Friday, November 21, 2014

Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2014) DOC NYC 2014

A look at Studio Ghibli, it's staff and creators, as they prepare a couple of their most recent films THE WIND RISES and THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA and promote them. Its  loot at how their films are put together and sent off into the world.

How you react to the film will depend upon how much you know about Studio Ghibli and their films
- If you don't know a great deal about either but love them then odds are you'll enjoy this a great deal. - If you know nothing about the studio and their films you may feel a little lost since the references come fast and furious.
- If you are a huge fan of Ghibli and know the studio and the films you'll enjoy it but you'll wonder why is this two hour long.

I'm in the last group. I've seen all the films they've produced (except KAGUYA), I've also  seen several documentaries, tons of clips, read interviews and books. I'm reasonably well versed in things Ghibli, though I'm not obsessive compulsive. I like the film, but I'm still wondering why the film runs just under two hours.

You have to forgive me but the details of running the studio and promoting the films only held  my interest to a point. I did  enjoy watching Miyazaki drawing and being cranky. I love his discussion of what he does and how he puts his films together-there is no script it seems he simply draws and lets the stories flow.

This isn't a bad film, but I'm not sure who the audience for this is. You really have to have a certain love of Ghibli for this film to work.

I can neither recommend nor dismiss this film since this is one of those films you'll have to decide for yourself if you want to see it.

The film is being released in the US by GKIDS and opens November 28th

SAIFF 2014: Jigarthanda (Cold Heart)(2014)

Call Jigarthanda SAIFF 2014's cult film. A genre bending "gangster musical". Its a weird mix of nasty violence, music and comedy.

This is the story of Karthik (who shares the same first name as director Karthik Subbaraj) is a down on his luck film maker. Spinning a plot to a producer, he's told it's old hat. If he can come up with a really good gangster film he'll finance the film.  Desperate to make a film he begins to look at old newspaper clippings, only to find the best ones have already been made into films. Realizing the only way to get material for a film would be to follow an up and coming gangster Karthik decides to follow Assault Sethu, one of the baddest of the bad. That works fine for a while until an unfortunate turn of events puts his life in danger.

Weird mix of comedy, drama, gangsters, violence and music is in the words of one other reviewer a "whiplash kind of mixture". Constantly shifting styles and genres this is a film that you're either going to go with or walk out of. I don't mean that in any bad way other than if you don't want your film to bounce from comedy to drama to violent encounter to black comedy, stay away. On the other hand if you don't mind your genres mixed by all means dive in.

For me the mixing of genres (and an occasionally annoying musical score) had me fighting to stay with the film for most of the first third of the film. The bouncing between nasty violence and comedy or the mixing of the violence with the humor made it tough for me to know what was a supposed to feel? When a man is burned a live and  going through his death throes we should feel horrified but the music makes it feel like a circus. Another time the violent stabbing of a man to death during a silly argument about who's going to kill him left me feeling weird. Its funny but also kind of like WTF.

I completely applaud that writer director Karthik Subbaraj wants to mess with our heads and emotions but I don't think it's always the way he wants. I think the shifting of tones works against the film having the complete gut punch it seems to be going for.

Ultimately I like the film a great deal, partly because the pieces are so good and partly because I love any film that is ballsy enough that it forces you to engage it wholeheartedly.

The film plays tonight at 1030 and if you don't mind staying up late I recommend you take in the screening. Also recommended who want to see a variation on themes explored in Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell

(A word of warning.The SAIFF version of the film has the run time as 150 minutes. This is a festival version of the film that trims a song and some scenes which reduces the run time down from its listed time at IMDB and most other places as 171 minutes.)

SAIFF 2014: Titli (aka Butterfly)(2014)

If you want to take a walk on the dark side, at The South Asian International Film Festival might I suggest TITLI?

Titli is the name of our hero. One of three brothers in a family of carjackers he wants out of the life. He's hoping to get enough money to buy into a new parking garage that's going up. The trouble is he doesn't want to let the family to know until it's a done deal.  His brother don't want him to leave, so they marry him off to Neelu, a beautiful girl with her own agenda. The pair make a bargain with each other to get what they want but the lies and crimes have a price and it has to be paid.

The film sucked me in from almost the start, I was very curious to see what was going to happen especially since the film has a dark cloud hanging over it from the first moments. The promised deal to buy the garage is complicated by a sudden rise in price. From there we see the violent and dog eat dog world Titli lives in, and we know why he wants out. Titli's family draws the line at murder  that doesn't mean there isn't room for other forms of violence with physical or psychic. Everyone is abusing everyone

This search for a better life is a dark tale tinged with hope. There may be a better life, but what will you do to get it, and if you do get it will it have been worth selling your soul to get it? And what if what you want isn't really what you thought?

You'll forgive the lack of detail and words but the film is still banging around in my head and heart. While I can tell you what it is and that I liked it, my ability to pull it apart and be critical isn't really there. I need time to sit and reflect on the film, which as I write this about two weeks before the screening is not something I'm really able to do since I'm about to dive into another film. I know once I see the next film my thoughts for this one will get jumbled.  Such is the peril of being a film writer.

Do yourself a favor and if you see TITLI,which you should do, don't see something after it. See the film on it's own and let it work you over for a while before you see something else. This is a film that deserves careful consideration.

For more information and tickets go to the film's festival page.


Video thanks to Chocko


Video thanks to Chocko


Video thanks to Chocko


Video thanks to Chocko


Video Thanks to CHocko

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A very few words on Haunters (2014) DOC NYC 2014

Documentary on the making of the Phobia House haunted house attraction in Michigan follows the people behind it from July through the opening. We watch as the group tracks down their new location, put it together and then open it up.

Profoundly bland and unremarkable film about the making of a haunted house is easily the weakest film I've seen at DOC NYC this year. Its also the weakest film on the making of a haunted house I've seen- and I've seen a bunch of them. The only area where it scores over better films like MONSTERS WANTED, is in showing bits from inside the attraction. Outside of that this is a big yawn, thanks in large part to its scattershot  march through time and showing of events. There is no order to anything things just happen.

I'm so glad I didn't go see this at midnight.

As much as I hate to say it you can skip this one.

Before I do full reviews- Quick word on TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER and SALT OF THE EARTH at DOC NYC 2014

I have to write up both films I saw tonight but I need to say a couple of quick things
Thom Powers and Nick Broomfield talk to the audience

TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER has one screening tomorrow (11/20) left at DOC NYC and it's a must see.

The story of a serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper because they thought there was 14 years between killings-there weren't and while they have him for 18 murders the totals could be over 400. The film is an indictment of the LA Sheriff, Police and government as well as some others.

Its gripping, disturbing and quietly devastating.

I had heard it was a fantastic film when it played the New York Film Festival and it turns out it's true.

If you can go-do so...especially since director Nick Broomfield will be there as he was tonight and if the Q&A is as good as it was tonight you're in for something special.

For tickets go here

The other film is SALT OF THE EARTH.Its a look at photographer Sebastião Salgado by his son and Wim Wenders.

Seeing it on a BIG screen was one of the most visually awesome things I've ever seen. Seeing Salgado's photos the size of a movie screen was simply over powering. The audience sat transfixed and didn't move, breath or utter a sound other than to gasp at the power of the images.

This film will still be wonderful on a smaller screen- but on a BIG screen it's beyond words and when the film finally gets a release in the spring you MUST go see it.

Okay off to bed. Full reviews will follow in the next day or so,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In Brief: The Return (2014) DOC NYC 2014

The story of four young Jewish women in  Poland. Three of the women discovered in their teens that they were of Jewish ancestry after being raised Catholic.(the families had converted during the Second World War and then remained hidden during the Communist era)

Good but not quite great look at the state of Judaism in Poland. The film's central question of what is to become of the reemerging Jews  of Poland when they are being drawn elsewhere? Will they stay and rebuild the community or will they go to Israel, or perhaps the United States either out of wanting to join their people or for a job. Its not an easy choice, just as trying to find a place in a community that one wasn't raised in.

While the film raised some interesting questions and introduced us to some nice people the film never really drew me in enough that my mind didn't wander. Watching the film I found that instead of paying attention I stopped taking notes and started to doodle. Not a fatal flaw since I still sat and listened, but it was a sign I wasn't full engaged.

Is it  a bad film, no, it is good. I suppose I was looking or hoping for something more. I suspect that had I not seen this as the 17th film at DOC NYC I would have liked it more.

Worth a shot if the subject intrigues you.

For more information and tickets go here.

SAIFF 2014: Ek Hazarachi Note (aka 1000 Rupee Note) (2014)

An older woman whose son committed suicide due to mounting debt is given a some 1000 rupee notes by a politician. The note then brings a its own troubles to the woman and a neighbor who is a kind of adopted son.

While this is the first of my reviews from this years South Asian Film Festival that is posting, this was the last film I saw when doing my reviews. I mention this at the start because the quiet nature of the film threw me off after four other films of higher intensity. Ithink the low key nature of the film worked against my totally loving the film- I was expecting something else and when I started it. I think had I seen this first or second  (this is the second feature screening at SAIFF) I think it would have knocked me off my feet.

Echoing, in away, Steinbeck's The PearlEk Hazarachi Note the trouble we have with getting the thing that will change our fortune.Wealth brings its own troubles. When we have something that other people think they should have these other people often will try to work out why that is, and then work out how to gt it for themselves. Its seems inconceivable that this woman would have such a large note...and as for the explanation-out right corruption and vote buying- which is of course an open secret-but one no one should talk about.

I hate to call the film charming, but in its way it is. This is ultimately good time with good people despite the fact that the people in the film are in ultimately dire circumstances. Life isn't great to begin with but there is humor. And even when things turn darker there is a sense that life isn't that dark.

I really like this film a great deal. I think I would have liked this more had it been seen earlier in my SAIFF viewing where it had to compete with some other great films.

Recommended when the film plays tonight.

For more information and tickets to tonights screening go to the film's festival page.


The wait to get into SONGS FOR ALEXIS made for an interesting evening when I was told to go up to the second floor lounge where we were to wait. I was a bit confused since there were an odd mix of young adults, many gay and transgendered and lots of people well into their 70's,80's and 90's. Was the screening going to be a sell out thanks to everyone being relatives and friends of the filmmaker?


Half of the very full of people for SONGS and half full of people for STILL DREAMING which was playing downstairs. The older people were the stars of the film. Until you knew that it seemed like it was going to be a really weird night.

SONGS FOR ALEXIS is the story of Ryan Cassata, an 18 year old transgendered man who met the love of his life, a 16 year old named Alexis. Ryan lives on Long Island, Alexis in California. When the film opens Alexis is getting ready to head back home after some time with Ryan and his family. Sometime after that Ryan goes to San Francisco to play the Gay Pride Festival, things are tense between the lovers and its revealed that Alexis's dad is not happy about the relationship.

Damn that sounds exciting.

Sadly it's not.

What the film really is is a hagographic look at Ryan (Alexis is largely is a cipher here, I mean I know she smokes...and?) who sings, writes songs and spends months moping around because of  being separated from Alexis. Wait Ryan also whines a bit when Alexis isn't forth coming about details of the guy Quinn who is texting her or the trouble with her parents.

To put it another way had Ryan not been transgendered this film would never have seen the light of day or at the very least it would have been cut down to a great 20 minutes.

Don't get me wrong I do like the film, but I have lots of issues with it. And the problem is if I tell you about them its going to sound like I'm ripping the film apart-which  I am.  But at the same time there is enough good here that the film should have been better.

We deserved better.

There should have been more than the the doe I looks and puppy love between two people who are more or less adults.  It doesn't help that the pair both look to be about ten and not 18. Who are these people really?

What annoyed me was that I saw Ryan in the theater, I watched him interact with his friends, family and the festival staff and he wasn't as narcissistic as he is in the film. I know break ups can be bad but in the film he comes off as an obnoxious kid who only exists for the Alexis, who he then smothers. There is nothing to his life but moping and writing an occasional song- there has to be more to him then that-no I know there is.

Alexis is as I said a cipher, though she reminds me of a long ago ex-girlfriend who was much too young to be dating anyone never mind me.

Also getting my nose out of shape was that the film feels staged at times, Ryan's mom talking to her friend in such a way as to get all of the exposition out in a seemingly realistic fashion. It may be real but it never rings true. This is especially true of the late in the film trip to Alexis's house- could it have been staged any more than it is? (And while circumstance keeps the split between Alexis and her family off camera, I'd have liked some thing more- say from Alexis about it since such a crucial event is only seen in the waves it creates for Ryan)

Is this a bad movie? No,but it's not the great feature it should have been. As it is now so much happens off screen that this should have been chopped down to a short film because there is too little real material to support a feature.

Should you see it? If you run across it you can give it a try.

Though to be honest I don't know if you will have a chance since I can't see the film getting much play outside of the LGBT community or fans of Ryan's (Ryan does have a following and is a low level celebrity in some circles). Ultimately this is not a film that is really going to go beyond it's core audience the way that truly great documentaries should.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Coming Home (2014) DOC NYC 2014

Angel Cordero was arrested when he was 25 and sent to prison for attempted murder. 13 years he gets out of prison into a very changed world. Not only has the world changed but so has his relationship with his daughter  Will Cordero be able to put his life back together and repair the damage between his daughter and himself?

Viko Nikci's look at a man returning to society after years away is a deeply moving film. Angel's troubles are very real. How do you restart your life after so long away? Is there a happily ever after or just a maybe tomorrow? Mikci is smart enough not to give us easy answers or false hope. The result is a highly compelling film that sucks you in and carries you along.

If the film has any flaws it's that it is a very slick production Frequently using multiple camera set ups it's filmed in a such away that the film looks like Hollywood production. Interviews look staged  or something you might find on say 60 Minutes. Watching the film there were times when I wondered not so much how much of the film was real but staged. While it's a minor flaw , thanks largely to Angel being such a strong  personality,  it does keep the film from achieving the classic status it reaches for.

Flaws or no- this is definitely a film you'll want to see when the film gets it last screening at DOC NYC or when it hits screens afterward because it will get your mind going and force you to feel something.

The film played DOC NYC this past Saturday and it has one more screening Thursday 1230. For more info and tickets go to the films festival page.

Last Impresario (2013) DOC NYC 2014

Michael White- a man your average person would not know but the man that every celebrity wanted to talk to.

Coming together after director Gracie Otto met this quiet old man  at Cannes, the film is the life and times of  Michael White who managed to pretty much change popular culture by producing shows and films that brought Monty Python, Rocky Horror, Pina Bauch, Yoko Ono, My Dinner With Andre and lord know who else, to English and American audiences.

Amazing film that can not help make you go wow as you realize how much one man managed to know everyone and do everything and yet remain complete unknown.  Its a hell of a story about a hell of a man told by one hell of an amazing collection of famous people.

I really don't know what to say other than this is a really cool look at one guy who changed culture as we know it. Its an an amazing film if for no other reason that it kind of seems like "oh I know what this is" in the first couple of minutes and you're a tad dismissive only to find by the end it's sucked you in and made you want to start it all over again as you ponder-how the hell such a great film is getting so little attention.

Or to put it another way- who the hell has been hiding one of my favorite documentaries of the year. I have no idea if it's great, but it is great fun which I think is all that matters in this case.

One of the Must sees at DOC NYC.

The film plays Thursday night at 730. For details and tickets go to the films festival page.

The film is also hitting theaters and VOD platforms in  December