy
Hidden in movies