Monday, July 24, 2017

In Brief: Ron Goossens, Low-Budget Stuntman (2017) Fantasia 2017

This the story of shit faced drunk Ron Goosens who parleys a spectacular failure car stunt into a job as a stunt man.

This is 75 minutes of bad behavior with some really terrible people. While it’s a very funny film, it’s also the sort of thing that will make you want to take a bath when it’s done. Don’t get me wrong I laughed my ass off at times but I hated myself for doing it. These are some really unpleasant people.

Recommended despite my better judgement.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

(not quite a) Nightcap 7/23/17 Festivals and the weeks to come

Not that you've missed my weekly rant sessions but things have been a foot the last few weeks so there has been time to work out any Nightcaps. Between NYAFF, Japan Cuts and Fantasia all criss crossing -- and over lapping last weekend-- there has been very little time to do anything.

For the two of you playing the home game here is how things shake out-at least for the moment:

All of our New York Asian Film Fest coverage is finally complete with the post from Jared and the Eric Tsang interview. Thank you to the Subway Cinema crew for letting me ride along.

I think we maybe pretty much done with our Japan Cuts coverage, though I still may scare up one or two more reviews. Thank you to the Japan Society for everything.

Our Fantasia coverage continues and will be running through the end of the fest August 2nd and maybe past it.

Next week starts the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. I've got a curtain raiser and a bunch of reviews set and a few more to go.

Over the net few weeks look for some new releases- especially since I've been so festivaled out I have largely ignored the current releases.

Beyond that I don't know.

The stunning Carrie Ng was radiant (and silly) at her New York Asian FIlm Festival appearances here's proof

Jared King continues his reporting with some stunning pictures of Carrie Ng at the New York Asian Film Festival

Carrie Ng and ZOMBIOLOGY director Alan Lo center

Alan Lo and Carrie Ng

Carrie Ng and Jared show off one of his newly signed posters

In a silly moment Carrie Ng makes a face while signing

Fantasia ’17: Broken Sword Hero

King Taksin defeated the constant waves of Burmese invaders, unified his country as the Thonburi Kingdom, and promoted trade with the European powers. Of course, he did not do it alone. Initially, the bullied Joi does not look like he will be much help to anyone, particularly himself. However, destiny has different plans in Bin Bunluerit’s Broken Sword Hero, which screens during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Unless you really know your Thai history, forget about the sword and focus on the hero. That will be Joi—eventually. It would seem like fate dealt him a tough break, considering the regional governor’s entitled son Cherd is his chief tormentor. When he finally fights back hard enough to draw blood, Joi resigns himself to a life of exile. Living by his wits, he becomes a talented Muay Thai fighter. Unfortunately, that will not be enough to defeat a true master. At least he learns an important early lesson: humility. From then on, Thongdee (as the white-teethed, betelnut abstainer is now known) will study any discipline, under any master with a unique specialty.

Along the way, Thongdee makes some real friends and serves his successive masters faithfully. Periodically, he will face off against his old nemesis Cherd and his corrupt uncle. Although Thongdee is still an outlaw, his good deeds and multi-disciplinary martial arts skills start to attract the attention of a mysterious mustachioed observer.

Bunluerit must be a heck of a persuasive director, because he convinced former Miss Teen Thailand Sornsin Maneewan to portray Thongdee’s potential love interest Ramyong with betelnut-stained teeth. Chutirada Junthit was doubly lucky to play Mauylek, an itinerant Chinese opera performer and marital artist, because she was spared the betelnut and had the chance to show off her own action chops in some of the action sequences.

Of course, the film is clearly intended to launch Muay Thai champion Sombat “Buakaw” Banchamek as the next Tony Jaa. There is no question he has the skills and the super-chiseled physique. Granted, his screen presence will not exactly blow you through the back wall of the theater, but he has greater emotional range than Van Damme and Schwarzenegger displayed early in their careers (or arguably even in their latest films). Still, he is not another Tony Jaa yet, but it isn’t for a lack of effort. He brings tremendous physicality to the action scenes, which should earn him good will from fans right from the start.

If you are looking for bare-chested, fist-pumping, sword-shattering action, Bunluerit and Buakaw deliver over and over again. Again, it is important to remember this is an origins story, so don’t get hung up waiting for a sword to break. Instead, just let the spectacle of flying elbows and knees wash over you. Highly recommended for martial arts fans, especially those who appreciate the Southeast Asian historical elements, Broken Sword Hero screens today (7/23) at this year’s Fantasia.

In This Corner Of the World (2016) Japan Cuts 2017


It is not a lie to say that In This Corner Of The World has some of the most shattering sequences I’ve seen. Period. Full Stop. There are two moments in the second half left me feeling as if I had been beaten by a large club. They are something on the order of the crushing effect of Grave of Fireflies. I use the analogy not because both films are animated but because of the power.

At the same time In This Corner… never manages to pull it all together to make it a film as great as the moments.

The story is of Suzu who we meet as a child in the early 1930’s we watch as she goes to school, paints and draws and has a wonderful life. As time moves on she marries and war comes. The film details life on the home front as the war comes home and eventually her hometown of Hiroshima is leveled.

A truly gorgeous film, the film looks like the watercolor painting Suzu paints, the film is clearly of the work of Sunao Katabuchi, whose Mai Mai Miracle was also a thing of beauty. Say what you will of the visual splendor of Studio Ghibli Katabuchi visual style is their equal. This is a film that delights the eye and then some.

As a series of sequences the film is amazing. The individual pieces which highlight life in Japan during the war years is great. From an American perspective the film is not the same completely dreary portrait of the war. It is not your typical look at life on the Homefront and it’s portrait does a great deal to restore the notion of there was a life being lived and not being depicted in films, both Japanese and American.

There are numerous sequences that stand out with two war ones being among the finest I’ve seen in any film. One concerns the tragedy of an unexploded bomb that left me staring blankly. The other is one in the aftermath of the bombing which broke my heart with its sadness.

As great as the sequences are I’m not sure that Katabuchi ever completely ties everything together the way they should be. While we get a sense of the passage of time in some sequences, in others we have to fumble. It doesn’t help that Suze and some characters didn’t seem to change all that much visually. The need to cover a spread of 15 years doesn’t always allow us enough time to connect to the now before moving on. I’m going to guess that the movement through time works better in the source manga where one was not limited by a strict 2 hour run time.

The other thing that kind of bothered me as that as good at the film is at showing is a side of the we never see it does hit some of the typical war time moment. The most obvious being the atomic bomb. While I knew it would be in the plot because of the setting, I was hoping that it would take a different tact. As harrowing as the one sequence in the city is (it’s a heartbreaker) I was disappointed that the film didn’t keep it distant. (It seems to be there to simply show we will overcome and feels artificial.)

Junk Head (2017) Fantasia 2017

Takahide Hori's masterpiece JUNK HEAD is unlike anything you've ever seen before-unless you saw the short the film spring from. A futuristic post apocalyptic stop motion feast it will simply make you go wow repeatedly as you realize that this was done by hand.

Set thousands of years in the future when man has kind of become immortal and expedition is sent to the bowels of the city (earth?) where the clones and man made servants were sent to dwell after they had revolted. They want to see what is happening down there.

I really have no idea what to tell you this film is like.Echoing things like Fraggle Rock, Ralph Bakshi's WIZARDS, MAD MAX, and a dozen or more other things the film spins out in all sorts of ways. WHile I could tell you more of what its like it belies the truth which is the fact the film is truly it's own things. Hori has, like his creations, bits of other films for his own use. JUNK HEAD is not any of the films I mentioned but its own wondrous film.

I was entranced just watching the various riffs and background details whiz by.

This is pure cinema magic of the highest order.

If you love unique visions or are an animation junkie you must see this.

JUNK HEAD screens today and tomorrow at Fantasia. For more information and tickets go here


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pictures from Eric Tsang's Lifetime Achievement Award at The New York Asian FIlm Festival 2017

In addition to helping ot with the Eric Tsang interview good friend Jared King covered the red carpet and awards ceremony when the New York Asian Film Festival gave him their Lifetime Achievement Award.

Eric Tsang
Wong CHun, director of MAD WORLD says a few words about Eric
Eric Tsang with Award in hand poses for th cameras

Eric takes a moment to sign for a fan (and our reporter Jared)
At the pre-screening party Jared talks to Wong Chun  about MAD WORLD and Eric Tsang

SUMMER LIGHTS (2017) Japan Cuts 2017

Jean-Gabriel Périot's film has a long time Japanese ex-pat filmmaker returning to Japan to make a film on the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. After being shaken by the testimony of a survivor (the first quarter of the film is her simply telling her story) the filmmaker goes for a walk in the memorial ark where he falls into a conversation with a young woman. The pair travel to the coast and to the filmmakers home.

I'm really mixed on this film. While  enjoyable on a most basic level the film doesn't really do anything beyond that. The testimony that opens the film is moving to be certain, but the remaining hour of the film is more polemic than drama. Its the two people discussing life in a manner that never feels real. It plays out as any similar films do but without the usual romance (say the BEFORE films).

I suspect the real problem is that the film never feels real from the instant it starts. How could a man making a film on the bombing seem to be so clueless about it. His reaction to the testimony seems to be as if he were a man from Mars hearing the stories for the first time. One would think he would know something about it. He reacts so that he can act as an audience surrogate, except odds are the audience is going to be well aware of the story. What follows from there is a conversation that while pleasant and enjoyable feels constructed. Periot is clearly steering us toward something with a firm hand. Sure we don't mind being lead but at the same time we know something is coming...

My one reaction when it was done was, "well that was well done but kind of pointless...doesn't he realize we've been here before?" Apparently not. And it's not bad I just wanted more from the film.(Though admittedly the first 20 minutes is so riveting its almost impossible to top)

Worth a look if you are so inclined.

RUMBLE-INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD (2017) hits theaters starting Wednesday


I covered RUMBLE when it played at Sundance. Since the film hits theaters starting Wednesday I'm reposting the review

Rough, raw imperfect and so full of life it changes the way you see the world RUMBLE-INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD is freaking awesome. Its one of those great documentaries that grabs you by the gonads and drags you along. It will force you to rethink how you see music history.

The film is nominally a look at the place of native Americans in the history of rock and roll but in reality this is a history of all popular music. Beginning with Link Wray, who's RUMBLE gives the film its title, the film then spreads out to show how Native Americans changed all of popular music. And I do mean all since we get a Frank Sinatra anecdote and and Tony Bennett on camera talking about some of the people being discussed made them who they are. Of course the film highlights a large number of people with Native American blood in them including Mildred Bailey, Charlie Patton, side men Jesse Ed Davis, Randy Castillo and of course the big names of Jimi Hendrix and Robbie Robertson. And it ties it all up with a glorious selection of talking heads including Steven Van Zandt, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, Robertson, Martin Scorsese, Tony Bennett...and the list goes on.

If that wasn't enough the film is full of video and audio recordings of many of the legends discussed. this is important for two reasons, first they are great pieces of music, but more importantly they reveal how the once shunned upon rhythms and vocal patterns were repurposed as rock and other standards. It's something that is plain as day once it's pointed out- but odds are you never thought to listen to it.

Wow and then some.

I have no rational thoughts concerning this film. RUMBLE is the the equivalent to walking into a juke joint and seeing someone unexpected blow you away. I have no words to describe what a major rewrite of how I view music this just caused. I have only emotions and lots of "Oh Wows". which I kept mumbling to the annoyance of the people around me.

If I must say something bad about the film it's that there is simply too much to the story and while what is here is top of the line, this could have been a bit longer simply because it's clear we're only getting part of the story.

No idea if it's one of the best films of the year but it's damn certain it's one of my favorites.

Do yourself a favor see it in a theater where the big picture and big sound will over whelm and the colorful language won't be censored.

One of 2017's must see films

Friday, July 21, 2017

Yoshihiro Nakamura in New York: The Japan Cuts Interview


A couple of hours before the New York premiere of his film Mumon: The Land of Stealth at the Japan Society’s Japan Cuts, director Yoshihiro Nakamura sat down with me for an interview. Mr. Nakamura will be forever referred to in the US as one of the writers of the film Dark Water, however any lover of world cinema knows he is so much more directing films such as A FISH STORY, GOLDEN SLUMBER, CHIPS, THE MAGNIFICENT  9 and A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI all of which played at Japan Cuts over the last decade.

Talking with Mr Nakamura was quite simply one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. What was so cool about it was that everyone in the room became involved in the conversation in one way or another via small talk. In addition to myself and Mr. Nakamura was his charming wife Yumi as well and translator Amber Noe. It was pure magic as business morphed into something else. The conversation largely focused on Mr Nakamura’s films and taste in films, but it wandered into other subjects such as the map of Manhattan tie I was wearing and the monster bag I always carry. I didn’t want it to end and I don’t think Mr. Nakamura did either since he offered to keep answering questions even after they came to drag me away.

What follows is an edited version of what transpired. Some of the editing  was for readability, mostly altering Ms Noe's translations of Mr Nakamura’s answers so they sound like he was speaking. ( Yumi Nakamura’s words are entirely her own since she speaks excellent English as I found out as I spoke for a long while after the screening at the Opening Night Party as we waited to find a break in the never ending line of fans to speak with her husband.)

Regrettably, in the interest of readability I’ve had to trim much of the small, and often silly, talk. The small talk and asides turned the interview into a 30 minute laugh fest which had the people at the Japan Society wondering what we were up to. However as much as I would love to publish the entire unedited talk with all of the asides, I found that I’ve had to remove them because they didn’t read well (they frequently referenced things said in Japanese not fully translated or tangents not followed). Hopefully I will be able to post the audio on line so you all can hear it all.

I want to thank Shannon Jowett and everyone at the Japan Society for setting this up. I need to thank the wonderful Amber Noe for her excellent translation. And of course I need to thank the Nakamuras for taking the time to talk to talk to me. I am in your debt.

And now the interview, beginning right after the Nakamuras and I discussed my monster bag and we were all finally sat down to formally talk.

Yoshihio Nakamura and translator Amber Noe at the Japan Cuts screening on MUMON

Steve: Um, I have to apologize. I've not seen MUMON yet. I'm seeing it tonight. The reason is, I've seen everything that you’ve directed that's played here in New York on the big screen and the one film that I was not crazy about was the one I saw on a screener. So, I wanted to see it on a big screen because I've loved everything else you've done.

Which is actually a way to start. Uh, you've done TV, you've done films, and you’ve done direct to video. Do you have a preference for the way your films should be seen? Do you have a preference for the type of films that you make?

Yoshihiro Nakamura: Film.

Steve : How do you, at this point in your career how, do you initiate for your projects?

Yoshihiro: Up until four years ago I was just getting offers from producers, but the last three years I’m getting offers from publishers. The novelists will ask me directly to make a movie out of their novel.

I will receive the order from the novelist directly and I will find a producer to do it for him. Alternatively, I will read a novel and think, "Oh, this would be a good adaptation," and I would discuss it with a producer.

Steve : Now I know why so many of your films are based on novels. I was curious because in America, everybody "wants to make my own thing." So many films that are based on the work of Kotaro Isaka , you've done four or five of his stories. Why have you made so many films based on his stories?

Yoshihiro : We have very similar film, taste in film, Joel Coen. M. Night Shyamalan. So, from the first film that we collaborated on in 2007(THE FOREIGN DUCK, THE NATIVE DUCK AND GOD IN A COIN LOCKER), and after that for FISH STORY and GOLDEN SLUMBER, Mr. Isaka, brought his novels to me and said, "What do you think? Can this make a good film?"

Steve: I find it interesting that the way your taste in what you're choosing with the novels has resulted in these wonderful films like A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI which is a movie, I love.

Yoshihiro: Thank you.

Steve: I wish you could've been there when that played her in New York at the festivals when everybody was walking out going, "Why have we never heard of this? This is, like, the most wonderful thing." I love that film.

Um, but you go from that and then you do something INERASABLE which scared the living crap out of me. It is probably one of the top three scariest films I've ever seen. When I watched it, I didn't sleep that night.  I've shown it to a couple of people and they didn't sleep. It's like, "Don't show me that. Please don't ever show me another movie..."

But then you have the light films, you have the dark mysteries of SNOW WHITE MURDER MYSTERY.  You bounce between styles, you're almost a hard director to categorize. If you, if you could do one type of film what would it be?  Or more where are you as a person? It's like you've got these extremes of these wonderful, lovely films such as A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI and these terrible murder mysteries.

Yoshihiro: Challenge. Each time it's just about challenging and if I make a mistake then I won't do it again.

Steve: I don't think you've made any mistakes yet.

Amber Noe: He likes watching horror.

Steve: What type of horror do you like? When you want to watch a horror movie, what do you watch?

Yoshihiro: Zombie movie.

Steve: Zombie.

[laughter]

Steve: Do you watch, like, "The Walking Dead" or...? I don't know if you get The Walking...

Yoshihiro: Walking Dead...

Steve: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD all that. I should, I should have you sit down with my brother and the two of you can talk zombie movies all night.

[laughter]

Steve: Forgive me for asking but are you ever scared of living with him with, you know, with this level of horror and darkness?
Yumi Nakamura

Yumi Nakamura: He is, I think he is really honest, when he reads a novel. He moved inside and he's really honest to that emotion, I think. But when I look at him he's kind of gentle and a nice person. I'm not scared

[laughter]

Steve: You have this knack of fragmenting the narrative, like in, A FISH STORY I love watching A FISH STORY with people because they sit there confused going "What...? What is going on with this?" Then it comes together at the end. And it's like, "Oh, wow, that's so cool."

Do you restructure the novels when you're making them into films? Or are the source novels like that? And if it's the source novels, do you look for things that are fragmented, with all these different time lines or things going on at different times?

Yoshihiro:I'm trying to recreate the feeling that I have when I read the original novel and it's at the end when it comes together and I feel like, "Oh, you got me," and it's very, just, startling, I want to recreate that feeling for the viewer.

One other thing I'm careful of is, each time I finish an edited product, I decide to forget about everything and watch it from the perspective of an audience who's seeing it for the first time and try to check if, if you have the same startling feeling at the end.

Steve: Is it like, in America, with the big studios, where there's so many different hands in the production? Or do you have final say? Do you to test it with audiences or do you just say "This is it. I'm ready," and it goes out? Basically do you have to answer to different people?

Yoshihiro: It doesn't matter how big the production is, it's the same. I have core staff members and camera so, it doesn't really change how big the production is, I can maintain and recreate that feeling.

Steve: Does anybody interfere with what you want to say on screen? When you finish a film, when you're happy with it, and you say, "I'm done," does anybody, does anybody come in and play with it or does anybody make suggestions past that?

Yoshihiro: No. A system has been created so I have all the power to say what the final cut is, yeah, so no one can say, "No," to me.

So if there is a producer or someone who's on, on this production, who, if he might say something like, "No," I am aware of that person and throughout the process, I'll be showing it from the screenplay and thinking of doing this or will show an edited, um, uh, sequence and show, "This is how I'm going to do it," and be checking in with the person continuously.

So, by the time the product is finally done, if, if that person were to say, "No," I have the right to say, "You're too late. I already went over it with you."

[laughter]

Steve: would you ever shoot something, knowing that somebody's going to be upset about it, so you could get something else in?

Yoshihiro: No, I don't think so. There is no money in for that.

Steve: Jumping back to your early films. You did a bunch of I guess, direct-to-video horror films early in your career and they're, very different than your later films. There's a little less subtlety to them. Which is the type of horror you prefer, more subtle horror than the over, graphic...?

Forgive me do you prefer the, the more subtle horror of, like, INERASABLE or some of the, the murder mysteries. There's a very subtle build-up to the horror whereas LIZARD BABY which was released here as, in a series called Dark Tales of Japan there really wasn't.

Yoshihiro: The more nuanced version, the subtle version.

Steve: I was just curious some people will move one way in their career despite liking something else and you said you like zombie films in so much as they tend to be very bloody and very gory.

How did you fall in love with the movies? What made you fall in love with film?

Yoshihiro: Itami Juzo. I first saw his films when I was in high school. Itami Juzo was one of the first directors that showed the making of side, the production side of film. I saw that footage of what it's like to be on set, when I was at high school. And then, in university, I started making films and fell in love with making them and that's how it began.

Steve: That's cool.

Yoshihiro: [laughs]

Steve: No, personally, that’s why I love films, it's like, just, the movies were always on in the house and then I started to see, this is how you do it, and went "Oh, this is so cool." and fell in love with them more.

How do you feel about somebody remaking a project you've worked on? Would you watch those films? Like, would you, you know, watch a remake of it to see how they take the, take the story?

You’re one of the one of the writers of, of DARK WATER and the source novel of GOLDEN SLUMBER" is being made as a Korean film…

Yoshihiro: I haven't seen them. I haven't seen that DARK WATER...

Steve: Yours was better.

[laughter]

Steve: Since your work is so much from novels, would you write something for yourself? You know, just come up with something, um, you know, because it's just, I was kind of, like, you know, I was looking at it, it's like, you know, a lot of...

Yoshihiro: Not an original. I wouldn't.

Steve: I'm curious. I mean most people say they have this one story.

Yoshihiro: It's not like I don't necessarily have any story I want to write. I do have interest but I don't have a time frame. If, I have a whole year slotted out for it, I might do it but as a busy director it's...

Steve: Is there, is there any project where you go, "I want to do that"? You know, "If I can, if I can do that..." is there anything that you would want to do?

Yoshihiro: Right now or...?

Steve: Yeah, right now, you know, in the future.

Yoshihiro: Um, historical drama. Historical drama, so I’m getting into historical dramas. I'd like to do that more.

Steve: You watch how the progression of your career you have this alternating way of going thrillers and horror films, and feel-good films and now MAGNIFICENT NINE and MUMON which seems to be your next mode.

Yoshihiro: I only agree to do films, which I empathize with the feeling of the original. So, it happens to be that way but my, the foundation of how I decide to, um, make an adaptation is the feeling that I get.

Steve: How far in advance do you have your projects planned out? Do you have like the next film, the next two films, the next three films? Or you just go from one to the next, one to the next?

Yoshihiro: Three years ahead. So I have three years of future plans prepared.

Steve: That's awesome. That's awesome.

[laughter]

Steve: No, it means I've got more films I know I'm going to. I know I've got stuff coming. Can I ask, are you an actress?

Yumi: Oh no, I'm just his wife.

Steve: It's just that you look familiar.

Yumi: Really? Just maybe. So many faces.

[laughter]

Steve: No, no, no, it's just, like, I'm going, like, you look like some, and it's just... [sighs]

Yumi: Thank you.

Steve: No, no, no, no, no.

[laughter]

Steve: I'm fine. I'm good. No, it's just, I have, I had to, you know, it's just, like, it's been bothering, it's like, I know you, why do you I know you? And I've never met you before but it's like movies would be the only way.

Yumi: I am in this movie, with our two kids

[laughter]

Steve: Have you been to the US before? Have you been here? Have you been to the Japan...? Have you been to Japan Cuts before?

Yoshihiro: First time at Japan Cuts. First time in New York.

Steve: Oh, good. I thought I was insane. I thought I missed you.

[laughter]

Steve: Were you at Fantasia? Did you go to Fantasia a couple of years ago, in Montreal?

Amber Noe: He did, yes.

Steve: OK, all right. All right. I knew, I knew there was...It's just like, all right. Um, I don't, I have no idea where to go.

[laughter]
The Manhattan tie

Amber: Oh, he likes your Manhattan tie.

Steve: Oh, thank you. If you want one, I mean, I would give it to you if you want it.

[laughter]

Steve: Uh, seriously, if yo wants it, I'll just give it to you. Otherwise go to one of the souvenir shops and you'll see them outside on the racks of 5 for $10 or 5 for $20. That's where, you, you can get all sorts of New York, New York, New York ties, that sort of stuff.
Amber: He's going to go get one.

Steve: Oh, cool. Absolutely cool. Um, I have no idea where to go. I just, I mean, I could do the, I could do the usual thing of, "What's your favorite film? What's your favorite...? Who's your favorite director outside of yourself?"

[knock on the door- some one pops in to say time is up}

Yoshihiro: All American directors. Woody Allen. I like him a lot.

Steve: OK, that works for me.


On Further Review: Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk is a technical marvel.

It is a cinematic thrill ride that intercuts three sequences (soldiers on the beach, a pleasure craft heading to Dunkirk to rescue soldiers and a fighter pilot flying to cover the evacuations) to great effect. With a rolling and ever building score by Hans Zimmer the film has been cut together with an urgency that keeps us watching and moving us despite the film being a soulless machine with cardboard cut outs at its center.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the film, but I don’t think of it as anything more than a cinematic rollercoaster. I was carried along for 105 minutes and deposited at the other end no worse for wear and looking the next thing to carry me along. Yes, the set pieces are spectacular but other than the emotion we bring to them and feelings we impart to the situations we are never given anyone to care for.

There are several problems with the film that kept me giving myself over to it.

First, as I said above, there are no characters. Outside of Kenneth Branagh and Cillian Murphy every one is a kind of stoic tightlipped soul. Even the most well drawn character played by Mark Rylance is little more than a stereotypical Englishman doing his duty. All the soldiers on the beach, including Harry Styles, simply stare and look shell shocked. And as glowing as Styles reviews have been I had no idea who he was. He never stood out. He was no better nor worse than any of the hundred other men in the sequences. It would have made no difference if it was him or another nameless soldier.

I completely understand that Nolan is kind of trying to give us the everyman experience. I understand it but there is nothing beyond knowing what he is doing. He never gives us anything to latch on to, everyone is playing their soldiers exactly the same- shell shocked.

What bothered me is that in watching old film footage of Dunkirk or almost any war in general, people are never this faceless. Men all stand differently. All men are dressed slightly differently, here everyone looks exactly the same. Everyone is interchangeable- even down to the point where everyone is clean shaven. Nine days on the beach after a great deal of time in combat and everyone looks hot tired, sweaty and as if they just went to the barber.

I’m nitpicking I know but this is the neatest was film I’ve ever seen. It’s not so much the streets of the city, but on the beaches there is nothing anywhere but neat lines of men. It’s all Spartan. There is no debris of hundreds of thousands of men existing in a place for days

Most amazingly is the film is bloodless. TI don’t think there is any blood in the film except on a bandage on the soldier that Styles and his friend carry to the ship at the start after that there is nothing. Bombs blow up crowds of men or planes strafe them but outside of the odd shape falling we see nothing. Death, like the Germans, is kept off screen and when it appears it’s little more than phantom. Other than drowning and sinking ships there is nothing.

And the beaches rather empty. Branagh talks of hundreds of thousands of Englishmen escaping but there is no sign of them- not really. But there were also thousands of French and Belgians, not to mention other nationalities on the beaches as well but there is no sign of them. For the epic tale Nolan is telling it is surprisingly small scale.

Much of the film is little more than a fragmented retelling of what happened with no context (the film is not even placed in context of the war itself, it’s a random event). Its only in the closing minutes when we have one man tell the soldiers that surviving is enough or we hear Churchill’s speech read by Styles do we get any sort of meaning. Worse other than the opening lines and what we carry with us we really don’t know why this is important or how the men and women got there. The film is the event isolated from history (unless you bring it with you) or from emotion.

And yet instead of being dull the film is watchable. Nolan achieves this because of his technical flair. We have the fragmented narrative which builds suspense. We have Harry Styles having everything happen to him with at least three ships being sunk from under him, planes bombing him on the beach and the Germans taking pot shots from off camera (though I’m still trying to figure out how the incoming tide can lift the trawler and get it out to sea when it was full of holes -or if that could have happened since no one turned on the motors or went deck one they were clear of rifle range). Nolan is clever enough to hook our interest even if he never gets our hearts.

Lee Smith’s editing is certain to be a front runner for the Oscar since it, coupled with the hellacious sound design (another a certain Oscar winner) and Hans Zimmer’s ever building score (yea an Oscar here too) drive the film and move the audience even the lack of characters disconnect us emotionally from the film. It is their skill which makes us want to watch and nothing else.

Dunkirk’s technical brilliance moved me across time but it’s lack of a human center never stirred my heart.

In brief: West North West (2017) Japan Cuts 2017

Naima is an art student from Iran. She meets Kei in a local cafe. As their friendship grows, Kei's on again off again girlfriend grows jealous.

Slow burn drama is in some ways less a romance than an examination of people simply trying to find out where they are going or where they belong. It is a film of uncommon weight where we feel that the actresses are deeply invested in their characters.

While I liked the film a great deal I find I have very little to say about it. This is not because it isn't a good film, it is one of the best films at Japan Cuts 2017, rather it was more that stayed with me more as a felling rather than as something I can explain. I love the film and recommend if you want to see a solid and deeply moving drama.



Japan Cuts 2017 Shorts


The collection of shorts at this years Japan Cuts are all rather choice.  They are a nicely curated bunch of  films. The problem with the films is that more than many short  films its rather difficult to talk about them as individual film.  The construction of the films makes it nigh impossible to say much about the film without spoiling them. This is particularly true of BIRDS which hinges on a late in the film reveal for full effect.

I liked all of them a great deal and found that WE ARE SHOOTING to be one of the real delights of the entire Japan Cuts series.  If you like shorts this collection is a must, if you aren't sure its definitely worth a shot.

WE ARE SHOOTING
 A wickedly funny send up of filmmaking as a production intern runs into all sorts of problems beginning with a stopped car where a woman is giving birth much too loudly. A delight and one of the best films in the whole festival.

WHITE T AND FEEBLE THINGS
A guy who only wears white t-shirts meets a contract killer in a laundromat. An at times loopy film that I really liked,
BIRDS
Sting in the tail short has a wife catch her husband with his lover...and I can't say any more because what happens is the film and you'll either love it or go WTF.

BREATHLESS LOVERS
Best looking of the shorts doesn't seem quite have the emotional impact it should as a young man pushes himself to the limit chasing after his dead boyfriend. Beautifully shot film gets all its haunting power from the images. Worth a look on the big screen.

A capsule review of 78/52 (2017) which is playing at Fantasia 2017

I am restricted to a capsule review of 78/52 for now. A full review may follow upon it's release later in 2017

Slick 91 minute look at the making and impact of the shower scene in PSYCHO. A large number of well known filmmakers talk about the importance of the sequence and how it changed the movies forever. How you react will entirely depend on if you enjoy cinematic minutiae where pundits speak about something for roughly 115 times longer than the thing itself (kind of like modern news coverage).

78/52 plays later today and July 26th at Fantasia. For more information and tickets go here.

Eric Tsang and Wong Chun talk MAD WORLD and a lifetime in film NYAFF 2017

Eric Tsang and Wong Chun
On July 12th, a couple of hours before Eric Tsang received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Asian Film Festival, I sat down with Mr Tsang and Wong Chun, the director of MAD WORLD, for a discussion of the film and Mr Tsang’s career. Along with the myself, Mr Tsang and Mr Chun was translator Frank Djeng, and Jared King, the Unseen Films resident expert on Hong Kong cinema. Jared helped craft the questions and acted as my wingman stepping in to clarify my hazy recall. Jared also reached out to his friend Kenneth Brorsson, the man behind So Good Reviews and Podcast on Fire, who helped by giving us more questions which nudged us into how best use our limited time.

What follows is an edited version of what transpired during our fifteen minute talk. Because the answers from Mr Tsang and Mr Chun bounced between Chinese and English I’ve had to edit some of their answers for readability.

I want to thank Emma Griffith and everyone at Subway Cinema for setting this up, Jared for coming along for the ride, Kenneth Brorsson for help with the questions, John DiBello for help in the final edit and especially Mr Chun and Mr Tsang for taking time out to talk to some crazy fans who got to meet one of their favorite filmmakers.


Steve: Where did MAD WORLD come from?

Wong Chun: So, the idea for MAD WORLD came from Florence (Chan), the screenwriter. She saw a TV news story about a middle-aged man killing his father who had been his long-term care giver. But the the news never explicitly explained why he killed him.

So Florence was intrigued by that idea and wanted to know, you know, what would lead, you know, a sibling or to kill his or her own parents. So that's how the, the fruit of the project started.

Steve: Was the actual story about have a son being released from a hospital?

Wong : Uh, no, not really.

Steve: So that was just created for the film?

Wong : Yes. Florence was kind of interested in writing a story about depression, at first. But she did all of the research and found out that bipolar disorder is on the rise in Hong Kong.

And at the same time, we knew nothing about it, and we have some really serious misconceptions about it. And she started to think that maybe that's something a little bit more urgent for us to talk about, so she started a project and combined the two things together into one story.

Steve: I’m curious if there are situations where children are being released into the care of parents they don’t really know. Is this something that happens frequently in Hong Kong?

Wong : Uh, I wouldn't say that. The film is kind of a specific case but actually, I would say there some cases, 'cause the father is a truck driver driving between mainland and Hong Kong. And usually these kind of drivers spend very little time with their family, so they usually have some issues between the guy and their families. And when the driver's issue combines with the mental illness issue, that's where the story came.

Steve: How did you come to cast Eric?

Wong : Actually, the script was tailor-made for him. I mean, the character was tailor-made for him. And of course we have watched all his films. We have seen all his acting in comedies or in gangster movies. He had some really good caring characters in films of the '80s or early '90s like COMRADES or ALAN &ERIC: BETWEEN HELLO AND GOODBYE and we wanted to bring back that type of Eric Tsang acting to 2017.

Steve: Were you happy to get a meaty role like this? You're primarily known, especially here in America, as a comedic actor. Jared and I watch tons of Hong Kong films so we've seen everything you can do, but for many people you're not thought of as this deep heavy actor.

Eric Tsang: As an actor, of course I want to try something new, or something rare. I've been a comedian for over 20 years and I’ve always wanted to do a serious role, but not something that's too sappy, you know, too tragic.

I usually try to avoid starring in a film that requires a sad character. But I was very impressed by Florence's script and the director's intention in the project, the passion and the dedication, and so on. You know, that's why I decided to take on this character.

Steve: You are a man who nurtures up and coming filmmakers in Hong Kong. I can't believe the number of films you've produced or starred in just to make sure a project gets made. How important is it for you to nurture the up and coming filmmakers?

Eric: So, I was a newcomer, too. At the time when I was a newcomer, I wanted to have a mentor or someone who could guide me in my career path or my acting career. So now that I've become sort of, like, a mentor myself, I wanna help newcomers. I feel it’s my chance to help new talent, new directors achieve their goal.

And also, I want to find someone who can sort of inherit a seat in terms of the Hong Kong film industry -- we are aging, so we're desperately looking for new talent and new people. And when I look for new talent, I don't look for just technical excellence. Their own personality, their own character are all very important to me, and I feel that I found that in Wong.

Steve: When you put the film together you weren't overly melodramatic. Hong Kong films tend to wring everything out of every bit of emotion. Of the things I absolutely love about this film, is that it doesn't go overboard. It's really realistic. I have friends who have parents and kids who have mental illness and based on what I've seen with them, you've got it right, you didn't give too much. Was it difficult to make that choice not to make it more melodramatic, but make it more serious, make it more real?

Wong: It wasn't that difficult, but you've asked a very good question. That made me struggle for a few years from the writing to the shooting and editing in how I should portray the story and the characters.

But the most important point was that when we wrote the story we heard a lot of real stories from real people. And so, for me this was not only a drama that we created, but it's also reflecting some real experience from real people.

So, I have a very strong feeling of respecting the people who, who gave us their story. And, and this kinda feeling gives, gives me a restraint to execute everything. I didn't have an intention to make it too melodramatic anything. So, it wasn't that difficult, but that was the top -- I mean the number one question in my mind when I was doing every scene, when I was doing every part of the film.

Steve: You've done everything...

Eric: [laughs]

Steve: What is your favorite type of movie to do? Do you prefer to do comedies? Do you prefer to do dramas?, You're in several films this year. You're in this. You're in the VAMPIRE CLEAN UP DEPARTMENT, You're a villain in VILLAGE OF NO RETURN. So, you've got silly and you've got drama. Which would you prefer to do or you don't? Or do you just wanna do everything?

Eric: I feel this is the best part that I've held in making movies, you know. You experience different lives. You know can act in different roles. You can become different people, you know, not just in drama, not just action, but also comedy. And to me that is, you know, that's by far the happiest part.
You know the one thing that makes me very happy about it, is to experience different lives. So, I was like, maybe I'll be doing a few comedies now and then, "Oh, okay, now I switch to dramas." And then after a few dramas, "Okay, now I switch to action."

So as far and it doesn't really matter what kind of genre I'm acting in, as long it is a good character, I would be more than willing to be involved in the film.

You can work as different guys. You know, you could be a bad guys Well, you could be anything.

Steve: Are you going to direct more? I know you produce, you direct, you write.

Eric: Never know, because once we've got a good screenplay, once something happens, then you do it. So, don't plan it. The change will come. Because for now I won't repeat my work.

Steve: Does your son (director Derek Tsang) come to you for advice?

Eric: No, no, no, nothing. You know, this is much better for him. I enjoy that, that he could do it himself.

Steve: I have to ask you this. You've done over 300 films, in various forms. You're getting a lifetime achievement award, which is long overdue. What would be the one role or what would be the one thing you'd want to be known, remembered for?

Eric: So, yeah, I mean, I, I, I really don't know. I've done so many things, I've done so many roles, you know. Um, I do serious roles to show audiences I'm not just a comedian. I do, uh, acti-, I do gangster roles to show I'm not just a dramatic actor, or I do other roles to show I'm not just a gangster. So, I try to give audiences new impressions of myself.

A new perspective on myself as an actor, so, the one thing that I hope they remembered most is the roles that I've played. To me this is the best part of my artistic career that I hope that people will remember me, for the roles that I've done.

I mean, you know, different people like different roles that I play. Some people like me being a gangster, some people like me being a comedian so, like, that's what I hope, my hope is that people remember me for all the different roles that I've played, not just one, single role.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Old School Kung Fu Fest, featuring All-Female Leads in 7th Edition, at Metrograph from August 18-20

OLD SCHOOL KUNG FU FEST
"Wonder Women of the Martial Arts" is Theme for 7th Edition
Actress Angela Mao to Appear In-Person!
It’s the seventh edition of Subway Cinema’s Old School Kung Fu Fest, a perennially wild weekend of incredible classic martial arts and action movies, and for this lucky year the theme is something extra special: “Wonder Women of the Martial Arts,” featuring some of the fiercest female warriors to ever grace kung fu cinema, a wellspring of tough gals. Female empowerment has never been this thrillingly cathartic, so come cheer along stalwart chop-socky heroines such as Angela Mao, Cheng Pei Pei, and Kara Hui Ying Hung as they triumphantly trounce scenery-chewing baddies (mostly misguided macho men, no doubt) with vengeful gusto! Co-presented by Subway Cinema and Metrograph, the series runs August 18-20.

Hapkido (Huang Feng/1972/97 mins/35mm)
A watershed in Angela Mao’s filmography, Hapkido is a thrilling paean to the Korean fighting style that the lifelong martial arts disciple and superstar studied in real life. Angela and compatriots Sammo Hung and Carter Wong star as Chinese students of the titular Korean martial art who find themselves forced by the scenery-chewing imperialist Japanese baddies into defending honor and righteousness with dazzling hand-to-hand combat. Don’t blink!

Friday, August 18 - 7:00pm (Angela Mao In-Person)

The Fate of Lee Khan (Kung Hu/1973/105 mins/35mm)
King Hu enlisted a bevy of female stars including Hong Kong cinema stalwart Li Li-hua and martial arts ingénue Mao to lead the action and intrigue in this classic wuxia adventure. Hu once again centers the plot at an inn, a veritable hot pot of simmering conflict, where girl-gang undercover resistance fighters are pitted against oppressive Mongols, trying to stop a traitor from passing vital information to warlord Lee Khan. The ensuing struggle is perfectly highlighted by wry comic moments, masterful mise-en-scene, and breakout fight scenes from choreographer Sammo Hung.

Saturday, August 19 - 3:00pm

My Young Auntie (Lau Kar-Leung/1981/121 mins/35mm)
Choreographer-turned-star director Lau Kar-leung proved not only a consummate martial artist but also a champion of women with this brilliant Cantonese comedy of manners/fight fest. An elderly landowner takes a new bride to keep his coveted land away from his unscrupulous brother after his death, but traditional and demure Kara Hui Ying Hung also happens to be a kung fu expert, a fact that the scheming brother learns amidst glorious melee and hi-jinks which make for a classic of rough-and-tumble empowerment.

Saturday, August 19 - 5:30pm

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (Chor Yuen/1972/90 mins/DCP)
This luscious production by the premiere auteur of phantasmagorical wuxia films puts a surprising new spin on his usual motifs of gallantry and intrigue. Lilly Ho plays a seductive but innocent girl sold into a brothel where the lascivious madame (Betty Pei Ti), ensnared by the young nubile's charms, lets her in on the secrets of esoteric and deadly kung fu, unwittingly sowing the seeds of a devious revenge plot. A singularly provocative martial arts film, its feminist subtext coyly veiled by its elegant yet decidedly lurid veneer.

Saturday, August 19 - 8:00pm

Come Drink with Me (King Hu/1966/95 mins/35mm)
Pioneer Hu revolutionized wuxia films with cinematography reminiscent of Chinese painting, kinetic camera moves, innovative action choreography, and meticulous period production design, all melded into female-forward fist-and-sword tales. Breakthrough Come Drink with Me put vibrant 19-year-old dancer-cum-actress Cheng Pei Pei on the action film map as Golden Swallow, a general’s daughter tasked with rescuing her brother from the clutches of bandits, managing to take on all opponents with several breathtaking bounds, as one of cinema’s greatest personifications of the martial arts.

Sunday, August 20 - 1:00pm9:00pm

A Touch of Zen (King Hu/1971/180 mins/35mm)
Wuxia godfather Hu’s ultimate masterpiece of chivalry and intrigue follows an effete scholar who gets involved with an indomitable female fugitive in an ancient Chinese town, sweeping us into a fever-dream of mystical proportions, at once romantic and suspenseful. A three-hour martial arts film and the first fight doesn’t happen until the last act! But it’s so transcendentally beautiful, profound, and exhilarating in its artistry as to mesmerize audiences to this day—and when the action does come, you’ll see why the movie was awarded a technical grand prize at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival. Not to be missed!

Sunday, August 20 - 3:15pm

Yes, Madam (Corey Yuen/1985/95 mins/DCP)
Girls with guns (and kung fu bona fides, too) ruled Hong Kong screens in the '80s and '90s, and this is the movie that set the template. A flimsy plot about stolen microfilm serves as a pretext for non-stop fights and chases, with star-making turns by former dancer and beauty queen Michelle Yeoh and real-life martial arts champion Cynthia Rothrock as Dirty Harriet policewomen who team up to best all the bad guys with acrobatic aplomb and explosive force. The women did their own unbelievable stunts—and somehow lived to tell the tale!

Sunday, August 20 - 7:00pm 

ANTIPORNO (2017) Japan Cuts 2017

Sion Sono's destruction and subversion of the Roman Porno genre was made by Nikkatsu as part of it's reboot project (other entries played at the New York Asian Film Festival this year). It is a destruction of the sex films and Japanese porn films in general.

Beginning as a twisted tale of a rich artist who abuses her secretary while spouting high minded ideas, the film flips about a third of the way through as it's all revealed to be a pretentious sex film where leering men call the shots. Its a move that makes the film incredibly uncomfortable (as if what went before wasn't already) and plants it firmly in Sono's world of cinema.

As a straight on film it, like most Roman Porno films, doesn't work. The plot isn't the point here since Sono is too busy pushing buttons and getting you to reconsider everything including like just how bad the plots of sex films really are.

To be honest when I first saw the film several weeks ago I really wasn't thrilled with the film. It didn't hang together for me. However as time went on and the more I thought about the film it grew in my estimation. Frankly Sono's intellectual destruction of sex films in general is one of the best films at this years Japan Cuts.

Worth a look for Sono fans- and anyone wanting to have their minds shaken and their views challenged

The film plays July 22 with SUMMER'S PUKE IS WINTER'S DELIGHT. Its a three minute endurance test as we listen to some one throw up while we watch trippy images.  It is an endurance test and nothing more and easily the worst film at Japan Cuts.

Over the Fence (2016) Japan Cuts 2017

The centerpiece film  at this year's Japan Cuts, like the opening and closing films of the festival sold out over four weeks in advance of screening.  While could figure out why the other films sold out I wasn't quite sure why this one did until I saw it and I realized that the film was going to have admirers who were spreading the word as it being a must see.

Joe Odagiri plays a divorced man who has retreated to his hometown of Hakodate. Enrolled in a vocational school for carpentry he is trying to get his life back on track. He is severely damaged by his past. Along the way he meets a kind of free spirited, but equally damaged woman played by Yu Aoi. As the two circle each other Odagiri has to try and come to terms with his past.

A word of warning here- while the film is written up and made to look like a romance it really isn't. This is for better or worse a film about Odagiri's character. While there is a romantic thread, the real through line to the film is the path back from the edge and the beginning of the healing process. If you're going in expecting a romance you're going to be thrown off for a bit. (If you need proof it isn't a romance watch the last couple of shots of the film and you'll realize whose story this is)

A very real film in a lot of ways, OVER THE FENCE pushed a lot of buttons for me, I could identify with both people at the films center  to the extent that after a couple of exchanges I had to stop the screener I was watching and decompress. Several seeming innocuous lines rocked me and Odagiri's line about how he was the problem for his ex knocked me back- not because of the film but because I've said something similar. I was seeing so much of myself in some of the exchanges in the film that I was considering not reviewing it.

Cooler heads prevailed and I let a day or two pass before circling back to try to write up the film on it's own terms.

On its own terms OVER THE FENCE is a very good film. Nicely not by rote the film doesn't take the easy way out or shy away from pain. The first time that Odagiri and Yu spend the night together and he tells her abut the break up of his marriage is raw. You feel the emotion and the hesitation. Its as real a moment as you'll find in any film this year.

At the same time the meandering nature of the film, a mirror to Odigiri's  life, is a little too meandering. I never remained fully connected to the characters. I could click in for moments and sequences but not all the way through. There were times when I simply sat in my seat and let it drift by.

Reservations aside, I really do like OVER THE FENCE a great deal.  I love it's unique way of looking at the human condition but I don't think it achieves the true greatness of its best bits.  Assuming you are able to luck out and get a ticket for it's Japan Cuts sold out screening I highly recommend you do so.