Friday, February 12, 2016

The Final Project (2016)

THE FINAL PROJECT is a found footage horror film chronicling what happens when a group of college students decide to make a documentary looking at a supposedly haunted plantation in Louisiana. Warned off by pretty much everyone they still go to the plantation where the group perish and only the footage is left to tell the tale.

In a genre rife with films that never explain how or why we are seeing what we are seeing you have to give THE FINAL PROJECT points for explaining what we are seeing and why. It also gets a few more for a couple creepy moments. Unfortunately you have to take a bunch more away for way too slack pacing, Its a mix that makes on one hand makes you want to jump for joy that we have a film that actually takes care at times to rise above the hacks that inhabit the found footage genre but at the same time you really have to wonder why the filmmakers couldn't have tightened it up instead of turning out such a bland, almost dull film.

The reason for the blandness comes from the fact that the film, even at running only 80 minutes feels padded. As much as the film avoids many of the pitfalls of the found footage genre , if falls head long in to one of it's biggest traps in that a great deal of the film is material that has no reason to be filmed. Much of the first hour of this film consists of footage that no one would ever have filmed  under any circumstances, or if they did no editor worth their salt would have put it in to a film. We get arguments, car rides, classroom conversations and other bits that just don't belong in a found footage film. Why was this filmed? We don't know. More importantly who shot a lot of of this? There is no explanation as in GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2 where there was a character who literally is filming everything he does. Here there is nothing with the result we are left to wonder why they bothered to make this a found footage film when story wise it never should have been. Ideally this could have and should have been a regular narrative with the found footage dropped in.

Another problem with the film is that we are almost an hour into the film, two thirds to three quarters of the running time before night falls and things begin to get scary. Why are we watching a film that relies on darkness and night time for things to work- the ghosts are in the shadows- and we only have the night toward the end?  Yes things happen before that but it's the odd moment and never sustained until we are deeply into the film, by the time something happens it's much too late to care.

And this isn't a bad film. The film when it works is pretty good, There are several sequences such as the interviews with the towns people and some of the ghostly appearances that make this film far from being a complete and total write off. Consider I'm calling the film bland not bad. It's not a bad film. Its a film you can watch and enjoy, it's just not going to really scare you, though it may reveal some really creepy moments.

THE FINAL PROJECT in theaters today in Atlanta & Houston (on multiple screens), and then in NY (at the Village East Cinema) & LA on March 4th, followed by a national release.

Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

And he is out of here…..

With TARZAN AND THE MERMAIDS Johnny Weissmuller hung up his loin cloth and put on the khakis of Jungle Jim. It’s a breezy entry in the series and while nowhere near the best, it’s far from the worst as well.

The film has Mara, one of the sea people of the title, fleeing her home when an evil priest in co-hoots with an evil outsider use heir god as a means of getting pearls from the people. Mara is to be married to the god, but she suspects the truth and will have none of it and leaps from a cliff only to pursued by henchmen. Eventually ending up in the jungle she meets Tarzan and Jane who offer to help her.

Oddly constructed and paced film the film begins with a 10 minute or so sequence that has Mara escape from the clutches of the bad guys. The film then shifts to the jungle where Tarzan and Jane get an update on Boy who is off at college. The sequence feels stretched and more like filler. More time passes before Mara meets Tarzan and he agrees to help. By the time he’s heading off about half the film is done and very little has actually happened. However once Tarzan gets to the “mermaids” the film picks up and races to the ending.

Basically it’s a good first 10 minutes and a very good last 35 minutes surrounding a mediocre central 20. The last 35 minutes are the reason to see the film.

As the Weissmuller films come to a close and we move on to Lex Barker who takes over for several films, it’s time to take stock of the series so far and of the man most identified with Edgar Rice Burroughs ape man.

While there is no doubt the best of the run are the earlier MGM films, many of the later films have a certain charm. Weissmuller never was much of an actor and he never tried to be. 99% of his output was the Tarzan or Jungle Jim film (considered to be Tarzan with clothes). The end run of the Jungle Jim films gave no pretense who was on screen, it was Weissmuller since the series carried his name when the right to use Jungle Jim was lost. The final Tarzans are like that as well with the early cinematic incarnation of the ape man gone and the literary one all but obliterated.

Despite the films use of stock footage and stock situations the films managed to pump enough action and excitement into the plot lines that you kept watching. Even in the weaker efforts I would perk up once the set pieces kicked in.

Would I watch the films again? Most certainly. Actually except for one or two I’m even looking forward to going back and watching them again after I make it all the way through all of the films in the sequence.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)

Next to last Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan film is good but we've been here before. Its clear that the series was winding down.

The plot has an expedition of hunters coming into the jungle to capture animals for zoos. When they don't like that the local ruler will only allow them two of each animal they kill him. Of course they don't reckon on having to mess with Tarzan.

While not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination the film suffers from a plot used too many times as well as taking a long time to get going. There is simply way too much talk and so it never fully becomes exciting despite a murder plot and a night time raid. The mix of location footage and studio shot material isn't always seamless, but it is serviceable.

I suspect that had I not been watching the films in rapid succession this would have played better than it did but seeing it in close proximity to the previous 10 films reveals it to be a weaker entry and a clear reason why Weissmuller was swaped out after one more film.

Worth a look especially since its out on home video as part of a multi tarzan pacakage.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mountains May Depart (2015) opens Friday

MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART was a big to do at this past New York Film Festival. It was a highly anticipated film that played in connection with a documentary about the director Jia Zhangke which made everyone look forward to the film even more.

For me the film is two thirds of a great film. The first two thirds are amazing bits of story telling. The problem is that the final third doesn't remotely match the first two with the result that the film falls flat- partly because it simply doesn't live up to the highs that preceded it. However  despite my reservations this is still a must see. There are several set pieces in the film that I'm still thinking and talking about.

Since the film opens Friday in theaters I'm reposting my New York Film Festival review. Keep in mind when you read it it was written after seeing the film at the film's public screening so it refers to the introduction and Q&A that went along with the screening.

And when you're done reading it go buy tickets

Before last night's screening Jia Zhangke's THE MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART was hailed by Film Society of Lincoln Center Programmer Dennis Lim as being possibly the greatest work by one of the most important filmmakers in the world today. No offence but someone needs to check Mr Lim's meds since I think he is wildly over stating the case on both accounts. MOUNTAINS is most assuredly a very good film, but I would argue it's not great, and while I think Zhangke is a really good filmmaker I think it's too soon to know if he's on the list of most important.

You will forgive me the hyperbole but it was an evening full of it as everyone over sold everything, especially actress Zhao Tao who kept saying that the role required her to play an old lady- of 50- something that's only ten years ahead of her. Everyone kept correcting her.

MOUNTAINS is nominally the story of a woman named Tao. Beginning in 1999 she is wooed by two men. One a poor man who runs the helmet concession at the local mine. The other a rich friend who owns a gas station, makes lots of money and is looking to buy the mine. When the two men get into a tiff over Tao she is forced to choose- setting in motion the rest of their lives.

The film next jumps ahead to 2014. Tao is now divorced. Her son, Dollar, lives with her rich ex and his new wife. When her father dies her son is sent home for the funeral and we watch the ice between them.

The film next jumps ahead to 2025 and is focused on the now college aged Dollar as he tries to find a place to belong.

MOUNTAINS is for 2/3rds of it's story a compelling story of the choices we all must make in life and how they come back to haunt us and our children. The film is also an interesting look at the changes with in Chinese society.

While the time frame jump from 1999 to 2014 is confusing because the birth of Dollar would seem to take place a short time after the wedding-not some 8 years later so his young appearance at the funeral is confusing (I could hear several people around me comment on the seeming age problem and I was confused to), The real with the film is in the 2025 portion of the film.

The problems with this last portion are all related to not having enough information about the characters to completely understand who they are. For example how did Dollar's dad go off the deep end? Why won't he speak English? What happened to his new wife? there are no clues and the result is it's confusing.

The biggest problem is we know nothing about Dollar as an adult or even before. Largely quiet in the 2014 portion we know nothing about him other then he loves his stepmom but doesn't know his real one. He does come to connect with Tao when she gives him the keys to her house - "his home" but then the epsiode is over. That makes the his refusal to admit he has a mother all the more confusing. As we find out he does love her underneath it all but he refuses to remember her. Why? Not sure. Its also clear that his attraction to his teacher is purely Oedipal a fact that scares him when its pointed out by a travel agent. On a larger scale we really don't know why he's so messed up. Yes we know his dad is nuts and his mom is absent but there is more to it than that. There are lots of other little bits floating around the character that are supposed to get together to form a statement about society and how we don't connect but they all remain just hanging out there.

I can see what Zhangke is doing and why, but all of it feels hollow as if he sacrificed the story in the final third for the intellectual point. Why couldn't he have moved the characters around more naturally instead of forcing square pegs in round holes? I don't know.

In fairness I think this film may play differently if you are a Chinese native. There were a couple of times when the large number of Chinese speaking people around me laughed at lines that were not funny in the English subtitles. There was also a discussion after the film between several people behind me where a Chinese woman was explaining to her husband and friends certain nuances that you wouldn't get unless you came from China.

I don't hate the film, I actually like it a great deal. I just have real problems with the final third which keep it from being truly great. To be honest I love chunks of the film. I love the use of image size, I love the use of music in the film especially the Pet Shop Boys Go West which results in an opening sequence that had me deeply moved and an ending that almost had me tearing up (I should have teared up damn it- if that last bit had been better I would have had a proper catharsis). I love characters and what the film is trying to do. I just wish it had reached the star instead of falling short.

The film is do for a release in 2016 and should be on your list of films to see.
After the film Jia Zhangke and Zhao Tao took part in a Q&A. It was much too brief and to my mind didn't add a great deal owing to Tao's long discussion of her make up and performance.

Zhangke did talk about where the film came from and how after the troubles with A TOUCH OF SIN he almost gave up filmmaking. He also explained how bits of the film came about from his life such as his mother giving him a set of keys to his home.

After seeing incredible JIA ZHANGKE A GUY FROM FENYANG I had hoped there would have been more time to have him really talk about his film.

Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946)

Oddly named film since the Leopard Woman of the title isn't as big a threat as her young brother and the members of her matter...

Tarzan run afoul of a cult of people who want the spread of civilization stopped, dressing as leopards in honor of their god, they raid caravans and kill the intruders. Along the way Tarzan, Jane and boy make friends with Kimba the brother of the title character. He is actually a spy and is looking for the right time to strike. Along the way more caravans are raided, there are rescues and other nonsense.

10th Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan is a good, if uneven adventure film. The action is really good but some of the plotting and a few of the performances are a bit odd. The male villain is more Nazi than jungle man. Tommy Cook who played Kimba, the young Leopard boy is rather bad and its amazing to think that he's an actor who's career has spanned six decades. I also found the pace a bit slow which made the film seem longer than its 72 minutes. I suspect that its due to some sequences with Kimba that just seem to go on and on.

I like the film, but considering that that previous three RKO Tarzans were some of the best in the series so far it's kind of a disappointment.

I feel I should mention that the ending is rather violent with large number of people dying. I know in the MGM films a couple of the films also had high death rates among the natives, but that was a battle and this is kind of... I don't know cruel. Its nothing we haven't seen before, but at the same time it just seems nasty.

Reservations, aside very much worth a look.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Glassland (2015) Theaters and VOD on February 12

Gerard Barrett's GLASSLAND would be doomed to get lost in the wave of social realism films coming out of Ireland, England and Wales if it weren't for  the performances of  Jack Reynor as a twenty something cab driver and Toni Collette as his alcoholic mother who's a hair's breath from having her liver implode.

GLASSLAND focus is on John (Reynor) who is has been saddled with his Jean (Collette) who would like nothing more than drink herself into oblivion.  Finding his mother unconscious in her bed results in his racing his mother to the hospital. The tests reveal that she is on the downhill slide to needing a new liver. There maybe hope if she can get clean and things work very briefly but the therapy doesn't take and she's off the wagon. Standing on the edge of a chasm John is told that the only hope is an expensive clinic...

The social commentary on the lower class is a cottage industry in the UK, There are I don't know how many similar films coming out every year; certainly there are enough to make you groan at the prospect of having to sit through yet another one. I know I did, and I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to take the time to sit down and watch yet another film about being poor in Ireland. Finally seeing a positive review and having a great deal of respect for Toni Collette I decided to make the effort and see the film.

To be honest much of this film isn't anything you haven't seen before. The only real change is that everyone in the film is rather likable, There are no real villains as such... or rather they are kept to the fringes as part of a human trafficking sub-plot that doesn't really fit in.

On the other hand the film has two killer central performances in Jack Reynor and Toni Collette. Reynor is a quite powerhouse of pain. Its clear that his life and particularly his mother is killing him. All he wants is for her to just let him take care of her but she refuses and simply wants to drink. Reynor's performance is the very definition of quite desperation and he's one of the bright lights in a truly bleak world.

Collette on the other hand swings wildly from caring mother to raging bull and back again. She is an addict personified. Her mood swings are terrifying, but there is something there behind her eyes that makes you understand why Jack is trying desperately to hold on to her. While her rages and showier behavior is what most people will talk about, I think the more powerful moment is an essentially long monologue in the middle of the film where Collette talks about her life.  Its one of those 'oh shit" moments where you realize just how good an actress someone is.

Its also one of those moments where you also realize that  come next year Collette should be in the running for an arm load of awards, but it will never happen since this is a small film, from a small company without the financial power to run a campaign to get the performance noticed.

Familiarity of the plot aside GLASSLAND has two poweful performances that make this film worth your time and money to see. It comes out Friday in theaters and on VOD.

Tarzan and the Amazons

Jane is back!

Tarzan and Boy head off to pick her up on the boat from England. Along they way they save an Amazon from some big cats. Injured in a fall, Tarzan takes her home and talks his way out of being forced to stay. The meeting with Jane is as expected and after some introductions of new friends Jane, Boy and Tarzan head home. Unfortunately there are ripples from an Amazon bracelet that Cheetah found and Jane's new friends end up with. It sets them on a trip to the Amazon city...or would have had Tarzan agreed to take them. Tarzan refuses because he knows its all about the gold. Boy doesn't realize whats at stake and helps them find the city...and great danger.

Large scale RKO Tarzan film looks in many ways more spectacular than the earlier and much larger budget MGM films. Its just cool that we have so many neat locations like the tree house, the river station and the Amazon city. It looks really great and makes it feel like a solid adventure.

There is a maturity to this film that is missing from many of the other films. What I like about the film is it deals with the effect of Jane's being away and her return after years, there is the maturing of Boy and his need to learn more than Tarzan can teach him and there is the hardening of Tarzan as he watches coldly as some of the bad guys die horribly. It's several levels above what was happening in the later MGM films and much better for it.

Worth searching out.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Nina Forever opens Friday

I saw NINA FOREVER back during last year's Fantasia. I went into the film not knowing what it was, simply that was playing at the Festival. I  love Fantasia so much that I will simply watch anything they are showing. So it was that I plopped down and just watched NINA pretty much blind.

I came out of  it a huge fan. I was so much a fan that it ended up on my year end list of film finds. 

It's being released and now you all can see what is one of  the best horror comedies in a very very long time.

Go see it- you'll love it.  Here's my Fantasia review.

Solid horror/romance/comedy that is definitely worth a look see.

The plot of the film has Holly falling madly in love with Rob, a co-worker. Rob recently lost his girlfriend Nina in a horrible accident and has tried to kill himself as a result. Holly likes his intensity. Through perseverance the pair hook up- unfortunately the first time they make love the dead Nina materializes in their bed bringing a bloody mess with her. Can the lovers work out how to handle an undead lover's return?

This is a great film. An expert mixing of genres this should neither be as funny as it is, the humor is very black, nor should it be as moving as it is, because say what you will we have real people on the screen. The humor arises naturally out of the situations and isn't forced. The fact that the Blaine brothers who wrote and directed the film manage to keep it real even as things get fantastic is a major achievement. Its actually a rare thing and it manages to kick the film from being really good into something incredibly special.

What helps to make the film so strong is that beyond the story the film is examining the nature of love, our connections to other people, how we grieve and even simply relationships. Throwing a dead lover in the mix we are forced to really ponder what we mean when we say forever. I suspect that if you went to see this with your significant other this film will kick off several long conversations.

Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943)

Jane is still in London when she sends word to Tarzan to make up some of the medicine for jungle fever. Heading out with Boy across the desert they run into some no good guys trying to capture a horse. Shooing them off they make the acquaintance of a female magician on a mission for a sheik. They all end up in a city where the no good guys are holding sway over the local ruler. Tarzan and the magician end up in trouble and it isn't long before there is a chase into the desert which ends in a jungle where giant monsters lurk (don't ask just go with it). Good action adventure sometimes gets a bit side tracked, however when its on point it's solid entertainment, even the giant monsters which come off as pure hokey fun.

Both films are on the first DVD of the second box set of films of Johnny Weismuller films put out by MGM. When my Dad and I put the films on the other night we did so with the intention of just watching one but we had such a good time with Tarzan Triumphs that we watched the next one. I suspect that if you pick up the box set and you pop the disc in you’ll end up watching them in sequence as well.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Nightcap 2/7/16- THE PROPHET and EXTRAORDINARY TALES on DVD, The Cesar Animated film nominees are at NYICFF, what we cover and Randi's links

Two recent releases from GKids Films have hit home video and both are worth your time and money to see them.

KAHLIL GIBRAN'S THE PROPHET comes from producer Salma Hayek and director Roger Allers who did THE LION KING. The film is an adaption of the classic novel and it contains some of the most stunning imagery ever put on film. The film tells the story of a poet under house arrest who is being sent into exile by the authorities. As he walks down to the ship he pauses and talks to people he meets on his way. The conversations, taken from many of the notable sections of the book become mini movies directed by some of the greatest directors working in animation. Bill Pympton, Thom Moore, Nina Paley and other all provide sections and they are so beautiful they will bring tears to your eyes and a lump in your throat.

As good as the guest director sections are the story of the poet that forms the spine of the film is nowhere as good, with run of the mill animation and a simplistic story line about political injustice. I the section works at all it’s because of the voice cast which is headed by Liam Neeson.

Reservations aside the film is, in large part, a cinematic work of art and should be seen. My review from NYICFF from last year can be found here. To buy it on DVD go here.
The other film just release is EXTRAORDINARY TALES which is an animated collection of stories from Edgar Allen Poe. I have a full review sitting unfinished in my drafts folder, so a full review is coming. However until then you should just go out and see the film. The film has shifting visual styles with come pieces working better visually than others, but vocaly all of the storytelling is excellent.

If you need a reason to see the film consider it has Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi and Guillermo Del Toro telling stories. Lee’s work is some of his final screen work and it’s awesome. Also awesome is Del Toro who is so good you realize that if he gives up directing he could do some voice work. The Lugosi section was not done via a séance, it’s a short film that takes an audio recording of the great one reading The Tell Tale Heart and adds moody art. It’s an amazing piece that should silence any doubters as to how good Lugosi really was. To buy it on DVD go here

Both are worth your time.
Just a heads up-

All three of the French Cesar Award nominated animated films ADAMA, APRIL AND THE TWISTED WORLD and THE LITTLE PRINCE are playing at the New York Children's Film Festival. As of this writing tickets for all but the LITTLE PRINCE are still available.

Go here for tickets
Question of the day- Would you rather be able to see all of the big releases, the ones everyone sees and which are overwhelmingly mediocre or would you rather see a whole spectrum of small films no one know about where many are going to be some of the best you’ll see all year- this is the dilemma of doing Unseen FIlms
As part of the changes to Unseen I’m changing what is covered slightly. It will affect the film sent my way and make clear how will we report on festivals.

With more and more stuff being thrown my way via screening links and screeners what I say yes to is going to be more solidly things I actually want to see. That maybe a no brainer but I’ve been hit with more than a couple of clunkers lately and the time it takes to write up a bad film isn’t worth the effort. If I say yes to a film I will still review it, but at the same time I may only give you a paragraph. However unless there is something that really clicks with me I’m going to decline.

As far as Festivals are concerned I’m still going to wade in and write up what I see. However I’m going to continue what I did with last year’s Tribeca Film Festival which is do capsule reviews where I’m not moved. I will write up each film and let it go where it does. If I have a lot to say I will, if I don’t I won’t. Hopefully as a result all of the pieces I do will be better.

The reason I'm doing this is pure survival mode on my part. I was drowning in so much being tossed my way. I think it's great that Unseen has been found, but at the same what was once a series of great finds has become a series of films I don't think anyone really wants to see. It's so bad that I groan when some people email me. On the other hand there are several people who have become my conduit to the promised land.

Bear with us.

As we slide toward our sixth birthday we're going to be going through a patch which maybe a tad awkward. After reviewing over five thousand films in six years we are a tad bit worn out...but willing to march forward.
Randi's Links

London and the fire
The man behind the Looney Tunes sound effects
Movie Marketing: HAIL CAESAR
Lost cat found

In Brief:Tarzan's Triumph (1943)

Jane is in London, so boy and Tarzan must take on a group of Nazi's who invade the jungle, and more importantly a hidden city where a friend of Tarzan lives.

Its war time action and daring do as Tarzan refuses to get involved until his family and friends are put under the gun by the bad guy Nazi's. Its over done and a great deal of fun with several bits that must have brought cheers (Tarzan go to War Now) and laughs (the final fade out).

Its clear its no longer MGM, this was the first film for the ten or so year long run at RKO, but the film is still a blast as Tarzan and company hit all the right notes (and I don't think we hear the Tarzan yell at any point.)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Face of the Devil (aka La Cara del Diablo) (2015)

Lucero has to talk her father into letting her go with friends to a remote resort. He is worried about her safety. Clearly something happened in the past as Lu pleads with her father to let her start to live a normal life. With great reluctance Lu's father lets her go...he probably shouldn't have let her go since away in the jungle, cut off from phones, the internet and civilization in general the stories of a shape shifting devil called a Tunche prove all too real.

FACE OF THE DEVIL is a good little horror film that is more about creating mood than it is about shocks and jump scares. Terrible things happen but they are not overly graphic and almost all of them occur in such away that the sick feeling in your stomach gets worse instead of being relieved by a shriek and a scream. Its a very deliberate film which spins out probably half it's running time before the killings begin. Its a ballsy move by director Frank Pérez-Garland since most people today want quick shock after quick shock. Perez-Garland doesn't go that way and the result is a film that is much more tense from start to finish than most films where the scares come at carefully timed intervals.

Despite being very low key and in a way rather vanilla, FACE holds your attention for reasons that are frequently over looked by directors interested in shock and awe.

First the film gives us a seven characters we actually like. There are no real jerks here which means there is no one we want to see die. I've seen more than a couple horror films in the last few weeks where you really don't like anyone and you can't wait for them to die. For example a film called INDIGENOUS was released last year introduced all the characters behaving badly and all you could think was "I can't wait to see them die horribly". With FACE that isn't the case. Here I wanted to hang out with all of them and I didn't want them to die.

I appreciate that the film creates not only likable characters, but real characters. You get a sense of who all the people are, they kind of bleed off the screen and aren't one note. I like that they characters are built up in stages, things aren't just plopped at our feet all at once they stories come out in dribs and drabs where they should, The whole back story of why Lu's father wouldn't want her to go is also nicely handled. While Lu's story isn't anything we didn't suspect or know from seeing dozens of similar films, it's brought in so easily that it doesn't seem like a cliche.

And that's the most important thing here, FACE OF THE DEVIL, while dealing with a plot similar to many other films doesn't take the exact same road as everyone else. The story isn't told by the numbers or exactly like other films, here we get real characters, we get plausible changes in the story and most importantly we have a director who is confident enough in his story telling ability to tell the story his own way. He paces it unlike any other film and instead of amping up the blood and gore as many directors would do, he pulls back. yes it's there but its not over done. Additionally he doesn't use loud music and shock cuts to make us jump.  When you watch the film enjoy how the killings just happen and aren't over blown- characters are simply pulled off the screen and are gone.

I really liked this film a great deal. I love that this film isn't run of the mill. I love that the film is low key and creepy as opposed to loud and gross. I applaud the fact we have characters that we like and don't want to see die. I love that this is a really special little film.

Is it a scary film? I think it's more creepy than scary. I think the fact that we have been here before in similar films prevents it from generating shout out loud screams, but at the same time when I walked away from the film I wanted to see some daylight because the film created an nasty mood that didn't go away with the end credits.

Definitely recommended, especially for anyone who wants a film that's more than just blood and body parts.

FACE OF TH DEVIL hits DVD and VOD release on February 8th

Tarzan's New York Adventure

Last of the Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzans has Jane and Tarzan going to the Big Apple after Boy who was taken to America by poachers (who thought Tarzan and Jane were killed in a fire). Boy is put to work in a circus and the happy couple run around trying to find their son.

Brief adventure film is quite enjoyable on its own terms, though I don't know how its going to play if you haven't seen any of the previous five films since any notion of character is out the window. The film starts in the typical manner of the idyllic life being turned upside down by the arrival of a party-this time in a plane-which then results in the main plot being put into motion. Its not bad, just formulaic, as all but the first two films in the series have been. Worth a look if for no other reason to see Tarzan running amok in a modern city and leaping from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Tarzan's Secret Treasure

Fifth of the Johnny Weissmuller/ Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzans is a good if much too formulaic adventure.

The plot has Boy discovering gold in a river. Tarzan and Jane of course don't need it but when a group of explorers come through on their way to a plague site their greed is brought out and all sorts of nastiness occurs.

For me this film is a mixed bag with much of the first half repeating variations on things that have happened in the previous films (jungle romp, torture by natives, etc), though this time with Boy and Cheetah instead of Tarzan and Jane. The film perks up once the explorers come in and the villainous ones, led by the ever wonderful Tom Conway, begin to try and do away with everyone. The climatic battle on the river is high light to the film, though it weakly trots out the alligator fight that has been in least two other films in the series.

A good film that's very middle of the pack as Tarzan films go. Worth a look on cable or with a second feature.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tarzan Finds a Son

Fourth film in the MGM Tarzan sequence is a great step up from the last film, TARZAN ESCAPES (what a dog that one is).

Here the film has Tarzan and Jane having a baby boy brought to them by Cheetah. The baby, who they name Boy, was orphaned when the plane he was flying with his parents crashed in the jungle. The crying baby was rescued by some chimps not long before the plane is discovered by unfriendly tribesmen. (we later learn the parents fates). Five years later an expedition comes into the jungle looking for the plane and some sign of the people on board. It seems a vast fortune hangs in the balance of the location of anyone on board the plane. Will Boy return to civilization or stay with Tarzan and Jane? Good film is a nice step forward in the MGM Tarzan saga.The plot moves along at a good clip, has some great thrills and keeps the stock footage to a minimum. To be honest I can't really say that any bit of the story really stands out but at the same time I enjoyed the film the entire time it was on.

If there are any draw backs to the film it would come in two places, first the basic structure of some one coming into the jungle to find some one, Boy here, Jane in the previous two films, was cliché almost from the get go. the fact that the studio got three films in a row from the plot line shows the films have more to them then the well worn plot lines. The second problem with the film is the long sequences where Tarzan and Boy frolic. Its good in that it establish father/son bonding and their relationship, but it kind of goes on and one too long. Worse its all variations on the Tarzan Jane frolics from the last two films.

Ultimately the pluses out weigh the minuses so this is a great little adventure film. Definitely worth your time.

(Addendum and possible spoiler: I can't believe that MGM was going to kill off Jane. I'm curious has to how the final sequence was suppose to be played since the scene as it stands now is a bit silly with Jane suddenly better.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tumbledown opens Friday

TUMBLEDOWN has been kicking around the festival circuit since it world premiered last year at Tribeca. Ariela saw it at the festival and a review of the film was one of the first things she filed with Unseen.  With the film getting a theatrical release Friday I'm reposting the review:

My first screening that I saw at Tribeca Film Festival was Tumbledown. It stars Rebecca Hall(Hannah) and Jason Sudeikis (Andrew). It's the story of Hannah who is trying to get over the death of her husband, the love of her life, who was a folk singer who only recorded one album prior to his death, but had a cult following, Andrew wants to write about her late husband and so he tries to establish a professional relationship with her in order to be able to find out about the folk singer. This isn't easy for Andrew to do, as Hannah feels she is the only one who can write about her late husband. Hannah's tough, stubborn and still grieving. I didn't love the movie, but I did enjoy it and thought it was sweet. I would recommend seeing it when it comes to video/dvd/netflix, however people watch things these days.

Tarzan Escapes

Using tons of stock footage, not only from TRADER HORN but also the first two films in the series (for example the alligator fight was used last time out) this is one of the weakest films in the MGM series. Its a huge let down after the classic Tarzan and His Mate which is possibly the best film in the series.

The plot has Jane's cousins coming into the jungle to tell her that she has inherited a fortune if she'll come back to claim it. They are kind of in the bind since the relative that left her the money cut them out of the will.Hiring a great white hunter, who secretly wishes to capture Tarzan and sell him, the pair heads into the jungle where they run into the usual jungle troubles (more so because of the stock footage). After lots of talk Jane decides to go back to civilization and we get long sequences of Tarzan and Jame making kissy face. Finally into the last half hour the plot to capture Tarzan is put in motion and things at last become interesting as plans go awry and things look very grim for all concerned..

Painfully dull film is clear evidence of a troubled production. the film seems to have been assembled from several different films with the first half hour playing as an almost exact repeats of the previous film. The middle third shows signs of having to stretch things out and having plot lines that ultimately went nowhere. The last third where Tarzan is captured and the party is put into peril is the point that the film finally comes to life (it also shows signs of the graphic violence that caused much of the need to re-shoot the film). To me its a great wonder how the series managed to continue on from here since this film isn't very good (except at the end).I would be hard pressed to explain it except I would have to say that it was the relationship between Weissmuller and O'Sullivan as Tarzan and Jane which kept people coming back. Its a beautifully acted pairing and really is one of the screens great couples.

I should probably also mention that this is the point that the film became less real and more fantastical with the appearance of the Tarzan tree house.

I really dislike the first hour or so of this film a great deal and find it a great waste of time and energy. If you can come in towards the end I would recommend giving the film a try. Otherwise I would just skip the whole film and move on to the next film in the series.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Knew Her Well (1965)

Wonderful poisoned Italian confection that has been loving restored and hit theaters starting Friday before being released by Criterion. This is a film that really should be seen on the big screen so that you can get the full effect of it's power.

The story follows a beautiful girl named Adriana who moves to Rome in order to become a celebrity. As she makes her climb up the ladder, we watch as she is battered about by the men in her life, who are forever fleeting and who are just out for a good time.

A damning portrait of society's morals and double standards this film is a real poke in the eye. Let's face it we haven't changed all that much and if you really watch TV or read fashion/celebrity magazines you'll realize that we are just as vapid as ever. Watching Adriana bounce through her life with ever changing hair styles and dresses in order to follow the latest fashion you realize just how little things have changed. Frankly it may very well that we've grown more vapid as a society.

The real star of the film is the music. A broad selection of popular songs from the time the film was made, their frequent up beat nature runs counter to what we are seeing on the screen. This is especially true in the films final moments where the  music gives one a kind of whiplash as it goes against the tragedy of it all.

I know some of you are going to wait for the film to be released on DVD and Bluray by Criterion but don't do it.  This is a film you need to see in a theater on a big screen with big sound. Yes its essentially a small scale drama, but like so many Italian films from the same time they were designed to be seen big. I can't tell you how many films I've seen in film class or at a repertory theater, classics of Italian cinema in particular that look fine on a big screen TV but don't play as well as they did when I see them on the big screen. Frankly I'm convinced that the reason that the films of Fellini have fallen out of favor is not because they are bad but rather they don't have the emotional kick in the ass they do on a big screen (Watch 8 1/2 on a big screen and then try to watch it small- it doesn't work). I KNEW HER WELL is going to be like that. trust me I know,  Long ago I saw some of I KNEW HER WELL in a film class and it had power. The problem with the film class was that we only saw part of films because of he way the school rented them (we only saw as much as we could see in one class period). It wasn't until recently when I was given a a chance to see the film streaming that I saw the end. Seeing the film complete again on a small screen I realized not only how great the film is but also I realized that this would have been so much better big-this is film about trying to be larger than life and it really need to be seen big.

I KNEW HER WELL opens Friday at film Forum and its a must see.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Arguably the best Tarzan film ever, this is the second in the long running series from MGM that starred Johnny Weissmuller. This is also one of the greatest adventure films ever made. There is a level of maturity and drama that isn’t found in any of the other films. Part of the reason is that the film came just before the production code was strictly enforced and forced the dumbing down of many movies.

As usual I’m getting ahead of myself, let me start again

After MGM spent a fortune to send a crew to film Trader Horn in the wilds of Africa, they realized that they had way too much footage. They had shot SO much material that the footage would be used for decades afterward. They needed to find a way to use some of the footage. Eventually they decided to make a film version of Tarzan Of The Apes, based upon the first of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books. The film was a huge hit and a sequel was required. (It should be pointed out that Burroughs knew he had a hot property years before and was farming the character out to various producers, including himself, in order to make "competeing" films simply because the demand was there)

The second film has Jane and Tarzan living idyllically until another expedition comes into the jungle, looking for not only the elephant’s burial ground but also for Jane, since leading the expedition is Jane’s old beau who’s hoping to win her back. Picking up a year or so after Tarzan The Ape Man, Neil Hamilton's Holt has asked a rich friend to finance a safari back to the elephant's graveyard to collect ivory. His friend arrives also carrying dresses and perfumes that Holt hopes to use to win Jane back from Tarzan. Before they can leave Holt finds his map stolen and it becomes a mad dash to try and capture a competing expedition. When they finally overtake the thieves, they find the whole party dead and themselves surrounded. They have no choice but to fight their way out and soon find they are out of the frying pan and into the fire. Eventually Tarzan and Jane show up and everyone is off on even more adventures.

Other than the safari to Tarzan's escarpment there is almost nothing that makes this your typical cliched Tarzan film. There is no tree house, no weird inventions, no cleaned up Tarzan. I mention this because the films that followed this one pretty much fell into lockstep with a set number of things that you had to have; intruders, jungle color, inventions in the tree house, danger (but not too much), and conservative clothing.

Tarzan And His Mate has none of that. There is real danger, there is real violence, and most amazing the clothing is revealing. This film was actually made with a full frontal nude swim sequence, which was put back into the film when Ted Turner bought the film library. Actually Turner had the film restored completely since the film had been severely cut down over the years, beginning with requests from the Hays Office (a precursor to today's Motion Picture Association Of America ratings system).

If you hate the "me Tarzan you Jane" cliche see this movie because none of that is in this film. That sort of thing really started in earnest in the next film, Tarzan Escapes (which some people say is the best one; I find it a dull retread hampered by the fact that it had to be reshot a couple of times because it was much too violent...but that's another film). Tarzan And His Mate is a more realistic sort of film where Tarzan is more mute, and more halting in his speech. He's a more real character (as real as he could be).

Actually this is just a great, great film. It's a film where they got everything right. The movies had managed to figure out how to tell a story like this with sound (the first film, while very good, is a bit stilted from the limitations of sound shooting). It's made by adults who didn't talk down to the audience. The emotion between Tarzan and Jane is real. There is a respect. Jane doesn't talk down to him or treat him like a child. There is danger, adventure, and the there is a real cost to what happens. People die. I say that because after this film many of the characters are cliche stock characters; here characters like Holt are real people.

You need to see this film. It's a masterpiece. It's one of the greatest films that Hollywood ever turned out.

This is available in the US in a collection of the first six Tarzan films* with Johnny Weissmuller. These all co-star Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane. It also has an excellent 90 minute documentary on the making of the films. The set is worth picking up because of this film, the documentary, and most of the other films (as I said I find Tarzan Escapes clunky).

A must see, this film will blow your socks off.

*- I need to point out that who ever put the set together did a serious disservice to the buyer since the films, which are presented two to a disc, have the first four films out of order. with the first and third films on the first DVD and the second and fourth films on the second DVD. If you pick up the set try and watch them in order since the story does move from film to film.

Monday, February 1, 2016

In Brief: How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) (2015)

Oat wakes up from a bad dream. He is watching his brother catch on fire. As he stares out a window in a high-rise he flashes back to when he was 11 and dealing with the possibility that his brother may soon leave him alone if he ends up chosen in the Thai military lottery. Oat tries to help his brother beat the odds and it sets in motion somethings that will affect his life there after.

A very good nostalgia piece highlighting what one must sometimes do to survive. The film is a kind of low key mediation on memory and what we choose to remember about our loved ones. Its a film about how we relate to our siblings and our lives.

I really like this film a great deal. I think it's a super film....

...but I have nothing to say beyond that.

Don't get me wrong  it's a great movie. I just have nothing to say about the film except that its great and you should see it- which in this  case is enough.

HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS (EVERY TIME) hits home video and VOD tmorrow