Friday, August 28, 2015

The Rock (1996)

I'm still puzzled as to why this film is on Criterion, but I'm easily confused. Personally I think ARMAGEDDON makes more sense than this one.

Michael Bay's THE ROCK has Nick Cage teaming up with a bunch of Navy Seals to break into Alcatraz (the ROck of the title) in order to stop Ed Harris and his team of rogue soldiers who are threatening to shoot nerve gas into San Francsico if  the US govenment doesn't pay them millions.  Since stealth is required the good guys forcibly recruit Sean Connery who is the only man to have escaped from the prison. COnnery is a prsioner who doesn't exist- having stolen all of J Edgar Hoovers files.

No it makes no sense.

It is a great deal of mindless fun. It's gunfights and macho posturing as Cage and Connery bond in the tunnels under Alcatraz. It all looks good even if none of it makes any sense. Its films like this that gave Michael Bay his reputation as being a mindless director.

Bread and circuses baby, bread and circuses.

watching the film for the first time in probably a decade I was struck by a couple of things. First  was how formulaic it is.  How many times do we get the outside brought along because he's the only one who rises to the occasion after a mishap kills the entire force and he must go on alone (or nearly alone)? Watching it I kept thinking of EXECUTIVE ACTION with Kurt Russell and the great flip where Steven Segal dies.

The other thing that hit me was how the need for literal thrill rides filled the films of the 1990's. I mean you have these set pieces in all these films where you could build them into an amusement park ride- look at the Indiana Jones films or Jurassic Park or here where we get a chase on carts under the island. Here as in most films of the day the chases look cool but serve no real purposes. What are they doing on those creaky carts anyway?

Don't get me wrong its a fun film- but its very dated because of its story structure and uber mindlessness.

If you've never seen it give it a shot.  If you have and it's been a while try it again- seeing it after some of the TRANSFORMER films you realize its not that bad after all.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Keep Talking Baby (1961)

Keep Talking Baby really doesn’t belong here at Unseen. Its not a particularly good film, actually you could argue it’s a bad film. However the film does have Eddie Constantine in it and since I’m trying to get you all to know the man and his movies I’m going to talk about it.

Based on a hardboiled novel called Strange Witness by Day Keene, Keep Talking Baby is a very talky film that has Eddie playing a character named Jackson. Jackson is a nightclub entertainer who has been framed for murder and sent away for 20 years. He breaks out of prison to get the guys who framed him. He quickly ends up trying to track down leads with a baby in tow.

No it’s not funny nor particularly exciting.

What it is is rather draggy as Constantine goes from person to person and tries to get more information while holding on to the kid. While Constantine has been convicted one at least one of the cops doesn’t believe he did it. The exchanges between Constantine and the cop are the most interesting material in the film.

While I have not read the source novel (which has been used a couple of other times as the basis of films) I think the problem with this film is that they changed way too much. Actually they jettisoned pretty much everything other than it being a wrong man looking for revenge. The original had the Constantine in prison for seven years and then getting out and dealing with an odd collection of hard boiled film noir like denizens. They are all gone and replaced by cookie cutter blandness.

While Constantine is good (even if he’s sleep walking through it all) I can’t recommend this to anyone other than a Constantine completeist like myself. If you want a better film try Hail Mafia, some of the Lemmy Caution films or SOS Pacific.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Death in a Red Jaguar (1968)

Jerry Cotton is back in his 7th adventure- Death in a Red Jaguar.

As regular readers of Unseen Films know I'm a big Jerry Cotton fan. Two years ago I reviewed the other seven films in the series (those reviews can be found here) and I had a grand time doing it. The only one I didn't get to was this film, which I could only get in a cost prohibitive German Language edition.  WHile I still haven't found an English language version of the film, I didn't have to pay 40 plus bucks to see it.

This time out Cotton is chasing after a gang of assassins for hire. Organized on a bigger scale than your usual gang of killers Cotton has his hands full as these bad bad guys who will stop at nothing to fulfill a contract, including killing kids.

Filled with great set pieces this film moves like the wind.From the opening shoot out, through the chase that includes Jerry hanging under a truck and then literally cliffhanging, this is a great film. It never lets you catch your breath.

I especially liked that there was a flip early in the film where the man who I thought was going to be the main villain was done away with when caught by Cotton. It was a clever move that suddenly made anything possible.

This is a super little film and like all of the Jerry Cotton films worth tracking down.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Para Elisa (2013)

Hitting DVD and VOD September 1 thanks to Dark Sky Films comes the Spanish horror film PARA ELISA

Needing money for school Ana takes a quick job as a nanny. however after some small talk with the child's mother she finds her charge is not what she expected and that she is now in the middle of a deadly game with forces beyond her control.

Bleak black little confection is thoroughly unpleasant (I mean that as a compliment). A small scale shocker this is poisoned little confection that is really tense once it gets into gear.

I'm conflicted about this film. The problem for me is that this film runs a very breezy 75 minutes (70 if you remove the end credits). There is of course nothing wrong with the film being that short, the problem is that even running so briefly the film feels padded. The film seems to take forever to get to the good stuff. Once it gets going it races to the end, but even then it feels kind of over before it gets started. Other than some of the opening stuff nothing is bad (and that's just dull). My conflict with the film is that this has the feeling of being a really kick ass short that's been expanded. If you chopped out most of the first 15 minutes, chopped out the bits about Ana's boyfriend and girlfriend having a heart to heart and just pared it down to Ana in her situation and her boyfriend trying to find her then you'd have a tight 50 minute film that would scare the crap out of you and you'd have no reservations about it. Now you have a  film that takes a bit to get going, wanders a bit in the middle and then ends kind of too soon.

Don't get me wrong I like the film a great deal I just kind of wish it was it was tighter- I want a really good film to be a really great film.

All reservations aside I definitely recommend the film for fans of horror films since it has some really creepy moments.

As I said at the top this hits the various home video platforms September 1.

Monday, August 24, 2015

In Brief: The Runner (2015)

Nic Cage plays a local Louisiana Congressman who is given the chance to ride an impassioned speech made in the wake of BP oil spill into the US Senate. The trouble is that the ride comes at a price.

One of the genuinely better recent Nic Cage films is also a kind of bore. The story of a good man given the chance to make a difference if he'll only sell his soul has been done countless times before. While there is nothing wrong with that, especially when its done as well as this film, the problem comes when you don't add anything to it. THE RUNNER doesn't add anything to the genre.

I suppose that it could have gotten away with not adding anything new if it had made things exciting, but THE RUNNER is much too low keep. There is no sense of real danger other than to Cage's reputation. He's having an affair- yes and?

The other thing that keeps things a tad on the dullside is that the film is kind of a polemic. We get lots of speeches about the environment as well as agonizing over how to do the right thing when bad people control the money. I would have preferred more action and less talk.

THE RUNNER is not a bad film, it's just not an exciting one. Actually considering some of the poor choices Cage has made recently its a revelation. Its wonderfully less manic unfortunately it's kinda boring.

THE RUNNER hits Blur-ray and DVD tomorrow.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Nightcap 8/23/15- THE PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER and worst theater audience member ever (and one of the best performances ever), needing some one to run Unseen, and Randi's links


Yesterday I went to see  THE PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER at the New York Fringe Festival.

GO SEE IT (tickets and info here or here) you have three more chances. Its as good a show as you will ever see and one the greatest one person shows I've ever seen. Trust me I've seen hundreds if not thousands of shows over the last 20 years and its that good.

Anyway- sitting in the front row I had a seat free next to me- and this woman behind me asked if it was free and I said yes.  So she comes around and takes the seat.

Now picture this - its an older woman in her late 70's early 80's. She has a top hat on, a black Japanese manga/anima goth girl shortish dress on, stockings and four inch platform shoes.  I'm thinking go girl....

And then the play starts.

The play is Dorothy Parker in her residential hotel room in 1943 talking to an invisible girl sent to help her put together the titled book.

And I'm loving the show. And the people around me are loving the show- except for the geriatric goth chick next to me, She freaking hates the show.

First she starts opening and closing her pursue to take cheese out of her purse to eat it. Its very deliberate open the purse-fish around- find it- take it out-unwrap it- take a bite-rewrap it-open the purse put it in  close the purse.

She does this a couple of times- and mind you we're not that long into the play- and then she does the whole open the purse thing- but instead of cheese- she takes out her phone- and she checks the time and then puts it back,

She starts to do this every five minutes- 25 after 7, 730, 735...

...time for cheese... no-not cheese.... letters- this woman takes out letters and starts to read them. Out of the envelopes- opening the envelopes- unfolds the letters and she reads them....

And remember this twit is in the front row- FRONT ROW- in a theater so small the front row means you're as close to her as you would be if you were sitting with her at a small table. And this twit keeps freaking doing this....

And all I'm thinking is how do I stop this bitch? I mean I can't say anything or nudge her or drop poison in her ear because I too am in the front row....

But you know what happened. She who should be dropped in a pit of fire finally stopped. Amazingly somewhere around and hour in she stopped and pretended to go to sleep. I guess all the extra activity wore her out.

But you know what the best part is? The best part - and one of the reasons that Margot Avery gave one of the greatest performances I've ever seen on stage was that she never blinked, never looked at her, never broke character, never left the moment- she went on from start to finish straight on to morning.

God bless Margot Avery

When it was done the rudest audience member I've ever seen chatted with the people she knew and headed off. (One can hope she'll be hit by a bus)

As we left my friend Mary and I told Ms Avery we loved the show (she was breaking down the set herself) and we headed off.

Margot Avery rocks.

You need to go see the show before the Fringe ends. Tickets and info can be found here or here. As I said you have three shots at this show.
---
I half-jokingly want to ask if anyone wants to help run Unseen Films because I’ve hit the wall.

For the first time since the early days I really don’t have a huge bank of pieces sitting and waiting to jump up on your computer screens. Yes I have things planned to November but that’s because I took the incase pieces- about 18 repost pieces- and slotted them after the New York Film Festival. After that I have nothing. Other than a week of bad movies for Thanksgiving. I’m clear until eternity

The reason for it is twofold- first it’s taking a great deal of time just doing ‘BS office stuff’ . I’m fielding requests, trying to match up films with writers and simply trying to make sure pieces are getting up. I’m falling into long discussions with PR people who want stuff ASAP on my end but drag their feet on theirs. I’m losing time dancing around one MINOR film when I could be doing two or three other better films.

The other part of the reason is that the way things are coming is its either all at once or nothing. For example I’ll get five requests for films all coming out on the same day with no real notice but little in the way of future releases.(Correction I’m getting a ton of stuff for midday screenings which I can’t go to unless I use a vacation day from the day job) Everyone wants their film covered now. The problem its not just now. It’s the 90 minutes to watch the film plus the additional two hours or more writing the piece on that film that’s the problem. I don’t have time to work ahead. (And having too many films lined up is resulting in shorter pieces).

Going whole hog into festivals like NYAFF, Japan Cuts and Fantasia devours even more time. Over dinner Tuesday night Joe Bendel was trying to get me to cover less films at festivals- I don’t need to cover everything. I know I don’t but I like to see as much as possible and share it.

The weird nothing/too much feeling is like I’m either dancing around in a field all alone when there is nothing going on or being crushed against closing walls when multiple requests come in.

I know I’ve been hinting at this the last couple of weeks, but everything just came to the head in the last ten days when four interview opportunities showed up and I got hit with requests for coverage for more than a bunch of films in the next two weeks.

My head exploded.

I’m thrilled that I’m getting stuff tossed my way- but I also want to walk away and never watch another film ever again.

Not to worry I have a plan.

Well I have a vague idea of a scheme that may turn into a plan. We’ll see what happen.

For right now I suggest you keep reading to see if or when it either falls apart or comes together.
--
And now Randi's links:

Art works that never were
Literal Dehumanization: Erasure of the Black Face in Hollywood
The move away from comments sections
On Lord Horror and it's battles with censorship (adult content and not for most people)
JFK conspiracies debunked- except one

In Brief: Strangerland (2014)

In a desert town in Australia a couple is pushed to the breaking point when their two children go missing...

This is a very intense "family" drama about secrets, hidden pasts and unforgiven actions. Its a film with a very intense actions and interactions. There is enough intensity in the story that it could drive about a decade of your typical soap opera for a couple of years.

And that's kind of the problem with the film, everything in this film is really intense. Every one has secrets, everyone has something they are hiding or agonizing over. No one really forgives anyone anything they just use the actions to to injure each other and themselves.  All of the emotional blood letting would be fine if it added up to something but by the time the film ends things have kind of deflated as there are no real resolutions. The film ends but a good chunk of the plotlines are just left hanging with the result that I wasn't sure the trip through the emotional wronger was worth it.

On the plus side this is a film with some of the best performances by an ensemble of the year. Everyone, from top to bottom, is incredible.  If the film came together better or if this was later in the year I think an excellent case could be made for Nicole Kidman to get an Oscar nomination.

The film is currently out on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD.


Flame of the Barbary Coast

John Wayne plays a gambler who at the turn of the 20th century blows in from Montana into San Francisco. Falling in love.with a singer (the title character) he finds himself taken for every penny he has by an unscrupulous saloon keeper. After heading home to regroup Wayne returns planning on wooing the girl he loves and getting back the money that was taken from him.

This grand musical drama is exactly the sort of film that's highly entertaining but nothing that could ever get made today. Its very much of the time when some movies didn't try to do anything other than entertain. Watching the film you get the sense that the filmmakers weren't trying to do anything deep, they just wanted to distract you for two hours.

What I liked about the film is that even though you suspect that good will triumph and that Wayne will get the girl, you never are really sure what the out ome is going to be until the very end. When it comes and how it comes is really nice and nicely not contrived.

This is a neat little film, that while may not become one of your all time favorites will entertain the hell out of you while its on.

(And yes it's considered a musical, but no John Wayne doesn't sing, that left to the performers on the various theater stages)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

BABY GIRL (2012) is coming to iTunes and VOD Tuesday


There is a story here so stick with me.

I was working out the schedule for Unseen Film through November and I decided that I was going to  spend the two weeks following the New York Film Festival reposting reviews for films that were either so early in the existence of Unseen that most of you have never seen them or they were of really good films that really slipped off the radar. The first film I slotted was BABYGIRL which I saw back at Tribeca in 2012.

BABYGIRL is one of those films that I thought was going to be a film I saw and forgot, but which ended up haunting my mind. Its a film I would periodically check to see if it was available because I wanted to see it again. Considering that I can't remember any other film I saw that year that's saying a great deal.

So I put the series together. I got the art and I slotted the films with this film as the first one...

...and the next day I got an email from the PR people for the film- "Hey Steve-there is this great small film you probably don't know anything about coming to VOD and iTunes called BABYGIRL. Would you want to cover it?"

Yes I would- I was actually planning on doing just that. So instead of  running the piece in October I'm running it now. And instead of  ending on a plea that you should track this down I'm going to begin by saying this is out on VOD and iTunes Tuesday (Pre-order it here)

Here in the hope of getting you to see this small gem of a film- one that will literally stay with you for years after you see it (and that last bit is the really important part)- I'm presenting my Tribeca Film Festival review from 2012:

I didn’t want to see this film. I had gone out of my way not to see this at any of the screenings during the festival. However on Saturday night, desperate for something to keep the Tribeca experience alive, I broke down and watched the film as part of the Tribeca On Line Festival which was running free films.

Slap me up side the head for being stupid, this is a really good film.

This is the story of a young woman living with her mom. Forced to deal with the fall out from Mom’s poor choices in men, she decides to show mom how bad a choice the new guy is. At the same time she has to navigate the men in her own life.

Better than you think it is going to be and not falling into the trap that many similar urban dramas do, this film is surprisingly good. Buoyed by a great cast and marvelous soundtrack, this is a film that I really wished I had seen on a big screen instead of my small laptop’s screen. This is the sort of film that film festivals were created to highlight.

Track this one down


BABYGIRL Trailer from 108 Media on Vimeo.

Mystery Street

One of the first headlining vehicles for Ricardo Montleban is also one of the wonderful looks at early police forensics that I’ve been running into lately.

The plot of MYSTERY STREET concerns the investigation by Montelban as a police detective into the discovery of a skeleton on a beach near Hyannis Massachusetts. The case brings him into contact with a doctor at the Harvard Medical school (Bruce Bennett) an expert in forensic science. The film opens with the events that set everything in motion- we see the victim, a young lady with a rich married boyfriend trying to get her beau to meet her. He won’t so she Shanghai’s a drunk guy in the bar and drives out to meet her man. When the drunk guy objects to the drive the soon to be dead girl dumps him and then drives off in the car. When her body shows up the police get involved. When the car is found the drunk guy ends up in jail. It looks like an open and shut case but doubts linger and Montelban refuses to just let it all go.

Police procedural meets film noir in a solid little crime tale.

Once the slow opening fifteen minutes which show us what happened (but not who did it) are over the film picks up steam. The investigation is the meat of the film and it’s absolutely compelling. Yes we have a pretty good idea where this is all going, and who did it, but, as three generations of TV detective shows have taught us, seeing how the detective solves the crime makes for a great evening’s entertainment.

As with similar films from the period you’ll be horrified by the lack of rules of evidence- Bennett pulls the fatal slug from the car and manhandles it in a way that would give the CSI teams fits. I mean Bennett pulls the slug out of the car with his bare hands before handing it to Montleban who puts it in his pocket. SO much for the chain of evidence and not contaminating it.

There is a maturity to the film that you didn’t see in films before ww2. You have lot of subtle things going on such as the fact that the heavily accented Montleban is looked down on by some. When he meets the killer, a wealthy and patrician member of society he is put down as not being in America all that long. Montelban shrugs it off with a quip. I like that the film stands up against the subtle racism rampant in our country.

I liked this film a great deal. I’m very happy that I stumbled up on it when it recently played on Turner Classics. Definitely one to keep an eye out for.

Friday, August 21, 2015

THE QUAY BROTHERS IN 35MM is coming to a theater near you- plus a new film by Chrsitopher Nolan

An 11 city tour of three films by the Quay Brothers is coming to your town along with the new film on the Quays by Christopher Nolan. All of the films will be screened in 35mm.

The tour began Wednesday at New York's Film Forum. The Quays are appearing at some stops. They have one more day in NYC and if you can get to the screening you really should (Details on that can be found here). Actually if you've never seen a film by the Quays you need to go because their films will take place you never knew existed. I'm a huge fan and I speak from experience.

After finishing up in New York the program will travel to 10 additional cities, including Dallas (Alamo Drafthouse Richardson, 9/3-7), LA (Cinefamily, 9/4-10 with appearances by Nolan), Houston (Museum of Fine Arts, 9/12-13), Austin (Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, 9/17), Cleveland (Cleveland Cinematheque, 9/24-27), Boston (Brattle Theatre, 9/25-10/1), Detroit (Detroit Institute of Art, 10/9-11), Seattle (SIFF Film Center, 10/9-15), Chicago (The Music Box Theatre, 10/16-22) and Toronto (TIFF Bell Lightbox Theater, 10/27).

A Blu-ray from Zeitgeist Films hits October 20th and it includes three films not on the DVD release including THROUGH THE WEEPING GLASS on the Mutter Museum which was only available on a stand alone DVD from the Museum itself.

I have seen the collection of Quay films (Its great- trust me)  but I have not seen the Nolan film yet but I here it's pretty good.(Warning it's only 8 minutes long)

Go see the collection.

I should also point out that earlier today I got to sit down and talk with the Quays for a bit. I had a blast. Its rare that you get to meet cinematic heroes and even rarer when they turn out to be cooler than you can imagine.

Thank you guys from the bottom of my heart.

In the unlikely event I can can get the interview transcribed this weekend it will go up then- otherwise I've been asked to run the piece in October when the Blu-ray comes out. (I'm guessing that's when you'll see it.)

Until then go find a city near you and go see the films on the big screen in the dark.

Parker (2013)

The first film based on a Donald Westlake Parker novel that was allowed to use the characters name. Previously he had been called Porter when played by Mel Gibson in PAYBACK, Walker when played by Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK, Mclain when played by Jim Brown in THE SPLIT, RObert Duvall as Macklin in the OUTFIT and so on. This time out Jason Statham plays Parker as Parker in Taylor Hackford's adaption of FLASHFIRE.

Parker is part of  a crew that robs the Ohio State Fair. When the robbery goes banana shapped and some is killed needlessly Parker decides to walk away from the gang and their half-assed methods. The gang fearing that Park might turn on then set out to kill him but the attempt fails and Parker gets away. Parker vows revenge and heads off to Palm Beach to take down his former "friends" and get his take.

Blood violent and yet frequently funny film is a rather enjoyable popcorn film. Is it up to other Parker adaptions such as PAYBACK, no, but it is an enjoyable film. Though if the sight of graphic acts of violence bother you stay away since there are graphic stabbings,  bloody fights and all sorts of mayhem.

The film falters because it has the feel that it was played with sequences don't quite feel fully formed and there is a sense at times the film didn't know if it wanted to be funny or serious. Its not fatal but it makes the film something that plays better when you don't have to pay for it (say like watching it on cable)

Recommended for a night on the couch.

Apropos of nothing is the thought of someone taking as much damage as Parker does in his various incarnations and still remaining upright.Frankly Parker should have died any number of times along the way and yet he always seems to bounce back seemingly no worse for wear the next time out.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

BARAKA X77 (1966)

Can't you be serious?
If were serious I wouldn't be in this idiotic racket

Why try to be more cynical then you are?
Its my occupational disease


Perfect MST3K material Baraka X77 (aka Agent X-77 Orders to Kill) is a spy film made in the wake of Bond mania in the 1960’s. Part spoof part rip roaring action film Baraka X77 is a great deal of fun for anyone in an undemanding mood.

The film opens with a daring airborne robbery as a passenger on a jet liner gasses the other passengers into unconsciousness- but not before he has to fight off several people. The material stolen is the formula for a new rocket fuel. The plane crashes (revealed in a sequence that is unintentionally hilarious) and the only survivor is the scientist who came up with the formula. Springing into action the authorities send in Charles (Serge in the original) Vadile their trouble shooter to track down the bad guys.

Great action mixes with funny lines and screamingly funny gaffes as our hero jets around the world to prevent the formula from getting into the wrong hands. I’m not sure if the verbal insanity is a result of things being a direct translation of the script or if it as the result of the English translator simply relieving boredom by spicing things up, but as it stands this is wicked comedy.

The film is hampered by a budget that is less than the producers probably hoped for, Things happen off camera,sets can look a tad anemic.  That may mean its a bit more real world but at the same time the film wants to see like a big budget action film.Ultimately its all forgivable because the film is so good. I mean how can you hate a film where the hero has a gun put in his back-he gets it from the bad guy who surrenders-but the hero shoots him anyway? You can't.

If the film has any real flaw it's the music- or rather one piece of music. the main theme to the film seems to be a jaunty piece of zither music which is repeated through out the film. It  wrecks the otherwise enjoyable (if jokey) film.

I really like this film a great deal. Yea its easy to make fun of it, but its also just a lot of fun. Is it high art? No but it is a blast and a half.

Definitely one I'll be revisiting often.

Thank you Sinister Cinema for putting it out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Telefon (1976)


The woods are lovely dark and deep but I have miles to go before I sleep.
Remember miles to go before you sleep- Donald Pleasence

If you know me long enough odds are you’ll have gotten a phone call that began with the above lines. Most of my friends just shake it off knowing I’m insane, but a few will ask “what the hell are you saying”

What I’m saying is the phrase used by Donald Pleasance to awaken long buried Soviet sleeper agents in the United States. It seems he’s a pissed off Soviet agent who wants get back at his former masters by causing a war with the US. The Soviets don’t want it so they send Charles Bronson to the US to try and stop them. Hooking up with Lee Remick he begins a game of cat and mouse aimed at stopping a potential nuclear war.

A grand old school political thriller TELEFON was once a staple of cable TV in the late 70’s and early 80’s . While the film is long forgotten because the cold war films have fallen out of favor, It still holds up as an enjoyable popcorn film. More thriller then action film this is the sort of film they don’t make any more, namely one that relies on characters instead on motion to tell a story. Sure there are some good set pieces but mostly this is just good characters circling around each other.

I really like this film a great deal. To me it's an old friend. Its one of those movies I stop and watch each time it's one- which now isn't that often-which is why I bought the DVD.

Track this film down and get some popcorn and enjoy

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Down But Not Out (2015)


DOWN BUT NOT OUT is a haunting film that follows some amateur female boxers as they take their first steps into the ring. The film does not go into all of the details of their training other than to show them as they prepare for their fights on the day of their bouts.

Shot in a high contrast black and white the film’s mixture of sound and image is more dreamlike than a film with the result that sitting and watching the film on TV in a darkened room I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not. It’s a feeling that’s intensified by the films fly on the wall nature. We are not a participant but an observer and what we observe isn’t always the girls for example during part of one bout we are focused on one of the seconds as he watches what happens in the ring.

This is a neat little film. I really liked it a great deal. To be perfectly honest when I sat down to watch it I was expecting a typical documentary that hit all of the clich├ęs of boxing docs but noe of that was here. We simply focus on small period of time and what transpires and it makes for something truly special. Available on various VOD platforms including Amzon, this film is worth your time.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Expendables 3 (2014)

Third time is a charm in Sylvester Stallone's action series. This is the best of the three and a real joy.

The plot of the film has Stallone and crew breaking out Wesley Snipes out of prison to help with their next job. Snipes is one of the originl crew, now several years in prison. They need him to take down an arms dealer. The trouble comes when they find out their target is a baddie played by Mel Gibson. Gibson,also an original Expendable was supposed to be dead, shot by Stallone but he survived. The raid goes wrong and one of group is nearly killed. Stallone fires the old crew and sets up a new group to get gibson (figuring he won't have feelings for them if it all goes wrong, but he has horrible guilt when it all goes wrong again and has to get the band back together (with new member Antonio Bandaras) to rescue the young ones.

With witty lines, real characters and set pieces that actually have weight this is the best of the series. Where the first film worked on the pure novelty of all the stars in one action film (lets face it was really a goof) the second film collapsed under the weight of 900 new faces most of which were given nothing to do. Worse the action in the second film felt fake. You could see the everyone walking through their paces since they were there for the party.

This time out we have a real story and real characters. If the characters are reduced to caricature its only because someone like Dolph Lundgren's Expendable has had two films of back story. We don't need to have them explained because we know them already.

The action set pieces are fantastic. They are so exciting that we can forgive the film it's use of CGI in the final moments when Stallone runs across the roof of a collapsing building.

The real joy of the film is Antonio Bandaras as Galgo. As a super soldier who talks too much and a need to belong he is both hysterically funny and a little sad-why he is looking for a new team is ultimately heart breaking. He makes the film- Though Mel Gibson as the former friend now baddest of the bad makes for one hell of a villain.

One of the real surprises of the year, I can't recommend it enough to action film fans.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Nightcap 8/16/15- Help Jason Kartalian's DATURA get made, Portland & NY Film Festivals announce titles, upcoming interviews plus Randi's links


Good friend of Unseen Films Jason Kartalian is trying to fun his next film on Kickstarter. DATURA is supernatural story that is looking to collect $30,000 in the next three weeks. Having seen his earlier film SEAHORSES (review of that film here , interview with Jason here) donating money to the cause is a no brainer.

How big a no brainer-I was the first person to give money to the cause.

You want to do this, you need to do this. Your soul will feel good if you do this.

To give some money or to get more information (at least read his proposal) go to the film’s Kickstarter page which can be found here.
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The Portland Film Festival (September 1 to 7) has announced it’s titles. It looks to be a killer line up
For a look at the line up you can go here.
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The New York Film Festival hast started announcing their titles beyond the Opening, Closing and Centerpiece. There is some really good stuff here with films from Spielberg, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Todd Haynes and Michael Moore For more details go here.
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Tribeca just announced its dates for 2016- April 13 to 24. Block out your schedule
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General statement to no one in particular- how the hell did I get here?

How is it that I’m standing on verge of interviewing several of my favorite directors and actors of all time? How the hell did I manage this?

If you didn’t already know we don’t get paid for doing Unseen. Anything I, or my guys and gals go to that requires any money outlay comes out of our pockets. What we get out of it is some free movies and an occasional chance to talk to some cool people.

Financially it doesn’t balance out but a lot of the time emotionally it does.

And if you want to know what the hell I’m talking about keep reading over the next couple weeks because it looks like I'll be talking to some really cool people.
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And we end with Randi's links

Links to lots of episodes of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue
Where is Wonderland?
Hola Llamigo
Ned Flanders themed heavy metal
Australian court says not so fast to companies seeking to get paid back for piracy
The resurfacing of lost riot grrrl film MARGO-GO
The million dollar movie with Adam West that never got released
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This week some random titles that have been kicking around the to be posted pile for a very long time.

Alec Gillis talks HARBINGER DOWN

Alec Gillis

I don't think it's possible to do a quick bio of Alec Gillis. His Twiiter (@alec_gillis) jokingly refers to him being an "Oscar losing make up and creature designer", however his work is the sort of stuff that will live on forever since he worked on films such as PREDATOR, TREMORS, DEATH BECOMES HER, ALIEN 3, STARSHIP TROOPERS, THE THING, ZOOKEEPER and X MEN FIST CLASS. He is a writer, director, producer and actor who seems to be so busy that one wonders when he sleeps. How he is finding the time to do interviews, let alone direct movies boggles my mind.

I love Mr. Gillis’s HARBINGER DOWN. I think it’s one of the coolest horror science fiction films of the last few years..( My review is here). The film is the story of what happens when a crabbing boat finds the remains of a Soviet space craft frozen in some ice. It isn’t giving anything away to say that there is a monster in mix and it soon is doing damage to everyone on board the ship.

When I finished the film I immediately emailed the PR people to beg and plead for a chance to talk to the director.

The chance to do so came about rather suddenly a couple of nights ago when I was told that Mr. Gillis would be available that day and next week for interviews, did I want a slot? I did, the trouble was that my schedule was such that I had no real availability- a couple of really cool things had popped up for the same time and I had turned those down. Cursing under my breath at my misfortune, but still wanting to talk to Mr. Gillis I took a shot in the dark and asked if he would be interested in answering a bunch of email questions. The answer came back was "yes".

What follows are my questions and Mr. Gillis’s answers. The turnaround time was rather fast with my sending out the questions not long before I went to bed and the replies coming soon after. Reading his replies I’m both happy that I got to cover a variety of subjects and a little sad because it’s clear that Mr. Gillis is the sort of guy I want to hold up with in some dark corner of a bar or diner and talk monsters and horror movies all night. Reading his answers it’s clear that had we spoken in person the interview would have almost instantly gone off the subject of his film and covered other subjects. Maybe somewhere down the line when Mr. Gillis and myself are in the same place at the same time we can sit and talk and see where it goes.


Before I turn you over to the questions I’d like to thank David Roberson for setting this up and for Mr. Gillis for taking the time to answer a lot of questions.



STEVE: HARBINGER DOWN is being heavily promoted as a return to all practical effects films. Why was it so important for you to do it that way? I recently spoke with director John Wildman about the use of practical effects in his film LADIES OF THE HOUSE and he said it was partly budgetary and partly the feat that he couldn't know what the computer people were going to do until later and he might not be able to fix it. Did any of that enter into your choice?

ALEC: PFX are always my first choice. True, they are less costly to create, but they also often look more real. They give you a result that looks organic because a certain amount of what happens when you puppeteer is out of your control, and that gives you an unexpected edge over the synthetic feel of some CGI.

STEVE: What, in your opinion, is so wrong with computer generated effects?

ALEC:There's nothing 'wrong' with CGI per se. Much artistry goes into digital imagery. It's the over saturation of CGI in movies that I'm pushing back against. Why should a director be limited to only one tool in his tool box? I support the use of CGI, but I'm against the suppression of PFX. Most digital artists I know favor a mix of techniques. I think that's where the best results lie.

STEVE: Were there any places where you had to use CG effects?

ALEC: We kept our promise to our Kickstarter pledgers : There are NO CGI MONSTERS in the film. We used CG as a support tool. Wire/rod removal, compositing, lensflares. The other aspect of PFX were the miniature ships, ice scapes and ship interiors.

STEVE: I've read a couple of comments in reviews and talk back sections (mostly there) where some people moaned that the effects would have been better if computers had been used. Do you think that some audiences or at least audience members can't cope with movie reality when not focused through a computer?

ALEC:I'd challenge anyone to take our budget and get as realistic a look out of the computer as we did with PFX. But for sure, there are folks who would rather watch CGI just as there are those who adore PFX. HARBINGER DOWN is for fans of analog!

STEVE:One of the downsides to using practical effects is that you have to be very careful with lighting or else you reveal too much. HARBINGER seems to have been shot with no real manipulation of lighting, everything seems to be lit with light from the location. Was there any temptation to (or did you) manipulate the lighting to hide any flaws or did you feel it was important to keep the lighting as close to "real" as possible?

ALEC: Along with DP Benjamin Brown, I wanted the ship interiors to be lit with intrinsic, practical lights, just like a real ship would have. Sometimes the scenes are lit with nothing much more than a flashlight. I'm of the philosophy that what you don't see is as scary as what you do see. I like slimy highlights popping against deep shadowy blacks. We used light and shadow to shroud the shape and let you see just enough of what lurks in the dark.

STEVE With the success of the use of practical effects in the film, do think that other filmmakers will move back to using them?

ALEC: There are plenty of directors who love PFX, but on the big studio movies they tend to get steam rolled by studios who prefer the digital approach (to hear why, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdDwrY5KpvI). HARBINGER DOWN is a tiny film, that is but a small part of the PFX renaissance. It'll take big guns like JJ Abrams and Guillermo Del Toro to make the studios listen to the fans. Until that happens I hope to keep making PFX heavy low bujjers.

STEVE You used a found footage-esque style in the pre-credits sequence and then you dispense with it. Why did did you do the switch? (What are you feelings if any, on the growing found footage "genre?")

ALEC:The 'first person' footage at the beginning was an economical way to get the story started, establish characters and move on. I used it sporadically. It's picked up again when Stephen (Matt Winston) gives his pompous report on the discovery of the frozen wreckage. We see it again when Sadie looks at the whales underwater, and after Capt. Graff (Lance Henriksen) trumps Stephen by awarding Sadie salvage rights. Straight up found footage films have gotten a tad tiresome in my opinion, but I do like mixing POVs and image sources.

STEVE: The film seems to echo and riff on any number of earlier horror films but the film then plays off them to send the story into unexpected directions. How much of the references was intentional and how much was unintentional?


ALEC: Being a love letter to '80's sci-fi horror, it is all intentional. Not only are there easter egg references to ALIEN and THE THING, but lines of dialogue are borrowed ('Voodoo bullshit!' for example). The characters are all '80's archetypes, and I tried to add some quirk to them that you don't see in big studio films. Hopefully the astute viewer sees that this is a fond homage to a time period many of us miss. If you don't miss '80's sci fi horror, you'll probably think the film is a blatant rip off.

STEVE: While the situations in the script can be seen as riffs on other films, one of the strongest parts of the films is that the characters are not typical horror movie fodder. You can't chart the arcs of the characters two seconds after meeting them and everyone steps up in someway to do something atypical for the genre. How important was that to you have happen in the film? Did you have to fight the urge to go cliche?

ALEC: I'm glad you see this aspect. There are detractors who take the opposite stance. Every single character is an archetype, but given that, my intent was to show an aspect of them that played against type. 'Bad guys' are not completely bad and 'good guys' have flaws. In fact, if you made the movie from Svet and Stephens POV, Sadie and Graff are the bad guys! But there's a Hollywood rule that your main character can't be the one who causes the problem. That's a rule I was dying to break. Sadie is actually to blame for all the misery. She opened Pandora's box. By the end I wanted her drifting alone on an ice floe, shattered by what she caused. I really respect Frank Darabont for sticking to his guns on THE MIST. The main character makes mistake after mistake until his ultimate misjudgement at the end.

STEVE: The casting of the film is among the most solid I've seen in a genre film over the past couple of years. How did you go about casting the film? Did you have actors in mind as you put it together or did it all just fall into place?

ALEC:I knew most of the actors and had wanted to work with them. Lance, of course, is a friend and I've been wanting to direct him for a long time. We've worked together on about 11 movies starting with ALIENS and he's always encouraged my directing efforts. His part as well as the roles played by Camille Balsamo, Reid Collums, Milla Bjorn, and Matt Winston were written specifically for those actors. The rest of the cast we found through the casting process. Jason Speer and Kraig Sturtz were Kickstarter pledgers, who did a great job in their roles.

STEVE Was there anything you wanted to do in the film but couldn't? What was it and why didn't it end up in the film?

ALEC: Too many things to list! Our budget was so tight we had to run from set up to set up. The fight between Big G and the Svet creature was about 3 pages long and I had about 4 hours to shoot it. I had to truncate it terribly. Also wanted to build a Rob Bottin style animatronic puppet of Stephen and Dock for their transformations and deaths, but I just couldn't afford it. I'm just getting to the point where I accept the films flaws and can focus on what works well.

STEVE: Will you look to make a sequel or are you going to go in a completely new direction with the next film?

ALEC: This was a blast and I loved every aspect, but I think the next film will be forward looking rather than a fond look back.

STEVE: You did this film on your "own" with help from Kickstarter. Do you think that gave you greater freedom than if you went the conventional financing route?

ALEC: Absolutely. The pledgers made this happen. No investor looking to simply make a buck would get behind this niche film. And we were very lucky to find Sultan Saeed Al Darmaki of Dark Dunes to bring more funds to the project. He really put us over the top in terms of production value.

STEVE: Several big filmmakers such as Spike Lee have used Kickstarter or similar sites to finance their movies. Do you think that their arrival at the pool limits money for smaller filmmakers such as yourself?

ALEC: No, I think their presence raised awareness about crowdfunding which helped this project.

STEVE: The film was released to theaters and on VOD a very short time before the film was released to DVD. What do you think of this new way to release smaller films? Do you think it makes things harder or easier to get your film in front of the public and turn a profit?

ALEC: Honestly, the theatrical release is for bragging rights to help increase the sales on VOD. I think the movie looks and sounds great in a big theater, but this kind of film is just right for VOD and DVD. 'm a believer in knowing exactly who you are. We're a cool, old school B movie and as a Roger Corman alum, I'm proud of that!

STEVE: Horror films today are almost assumed to to be R rated out of the box. When you were making HARBINGER did you worry about what the the rating would be or did you just make the film you wanted to make? Also do you pay attention to a film's rating when you see it or do you just see what interests you?

ALEC: I didn't worry too much about ratings. In tone I was thinking more about ALIENS. That film is more fun than THE THING and ALIEN, but perhaps less scary. It also isn't excessively gory. But as I said, if I had the budget for more human carnage I would have used it.

STEVE: Do you feel that horror needs to be graphic to work (blood and guts) or do you want less graphic horror? I like high impact splatter and gore.

ALEC: Prolonged torture doesn't do it for me. It never seems to sustain itself in horror. Drawn out gore works in war films like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, but I never quite believe it in horror. I don't really know why.

STEVE: What are your favorite horror movies?

ALEC: Old: HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, FRANKENSTEIN, ALIEN, THE THING Newer: both RING movies, both LET THE RIGHT ONE IN movies

STEVE: What are your favorite movie monsters?

ALEC: THE BLOB (both), MONOLITH MONSTERS, 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, TREMORS, FRANKENSTEIN, ALIEN, THING, where do I stop?

STEVE: What are your favorite films and directors?

ALEC:Scorsese, the Coens, Nolan, Fincher

STEVE: What do you watch just to relax?

ALEC: I could probably watch the original PLANET OF THE APES 3 times a week.

STEVE: Whats your favorite moment in a horror film? Whats the one shot, scene, ect that you think is the coolest or scariest?

ALEC: Those are mostly childhood memories. There's some friggin' Fellini movie with a little girl on pier who has her back to camera and she turns around and her face is horrific in some way. Probably silly tissue and latex but it melted my brain when I was 6. I sometimes confuse it with scenes from Roeg's DON'T LOOK KNOW. There were also some very creepy moments in THE OUTER LIMITS. Donald Pleasance with a cloud of negative energy roiling over his head, or Robert Culp seeing a Venutian outside his spaceship. TWILIGHT ZONE had that damn gremlin at the window of the plane. These are the childhood horror moments we seek to recreate.

STEVE: Do you expect or hope to see HARBINGER DOWN action figures and tie in down the road?

ALEC: Never! But if we can earn a spot in the hearts of monster fans I'll be happy.
HARBINGER DOWN is currently in select theaters and available on VOD. It hits DVD and Blu-Ray September 1

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (2013)

Cinematic portrait of Drew Struzan, the artist responsible for hundreds of memorable movie posters. You know his work from the Wars Poster, Indiana Jones and hundreds of others. He’s a man who started in album covers (Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my nightmare among others), who switched to movie posters and became a legend in Hollywood.

And that's about all you really need to know about the film because that's all there is to the film. Its a lovely portrait of a man that everyone loves and admires.

And that’s the problem everyone loves this guy. No one has a bad word. There is little drama outside of his early poverty or the fact that someone had taken a bunch of his art. It’s so loving and sweet I’m forced to ask why is this film 100 minutes? Seriously other than showing more art there simply isn’t enough to sustain the run time.

Worse from an artistic stand point the film focuses primarily on Drew's work with Lucas and Spielberg going into the creation of some of the iconic images. Despite Drew doing hundreds of other posters we mostly see the creation of the Lucas Spielberg films. Yes we get extended talk about the posters he did for Muppets and the Big Trouble and Little China poster but we get no insight into his other work.

Don’t get me wrong the film isn’t bad it’s just too long for what it is. Personally I could have used les ass kissing and more talk about how he did what he did.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Philip K Dick The Penultimate Truth (201-)


I went into Philip K Dick The Penultimate Truth with a bit of trepidation. I had beard it wasn’t all that good, however upon seeing it I found it to be very informative and strangely entertaining.

Framed as detectives investigating Dick’s life the film takes us from his birth to death and consists of friends, colleagues, his therapist, ex-wives and girlfriends telling about Dick’s life as they knew it. Intercut with it all is a speech he gave in 1977 at a Science Fiction convention in Metz where he explains about the mystical experiences which inform his work. The film explains where his world view came from, how it changed and why Dick’s constant wrestling with reality fueled everything he did.

I like this film a great deal. While the film doesn’t go deeply into much of his work, it does give us a nice overview of it and it explains why he wrote what he did. It also clears the air about the weird rumors I had always heard about Dick’s mystical visions by not only allowing dick to speak for himself via his stories and the Metz speech, but puts his thoughts into a context of the general reality by having his friends and family say where he was at the time stuff happened. While we don’t know what happened when he said he was shot by a pink beam of light and was given a glimpse at a “truth”, we come to understand why he thought it may have been mystical and why it influenced what he wrote.

I find that every one’s views into Dick insightful and he comes off as just a guy and not a mad man. I don’t find there to be anything wrong with what anyone says about Dick, with the exception of his girlfriend Sharon who talks about wanting to cringe when Dick gave the Metz speech which is seen in the film. She talks about his losing the ability to write and how the ideas expressed are kind of nuts. Perhaps they were in 1977 however now some 40 years on the world view expressed has kind of taken hold and is very part of the reality we have.

From where I stand this is a must see for anyone who love Philip K Dick and his works