Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ip Man The Final Fight (2013) New York Asian FIlm Festival


I'm tired of Ip Man. At this point I've seen all the various films and I'm tired of the character...on the other hand earlier tonight I got to see probably the best portrayal of the character thanks to Anthony Wong. He single handedly made seeing Herman Yau's film worth while.

For those who don't know Ip Man is best known as the master who taught Bruce Lee. He was a master of Wing Chun and could pretty much kick anyone's ass. In recent years he's been the subject of at least four other major films, two with Donnie Yen in the lead, a prequel (The Legend Is Born Ip Man) with Yu-Hang To  who looks like Donnie Yen and then there is Wong Kar Wai's artsy The Grandmaster, in which Ip Man is a ultimately a secondary character(no, he is).

This film picks up in 1949 with Ip Man arriving in Hong Kong. The film, which is narrated by his son (his son was involved in the production) then follows his life episodically until just before his death. Its a film that is more character driven than action (though there are some great set pieces) and is for the most part solidly good. I can't say much more about the plot than that.

On the other hand the film has Anthony Wong, who once again proves he is one of the most under rated actors in the world today. Simply put if there was justice Wong would be getting every acting award under the sun for his incredible portrayal.

Yes, I know Ip has been done, but never like this. This one feels right. This one feels human. This one matches up with everything I've ever read on Ip Man and seen in the films and photos. Yeah, Wong's physically bigger than Ip but Ip lives in Wong in a way that is scary good.

I won't go into details, I'm too damn tired for that, but look at three scenes. I'm going to mention three bits for you to watch-I mean really watch particularly his performance and you'll see how great he is.

First watch the scene where Ip arrives in Hong Kong. Watch him as he arrives at the home of his friend and is shown in.Watch Wong's facial expressions, his eyes and face, watch his body language as he shows the weariness of  just wanting a meal and a not a fight. It's all in the small gestures and looks,this is a person not a character. Its brilliant. Yes the fight on the paper is classic, but watch Wong before it- no gesture is wasted.

Next watch the climatic fight. Watch Wong's acting. Okay yes its huge action sequence, but at the same time there is strength of character beyond breaking heads. You sense the man at the center of the fight. This is a man fighting for something. Brilliant.

Lastly watch the weariness when he is filmed at the very end. You feel the age, you feel the time. You sense the man and when you see the real footage you know that Wong got the spirit of the man dead nuts right if not in actuality.

Its a performance for the ages boys and girls.

The rest of the film is just good. It's not that there is anything really wrong, it's simply that the film is covering 23 years in 100 minutes and things kind of get lost in short hand. There's nothing wrong with that, except that Wong's classic performance unbalances a film that can't match him.

Definitely worth  seeing when the film is released in the US in September...hell I'm going to buy the DVD and probably go see it big again.

Drug War (2013) New York Asian Film Festival 2013

Johnnie To kicks ass once more with his Drug War.

The plot  has a police inspector discovering a drug manufacturer unconscious in a hospital. It seems a medical emergency brought on by his factory exploding occurred while driving and he crashed his car into a store.  The cop literally smells something fishy and has him placed under guard. This leads to the cop to getting the manufacturer to flip on his legendary bosses, but time is short since merchandise is in transit and for things to work they can't let on that he's been arrested.

Johnnie To is a genius. He's created a wonderful film that pulls you in from its opening moments where you're wondering who are these people and what are they doing? By the time its clear whats going on you're hooked and in for the long haul. Best of all the reason you're watching is not the action, frankly until the last 45 minutes there isn't any really, you watch the film because you care about the characters. Okay you may not care about the characters as in you want them to be a friend sort of away but you do care enough to want to know what happens. Actually you care enough that a late in the game scene where one character speaks of the death of his family you're moved.

When the action scenes come- there are two killer set pieces late in the film- they are the sort of balls to the wall fire fights that make you sit up and say hello.

One of the MUST see films at the New York Asian Film Festival when it plays Friday....and if you miss it the film is hitting theaters at the end of July.

Helter Skelter (2012) NYAFF 2013 Japan Cuts 2013


The thought  of what David Cronenberg would have done with this in his heyday was something that raced through my head several times while watching this film. Actually what I really was thinking was this would have been better with someone with less a visual style and more a grasp of storytelling.

Erika Sawajiri stars as  Lilico, a superstar singer, actress model,ect who is loved for her stunningly good looks. What very few people know is that the looks are entirely man made and require constant maintenance. But one's body can only take so much before it breaks down, and it does just as her life begins to go int free fall.

How you react to the film will depend upon how you react to Lilco.  If you can muster any sympathy this will be  horrifying and in some ways sad film of a person self destructing. If you can't this is a form over content film that will make you squirm in your seat. I vote for form over content.

 Director Mika Ninagawa is a fashion photographer by trade and every image is picture perfect as if it were ripped from the pages of Vogue. But to me there isn't much beyond that. To me the target of Japanese culture and it's throwing up so called Idols with frightening regularity is much too easy a bullseye to hit. I'm not sure if the source manga is the same way, but I would like to hope not. Because the visuals are so slick the film becomes a shallow film about shallow people.

 I will admit that about a half an hour in I kind of became intrigued by what was going on. The flashy visuals ceased to overwhelming and the sex stopped vacillating between boring and titillating and I kind of got  interested in what was happening.  Unfortunately some where in the last third the film breaks apart as our heroine does and we see the world truly through her eyes which makes for some great visual sequences but would require lots of acid to make any sense. Add in about two or three too many endings and you have a film that really disappointed me.

And now the weird part- as much as I don't really care for the film the thought of seeing this on a big screen intrigues me. I'm very curious if the fact that I saw the film on DVD as an import is responsible for my reaction. Somehow looking at all the great visuals I sense that had I picked up a ticket and gone to see this at the Walter Reade in a couple of days, or at the Japan Society on the 13th I may have liked it more. If you see this on the big screen please leave a comment and let me know how it plays big.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pictures from the Opening Night of the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival

Here's a few photos from last nights on stage activities at the Walter Reade Theater.

Here's Grady  as he leaves the stage before the showing of BEHIND THE CAMERA. I got him as he was leaving because I completely forgot that I had stowed my camera. He has the box with all the prize forms in it.


Grady Interviewing E J-Yong about BEHIND THE CAMERA


Film Comment editor Gavin Smith introduces Goran, Samuel, Rufus and Grady before the opening night film TALES FROM THE DARK PART 1


Goran, Rufus, Samuel and Grady - the faces of the The New York Asian Film Festival or as the pictures says these guys are New York Asian Film.


Everyone said a few words by way of introduction. Here it appears that Rufus is rapping or blaming Goran for something (actually he was talking about the use of spread sheets to make sure all the films arrived on time)


Gavin and Grady appear to be trying to come to terms about something


Like the Spanish Inquisition there are somethings people just don't expect - Photographic proof that some films don't die- Here Grady is giving away more copies of Hong Kong Godfathers as the audience half laughs and half groans.

Aberya (2012) NYAFF 2013 or 90 minutes I will never get back

I've no idea what to say about this film except that I really don't like it. I mean I REALLY don't like it.

The plot of the film has an American boxer who's parents come from the Philippines going to the country of his parents birth. We watch as he has elliptical and off kilter discussions with the various women he dates, as well other people he encounters including a drug dealer he comes across. He also sees cameras everywhere and talks to them as if he was on a TV show.

Told mostly in close up or in close in shots that give no sense of location, this film goes off on it's merry way toward what end I have no clue. And when I say it's in close up I mean it. Faces and not much else fill the frame for much of the running time. For example the boxer and one his girl friends go to a dance club. We get maybe one or two shots of a couple of people dancing, and then its just close ups on the pair as they talk.  I'm reasonably sure that most of the film could have been shot in a small room with just the actors switching places in front of the camera. Events happen off screen that we never really see.

Who's idea was this and can we hurt them? Better yet can we make them watch the film they have thrown out into the unsuspecting world?

This either means something to the director or is a giant put on.  I found it's almost two hour running time almost unendurable. This is inde cinema at its worst. This is pretentious twaddle. I can't and won't say a good word about it.

God help anyone going to see this Monday afternoon.

(A digression- and what the hell is this doing playing at 1 in the afternoon? with apologies to the programmers I have to ask- Who's fever dream was it to schedule this in the afternoon. As much as I hate this film I could have understood if this got a midnight slot but in the afternoon? Really?)

Tales from the Dark Part 1 New York Asian Film Festival (2013)

World premiere film was only delivered the day before the screening with the result that none of the Subway Cinema NYAFF people had actually seen it.  I have no idea what they thought of the film, but me, I thought it was one of the better ghost story films I've seen in years. Its a great mix of funny and scary.

Based on stories by Lilian Lee (she consulted on the scripts and wrote Simon Yams portion of the film) the film tells three ghost related stories.  They are completely unconnected except by the fact that each one has to do with ghosts in some way (I mention this because several things I've read mention that the film's stories spring from what  would be the events of the final story which isn't true).

STOLEN THINGS was directed by Simon Yam and its clear he has a future behind the camera if he wants it. The story has him playing a down on his luck guy who isn't all that bright. Failing at a series of jobs he eventually makes a fateful decision to get quick money that will bring him into contact with the ghosts that wander Hong Kong. 

Possessing a great deal of style  the segment quickly builds a good amount of tension as we see a good number of ghostly figures wandering around the city. The piece then settles in as we watch Yam going through his daily routine to try and get and maintain a job and get money. The fact that Yam's character doesn't seem to be all there only adds to the unsettling sense of the world- does he actually see the ghosts that seem to surround him?. Eventually the scares come and if they are occasionally the result of shock jumps it's okay since Yam genuinely creates some real tension and emotion to make the jumps scarier.

If the segment has any flaws its that it kind of leaps to it's conclusion rather unexpectedly. What it is I can't say, but it doesn't feel right. I felt like I missed something. The coda works but there is a small hiccup getting there that diminishes things just a bit. Quibbling aside it's so much better than most horror films these days we should simply be grateful.

The second part is Lee Chi Ngai's WORD ON THE PALM. This mix of humor horror and melodrama has a man who gives fortunes trying to get back with his wife and son. His son is a promising classical musician in the Western style. His wife doesn't like that he can see ghosts and so has left him. Promising to give up his business and go back to music, he heads in for his last day in his shop. Unfortunately a couple comes to his shop with a problem and it isn't long before he's mixed up with ghostly problems while trying to make a dinner date with his wife.

Creepy, funny and rather moving, this segment is probably the most solidly built of the trio, it doesn't really  have any flaws. Its a kind of ghostly detective story with heart that is weirdly bittersweet. I really liked this segment a great deal.

The third part of the film was directed by Fruit Chan.is called JING ZHE  This story concerns a woman who essentially sells curses by beating paper villains for various people. The paper villains represent people that are to be cursed. We watch as she goes through her evening of selling her services until she meets a certain young woman at the end of the night.

Fruit Chan has crafted what is largely the best of the bunch and damn near one of the best ghost stories I've seen. Its creepy and off kilter tale with a sting in it that is ultimately more sad than scary. The problem with the film is that while Chan has crafted a strong segment with a real emotional kick he derails things by a late in the game black humor flourish that knocks the wind out of the sails. It doesn't kill the film it simply makes what should have been a true classic of the genre simply an almost classic.

When it was all done the film left me feeling rather uneasy and a little afraid to go home so late at night. Honestly I was glad I had someone to walk to the subway with when it was done.

For my money this is a super little film that I can't wait to see again (It opens in Asia July 11) and more importantly it has made me look forward to the sequel which is released over seas August 1.
Poster for this film and it's quick to follow sequel

Behind the Camera: Why Mr. E Went to Hollywood (2012) plus Jury (2012) New York Asian Film Festival 2013


E J-Yong's BEHIND THE CAMERA... is one of the wildest films of the year. Its a weird hybrid of fact and fiction that is one of the best films about film ever made. If you love the movies you must see this- doubly so if you love Korean film.

The premise of the film is that E feels that with all of the technology today you could, in theory direct a film from somewhere other than the set. Seeking to prove the premise he brings in some of the best actors in Korean, sprinkles in some of his friends from behind the scenes (there are several big name directors hanging around and acting). When they are all assembled he springs it on the cast that he's in Hollywood and would be directing the film from there. And if things weren't weird enough the short film they are making, How to Fall in Love in Ten Minutes,  is about a director who is making a short film but decides to run off and direct the film from a distance.

What transpires is a mix of reality and fiction that was woven together from over 200 hours of footage. Its a film you fall into as the novel premise becomes compelling drama. Its the sort of thing where you start to watch it as a goof and then realize that way more than you can ever hope to have discovered is going on.  Its this brilliant look into the relationship between actors, directors, tech people and the rest of the filmmaking community.

Begun as promo short,the previously mentioned How to Fall in Love in Ten Minutes (which we only see in clips) E co-opted the short film and tuned it into a feature exercise. Samsung was thrilled at getting two movies for the the price of one. ME I'm thrilled at getting such a wonderful drama that doubles as a neat look at how movies are made and the camaraderie of filmmaking. It also kicks up lots of other things that I haven't sussed out yet...and did I mention its just a damn cool drama/comedy?

The easiest thing to say is put this on my list of favorite films of 2013.  Frankly I suspect I'll be coming back to this film to say more once I see it again because there is a great deal of wonderful stuff I only half remember.

After the film E came out and talked with Grady Hendrix. Grady did a great job to the point that when the time came for the audience to ask questions there really wasn't any left to ask. In discussing the film E said that the film was shot over three days instead of the two in the film. Shot with 11 cameras much of what happens is simply what happened. He had discussed the shooting and the characters with the actors and then simply turned them loose to see what happened. He said he really was in Hollywood during the shooting. He did say that this was an experiment that he wouldn't want to repeat. More was discussed but I can't really go into it since it relates to things that happen in the film and I don't want to give it away.

Before the film they screened JURY another sort of meta-fiction film.

The short concerns a group of actors, directors and British film critic at a short film festival in Busan.  They go off to try and decide what film to give the Grand Prix award to. What transpires is a clash of personalities that is truly funny. The conceit of the film is that all of the actors are playing themselves, and while I don't know how close any of them are to there real selves, but it shows them to at least have a god nature for being able to send themselves up plus it all makes for a funny time at the movies.

Easily the short is one of the best films of this years festival.

Grady said that the reason they are showing the film is that someone connected to the festival said that what happens,violence included , is what happens at the Busan film festival. (I know the press screening bits are dead on)

If you can get to see this pairing tomorrow, do so. If not hope for some sort of US release.

A few words on Rigodon (2012) NYAFF 2013

After her relationship implodes Sarah meets Riki who was on a reality TV show and they begin to have an affair... the trouble is he's already married with a young daughter.

I will freely admit that I am not the right audience for this film. The subject matter really doesn't float my boat, however because the programmers at the New York Asian Film Festival, have almost never programmed a film that wasn't atleast worth trying, I decided to give the film a shot. Happily in seeing the film I have to say that I while I'm the wrong audience for the film there are some who will eat the film up.

The story it self is nothing you haven't seen before. its  a typical couple hit it off and have hot passionate sex and orbit each other- only one is married story. The film doesn't break any new ground. that said the sex is hot and the performances are raw at times. There is a real intensity. 

You're probably wondering if I'm not crazy about the film one way or another why am I writing it up. Simply because it plays at NYAFF later today and I wanted to act as a pointer if you were interested in seeing it.

A bleary eyed look at NYAFF 2013 Day One: Friends, Films and Ahhh ( Brief word on JURY, BEHIND THE CAMERA and TALES FROM THE DARK)

It's just about 2am as I'm writing this which means I have to be up in a couple of hours to go into the city to be part of a press conference on Korean films at the NYAFF. We'll see how it goes...(And bear with me if this is jagged I'm just trying to get it all down)

Yes, the festival is finally here. Yes, we can all hear the best sound of summer, namely Grady Hendrix introducing any film without a mic. I hear him and I instantly mellow out since it means I've come home once more.

Going in this tonight I didn't want to go. I couldn't figure out why I was going. I already have seen and reviewed half the films at the festival, I don't want to see more Asian films, and then I walked into the lobby of the Walter Reade and saw Rufus talking to Earl and I knew why, the people. And while right now Mr C is off tending to some vitally important matters and Mondocurry has gone off on a top secret mission, I know both will be making appearances soon.

In the mean time I got to reconnect with some other friends. Alec returned from his secret mission to begin wading in to the festival. He was there for one film but he's locked and loaded for more so I expect some interesting tid bits- like what to see or avoid... Hubert was there as well and as always is good company.

I met Jared from Bullets over Chinatown. In introducing him to Hubert I forgot the Bullets name and instead stumbled, giving the web address which is http://inthemoodforgwailo.blogspot.com/ which something that amuses the hell out of me. And by the way if you aren't reading his blog you aren't learning anything about Hong Kong and Chinese films. I'm in awe of his depth of knowledge and his presence on Facebook is one of the only reasons I'm considering firing up the Unseen account.

And Chocko made an appearance- arriving just as TALES was starting, whapping me to let me know he was there, and then bolting before the end credits finished too afraid to let the ghosts get him. Is it any wonder that he is still considered a man of myth and legend much like the Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster but with more facial hair?

I should say that I do have some photos from tonight but I'm going to post them in the next day or so when I get a free minute.

I'm also going to do more in depth reviews of the films tonight but for the sake of letting you in on what happened I'm going to say a few brief things.

First up was was JURY. This short film is a wicked look at a film festival jury trying to decide which film should get the award. The actors are real people playing themselves (and please forgive me for not telling you now who everyone is I'm too damn tired). Grady said that the film is based upon what really goes on at the film festival. Its damn funny and on target of what its like behind the scenes at press/industry  screenings.

That film played with BEHIND THE CAMERA OR WHY MR E WENT TO HOLLYWOOD. This meta fiction/documentary was made during the making of a ten minute short film by E J-Yong. The premise of the feature is that technology is such that he could go to Hollywood and direct a film in Korea from there. What happens is the film. Filled with great Korean actors, actresses and directors this is a wild film where you can't tell what is and isn't real. Frankly I don't care because this piece of metafiction or documentary or something is one of the best films I've seen this year and one of the greatest films on film ever made. Its a work of genius. Its so good I may change my plans to see it again Sunday when it plays again. This needs a full review.(and I feel bad for anyone who wasn't there)

After the film there was a Q&A where Grady asked all the right questions  that helped the director explain whats real whats not and what its like to direct when you're an ocean away.

The world premiere of TALES FROM THE DARK was preceded by the usual give away- except this being a horror movie which meant that that they gave away a Jackie Chan disc plus two ghosts from festivals past - namely more DVDs  of Hong Kong Godfathers surfaced.

TALES needs a full review unto itself as well. But the short version is that this is three ghost stories.

The first, Stolen Things, concerns Simon Yam (who directed) as a handyman in search of work, who it is said can only be hired by ghosts. Its a creepy tale that has shows Yam has great promise as a director.

The Second is I think called Word in the Palm concerns a man who tells fortunes for a living. He is trying to get back with his wife and agrees to close his shop- but he's seeing ghosts again and gets mixed up with a couple being haunted. A mix of comedy and scares this is a really good film.

The final film was by Fruit Chan. I didn't catch the title (I'll have it for the full review) and concerns the act of essentially cursing one's enemies on on particular day of the year via proxy villains. a mix of humor and horror the film builds to tension to the point where some late humor kind of makes it a tad less than it should be. Still it moves you.

Over all the film is that rarest of rare birds- an anthology film where all the parts work- and better yet are scary.

I'll write more soon.

For now know that with the movie done Hubert and I walked to the subway and headed home. I left him on the platform waiting for his train while I dashed to catch an LIRR train home. I made it eventually after some delays---

And now to bed. I have- hopefully- a press conference in the morning and more movies to see.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A few words on COLD WAR(2012) New York Asian Film Festival

While the police commissioner is out of town five police officers are kidnapped and their command vehicle is stolen. As the police try to find the missing men and women, the two deputy commissioners battle each other and the system in an effort to get the men back.

The best reason to see COLD WAR is Tony Leung Ka-fai who turns in an award winning performance. Playing Deputy Commissioner Lee he has created a role on the order of  what Anthony Hopkins did with Hannibal Lechter where you can't take your eyes off him to the point everyone else on screen disappears.(I should point out that Lee is a good guy and I'm using the Hopkins analogy for comparison) Trust me on this this is a role people will be talking about for decades.

The rest of the film is okay. I should probably say that the film is just good but the boat load of awards and the large take at the Asian box office makes one feel that there should be more here then some CGI enhanced action sequences and a confused script.

Actually the real problem here is the script. The film hinges on a conspiracy plot that is so large it ultimately makes zero sense. For me the more the film went on and the more of the plotting was revealed the less sense it made. Without giving too much away it is an unwieldy brute that gets more and more complicated simply because it will allow for numerous sequels, the first of which is implied by the final fade out. The whys and wherefores really don't hang together even on a basic level with the result you kind of stop caring once you realize it's going nowhere other than the typical- and you thought it was over denouncement.

Don't get me wrong I don't hate the film, rather I kind of feel its over rated.

Worth a look for Tony Leung Ka-fai's performance.

Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1982/7) NYAFF 2013 aka Chinese Super Ninja aka Never Kiss a Ninja aka Lady Ninja

This is my review of this film from the IMDB written back in 2006. I don't think there is much to add except my score out of 10 was 9.

A Chinese girl living in Japan takes the final test to become a NInja. Once she passes she is told that her father has been killed back in China and she goes home to mourn him and to find out what happened. Arriving there she finds out that he father was killed by the man she was betrothed to who is now collaborating with the Japanese against the Chinese. (This is this the first mention of the film taking place during World War Two). Using her ninja skills she breaks into the bad guys house but is set upon by four ninja in his employ. She is wounded and only escapes thanks to a man in a skull mask. Vowing to put a stop to the evil going on she sets out to train a group of woman as a ninja army to help her.

This film is a great deal of fun. What can you say about a film that introduces the bad guy with the Empire theme from The Empire Strikes Back and where the lead wears a bright red ninja suit? It just goes from the minute the film starts straight to the end. You're never more than five minutes from any sort of action sequence so the pacing never flags. You won't care that the plot often seems like its being made up as it goes along,since it all just carries you along. How can you not love a film where a female ninja power is to be able to appear in a bikini in order to arouse your enemy into an act of stupid lust?

This is great popcorn movie. If you get the chance see it with a big bag of popcorn and an empty mind and you'll have a great time.

(Note: reading reviews of this film at IMDB there appears that there are a couple of different versions some where the dubbing makes the bad guy the brother of the ninja instead of the betrothed; and some with no nudity and some with a few bare breasts. I have no idea which title is which version, however I don't think it will really make a difference which version you see)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The New York Asian Film Festival starts tomorrow: Here's what we're seeing


Okay you know the drill one of the BIG New York film festival's starts tomorrow. As we have since we started Unseen Films will be there.

In order to give you an idea of what you can expect from us I've prepared a list of what we've reviewed, what we have seen and are waiting to review and what we're seeing at the festival.  I'm doing this because this year there are a huge number of films, most of which are only getting a single screening. But don't worry, in all but one or two cases reviews of the films we're seeing will run a day or two before they screen.

Additionally take note of the must see films above, those are some of my most favorite films and you should be getting tickets ASAP.

WE'VE REVIEWED:
Arahan
Berlin File (and I did an interview with the director which is here)
Bullet Vanishes
A Muse
An Inaccurate Memoir (a must see- I'm going again)
Last Tycoon (A must see that I'm going to again)
The Legend is Born Ip Man
Bloody Tie(s) (A Must see on a big screen because of how it's shot)
Ruroni  Kenshin (One of the best films of the year- and I'm going again)
Unjust (One of the best films of 2011 is back. See it)


WE'VE SEEN AND HAVE REVIEWS COMING:
A Life of Ninja
Beijing Blues
Challenge of the Lady Ninja (A Must See)
Cold War
Dreams For Sale
Helter Skelter
Thermae Romae
Aberya
The Animals
Confessions of Murder (A MUST SEE)
Countdown (A MUST SEE)
Feng Shui
Rigadon
Juvenile Offender
Krishima Thing
Last Supper (If you can see this on the big screen do so- this is possibly the best looking most epic film at NYAFF)
Mystery (A Must See)
Peach Tree
Refrigerator

WE'VE GOT TICKETS TO:
Tales From the Dark Part 1
Secretly Greatly
Great War
Behind The Camera Why Mr E Went to Hollywood
Drug War
I'm Flash
Its Me Its Me
Ip Man Final Fight
Enter the Dragon
Gangster
Double Exposure
Lesson of Evil
Never Too Late to Repent
Taiwan Black Movies
When a Wolf Falls in Love With a Sheep
Woman Revenger
Young and Dangerous 1&2
Bad Movie
Hentai Kamen Forbidden Super Hero
Warped Forest
The Rooftop

I should also point out that this year sadly looks to be the first year since Unseen Films started where we can't  get to all or if not all a film short of all the titles. Life has gotten in the way and the inability for myself and the others to take off whole days from work have cut into ability to see it all.

Remeber  that not only will coverage will be here at Unseen but also at Mr C's and Chocko's PLANET CHOCKO and Mondocurry has been talking about doing some writing over at VIOLENT EYE REPORT. Not to worry though I will link to their coverage.

Please keep reading because beginning tomorrow Unseen Films is going to be the place to find out whats good, whats bad and what happened at the New York Asian Film Festival.

Arahan (2004) New York Asian Film Festival 2013


I seem to have lost the original review of Arahan so I'm reposting my IMDB review here- keep in mind this was written 8 years ago right after I saw the film for the first time.

This is the story of the Seven Masters who recruit a bumbling police officer into their group in order when its discovered that he possesses a high level of Chi. The timing is very fortuitous since an ancient enemy has awoken and is once more spreading evil in the world.

I first read about this movie when several on-line reviews said that this was destined to be the next big thing in movies. Later reviews were positive, but were less glowing noting that the film has several parts that don't fully mix together. I'm in the camp with the later reviews since I find the mixture of styles works against the parts.

I should begin with the action. If you want to see great action this is the movie for you. Hand to hand and weapons such as swords are used through out the film to great effect. Sure its done with wires and computers, but it doesn't matter since its so much fun to look at. Very often you watch the madness on screen and go "OH Cool" even though you know how its done. I loved when our hero throws a cup at the villain who catches it on the flat end of his sword, and then sends it spinning back with even more force. Amazing.(You really should try this film for the action if nothing else.) The humor in this film is both knowing and very funny. The opening round-table of the masters discussing the difficulty of training is priceless, especially if you've seen any martial arts movies. There is a nice friendly edge to it, that is mostly right on target. The problem is that our hero is often much to bumbling to be believed, especially after he's been in the training program for a while. The too slapsticky attitude is what really hurts the movie since there is no natural progression, just silliness for silliness sake (The ending for example).

The cast and the characters are great. These are people you can really root for. The villain is also suitably evil.

If you were to take all of the movies parts and look at them separately you'd be amazed at how good they all are. The problem is that when you put the bits together the film doesn't quite work together. As I said the slapstick doesn't hold up all the way through. The film is overly jokey at times, even in serious moments. Its hard to keep a light edge when characters are spewing blood and being run through with swords. It takes a bit of the love for the film away and leaves you with admire and simply like. The film also suffers from a pacing problem with slow period in the middle with the training bookended by a funny beginning and an action packed end.

Still I think you should give the movie a shot especially if you like action movies, especially when they have a humorous side to them. In all probability you're going to be like me and like this movie, but you won't love it.

A Muse ( aka Eun-Gyo) (2012) New York Asian Film Festival 2013

A controversial serialized novel became an award winning film...

The Muse, or more properly Eun-Gyo, tells the story of a famous poet of around 70 who lives a quiet life. He putters about and gets along with the help of an assistant. When the assistant, a writer in his own right, takes an assignment the poet takes in Eun-gyo, a local high school girl he had found sleeping on his patio to do some cleaning and other chores. He's smitten and inspired, however she is so much younger than him. He begins to write a novel of an imagined affair...

Solid drama largely takes things into unexpected places and is for the most part a very entertaining film. It's a great film to curl up with on a rainy afternoon.

If my feelings toward the film are not more rave worthy its because I'm unhappy with the casting. Hae-il  Park was 34 when he took on the role of the older poet. That's all well and good,and there is a reason for it, but the make up is uneven and the performance suffers because he moves like a man of 34 not 70, certainly not a 70 that needs someone to clean for him.

Reservations aside, this film is worth a trip to the Walter Reade when it plays this weekend since it represents one of the better recent dramas I've seen from Korea.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Secret Disco Revolution (2012)

Jamie Kastner's positioning  of disco  as a protest movement for black, gays and women is alternately brilliant and jaw droppingly bizarre. Quite simply I don't know if this is supposed to be taken seriously or is a joke.

Kastner's film is the history of disco from it's creation onward. Told as if it's an expose of some hidden "masterminds" looking to change the world the film is filled with great music, great talking heads and mostly great history. The core history of the musical genre is fantastic. Its all the right people talking about the music, the time and how the music changed things....

...the problem is that the stentorian academic narration coupled with the actor portrayals of "the masterminds" completely wrecks or at least seriously wounds what should have been a great film. While this should have been a great serious documentary the narration makes the film seem like it's a joke. From the moment the film begins and we hear the narration we question if we're supposed to be taking this seriously. Its clear once interviews begin we are, but the knowing narration runs roughshod over everything making it so much less than it is.

The other problem is, aside from a bad choice or narrator, is that the film's harebrained premise that the changes that disco wrought in society came from an organized secret protest is beyond stupid and completely unprovable. There was as the interviewees state there was no grand plan, only dancing and good times so any effort to say there was is completely ludicrous. this isn't to say that the music didn't change the world, it could be argued it did, but it did so accidentally without a grand plan. Frankly had Kastner made a film that charted the course of how disco changed society without the Illuminati bullshit he'd have one of the better films of the year. As it is you have to go et past the stupid narration to get an intelligent history.

If you can get past the crap narration this is worth a look.

On VOD 5/28 and in theaters 6/28

Last Tycoon (2012) NYAFF 2013

Chow Yun Fat stars as Chen Daqi a Chinese gangster in Japanese occupied Shanghai in Wong Jing's masterful The Last Tycoon. Inspired by the life of Du Yuesheng (Chen Daqi is one Yuesheng's aliases) the film is a huge epic romance cum patriotic action film about a criminal who insists on doing the right thing.

The plot of the film has Chow being the number two man to Sammo Hung in a surrounded Shanghai. Insisting that it's business as usual, they are in the French sector of the city, they carry on as best they can. Flashing back to Chow's early days we watch as he meets and falls for a young girl with aspirations to be in the Peking Opera. They are separated when he's falsely accused of killing his boss and raping his wife. Thrown into a cell he meets a gangster who allows him to go along when he escapes.  Chow becomes a gangster himself and the love of his life is the star of the Opera. The couple meet again in the occupied city and a massive game of cat and mouse between numerous factions ensues.

There's more, much more, but that should get you started. Juggling a huge cast and spectacular locations The Last Tycoon is in it's way a throw back to the huge sprawling epics of Hollywood in the late 1950's and early 60's. For a while I kind of wanted to even compare it to Casablanca but then characters turned and the plot line spun out into different directions, this film is far from Casablanca and is it's own wonderful animal.

Primarily a character driven film, almost all of the film is driven by how the characters feel for each other. Loyalty, love and hatred all play a large role in why characters do what they do. I don't think that a single character does anything for something as mercenary as money. Yes the gangsters are out to make money, but that is secondary to the action of the film, here we have characters interacting because of how they feel about the others. Even the patriotic or  not so patriotic acts are driven in some way by the desire to help or get back at someone. There is a complexity to it all that is truly astonishing in this day and age. Frankly I have rarely seen so many "major" characters drawn so well and so completely.

The cast is incredible, I should praise everyone individually but I 'm going to the two actors playing Chen Daqi. Chow Yun Fat turns his best performance in several years.  I know I said the same thing about his role in Let the Bullets Fly, but this is even better. this is Chow completely off autopilot. This is Chow giving a performance the likes of which he hasn't done in decades. All one need to is watch his face during the elevator sequence when Chow and his lost love see each other for the first time in decades and you'll realize this is a complete performance. Equally amazing is the climax of the film. Chow is simply not phoning it in.

Equally good is Xiaoming Huang as the young Daqi. He's scary good, with his performance perfectly matching Chows ticks and mannerisms to the point that you'll completely believe he and Chow are one. He's so good that it's possible that he's better than Chow because you'll remember him as Chow.

And then there is the action. There are several stunning set pieces that are sure to go down in film history. The church, or the Peking Opera sequences for example. More importantly as good as they are, you do not lose the characters, nay they actually manage to enhance the characters- think about how you feel after the tong street battle- yest its a damn cool bloody battle, but by the end we know more about several of the characters then when we went in. How many action films can claim that?

This film is a masterpiece. More importantly it's a must see film at the New York Asian Film Festival.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Jackie Chan Experience:Project A and Project A 2

This is going to be brief. I went to the Jackie Chan Experience screenings of the two Project A films. It was fun seeing the films on a big screen (Though I left early on the second one).

The evening was cool since its always fun to see who shows up. Several people related to Subway Cinema were there and I saw a couple of faces I see at Subway events. By the looks of it and based on word from the last couple of days the showing have either sold out or been damn close so if you want to see something get tickets sooner than later.

Seeing the films on the big screen for the first time I was struck by how much I was disappointed by the films. Yes they have great set pieces, but I don't think the films are overall anything special. I'm guessing the reaction was due to being on Jackie over load, but at the same time, outside of the action they are kind of forgettable- which is why I left. (I also never realized how violent the first film is with the graphic-but bloodless- stab wounds and other violence)

That said the chance to see any Jackie Chan in it's original form on a big screen -on film-a fact that was made clear by a break and fluttering picture- is a treat.

Go see something before the series ends Thursday.

PS
A Note to Lincoln Center- apparently everyone loves the Journey to the West Monkey King posters- one guy talked about stealing one- however I heard three separate conversations stating that people were looking to the animated film that was playing all July long.

Bloody Tie (2006) NYAFF 2013

Ryoo Seung-Beom stars as drug dealer and frequent informant who views it all as a business. When the local DA begins a crack down on all drug business, the detective who promised  Ryoo immunity is suspended after a bust goes wrong it leaves Ryoo screwed over and thrown in jail.  After getting out of prison  Ryoo is again approached by the detective who has returned to the force. It seems the detective wants revenge on the kingpin  who is responsible for all his troubles and he needs Ryoo to make it happen...

Blackly funny action film works largely because of the interplay between the various characters. Ryoo's conniving drug dealer is hysterical as he tries to stay out of trouble and protect the one he loves. Hwang Jung-min as the detective is equally good as a cop who is prone to wearing his sunglasses at night and doing things that are effective but the height of wrong. The collisions between cop and crook are for the most part wonderful and drive the film forward.

Unfortunately as great as the performances are the script occasionally lets them down. The problem is that the plot isn't as tight as it should be and it feels like it was made up as it went along. While it makes for a fun, if occasionally bloody ride, it also makes for a film that we aren't quite as invested in as we should be. This isn't to say that the film is bad, oh dear lord no, rather it's simply to say that the film is simply one or two steps down from being one of the best films of the year.

I do want to say that the film has several different titles the two best known  are Bloody Tie (which appears to be the the original release title) and Bloody Ties (which is how it's out on US DVD and on Netflix). The most accurate title based on what happens  in the film is Bloody Ties since everyone is some how tied to some one else. Now  I know my mentioning the film is on DVD and Netflix probably just gave the NYAFF people kittens since it means that people may not go to see it in the theater- but unless you physically can't get to the theater you MUST see this on a big screen. The film is truly made to be seen widescreen and there is frequent use of split screen  that looks just okay on a flat screen looks amazing BIG, especially at the Walter Reade.

Go see this film

Monday, June 24, 2013

Follow the Leader (2012)



It's taken me the better part of a year for me to see this film. Despite several invitations to see the film I had been unable to do so. Hell I turned down opportunities to see this at The Paley Center in New York and the IFC Center and a few other special screenings. This is a well traveled film that had until this eve of becoming available on I-Tunes and its PBS airing (it screens 6/30) had eluded me.

I mention this long chase to see the film because I know the chase, plus the discussions of the film with people who've seen it has colored my take. Despite my best efforts I'm coming in with baggage...

Following three young men, Ben, Nick and DJ, all hoping to one day become President of the United States the film documents as they wade into the political process for real and see what it really takes to run a campaign.

For me this is a kind of frightening film in that this shows what it really takes to become President. The drive and desire that has to come at an early age in order to wade into the political arena. It shows very clearly what sort of person that wants to suffer the slings and arrows to get an elected seat has to be one that can turn off and on the charm.

For me the scary thing is that these guys are so into the game of politics it's kind of hard to know if they really want to do anything other than climb up the ladder of success. Watching the film I'm left to ponder do they really want to effect some sort of social change? I think that DJ does. His waffling around around on the issues, he states at one point that he was very Republican but was shifting toward being a Democrat does want to do good  for more than himself. With Ben and Nick I'm not so sure, since both seem at times to be so slick that they would sell their grandmothers to get ahead.

I've had a couple of conversations before seeing the film about how the film is hopeful in that is shows how young people are interested in the political process. Now having seen the film I agree that is kind of the case but at the same time I'm frightened by the plastic self serving personalities the guys show. Perhaps its the fact that they are playing to the cameras coupled with their age, but there are times when the trio seems more like snake oil salesman. Perhaps I'm being overly critical and perhaps in time they will learn to fake the sincerity that makes them seem like caring human beings. For now any hope is tempered with a bit of trepidation.

Criticism of the three subjects aside this is a really good film. Its a look at the early days of three young men who one day may be running the country...and it's kind of scary. I know that many people who have seen the film have walked away from it feeling kind of hopeful, for me it was kind of scary because in the three I see a future of political candidates who are exactly mini versions of the people we have running the country. It shows how distant they can be to the real issues and real people outside of themselves.

I like that it reveals how many politicians of necessity are out of touch with the issues on all but an abstract level. Watching the guys take their positions and talk about the issues we see that they aren’t connected to anything on a real level, they are mouthing position points and not really stating their views. Part of it is the result of the fact that they are so young that they haven't had time to live, but I think a large part is that they are driving so hard to get ahead they don’t have time to really experience anything outside of the political chase...they need to be liked and say something to get you to their side.

One also gets a weird glimpse in the weird split between the guys as they promote themselves as political animals, and then the young men at home who think that say collecting political memorabilia and autographs like baseball cards is cool. Somewhere in the split one begins to understand how so many politicians get into trouble when their private life invades their public.

No matter  what your take is on politics, I think you should take the time to see this film. Its an important look at how and why we get the politicians we do.  As I said at the top it's on ITunes tomorrow and PBS on the 30th.

The Legend is Born: Ip Man(2010) New York Asian Film Festival

Yu-Hang To who looks like a very young Donnie Yen  stars as Ip Man in this prequel to the Donnie Yen films. Covering the life of Ip man from his enrollment in a Wing Chung school until the approximate time of the first Donnie Yen

By turns a romance, a philosophical dissertation,action film, nationalistic tract, sibling rivalry tale and a few other things this film is a good but very uneven film. Its almost as if a film twice as long as this was intended and then they cut it down to 100 minutes chopping out little connecting bits that would have made the story great. The simple answer is that the film bites off more than it can chew....but oh my what it bites off

Reservations aside when this film is firing on all cylinders it really kicks ass with a series of truly great fights. Probably the best of the bunch occurs about a third of the way into the film when Ip man meets an ancient druggist who is himself a master. From there there are a series of fights, the most spectacular of which is a long battle between lots of Japanese with and various opponents. Even though it employs heavy use of wire work which really wasn't in heavy evidence previously, the film is sure to make you go WOW repeatedly.

The cast is incredible with Yu Hang To as Ip Man leading the way. While not playing things as calm and cool as Donnie Yen's pass at the character he does manage to get the intensity of Yen fighting in his prime say Dragon, SPL or Flash Point. The rest of the cast just as good, though anyone wanting to see Sammo Hung  should make sure not to miss the first ten minutes, because he's gone by then.

Definitely worth seeing at NYAFF when it runs Saturday

A look at Paul McCarthy's dog and pony show WS at The Park Avenue Armory


The overused publicity picture
I went to see what publicists will tell you is a show so shocking that no one under 17 will be admitted. Its suppose to have graphic and shocking things that may upset people...it has none of that. Its rather tame and boring unless you don't get out much.

The one thing I'm upset about is that I got suckered into paying to see it. Okay, yes, it was part of a subscription but jeeze, I could have gone to see a couple of Jackie Chan movies for what it cost, and I won't even get into the time it took to get there, back and go through the installation-it's time I will never get back.

Let me cut to the chase and say up front do yourself a favor and don't go. If you haven't bought tickets don't and if you do have tickets give them to some one you really hate...

WS is a riff  on Snow White or more specifically Disney's incarnation of it. I've read some of the bull crap stuff that was fed to the press by artist Paul McCarthy where he says its a meditation on fairy tales as well as American Myths and icons.. Yeah and I'm a blonde size 2 swimsuit model on the cover of Sports Illustrated...The only fairy tale in evidence here is Snow White and the only American icon is Walt Disney who is represented by the character McCarthy plays in the films called Walt Paul (though he looks more like a portly waiter than Disney).

No, wait that's not right this isn't a riff on Snow White but rather it's the wholesale rip off of anyone dumb enough to go and the Park Avenue Armory who mistakenly foot the bill for this. What I mean by that is that there is nothing behind anything we see. There simply no substance to any of it, unless you read the interviews which explain it all for you, at which point you'll be confused at how such a large under taking could have such small ideas.   Besides, why should I have to read on it? Art should speak for itself, it shouldn't have to be explained.

(I need to say at this point tat all my vitriol is directed at Paul McCarthy and not the Armory. I can't blame them since they didn't create the art)

I freely admit that it was my own fault for going to see this. I really wasn't interested in going, I was going to blow off the tickets, but the last week or so of press coverage piqued my curiosity. Of course I should have known I was in for a bad time when one thing I read said that McCarthy once threw up all over a classroom and called it art.

Walking into the armory the first thing I noticed was how empty it was. I've never been to an Armory show that had this few people milling around. This was not a good sign.

I picked up my tickets and then I wandered around the entry hall.  I saw the gift shop which is full of Disney Snow White crap, the freezer of Snow White dolls, a room with a vast model of the installation (remember this, I'll come back to it), there is a room where a recording of McCarthy talking about the piece plays (which a couple people were using to to make cell phone calls from because it was the most quiet place with chairs) and there is a  room where there are costumes were set out to look over while a film involving McCarthy's Walt Paul character and Snow White in a real forest played.

I didn't know what any of this was  and I figured what was in the drill hall would put it into context, I headed inside....

At either end of the drill hall hang four huge screens the seven hour (yes seven hours) The Feature: The Armory Cut which is the tale of Snow White from four points of view on  four screens simultaneously. What I mean by this is we watch as four cameras record each event. I tried to ignore the screens which kind of draw in your attention thanks to their size and loud sound (Snow White was moaning-don't ask what she was doing) and instead headed to the first part of the installation- a recreation of a tract house  where we look in on the carnage left behind. Snow White and the Prince lay dead on the floor of a living room. There is garbage and signs of a drunken orgy all around. Walking around the outside of the house you look in through windows and small holes cut into the walls. You can only see bits of  each room. For something as big as it is there is very little you actually see, mostly garbage in empty rooms.  If you wander around long enough you will eventually find  a Walt Paul mannequin hog tied over a bucket of apples with a broom jammed up his bottom so far its sticking out his mouth. (It's not that shocking since it looks more plastic than real)

All of this is presented with out any context which makes it vexing and kind of pointless. I had no idea  what it all meant but it was clear that it took a great deal to make. There was nothing deep in any of it, I mean its garbage filled empty rooms with a trio of fake corpses, whats the deep meaning? Looking up at the screens above me I realized that perhaps it would mean something if I had seven hours to watch the whole feature. I mean after seven hours it would explain everything right? Maybe, but then again I was not in the mood to try and find out since what I was seeing over the house was unremarkable- and I'd have to pretty much stand for the whole seven hours.

After the house I wanted to see the forest. What you could be glimpse over the house looked really cool- the trouble was once I walked toward it I realized  you really can't see it. You can see the outside of it but you  can't see into it. Granted, there are two tiny paths that allow you minimal access to it, but its not enough to see anything.  Complicating things further is the whole forest about three or four feet off the ground so you're looking up at it (see below).
The raised forest and the short walk in
Now I need to state that as part of the installation you can go up on the walk ways or balconies that are on the sides of the drill hall. While it is really really cool to be up there, you can't see much from up there since the forest is so far way and the trees are so high you can't see anything. Basically they've built a fantasy forest, which would be impressive if you could see it, but you can't since you're kept at a distance.

My question is why build the thing is no one is going to see it? Actually that's not right, this is the set the movie was filmed in, so the real question is why did you bring it here if we can't look at it?

Now remember I said something about the model? Being up on the walkways, hell walking though much of the exhibit gives you the same view as you see when you look at the model in the outer room, only the real thing is bigger, especially true since you are not allowed to go anywhere  near the model (you're three to four feet away).

After looking everything from above, and watching a chunk of the main hall feature (Snow White was meeting the Dwarfs at this point- "you're Humpy") I went to see the nine films that were showing in "the bunkers" under the balconies. These films involved sequences happening within the house and the forest at various times.  They make up some of the most pretentious crap I've ever seen.  I mean I saw things like
  • Walt Paul twirling in a kitchen while Snow White cooks
  • Snow White chopping up veggies while pretending they were Paul's penis
  • Snow White giving surrogate head to a boom mic held by Paul (This goes on for 15 minutes)
  • Prince Charming screwing a love doll (There is over an hour of this)
  • Snow White masturbating in the forest
  • Snow White having lesbian sex with another Snow White
  • A naked Snow White reclining on a couch and talking to Paul as if she were his mother
Most of what I saw made me laugh out loud which made the people watching the confused movies more confused.

Wandering outside I saw  that on the big screens some sort of proto-sexual rumpus was occurring between the dwarfs and Snow White and then everyone went to bed only to wake up and do morning things. It went on from there...

Somewhere about that time I had had enough. I walked out of the Armory because my jaw was tied from hanging open from the stupidity of it all. 

My over riding reaction to it all was REALLY???? You really think this is serious?

I couldn't, and still don't see the point of anything in the show. I say this with the addendum that I've since read things on the show which explains things and I still don't get it, nor do I buy it. Whats the point?

Walking to the subway I called up my friend Lou and told him I was unhappy he didn't go with me since there was no one to make fun of it with. On the other hand it just wasn't worth the effort to schlep all the way there.

To me the whole thing is an example of why so much modern art gets a bad name. It's the work of a guy with technical talent (or the ability to buy it) and the greater skill to be able to sell people, who should know better, some real crap. There is talk of deep meaning, but there isn't any beyond the alleged intentions of the artist to make some money.

Nothing in the multiple  films or the exhibition covers any new ground or even remotely clever ideas.If there were any ideas on display and not in the notes I never saw it. It's like watching a too clever for words art student make "deeply meaningful" erotica by dressing it up with Disney images and big noses...hell if it wasn't for the damn Snuffy Smith noses that everyone has this could be called weak art porn. Nothing that is promised is on display, which in this case is a deconstruction of American myth and fairy tales.

Frankly if  you want to see better deconstruction of fairy tales (and better erotica) see some of the adult and semi-adult films turned out in the 1970's such as  Bill Osco's Alice In Wonderland musical or Fairy Tales. Actually you might do better with some of the more recent adult films being since some of the directors know how to walk the fine like between parody and pretensions.

If you're looking for a deconstruction of American myths how about trying the old stand by South Park? Matt Parker and Trey Stone demolish everything week after week in half an hour and do it more cleverly than Paul McCarthy does it in seven plus hours and a huge installation.  (Start with the Imaginationland episodes which cover all sides of the debate in one 80 minute package)

As for the notion of the films that make up the show are shocking, its dead nuts wrong. Having watched chunks of all of the films it's clear that McCarthy doesn't know from shocking. He's operating on the level of a sheltered twelve year old who doesn't really know how to transgress but id trying anyway. Watching the films I was reminded of the cage rattling Sweet Movie by  Dušan Makavejev. That film pushes every button and then some.  Makavejev pushes things as far as he can by including a sequence with Therapy Commune involving bodily fluids in ways I won't get into (and if you really want your buttons pushed further I have 2 DVDs of the Commune's short films I could show you)

Comparing art film /installation to an art film/ installation  I realize that the only thing that WS only can be compared to is Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle. That monstrous sequence of film and artifacts dwarfs this exhibition in so many ways. Comparing Cremaster  to WS is like comparing the Sistine Chapel to a stick figure. You can't do it, one is a work of art, the other isn't. While I have issues with Cremaster and Barney,  it's  clear Barney has a brain and some unique ideas, and even if he is conning us sometimes, he  puts out some amazing works of art (pick any of the sequences that work in Cremaster's third segment). I can't say that about McCarthy.

In the end one question remains: What is WS and why are we being asked to see it? Despite my best efforts I still don't know. I keep looking at some of the promo stills and and reading the promo blurbs and I keep wondering where the hell are all the things they promised? I don't have a clue. I do think the films are what McCarthy was aiming at and he only brought the house and forest along  because the Armory would be empty without them.

I know someone might say that I didn't see it all., they will say I don't get it because I didn't see enough. I wandered around for an hour or so and then left.  I mean several people were sitting in the main hall seemingly in for the long haul. Perhaps they will see enough to really judge the piece. Maybe I need to see more. Maybe not.

While I freely admit that I did not watch it all, I have to ask what is enough? Think about it- the main film is seven hours long plus the additional films run another fifteen or so hours. That's twenty two total hours, that's at least four trips to the armory. While I will concede that there may, possibly, perhaps, be something worth seeing in the twenty two plus hours of material, based on the hour plus of what I saw, there was no sign of it anywhere. It still could be there somewhere but I don't have that much time to throw away on something that probably doesn't exist...

I think the most apt thing I can say about WS is that with its installation the Armory is like most of the rooms in the tract house- completely empty except for some garbage.

 If you're smart ignore the show and go for a walk instead.
The woods are lovely dark and deep but I'd rather go home and sleep

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A New York Asian FIlm Festival Cheat Sheet

Just a quick reminder that with the New York Asian FIlm Festival starting Friday the next couple of weeks is going to be pretty much just coverage of the festival. There will be some other films in the mix, but by and large we'll be covering the films and events that are happening at Lincoln Center and the Japan Society.

Unlike years past we won't be flooding you with 900 reviews up front , rather We're starting with some reviews of films that we had on DVD. This will then give way to daily film reviews that are in advance of their festival screenings  plus reports from the festival itself.

We've seen half the films screening, we have another 22 plus films we're seeing at the festival.-plus we're going to a good number of films again because they demand to be seen big.

The early cheat sheet of films you should try to see is:
MYSTERY
DRUG WAR
LAST SUPPER (this is a a must see on the big screen)
COUNTDOWN
CONFESSION OF MURDER (Peter has tweeted that this is his pick for THE summer film of 2013 and he's right)
CHALLENGE OF LADY NINJA
AN INACCURATE MEMOIR
LAST TYCOON (I'm seeing this again because it's a great film)
BLOODY TIE (This requires a big screen)
RUROUNI KENSHIN (One of the best films I've seen this year and I'm going again)

And keep in mind, most of the films are only getting a single screening so you have to go when they are playing. (The single screenings is the reason we're not covering every film)

I'll have a complete list of what we've seen and what we're seeing later in the week.

AI (2001 )

Stanley Kubrick started work on AI with scifi great Brian Aldiss decades ago but he abandoned the project when he discovered that the visual effects industry hadn’t reached the ability to put what he was dreaming on screen. As Eyes Wide Shut was winding down Kubrick began to turn his attention back to the project since Hollywood could at last literally make his dreams a reality. Sadly Kubrick passed away before he could return to the film.

Fortunately for us Steven Spielberg picked up the gauntlet or at least the script and in tribute to his late friend, made AI a reality.

The film is a variation on Pinocchio, with an android child turned out into the world and effectively looking for his family. His guiding principle is a blue fairy, much like in the book, though in the film it’s something a tad darker.

For my money this is one of the best films Spielberg ever made simply because it doesn’t feel like a Spielberg film. For me the best films that the master director has made are the ones that don’t feel like everything else he did. I despise that such a great filmmaker frequently takes short cuts and riffs on himself. More often than not he turns out films that can be identified as belonging to him Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, The Indiana Jones Films, Schindler’s List, and 1941 all feel like they were made by the man. Things like Empire of the Sun, Lincoln and AI don’t.

I love that watching the film I can’t tell who the man behind the curtain is which means that for me the film is not one that I can really second guess. The film has a coldness to it that is perfectly in keeping with the work of Kubrick but which is nowhere to be found in any of Spielberg’s films. I think the fact that the film is so incredibly cold and clinical is what keeps the film out of the hearts of many people who will admit to admiring the film more than liking it.

For me the film is a near perfect film for the first two hours, the problem is that the film begins a slide to a conclusion through a series of seemingly never ending conclusions. More simply put the film ends about four times in the final half hour, with the actual ending nowhere near as good as the “Blue Fairy” one that is one of the first endings.

I completely understand why the film doesn’t end with the Blue Fairy. It’s not a happy ending, even if it is the right one. It’s so good that I’ve gotten into the habit now of turning off the film when the film fades out at that point. Actually the point of this piece is to say that when you get the chance to finally see or see AI again, turn off the film when you get to the Blue Fairy. Just turn off the film and go on with your life. Sure it’s not happy as the later endings but that’s where the film has to end. It must, its right, emotionally that’s the end. Trust me you’ll agree with me…just do it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sacrifice (1986)

In what is possibly Andre Tarkovsky’s most accessible film the filmmaker asks us what we would give to save what we love. It’s a simple question that Tarkovsky spins off in several interesting ways.

I’m a big fan of Tarkovsky’s. I love several of his films (Andre Rubelev, Solaris, this film) , I like some (Stalker) and others I’m not too sure about. Even in the case of the films I’m not sure about I find that I return to them because they trigger thoughts feelings and god knows what else with each viewing. Tarkovsky’s films make me a participant in a dialog with the filmmaker. It may not always lead to anything but it always engages me.

With the Sacrifice we have a family away in the country. The world ends, or at least heads that way and our hero is forced to bargain with god in order to save everyone he loves. What makes the film interesting is that the main character isn’t particularly a believer or a non-believer, he is a man. His deal with god seems to cover from hopelessness and helplessness at saving his family.

As with most of Tarkovsky's films the story or the film itself is starting point for a discussion. I've screened The Sacrifice with several different friends and the discussions that the film starts- usually lasting for days afterward- go far and wide with the film frequently falling into the background.

I am haunted by the film, While it is not a film I carry with me completely (where I can conjure images and lines of dialog at the drop of a hat), The Sacrifice is always with me not so much as something I carry but as part of me and my psyche. I think I don't remember much of the film simply because it is something that that is me, much like say the back of my hand is.

Everyone should try this film at least once. You may not like it, it may not mean anything to you, but at the same time if it clicks with you it maybe come something truly special.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pictures of some Planet of the Apes props are at Tumblr

I posted some pictures of some props from the Planet of the Apes films over at our Tumblr page. I took a whole bunch of them but because they were set up in a dark space with a deliberate kind of lighting to protect them from breaking down, not all of them came out as well as I hoped.  Go here to see the ones I've posted.

Animalypics (1980)

Once in heavy rotation on cable, especially in Olympic years, Animalypics is a way cleverer than you think it should be look at the animal Olympics. Featuring the voices of Billy Crystal, Gilda Radner and Harry Shearer the film is the work of Steven Lisberger who if I remember correctly is a damn funny man.

The relatively plotless film simply follows/sends up various Olympic sporting events from both the winter and summer games. There are a few through lines such as the disappearance of skier Kurt Woofner who has gone off to find enlightenment and the romance between two long distance runners, but mostly it’s black outs and quick sketches like the Calamari Brothers Bobsledders or the elephant who does gymnastics. The humor is both slapstick and extremely clever. It wasn’t until I sat down to watch the film for the first time in about 5 or more years that I realized exactly how well written the film is. The jokes pertaining to the sports and politics and life are the sort of things that well informed sports fans with broad interests would write. The writing is also the sort of thing that we don’t get much these days namely the sort of thing that works on multiple levels with obvious jokes for the kids, clever bits for their parents and really funny stuff for people in the know.

Probably the only realy draw back to the film is that some of the caricatures of famous people will go over the heads of younger audiences, they won’t get the Kissinger reference and the Keith Jackson or Howard Cosell riffs may go over their heads… on the other hand this is a damn funny movie and I found that when it ended I started it all over again just so I can see some things that really made me laugh.

Definitely worth tracking down. (I don’t think the film has an official release on DVD however there is a fan made special edition with some explanatory extras floating around on the collectors market – See All Clues No Solutions in the sidebar)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Maniac (2012)

Remake of the William Lustig helmed sleaze fest stars Elijah Wood as Frank Zito a nice guy with mother issues and a thing for mannequins with human scalps.

The original film was a sick wake up call to horror lovers that opened with a sequence that not only blew away make up man Tom Savini in a cameo, but also the audience who weren't prepared for that level of graphic violence (I was there on opening night I heard the audience screaming in disbelief and horror), while the new film has an opening sequence that made many in the audiences audibly gasp, the new film goes for a different kind of horror and so really can't be compared to what went before.

The film follows Wood’s Frank as he becomes more and more unhinged roughly a year after the death of his mother. Trolling the streets he seizes women, scalps them and attached them to the mannequins which he restores. He finds solace in the attention of Anna, a photographer who is attracted to the uniqueness of the  mannequins. However the fly in the ointment are the warring sides of Frank personality. Will he find sanity with Anna?

Not bloody likely.

More sleazy than scary and more unpleasant than frightening, this film has a disturbing undercurrent that is hard to dismiss. Even as you’re laughing at the film, part of the film is working on your psyche and making you feel very uneasy. Its this sense of unease that lifts the film up from its numerous flaws to make it a film that is worth at least trying and better than it has any right to be.

To be completely honest, objectively as unsettling as the film is it isn’t very good. As I said above the first person POV is distraction and far from fair. Frequently we are not really looking where Wood would be and the angles are not always right. There is also a large problem in that the distance where Wood is supposed to be doesn’t match up to where the people around him are. For example in the opening sequence I doubt very much that the girl would not sense or hear Wood standing inches from her. It’s not believable. Actually the whole POV thing pulls the film down, and had they just shot this conventionally it would have played better.

Equally troublesome is the script which seems to be walking the fine line between horror and unintentional comedy. The POV structure of the film effectively removes Wood from the film, despite our always being with him,  and leaves only his vocal performance, which isn't enough to over come the stilted dialog and questionable sequences. It must be noted that Wood is excellent and creepy as Frank, and when we can actually see him he’s heartbreaking and sad, but without the visual cues that a full body performance gives the purple prose and the you only hear this sort of thing in a horror film nature of the dialog makes it all very silly.

I’d like to smack the writer and director for coming up with several sequences that make zero sense (even allowing for the internal nature of the film). In one of the most flagrant sequences Wood sees a woman doing acrobatics in a window and goes inside the building. He then hides in a locker when the woman turns and leaves, he’s suddenly outside the building following her and her friends way too closely. He then stalks her into the subway and into a station where he falls way behind, yet manages to catch up? It makes zero sense.

To be honest, most of the film doesn’t makes any sense- and yet the film sits with you. It sets up shop in your belly and makes you feel unwell. Standing outside of the screening a couple of us were talking. We all had reservations but none of us could shake the film and the feeling that the film had kicked us in the gut. It’s as if someone spiked our drinks with some sort of toxin. The result of the film making is you feel something, really feel something this film. This puts it, despite its serious flaws, above the heap of most of the other horror films being churned out today. Hell writing this up some 24 hours after seeing the film I can still feel the unease that accompanied my train ride home.

Worth the time to see it.

(For those wondering about the gore, there is some, mostly scalping. If memory serves its less violently graphic that the original)