Saturday, January 31, 2015

Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere hits iTunes and VOD Tuesday

LOVE AND TERROR ON THE HOWLING PLAIN OF NOWHERE was one of the great films at 2014's DOC NYC. Its a film that is about way more than it's subject and the sort of film that you'll want to talk about for days after you see it-and then you'll want to watch it all over again so that you can see what you missed.

Its a film that is truly special and one that anyone who loves really good films  should see.  And you can when the film hits iTunes and VOD on Tuesday February 3

Here's my review from DOC NYC:

When college professor Steven Haataja's remains were found nine months after disappearing there were a lot of questions, like how did he end up in the middle of nowhere charred beyond recognition, and bound in such a way that suicide seemed unlikely. The lack of physical evidence was owing to the body being out in the wild through a particularly brutal winter. With little in the way of concrete answers speculation was rampant.

On the face of it LOVE AND TERROR ON THE HOWLING PLAINS OF NOWHERE is a look into the disappearance and ultimate death of college professor Haatja. What it also is is an existential examination of life, the universe and everything that brings in everyone from Leonard Cohen, Tolstoy, Orson Welles, Tarkovsky, Carl Sagan to any number of other people including many from the town of Chadron Nebraska where it all went down. It’s an a 105 minute digression that sucks you in and drags you along.

The film is set in motion when best-selling author Poe Ballentine, aka Edwin Hughes in real life, decided to look into the death of Haatja as a means of finding closure and justice for the man’s family. The film then spirals out into an examination of Haatja‘s life and that of the people in the town. The film then goes off in odd but very related directions that examine how we all look at life and our place in the universe or even just in our home town.

It sounds weird, but it works. The mix of stories and philosophy comes together into a film that’s like hanging out with friends in a coffee shop and shooting the breeze. Stories and comments ping off into something else which goes somewhere else which leads back to the place we started. It’s this huge round robin game that always goes back to the life of the dead man.

The trouble with writing on the film is that there are so many threads that you could write a book on the film with each thread and each character being a chapter. The thought of paring it down is difficult, what do I mention or leave out, the ex-detective  now forensics instructor who got in trouble for revealing too much to the press? Hughes's possibly autistic son, who doesn't seem like he belongs but does? How about the various grad students? The bartender? The film clips? I wouldn’t know where to start. There is so much going on that the film really needs the full 105 minutes to get it all in (The film plays out through the end credits).

Basically you just need to see this film.

This is a film for anyone and everyone who not only wants to engage with the film, but talk about for the five hours after the end credits end. This is is the very definition of a conversation starter- which is why I shouldn’t tell you what’s in the film and instead I should have you just see the film.


To pre-oreder the film now on iTunes or order it after February 3 go to the film's iTunes page here.

Orbit (2014)



Turn the lights out. Turn the sound up and watch this full screen.
Its time lapse of the space station in orbit around the earth\
I'm pretty sure this will be one of the most amazing things you'll see this decade.
No seriously this is way cool

Friday, January 30, 2015

Free Wheel (2013)



The file of a cleaning lady changes when she discovers roller derby,

A delightful trifle that does what shorts do best.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Crochet Noir (2013)

Private dick named Joe takes a muscle job to help keep his brother out of trouble. Killing time he visits a diner where he meets Angel a waitress with a young girl. And then he heads off to his job...

Wonderful film noir short that manages to hit every point dead on with in it's eight minutes. Its absolutely super.

The whole thing is done with models that were crocheted. And while you would think that would result in the characters not having much emotion you'd be wrong, Director Jessica Harris gives them more emotion than many actors working in Hollywood ever express.

Fantastic. track this down.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tickets are on sale to this year's NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S FILM FESTIVAL (and t-shirt toss)-

Run out now and buy your tickets before Shaun gets them all
Public tickets have gone on sale for this years New York International Children's Film Festival. The festival runs February 27 until March 22 and as I've done since the festival started and as Unseen has done every year of it's existence we're going to be there in force.

first and foremost THIS ISN'T JUST FOR KIDS. Yea its got Children in the title but the films are all intelligent and frequently play better if you're pretending to be an adult.

I'm locked and loaded with tickets for 12 screenings plus we've got access to a few more films, and we'll be reposting reviews to the films we've seen before. The practical up shot is that outside of the Tinkerbell movie and some of the shorts you're going to get reports on pretty much everything.
Yes the Moomins are coming to the festival

The film list is here and you'll want to make your own choices but here are a few suggested must sees:

SHAUN THE SHEEP (and any Aardman) because it's Aardman which means you instantly have a shot at it being mind blowingly great - especially if you like the Wallace and Gromit shorts or Shaun's TV show.

WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE maybe the last Ghibli film ever. There's talk of closing the studio so if the fact it wasn't Ghibli to start with wasn't enough the fact it maybe the last should get you to go

KING AND THE MOCKINGBIRD is great. Yes it's played back in November but if you have never seen the restoration  you have to see it because the film is just fantastic now.(Details on how good can be found here)

KAHLIL GIBRAN'S THE PROPHET has multiple directors Nina Paley, Bill Plymton and Tomm Moore providing sections for a film based on the classic book.

I also recommend and and all of the shorts programs. Trust me they are almost always all winners. Besides they tend to have Oscar nominees and winners in them such as THE DAM KEEPER which I saw last year and is up for an Oscar this year.  (And if you love scary stuff do see HEEBIE JEEBIES because every year it gives the audience fits and nightmares)

Take a look at the film list and buy some tickets and go. Its the most fun you'll have all year-and you might even get a T-shirt when Eric Beckman or whomever tosses them.

For tickets and details on the schedule and films go to the festival website

Felix and Meira (2014) New York Jewish Film Fesitival 2014


Felix and Meira is a decidedly off beat “romance”. The story of two lost souls looking for something more is a moving little film.

Meira is a married with woman with a young child. Living in a very closed Orthodox Jewish community she is looking for something more. Her life is full of the same rhythms and same acts repeated over and over again. She wants some break from the tradition that regulate every moment of her life. The trouble is the things from the outside that bring her joy, say the sous and gospel music she loves to listen to, cause her no end of trouble with her husband who is strictly religious and very much against all of that stuff. One day she meets Felix who is reeling from the recent death of his father. At first things between the pair are not so good. But slowly they connect. For Meira the connection sends shockwaves through her life since she really begins to see the world outside of the orthodox community she lives in.

When I say that the film is “romance” with the quotes I mean that the film is not so much about finding a soul mate but finding a doorway to another place. Meira wants freedom. She wants very much to get out from under all of the restrictions of her community and really see the world. She wants to be the person she feels she should be and not the person that her husband and her community says she should be. Felix is looking a way out of his grief. Showing Meira the world brings him out of the darkness.

I like the film a great deal. There is something about the film’s atypical take on things that won me over. Actually what won me over was the interaction between Meira and Felix, since until they meet the film really didn’t work for me.

Definitely worth a look.

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Amina Profile (2015) SUNDANCE 2015

Sandra tries to get answers
Sandra, a French woman living in Montreal meets Amina, an Syrian American woman living in Damascus on line. As their relationship grows Amina becomes more empowered to the point that she begins a blog called Gay Girl in Damascus in which she would discuss being an out woman in the Middle East. Things eventually take a turn for the worst and it appears that Amina is kidnapped by forces in Syria. Sandra springs into action in order to free her girlfriend but what she finds isn't what she's expecting.

Following Sandra's quest to piece together what exactly happened and why THE AMINA PROFILE is a cracking good film.  For those who don't know the story of what happened it's a mystery that sucks you in and drags you along (I'm not going to reveal what happened or happens). For those who know the story this serves as cautionary tale about not only love in today's Internet age but also a warning about how we view the politics of anything.

You'll forgive my lack of details as to what the film is and what happens but this is the sort of film that is going to play best the less you know what it is. Once I realized what the story at the heart of the film was, I had followed the actual events back in 2011, my perception of the film changed. There was an "ah ha" moment that made it all different, not worse just different.

Running a compact 85 minutes this film could possibly use a tiny bit of trimming of some of the reconstructions, but otherwise this is a super little film. Expect it to show up at any number of film festivals over the coming months so you'll have a good chance at catching it.

Supremacy (2014)

Joe Anderson and Danny Glover headliner a surprising good thriller about an recently paroled (as in earlier in the day) white supremacist named Tully who gets out of prison  and instantly gets into trouble by killing a black cop and taking a black family hostage. As the police search for him and the woman sent to pick him up Tully begins to clash with the patriarch of the family (Danny Glover) and ex-con who doesn't want to involve the police.

SUPREMACY is a film that surprised the hell out of me. It looked interesting enough that when I was offered it for review that I said yes. I didn't expect to be drawn into the on screen events as deeply as I was. This is one of those films that needs to be championed because I'm betting most people won't realize how good it really is.

I know much of the credit for the film working has to go to director Deon Taylor. Having cut his teeth on  okay horror films (his films DEAD TONE and CHAIN LETTER  were only memorable enough that I recognized that I saw them when I saw the poster art) he takes all of the tropes of the horror film genre and turns them loose on a crime thriller. While a hostage thriller isn't that far removed from a horror film Taylor keeps it real and never goes over board into the unreality of horror.

The script by Eric J Adams is also sterling. Adams has fashioned a fantastic thriller that not only works on a pure crime story level but bristles with not only racial tension and also family tensions as well. The most extreme situation being when the situation turns bad early on a forced choice made by one of the hostages and the family begins to fragment more. Not that it wasn't fragmented already with it far from being a happy family with Glover's character not being looked upon favorably and the complications of one son being on the local police force.

As for the cast it's all great, not good but great. Everyone manages to sell their roles to such a degree that you buy whatever it is they are asked to do. You accept any twists and turns without question because we believe in what they are doing.

This is a small scale gem you need to track down.  Truthfully don't let this film get lost.

The film opens Friday in theaters. For more info check the films website.

GoGo Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films (2014) New York Jewish Film festival

Q: How do you become a filmmaker?
A: Don't do anything else. If you love movies,you want to be a movie maker you have to give yourself to the movie. You have to forget your other life

One of two recent films on the history of Cannon Films, the other being Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films which will be screening as part of Film Comment Selects in three weeks, The Go Go Boys:The Inside Story of Cannon Films is both excellent and disappointing. Its excellent because it’s the wonderful story of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who made movies and changed popular culture as we know it. It’s disappointing in that the presentation, while fine, is a bit too sedate for such a crazy story. Yea there are wild stories (Jean Luc Godard signs a contract on a napkin) but at the same time the film isn’t as wild as the stories.

For those who don’t know Cannon film was a film studio founded by cousins Golan and Globus.They started making films in the 1960’s and then continued on making more and more films, some prestigious (Runaway Train) many exploitive (Pick a Cuck Norris film). A lot of the 1980’s and 1990’s Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson and Jean Claude Van Damme films came from them. Most made money.

The film begins with Menahem Golan talking about what it takes to be a filmmaker (See the quote above). The film then plunges head long into his movie making career and how his cousin Yoram was brought in to help secure financing for a film project thus planting the seed for what became the powerhouse Cannon Films (thanks in part to their mega hit Breakin which got them noticed). The film has tons of clips and interview footage not only with the cousins but also the actors (Norris, Van Damme, Jon Voight) , directors (Andrei Konchalovsky) that they worked with and fans (Eli Roth). It’s a wild ride and apparently all of the stories I heard over the years are true.

The problem- and it’s a small problem mind you- is that outside of the clips and the stories there is quite the manic energy that one would think should be in the film. The film is largely clips and stories which are frequently wild and crazy. The energy that comes from say watching Van Damme parroting Menahem telling him he’s going to be a movie star falls away when we see Menaham just talking.

Growing up and into my 20’s and 30’s Cannon films were always the films I looked for. As Eli Roth states you knew there was going to be lots of sex and violence in them. Sure it would be over the top and crazy, but it was a lot of fun. You knew going into the films that you were going to have a great time even if the films weren’t good. They became so synonymous with a certain type of action film that we’d go into video stores and look for Cannon films.

To be honest I really miss their films. Sitting in a press screening for Keanu Reeves directorial debut Man of Tai Chi with Hubert Vigilla and Peter Gutierrez we bemoaned how the film was being released 20 years too late. Had the film come 20 years ago it would have been released by Canon and hailed as a classic. A long discussion of the studio and its films followed.

Watching Go Go Boys was like recapturing my late childhood/early adulthood. If you’re like me and grew up on Cannon’s films you must go to the Walter Reade and see Go Go Boys when it plays at The New York Jewish Film Festival when it Plays on the 29th. For tickets and more information go here.

Sweet Micky For President (2015) SLAMDANCE 2015

Ben Patterson's SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT is a great film. Its a film you fall into and go along with and come out on the other side having not only learned something but enjoyed yourself as well

The film is the story of how Pras Michel of the Fugees, turned Haitian singer and a man occasionally referred to as the president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, aka Sweet Micky, into a Candidate for president of the poverty stricken and corruption ridden country. Marelly had been a thorn in the side of the rulers of the country for decades to the point he had been put on a death list. His running was seen as a ray of hope for the people and a complication for those in power.

Telling it's story with both a great sense of history and an understanding of the present SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT tells the whole story of how it all went down from Michel's crazy idea to get Micky to run on to the troubles of running the campaign, including having Michel's fellow Fugee Wyclef Jean enter the race as well. From there we get the story of the voter problems-dead people on roles, prefilled out forms in the first round of balloting, through the unreset that followed Micky not making it to the second round.One would think that would be the end, but it's not, the story just keeps spinning out..

Technically brilliant this is a great looking film with a wonderful visual sense. Graphics are used to lay out Haiti's history as well as to bring events (most of this takes place in 2010 and 2011) up to date. The editing of the film is flawless and it makes it so the film grabs you by the throat and drags you along all the while making you a willing participant.

This is a freaking great film. How do I know, because ten minutes in not only was I looking forward to telling everyone about it I was wondering when the Bluray/DVD was going to come out and what extras there would be so I could see the film again and spend extra time with this great story.

If you love great documentaries you must see this film.

The film plays Thursday night at Slamdance. For tickets and more information go to the festival page here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Above and Beyond (2014)

I've been chasing after ABOVE AND BEYOND for the last four months. The film has played at multiple film festivals (including the just concluding New York Jewish Film Festival)and I missed it every time. Finally with the film arriving in theaters this Friday I finally got to see it.

ABOVE AND  BEYOND is the story of how the newly founded country of Israel ended put together an air force in order to hold off the the impending war with the Arab states. With an embargo in place the Israelis, the Israeli's turned to American supporters and pilots who risked jail time and loss of American citizenship to help.

This is a good look at a largely unknown story outside of Israel told by the men who were there. A mix of talking heads, archival footage and recreations the film nicely explains what happened and why. If the film is lacking in some details (there are several times where they don't give enough details)  the film more than makes up for it in  the wonderful stories told by some wonderful men  who recounted their youthful exploits.

I like the film but I really wish the film didn't feel like a History Channel special

The film hits theaters this Friday

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980)

Les Blank's short documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is built on a bet between Werner Herzog and Errol Morris. Morris had still not made a film at that point of his life, and had abandoned previous creative endeavors (not just films). To egg his friend on, Herzog said that if Morris actually completed a movie, he would go to the premiere of the film and eat his own shoes.

And so in 1978, Herzog, at Chez Panisse with the assistance of Alice Waters, cooked his footwear in duck fat and spices for five hours and then ate his shoe in front of an appreciative Berkeley crowd at the UC Theater during the premiere of Morris' Gates of Heaven.

Herzog's persona is in full effect here—observant, at times seemingly alien, deadpan hilarious, but always intelligent in articulating the points he's getting at, and often poetic while getting there. At one point, he lambasts the inadequacy of the images in society that are fed to us by commercials and television, and says that maybe a society without adequate images is culturally doomed. Minutes prior to that, he talks about having once jumped into a cactus as a promise to one of his actors.

This sense of high and low—the absurdity of eating a shoe to push someone to create, the fact we can debase ourselves to allow others the ability to dream—is what makes Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe both silly and yet oddly inspiring.


One of Herzog's more profound observations about the struggle to create art and the persistence of achieving this vision appears in two works about the making of Fitzcarraldo, the book Conquest of the Useless and Blank's 1982 feature-length documentary The Burden of Dreams: If I were to abandon this project, I would be a man without dreams, and I don't want to live like that. The line contains a dogged sense of hard work being worthwhile, the struggle being better than not having to struggle at all.

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe offers two lines that I think could be viewed as a precursor.

The first: Making films turns me into a clown, but that happens to everyone; what filmmakers do is immaterial—it's a projection of light—and it makes you a clown in the process. Herzog says this while eating his shoe. As far as clowns go, I picture a clown who takes pratfalls and pies to the face yet keeps going; a silent clown like Charlie Chaplin's tramp (who appears briefly in the doc), or even a cartoon clown like Wile E. Coyote or Daffy Duck in "Duck Amuck," clowns less like Bozo and more like Sisyphus.

The second line, which comes at the end, is the burden of fools and a call to other creatives out there to be honorable clowns: To eat a shoe is a foolish signal, but it was worthwhile, and once in a while I think we should be foolish enough to do things like that—more shoes, more boots, more garlic!

The Tugendhat House (2013) New York Jewish Film Festival


The first and most important thing about The Tugendhat House is that if you go and see it don’t think that the first five or ten minutes are what the film is. The opening bit of the film is made up of panning and tracking shot through the empty house while voice over quote from reviews and pieces on the house. Its cold and sterile and goes on long enough that if you’re like me you’ll be afraid the whole two hours is like that. It not.

The Tugendhat House is a look at the so named house house which was built by the Tugendhat family in 1929. The house was one of the finest examples of steel construction at the time. The house was abandoned by the family eight years later when the family fled Czechoslovakia for Switzerland when the Nazi’s took over the country. The house then went through a variety of owners and uses over the year and over the last few decades efforts have been made to try and restore the house to its original form.

This is a very good look at the house, the family and the march of almost 90 years of history. It’s a look at how one house could have a place in the events of a century. I was, for the most part, carried along with the story of the house and it’s family. This is an interesting exploration of a footnote event in history.

If there is any real problem with the film as far as I’m concerned is that its 117 minute run time is probably a half an hour too long. (I probably should also say that this may not be for ll audiences, if you’re not into architecture, especially something with a design that is as “cold” as this you may not warm to the film)

For tickets and more information go here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Nightcap 1/25/15-Upcoming festivals, Unseen plans, Hedwig on Broadway and Randi's links

pondering the future
This was a strangely quiet week at the Unseen Films owing to a couple of things, chiefly my ending up sick for most of the week. Things were so bad that I didn't see many movies.

On the plus side New Directors New Films have announced 9 titles. Hopefully they will be better than last year which disappointed me with what I saw - though catching up with the ones I missed was a delight with BABADOOK and GIRLS WALKS HOME ALONE making me regretwhat I missed.

Do check out the BAM website. They have two series coming one on John Carpenter which includes his appearance for a talk and screenings and their annual Kids Film Fest.  Mondo and I are going to the Carpenter talk together and Hubert is going with a friend. (we also should be dropping some pieces on Carpenter's films) I'll be at the Kids fest for several screening this year on both days so look for reports. (more on both series next weekend)

The Films for the New York International Children's Film Festival are on sale to members. The schedule and film list is here. Between new stuff and reposts we'll get you reports on most of it. I think the only things we'll be missing is some of the shorts collections and the Tinker Bell movie.

Promised access to Sundance and Slamdance titles has not materialized as of this writing. I'm still hoping to pull stuff together but I don't know. If you want Sundance/Slamdance coverage try Joe Bendel's blog JB Spins since he is there in the thick of things.
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As far as Unseen itself is concerned this week we'll finish up the New York Jewish Film Festival coverage. I know its not the best known festival but the choices are great. I do hope that you managed to see something- though to be honest many screenings sold out so my desire to fill in what I missed was cut short.

I have caught up with a whole bunch of recent films and they will be coming down the road. While I know we tend to get more readers with new titles, some of what I've seen has been on the last legs of theatrical runs so my telling you to see something will not help the box office.

Actually the site is programmed into May. Three weeks are dropped out  for Tribeca but otherwise we're set until the week after it ends barring some art for the posts.. Of course things will change since more is coming along but for now you basically wouldn't know if I went to Tahiti until May.

What I have coming is a mixed bag of delights- more shorts, lots of New Releases. I have stuff already set for Film Comment Selects.  A week of newer animated films including the Oscar nominated PRINCESS KAGUYA which is a cinematic work of art of the highest order. All of the Dr Kildare films for the start of March, more Bowery Boys in May, the latest Cinerama releases from Flicker Alley as well. Basically tons of stuff some of it you'll recognize and some of it you won't.
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I saw HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH on Broadway Thursday.

John Cameron Mitchell who originated the role and authored the book returned to the show for the first time in 15 years or so.

It was both marvelous and a tad unsettling.

The show about a transgendered woman trying to find her place in the shadow of the super star she nurtured is as always a fantastic piece. Mirchell and his co-creator Stephen Trask created a show for the ages and the greatness is on view on Broadway.

The sense of being unsettled comes from realizing that on Broadway the pain of Hedwig's life is eased. Seeing Hedwig playing the big room takes away from the tragedy of her life. There is less sadness because she's on Broadway. To see her in this big room, with an audience who loves her and cheers her when she takes the stage you realize she is no longer the outsider- she is a goddess. She is no longer what Mitchell and Trask wrote, and the thing we fell in love with two decades before-the outsider who like us, will never win- Hedwig has won and won big.

On Broadway much of the pain of the piece is gone- Hedwig has triumphed- even in losing she has won

While I love that Hedwig has finally found the love she so desperately deserved, I am pained that the play is ill served. It must be played in small places, in dive bars and rec rooms- there at least the pain of the outsider can truly be felt.

Hedwig on Broadway is not about the show as written but something else entirely- its become too big with Tommy on a pedestal and the biggest loss- there is no melding of Tommy and Hedwig as we saw back at the Jane Street Theater so many years ago.

Don't get me wrong, the show as we see on Broadway is glorious and my heart soars at the thought of her getting standing ovations every night but I still miss the intimacy of the small scale production- I still miss feeling, really feeling her pain instead of seeing it dressed up in sequins and lighting effects.

With luck I will see her before she packs up and heads back to the trailer park- one can never see the a fighter such as Hedwig too much.
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And now we conclude with Randi's links.

24 pieces of advice from Werner Herzog
Horror film director up sets island inhabitants
The Hobbit as one 4 hour film
Final Image Oscar Montage
10 movies ruined by bad endings
Trapped in development hell
Skeleton Key to the Conspiracy: The Eriksson Twins
Heritage Auctions to sell Laika models
10 Forgotten Superhero movies
Why BIRDMAN is a Muppet movie

How to Beak into Yiddish Vaudeville (2014) New York Jewish Film Festival 2015

Shane Baker explains Vaudeville, Yiddish Vaudeville and his life. Done in a style of Neon animation the film is a kind of illustrated lecture.

An amusing look at the art form of Yiddish Vaudeville is hurt by the visual style of having someone draw images of the things that Baker is saying.  While the style is fine for awhile  by the half way point I stopped watching and just sat and listened to the story.

The story on the other hand is very funny and very informative. This is the story of a pretty much long gone art form told by a master storyteller. Its a film that will make you smile as stories of Sophie Tucker and others are recounted.

As something to watch it's okay. As something to listen to and as a record of a dying art form it great.

The film screens January 28th with Natan.For tickets and more information go here.


Natan (2013) New York Jewish Film Festival 2015

Portrait of Bernard Natan a forgotten innovator in film history

Natan was born in Romania and then moved to France where he got any job he could working in the movies. Before WW1 he was arrested for selling erotic films. His record was then expunged after service in the Great War. After which he helped to rebuild Pathe Studios in to a world wide power. However accusation of swindles and that he was making hardcore porn films caused him to fall from grace.

Solid portrait of a man any film lover should know but doesn't seeks to restore Natal's place in history.  The film's genesis seems to have its origin in trying to debunk the legends of Natal's porn career which seems unlikely since several of the films he is alleged to have starred in look very little like him.

As an hour long look at Natal's life this is a really good primer on someone I had never heard of (nor had the film students who attend school in his former studio). Its such an intriguing tale that I really would love to try and find a biography of Natan so that I can get more details on his life and times.

What an absolute gem of a film. This is why I love going to film festivals, they open doors and show me films and people that under normal circumstances I would never have seen otherwise.

This is a must see for anyone who is interested in the history of film or anyone who wants see the story of an almost forgotten man who needs rediscovery.

The film plays twice on January 28th with How to Break into Yiddish Vaudeville. For more information and tickets go here.

(In the interest of full disclosure there are clips from the antique porn films which while relatively tame might get the film a hard R rating.)

Rest in Peace Joe Franklin

TV talk show host and raconteur Joe Franklin has died. If you've never seen his show you don't know what a loss this is. Below are the five tweets I sent out into the world after I heard of his passing.

Joe Franklin has died. The golden age of TV and film has become less bright in our memories

I need to write about Joe Franklin but words can't explain what he truly was or what he meant to the world- I'm serious here

Joe Franklin was the best and worst in a talk show host, be brought together old and new, never would-bes with has beens and made it work

The best way to know Joe Franklin would be to just sit and watch his show for week. You can only appreciate him by seeing him

Where everyone is claimed to be one of a kind-Joe Franklin really and truly was. There will never be another like him-its just not possible

If you have no clue who Franklin was here's Gilbert Gottfried talking to him.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Angels of the Revolution (2014) New York Jewish FilmFestival 2015

One of a kind film will enthrall some and confuse others as it tells the story of five Avant-gardists who make their way to a new city in the wilderness. They are looking to reconcile the Soviet ideas with those of the native people.

Part absurdist satire, part social commentary this is a look at what happens when very educated people clash with a native culture that wants no part of them. Set during the Kazym Rebellion (The press notes call it the Great Samoyedic War) the film reflects a portion of Soviet history where Communism was spreading outward, in this case into the wilds of Siberia. the natives wanted no part of the change and fought back. They held out for a brief period before Stalin sent in his troops and crushed them.

The film is at times very absurd as we see what the artists are doing and see how that clashes with real life, Its a a very literal representation of how the Soviets took their high minded ideas into the wilderness and forced them on the natives. The result was often rather silly. At first the natives are amused but as time goes things get violent.

This is a very good little film, though I'm not sure it will work for everyone. There is a knowingness to much if it that creates a bit of a distance. also some of the things that the artists do will come off as overly silly. As much as I liked the film I still wish that things had been played a little straighter, a little less formally.

On the other hand this was a welcome palette cleanse. Its a film that is very much not like every other film out there. Its a film that drew me in with its differences and its story of some history I never knew. I think it's a solid little film a definitely worth your time if you don't want the same old thing.

The film plays January 27th at Lincoln Center. For tickets  and more information go here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Birdcage (1996) New York Jewish Film Festival


I was unsure if I should bother writing up The Birdcage for its run at the New York Jewish Film Festival. The problem was not so much that the film is bad, rather with the passing of Mike Nichols and Robin Williams the film was once more a high profile film as the film was used to highlight the careers of both men. Then again I decided that maybe a small piece would be in order and go with that.

The film is a remake of the semi classic French film La Cage aux Folles which spawned several sequels and a Broadway musical. The plot of the film has a happily entrenched gay couple (Robin Williams and Nathan Lane)in Miami beach getting word that their son is getting married. The trouble is that she is the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician (Gene Hackman) who hates gays. Deciding to make bow to convention for the son they love they decide to pretend to be straight with Nathan Lane pretending to be Williams’ wife. Of course it all goes sideways.

Its broad farce done so as to be very funny and deeply touching. Its so good that as I said it was trundled out in many areas as part of tribute screenings for the late Robin Williams and Mike Nichols. If you’ve never seen it you really should make an effort to do so. If you have seen it why not see it again.

For more information and tickets on the screening go here.

It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

Don Hertzfeldt's latest short film, World of Tomorrow, debuted at Sundance last night, and it was recently announced he's working on a new feature film called Antarctica for Snoot Entertainment. Since January's been a month full of shorts here at Unseen, this just seems like an opportune time to look at Hertzfeldt's ambitious masterpiece It's Such a Beautiful Day.

The 62-minute film is comprised of three shorts: Everything Will Be OK (2006), I Am So Proud of You (2008), and It's Such a Beautiful Day (2011). Each short chronicles the life of Bill, a man suffering from a degenerative mental condition that changes his view of reality and causes lapses in memory. During I Am So Proud of You, we see a family history of mental illness on Bill's mother's side, which bounces between morbidity, sadness, absurdity, and such vulnerable human beauty. And it's funny too. What helps so much with this blend of tones is Hertzfeldt's narration, which is filled with a soothing and even-keeled care for Bill. It's a kind voice rather than a mocking one, and while there are hints of a smile in some lines, none of it is ever cruel.

But the narration is just a part of the whole. What makes the films that comprise It's Such a Beautiful Day so noteworthy is how Hertzfeldt fragments his imagery. Rather than fill the whole screen, Hertzfeldt uses sections of the screen to tell the story, with images and ideas played in irises and quarters and eighths of the frame. Moments in time occur simultaneously, and the sound design accounts for the jumble of visual information to create a kind of aural soup. It's a fascinating experiment in simulating Bill's mental state. Occasionally images will take up the whole screen when they are of special significance, or there will be a kind of focal stillness in which a single point in the frame--often one occupied by Bill--allows viewers to observe other points in the frame relative to the other. It's a game of seeing and noticing and appreciating what's happening between images and in images.

Hertzfeldt works predominantly with stick figures, and yet he captures so much human emotion in these little guys. Sure, there are animated photos and some video involved in much of the film and used to startling effect--more fascinating is that many of these multi-media effects were achieved in camera--but the strength of Hertzfeldt's art is finding the little details that say so much. The shape of the eyes and the angle/position of a mouth take on such an uncanny humanness. The ovular eyes and the little tilt up of a mouth is a pleasantly surprised smile, no need for the obvious parenthetical mouths in an emoticon. Similarly, Hertzfeldt identifies an odd sadness in just a few choice strands of hair or a little curve under an eye or the slope and posture of one of his characters. He'll marry the image to a line in narration--an observation, an idea, an aside--and both get anchored in the brain and cause a little catch in the throat and tug at the heart.

In Hertzfeldt's landmark short Rejected (2000), the writing was off-the-wall absurd and quotable. Lines from Rejected still jump out at me (most notably "My anus is bleeding!", and yes, it's hilarious). In It's Such a Beautiful Day, there are still quotable lines, though what's said and what a viewer reads off the screen has more of a devastating effect. If Rejected embodied the glorious oddness of artistic frustration, It's Such a Beautiful Day finds ways to express how wonderful life is and how unfortunate it is to lose it, especially when slowly, and especially when unstoppably.

It can hurt to be alive, and getting older really drives that pain home. Bill's days are so mundane and so lonely, and things can seem so plain sometimes. But life is also wonderful, and it's a shame that it has to end and that we spend so long worrying about how it will end. At a certain point, Bill, his mind going, takes a walk. He takes plenty, actually. but during one walk in particular, he suddenly notices what he's missing out on. All those splendors. He wants others to notice them, but they don't because they have the privilege of inattentiveness. It's one of many times during It's Such a Beautiful Day where Hertzfeldt is so earnest in what he's attempting to say. In lesser hands the whole idea would be saccharine, but in his, it's so achingly human.

Naked City (1948) New York Jewish Film Festival

Running as part of the new York Jewish Film Festival’s side bar Noir and the City, The Naked City is one of the first large budget Hollywood films to shoot almost entirely on location since the film industry moved out west.

The film is structured as a portrait of New York City with the through line being the investigation of a murder. A young woman is found dead in bath tub and the case grips the city. Meanwhile detective Berry Fitzgerald and his partners try to run down what happened and why. All along the way we are treated to wonderful shots of New York not long after the second world war.

Full confession-until I sat down to watch the film for inclusion in the NYJFF coverage  I had never seen the film from start to finish. I thought I had but I was wrong.

How is it?

It’s a good film that is ultimately more of interest for what it spawned rather than for what it is. As a film unto itself it’s a good and reasonably gripping film. In a weird way I understand why the film wasn’t a big hit either critically or financially. It’s not

The film itself, a police procedural of the sort that has been a staple of TV for decades is a good little drama, but it’s nothing special. Any uniqueness has worn away thanks to the decades of being copied. The mere fact that the film feels been there and done that speaks volumes about its influence. Everyone copied the film.

The film was also influential in its location shooting. Pretty much every scenes was filmed on location and it shows. The film feels real. Even now some 65 years later some of the stores and landmarks are still there. Even when you go to new stores now the old signs are there as well. Watching the film I kept going “I know where that is” simply because of the store fronts. Its very cool for an old New York junkie like me.

The on location shooting opened things up for filmmakers. People really could shoot on the streets. While its clear from some of the crowds that they didn’t lick the on looker problem the film did show it could be done. And yes it had been done on smaller scale previously, a shot here or there or by independents (say the film C Man).

If you want to see New York as it was or a good film that was wildly influential in any number of ways get down the Lincoln Center when the film Plays at the New York Jewish Film Festival.

The film runs on the 24th. For tickets and more information go here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Let's Go! (2014) New York Jewish Film Festival

Michael Verhoeven adapts Laura Waco's autobiographical novel set in 1968 about a young woman returning to her parents home in the wake of her father's death and sister's catastrophic injury in an accident. She is forced by the tragedies around her to come to terms with her Jewish heritage and ponder how it was that her parents survived the Second World War and why they remained in Germany after the war.

Prickly film is going to beloved by some and hated by others.The trouble is not to do with the subject matter, which is deftly handled and extremely thought provoking,the problem is that many of the characters are not easy to like,  Laura is a bit too closed up to truly connect to and her mother can be a bitch on wheels completely unable to show affection and keeping those who lover and, and whom she loves as well distant. As Laura says her mother never hugged her.

The prickliness of the characters while realistic, makes it hard to get a foothold into the film. I spent a great deal of time on the outside looking in. While I liked the look at post war Germany I really wished I had more likable tour guides.

Don't get me wrong I like the film, intellectually I think it's very good, I just never connected to it emotionally. Despite my reservations I think its a film that you should try if you find the subject of interest.

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




Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Forbidden Films (2014) New York Jewish Film Festival

Felix Moeller's look at the largely still banned films from Nazi Germany is a film I'm very mixed about. While I applaud his making a film that will start discussions, I am bothered by how much he leaves out, worse I intensely dislike that the film largely is operating in a kind of vacuum where the films discussed have no connection or no counterparts anywhere or any when else.

Broken into sections  as to the type of films  Moeller's film looks at some of the 40 films (once 300) banned after the Second World War in Germany (though that isn't made clear the film simply says the films are banned). The film mixes talking heads of scholars, film historians and a Neo Nazi recruiter with clips and discussions of the films following screenings to ponder whether these films should be banned and what effect releasing them on the public would have.

While the subject is intriguing  the film is deeply deeply flawed in it's execution. The problems begin early on when the film throws up stats to show the power and popularity of the the films by comparing movie viewership numbers from the war years to modern day viewer ship. There were ten times more viewers for a film such as THE GREAT LOVE as opposed to AVATAR the film trumpets,but fails to explain the film going habits of Germans (there was no TV or internet), or what THE GREAT LOVE is.

The second problem with the film is that it never really explains what any of the films we are seeing are. It simply cherry picks moments from the films to illustrate the point that they are propaganda but they don't tell us anything beyond that. Much talk is made about Emil Jennings UNCLE KRUGER project and how it's propaganda but what exactly is it? We're not told. This is especially troubling since the project was supposed to have been following the actor around as viable subject going back to Hollywood days.

While it's understandable that the Neo Nazi recruiter is in shadow his sequences kind of become laughable  with his talk bout using the films to turn kids into Nazi's. While what he says is probably right on (he warns that banning the films make them seductive to kids who think there must be truth in them if they are hidden) but the presentation had me chuckling the more he was shown.

The most damning thing against the film is that the film largely operates in a vacuum, There is no effort connect the films similar portrayals of ideas in Hollywood or elsewhere. The rah rah pro-Nazi/antisemitic stance of some of the films is troubling but there is no effort try and explain why parallels with some Hollywood propaganda is okay or at least less troubling.

What bothers me is the film makes an effort to show one guy after after JUDE SUSS screening say that the stereotypes in the film are used elsewhere even today against Arabs who are portrayed as terrorists and then does no follow up. Why raise the issue if you're going to do nothing about it? There in lies my problem with the film, we are looking at the dangers of Nazi propaganda but what of our own? Its never addressed-and it should have been.

I'm at a loss to fully comprehend what the point of the film is. That these films exist? Okay. That they are banned? And what? I don't know.

I do understand the fear that a handful of the films, THE ETERNAL JEW, JUDE SUSS and one or two others could pose if they are not given context, but some of the entertainment films covered have me scratching my head, I've seen a number of them and others and other then the settings and or references from the time  and place when they were made I see nothing wrong with them. There is nothing really wrong with them other especially if you take a look at them in context to some of the films coming out of Hollywood.

I'm disappointed. This could have been a film that really put it all into context, but its too myopic to really amount to much. While it got me ranting and raving, which is something, I still feel as though I've wasted my time and that therehave to better explorations of the subject out there.

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Manny (2014)


This look at champion boxer Manny Paquiao is a solid film

The film nicely tells the story of Manny from days growing up in poverty to the climbing to the top of the boxing world and a congressman. The film has interviews with all of the right people who tell all the right stories. We are nicely drawn into Manny's life and world

I am a big boxing fan. I will watch a match where and when I can find it. While I am not the best with names- I'm best if I've seen some one on HBO, Showtime or ESPN, I am well aware of the prowess of the great Manny Paquiao. To be perfectly honest I have been a fan of Manny's since I first saw him back however many years ago. To that end I was aware of a good chunk of his story however MANNY filled in some of the holes I had in my knowledge of things Paquiao.  Its a film that provides a lot of details that even a serious fan may not know. I for example didn't know a great deal about his early days boxing by saying he was an older fighter.

Filled with lots of fight footage as well as interviews the film mostly keeps the balance between the talk and the action.

If the film has any flaws its that the film some times cross the line from fair documentary into hagiography with the narration and the occasion image making Manny seem like he's too perfect a guy.

Recommended for anyone interested in Manny or the sport of boxing.

The film opens Friday inn select theaters and on VOD



Battle of Algiers (1966) New York Jewish Film Festival

Banned off and on since it's release by a variety of governments The Battle of Algiers is one of the great treasures of cinema that you'll end up watching over and over again simply because its a great thriller.  That the New York Jewish Film Festival is running it as part of their War Against War sidebar is a treat since it's a chance to see the film on the big screen the way it should be seen.

The film is the story of the Algerian uprising  in the late 1950's that eventually led to the countries freedom from France. the focuses on a group of freedom fighters over the course of several years.

I don't know how much I should say abut the film.  I don't know how much needs to be said. For me the film is just a great thriller/war film.The fact that the film pissed off the French and is feared by some people in various governments who see it as a blueprint for revolution only adds to the films mystique.

Actually I think the key point about the film is that it really is a good film. Its a film that once you see it, once you get past all of the  pretentious bullshit about the film being a classic... being one of the greatest films of all time... basically once you kick the pedestal out from under it you realize that its a good film. Its actually one of the few films on the supposed all time great films that I'd just put it on for the hell of it. I watch it because I want to munch popcorn while watching a ripping good yarn not because I want a "great" film.

If you've never seen it go see it

If you've only seen it on the small screen go see it big

If you've seen it big go see it again

This film kicks butt

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

Monday, January 19, 2015

By The Gun (2014)


This is just a small little review in passing. I had been given a chance to review BY THE GUN by the PR people but took a pass. It didn’t really interest me. However I ended up seeing it anyway and because the film comes out tomorrow on DVD I thought I’d say something.

The film is the story of an up and coming mafia soldier who begins to get in over his head. When his cousin has a run in with the daughter of a big fish Mafioso at a bar the situation escalates quickly. Stepping into help his cousin, Nick, our hero finds he has to make amends all around, a situation made worse when he realizes just how big a dick the big fish is (granted no one likes him, but he makes money so he gets deference)

Well-acted, well-made mafia story isn’t bad as these things go but it suffers in two areas, first this really isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. This is the sort of story that we’ve seen before which is going to make it a tough sell to the only audience who is going to be interested in it, hardcore crime film fans. Why watch something that plays out like something we’ve seen before.

The other problem is the film is paced a tad too slow. There are some good character building scenes in the first half hour, but outside of the scene where Nick tries to apologize to the dicky gangster in a speedo there isn’t much here and I started to surf the web. (and frankly the bad guy is too clearly drawn as a bad guy). I did make to the end of the movie but I’ll be damned if I can tell you what happened.

If you are a hardcore mafia movie fan give it a shot, otherwise wait until it hits cable

Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People (1963) Dark Side of the Sun John Zorn on Japanese Cinema


I owe an apology to the Japan Society.

We had been planning on covering the entire run of the John Zorn residency called Dark Side of the Sun John Zorn on Japanese Cinema but things got away from us after the initial screening. I even had a spy at the screenings of Crossroads,and Top Stripper but the pieces that I had hoped for ended up getting dissipated in long conversations about the film and differing versions.

However I’m going to try and rectify the problem by reporting on the final two selections Matango or Attack of the Mushroom People this month and a collection of Osamu Tezuka short films next month.

If you’ve never seen Matango  people you have to. Seriously no lover of film should go through their life without having seen it. It’s a singular work of cinematic art made by Ishiro Honda who probably had no clue what he was doing or how it was going to seem fifty years on.

The plot has a bunch of peopl shipwrecked on an island. Struggling to survive they run into problems with the mushrooms on island which seem to turn anyone who eats them into a giant walking fungus.

Trust me it gets even weirder

Based on Story by William Hope Hodgeson, the greatest horror writer you’ve never heard of, this is a bleak black story that can be read any of a number of ways. I have read any number of pieces on the film and everyone has mentioned the various ways the film can be read, and each threw in their own twist. The two reads of the film that most people take is as either n anti-drug film or as a look at the outsider’s place in society. I have no idea which is right or wrong.

I’m equally unsure if the film is a satire or a straight on horror/science fiction film. Admittedly uncertainty is due to the dubbing that the film was saddled with for its US release (according to Wikipedia the film may never played US theaters only TV-except perhaps Japanese language theaters on the west coast). It the typical job that most Godzilla films got and resulted in the films instantly being seen a crap by a lot of people. Seeing the film in the original Japanese the film is decidedly creepier than it plays dubbed but there are some moments where you can’t help but chuckle even as you’re wincing at the horror of it all.

I’m a huge fan of the film. Not because it’s a great film, I don’t know what I really think of the film itself, rather because the film forces you to react to it. Watching it you feel something. You aren’t passive, the film doesn’t wash over you, it kicks you in the shins and makes you consider it not only what it’s doing but also how you feel about it. Few films ever force you to engage with it the way this film does.(hell few films force to to engage at all). Good bad or indifferent odds are once you get to the end you’ll be like “what the hell was that?”

I don’t know, and I’ve seen it at least a dozen times over the years.

The film plays Friday the 23rd at the Japan Society. Go see it. For tickets and more information go here.

The Zionist Idea (2014) New York Jewish Film Festival 2015

Because the film is world premiering at the New York Jewish Film festival I went into THE ZIONIST IDEA unsure of what I was going to get. Here was 160 minute examination of Zionism,  what was the track that the film going to take? Would it be a true examination of the subject with a look at all sides or would it be a purely one-sided take on a very complex subject? The thought of a one sided affair scared me, Zionism is too complex a subject with too many related issues for an honest film not to take them head on.

I needn't have worried. THE ZIONIST IDEA deals with all of the issues making it one of the first great films of 2015.

The film is a thought provoking at the history of Zionism from the it's creation through today. It wonderfully lays out where the idea of Zionism came from and how it evolved,  While the exiled Jews were always looked down upon the notion of re-founding Israel seemed out of reach since it was thought that it couldn't be done until the Messiah came. The trouble was that in the late 19th century as many people began to think nationalistically, a move that would ultimately break up the  massive empires of Europe, the Jews were with out a country, they had no where to go. Worse even when they tried to assimilate things didn't always work out. It wasn't until Theodore Herzel began to argue that a return to Israel was possible that idea really took hold.

THE ZIONIST IDEA deals with all of the history as well as the very real problem of Palestine and the Palestinians who live and lived in the land where Israel was and is. The problem of Palestine being the home people other than Jews was raised all the way back to one of the first Zionist Congresses which sent a delegation to see if a country of several million Jews would be possible, They found it would be possible but unfortunately the land was already occupied. That the issue is dealt with and the debate with in and without the Jewish and Israeli community is addressed gives this film lots of points in my book.

This film knocked my socks off and I went in not expecting to like it, to knowing that I was going to have to make time to see the film a second or third time to really be able to digest and discuss it with a modicum intelligence.

This film is a must see. Not only for Jews, but for non-Jews and even those who have issues with the existence of Israel. While I'm sure you all know the history of the country and the ideas that lead to its founding, but at the same time you haven't seen it laid out like this.  This is really cool and will get you thinking.

Highly recommended when the film plays on the 22nd and 26th. For tickets and more information go here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Nightcap 1/18/15 Hubert on the SELMA controversy, random awards thoughts, Patrick Stewart in MATCH and Randi's links

Before I get into anything tonight if you have any interest in the SELMA and the Oscar controversy you MUST go read Hubert's piece at Ruby Hornet on what really happened and why the charges of racism are misplaced (Its the result of bad timing by their PR people). The piece  can be found here and is vital reading.

And if you want to know my thoughts on the film my review went up last night and can be found here.
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The awards season is upon us once more and I don’t really care.

Forgive me most of the awards really don’t matter much. The films and performances aren’t really the best of the best, but more the best tht can be agreed upon, or more to the point the best of the lot that the studios have pushed in front of us. They really aren’t the best.

Even the acting awards aren’t the best because if they were SeizĂ´ Fukumoto in UZUMASA LIMELIGHT would be competing with Eddie Rouse in RAT PACK RAT for best actor and all of the nominees that are front and center (short of JK Simmons in WHIPLASH) wouldn’t be in any real discussion.

Most of the awards exist for parties to happen and for the studios to be able to flog their wares by saying the films won this or that award.

A case in point is the Golden Globes, why does anyone care. Its hand full of people picking films so they can have a party. Some where a decade or two or three back someone latched on to the Golden Globes as an award and used it as promotion and suddenly the floodgate opened as if that award mattered. What the public never knew was that for years the award was a joke where winners were not picked on the merits of the film but who would show up to the party. Hell the award could be bought, as happened with Pia Zadora and BUTTERFLY in 1980. Yes they cleaned up their act , but the award doesn’t mean much really-except to the PR people.

I have little real use for the Golden Globes since they frequently turn out a WTF moment like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 for best animated film. (Really?)

I’m kind of like that with the Oscars as well. Yes they mean more than the Globes but much of it is still PR. Its not truly the best of the year but which films/performances got the most hype. It’s so bad with the hype that more often than not things are pretty much set way in advance with the winners being the ones that the PR people have positioned to take the gold. (See Hubert's piece mentioned above about the importance of PR)

The real problem with the awards is that most people who pick don’t see that many films. I recently saw a piece on a UK film site which had one of their critics trumpeting that they had seen 150 films that year and how they managed to do it.

150? Really?

I saw 150 films between Tribeca, NYFF and The New York International Film festival last year. Most film fans I know see what averages out to be at least a film a day and more frequently more. Most of the film writers I follow or consider friends do at least the film a day thing. Most regular people I know don’t see even a fraction of that. What they do see tends to be the big films and the films with the PR push- they don't see the small films or the imports or the stuff the busier film fans see (hence no UZAMASA LIMELIGHT.)

Ultimately the awards are just waiting to see who had the better PR people.
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Okay- full disclosure- I wrote all of that the day before the Oscar nominations for this year were announced- and despite the Oscar Nominations shaking me out of my complacency I still believe all of that. However occasionally the Oscars get it right and wrong and shake things up.

THE DAM KEEPER got a best animated short nom and I’m bouncing. It was on my best of the best 2014 list and it remains a stunning piece of storytelling.

I’m thrilled GKIDS PRINCESS KAGUYA and SONG OF THE SEA got nominated. I expected one to make the cut (Princess actually) but I never expected both. I’m also shocked that THE LEGO MOVIE missed the cut. WHile I liked the film I know many people who loved it and it seemd that it was a lock. I have no idea what’s going to win this category

The Documentary Features has me gob smacked- While I’m thrilled LIFE ITSELF missed the cut (its good but not that good) the other choices are a mix of yea and are you kidding. I do love SALT OF THE EARTH and I still think VIRUNGA is a mess. I think CITIZEN FOUR will get the Oscar, more for what Snowden did than for it being any sort of great film.
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I saw the film MATCH earlier today. The film stars Patrick Stewart as dance teacher who is interviewed by a young couple. The interview is a cover, the couple has another reason to be there.

Stagey and stage-bound soap opera looks clunky as a movie. This is a play not a film, and a weak play at that. To be honest the only reason the film should be seen is Stewart's excellent performance. A disappointment.

To be honest the film isn't strong enough either good or bad to really be mentioned here at Unseen But I'm mentioning it because this was one of the films I really wanted to see at Tribeca last year and I would have reviewed it then had I managed to schedule it in.
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And as always we're ending with Randi's links:

Patton Oswalt and Wil Wheaton talk
Child extras used to create forced perspective
Questions on SELMA'saccuracy
Stunning Libraries
Animated QI trivia GIFs
How WATERSHIP DOWN came to be
North Korea's film stars
Production stills from 2001
2001 on Howard Johnson's Menu's
Mark Hamill Changed My Life
Eyeball Tattoos
Free thinking on the Oscar Noms
New York 1935-8

King of Nerac (2015) New York Jewish Film Festival 2015

Portrait of David Breurer-Weil an art dealer who turned into an artist is a stunning look at art and the creative process. Directors Guy Natanel and Annie Sulzberger follow Breuer-Weil over two years as he paints, installs sculpture and contemplates life and art.

I think the best way to describe this film is WOW.

This is a fantastic look at an artist and creativity. Its a glorious film that over whelms the eye, the heart and the mind. Its a film that is a work of art in it's own right.

One of the real joys of the film is the craft of filmmaking. Beautifully marrying image, with Bruer-Weil's words, with music with the art this film creates a marvelous head space and soul space where art and creativity filters off the screen and into the viewer. The gulf between  film and filmmaker  disappears as the large than life images created by Bruer-Weil fill the screen and forces us to become one with the art and the artist.

I don't know what to say Words kind of fail me.  This is one of the best films on art and creation that I've seen. And while I could probably pick portions of the film apart, the magic the film creates over the course of it's 80 minutes is so great that it wipes away anything that I could say about the flaws.

A must see film that may end up on my end of year lists

The filmplays January 20 and 21st at Lincoln Center. For tickets and more information go to the films festival page.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

SELMA (2014)

I had no intention of seeing SELMA until sometime when it hit home video. It was not a film I needed  to run out and see. on the big screen....and the the Oscar nominations hit and the Internet and mass media exploded with controversy about who didn't get nominated for an Oscar and how it's supposed to be racism - so I had to find out for myself.

Going in I was pretty certain there was no racism involved, more so after reading Hubert Vigilla's piece at Ruby Hornet where he explains the so-called snubs could be the result of  botched attempts to get the film seen by the Academy members and to sell a film too late in Awards Season. (You can find it here). Now having seen the film I can say that there is a a really good chance that the so called snubs were the result of the voters simply not putting director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo at the top of their lists.

The film is, nominally, the story  of the events leading up to the historic march from Selma Alabama to the state capital lead by Martin Luther King Jr  and it's effect in getting a voting rights law passed.

Taking the film on it's own terms its a good little film that, like 99.99% of other movies should not be considered a completely accurate portrayal  of history.  Its a film of moments of great power and others that are a real mess. Its a film with its heart in the right place but one that preaches instead of shows. Its  film calculated for effect rather than emotion.

Is it an Oscar worthy film? Moments are. The scene outside the coroner's office is  one of the greatest most moving scenes I've seen since I've started writing on film regularly. The reaction of the old man meeting Dr King is dead nuts amazing. If you want to argue about (I believe) Henry G Sanders who the dead man's grandfather not getting an Oscar sign me up but other wise there is nothing to argue about.

The controversy concerning the non-nomination of  David Oyelowo ad Dr King has drawn fire. How could he not have been nominated. I kind of wondered it myself (because he is that good) until I looked at the nominees and realized the problem with the character of Dr King is he is not wholly there. Its not Oyelowo's fault, its the script which reduces him down to largely inspiring scenes and sequences that throw out exposition. "What are the top ten reasons we need this law? I want to paint Johnson a picture." he says in one scene. In another he speaks in cliches of not being able to continue on. As moving as it is, it never quite crosses the threshold into being a real person for the entire running time. He's an actor being asked to deliver a polemic not a performance.

Allowing for that I will say that I want Oylelowo to get another crack at playing Dr King in a better film with a better script.

The so called snub of Ava DuVernay has rankled everyone because she's a black woman. But if you watch the film, and you watch it as a film and not a symbol, you realize it's a mess. Its three or four different films mixed into one and it only occasionally soars.

To be fair I don't know who is to blame here. A large chunk of the problem is the script which shifts from family drama to polemic to Oscar bait to moving tribute and back again from scene to scene. The dialog is either on target or too meaningful exposition and produces a kind of whiplash that keeps us distant.

I do have to lay the historical inaccuracies at the feet of  writer Paul Webb since he's the one that altered President Johnson's character, added in events that never happened (Hoover never sent a tape to Mrs King) and made tweaks that make a hell of a movie but are not history.

I will take Ms DuVernay to task for the uncertainty of style of the film. We get sequences of real events away from Dr King that play like a Lifetime movie, we get soaring moments like coroner sequence or some of the speeches and we get lots of droning on about what has to be done that are presented in cold and clinical precision. I do applaud her efforts when it works but I also have to chastise her for sequences that could have and should have played better and the over use of obvious music cues. And did she really have to stage many moments in such away as to painfully obviously add deeper meanings, say a cross over the head of Dr King in a moment of trouble or with a portrait of Washington between Johnson and King as they stand in an unnatural  place and argue.(I mean would they really have cozied up to a blank wall and stood under that picture when the sofa or chairs in the other part of the room would have made more sense?)

And I'm not sure who to take to task for two rather big missteps. The first is that periodically through the film we see what is supposed to be reports to Hoover from the FBI agents watching King. I have nothing against it outside of the fact it gives an aire of historical accuracy which isn't there. Actually my real complaint is the times are randomly used and more often then not restate the obvious. Wouldn't it have made more sense if it had been done more often-and included dates? When do these things happen? I have no clue (I do, but within the context of the film its all a jumble)

The other misstep is that largely outside of Dr King, Mrs King, Governor Wallace and President Johnson it's never really clear who anyone one is. Who are the people who are on screen? They aren't just faces and random people, they are important both to the story and history but unless you have a score card you don't know who they are. What makes this tougher is characters come and go seemingly randomly so just as you get a handle on one person they disappear for a while.

There was a big to do about Oprah's character, Annie Lee Cooper finally getting recognition for all she did, but in the context of SELMA she is a background character. Her importance in the film is not signaled by what she does but by who plays her. On the other end of the spectrum we get a shot of a white woman at the end with a line about how she was killed by the Klan right after the march, but she's really a nobody as far as the rest of the film is concerned.

Truthfully, on it's own terms, without bringing anything to it or reading anything into it, SELMA is a good movie but far from a great one. Its a film that is the sort of well intentioned film that makes a bit of noise for a couple of weeks and then will sink to be half forgotten down the road- though in this case the film maybe remembered more for the undeserved controversy it created rather than for the artistic heights it failed to climb. Its worth seeing but wait for home video.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014) New York Jewish Film Festival 2015

Israel's Foreign Language entry for the Oscars and the winner of multiple awards across the globe Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is a wicked trip into the land very much like the work of Franz Kafka..While it is a often a heart breaking film, it is also frequently quite funny in the "they can't be serious" sort of way.

Viviane has been married to her husband for 30 years. He is a rabbi of some standing. However for the last three years she has lived at her bother and sister in laws house. She can no longer live with the man who is her husband, She has taken him to the religious court to get a divorce. The trouble is that unless he agrees there can be no divorce.

Boldly told, the film takes place entirely inside the court room or the waiting room outside, We see only what happens in the court and no where else. It takes a long while before we get a clear picture of Viviane or her husband because they don't say much, we have only the word of the advocates for the couple to go on or their witnesses. Its a risk but one that pays off because we're forced to pay attention, we in effect a fourth judge.

There is a level of insanity running rampant through the proceedings that would be laughable if trials such as this weren't happening. Viviane's husband simply won't show up and the court can't do anything about it, except when they do. The husband admits they don't get along but won't let her go and when they try to reconcile he refuses to talk to her. Witnesses for one side or the other do more damage than help. Tactics hinge not on facts but innuendo. You will not believe that rational adults allow this sort of nonsense to go on.

What I like is that the film runs through a wide variety of emotions. Yes the film can be very emotionally trying, but at the same time it is funny. As I said above the film's Kafka like nature is amusing, but there are other very human moments that are just plain funny. When Viviane's sister in law testifies I almost fell out of my chair and down the staircase  next to my seat because I was laughing so hard.

The portrait this film paints is a damning one. In the theocracy that it shows women are genuinely no better than property. What their husbands want is what goes. There is a politeness about everyone and everything that makes you wonder why anyone is married. One of Viviane's neighbors breaks your heart when you see how happy her marriage really is. "Just respect him and you can do whatever you want" she says, her words ringing false since its clear she is little more than a slave to her husband.

This is a near perfect film that will make you laugh, cry and think.

Highly recommended when the film plays two times on the 21st.

For tickets and more information go to the films festival page.