Monday, November 30, 2015

The Lady In The Van (2015)

Just as Miss Shepherd came for three months and stayed for 15 years her story and her legacy has haunted writer Alan Bennett for almost 30 years. The film version of THE LADY IN THE VAN is Bennett’s fourth or fifth stab at the material. The story originally appeared in The London Review of Books. It was updated with information from Miss Shepherd’s family and published as book a short time later. Bennett then turned it into an award winning play and a radio adaption before turning it into a movie (all starring Maggie Smith). With all these reiterations of the tale it would seem that despite all of his protestations Miss Shepard really is his old lady.

For those unfamiliar with the story, THE LADY IN THE VAN is the true story of Alan Bennet’s interaction with the Miss Shepherd a cranky old homeless woman who lived in a van which is parked on various streets in Camden in London. Everyone in the neighborhood knew her, she would randomly pick steets and houses to live in font of claiming divine inspiration, and in a weird way accepted her despite her driving them up the wall at times. When her van was threatened with being towed off the street Bennett agreed to let miss Shepherd park it in his drive way. It was supposed to be for a couple of months, it lasted fifteen years.

I have been moved by Bennett’s story ever since my aunt sent me a news print copy so many years ago. I’ve reread the account any number of times and been moved greatly each time. My love of the piece is so bad that every time I say or think the word “Possibly” I hear what I think is Miss Shephard’s voice. When Maggie Smith was announced to staring the play I was thrilled since she was who I had in my head as the perfect person to play the cantankerous old lady. When the film’s release was announced for this December I was thrilled. While many people were looking forward to Star Wars I was looking forward to star turns.

If you walk in off the street to see the film you may find some of it rather odd. The film is very much a film and not a straight recounting of the tale rather it’s a meta-exercise in storytelling with two Alan Bennett’s who frequently break the fourth wall to address the audience (One Bennett is the one who lives life and the other is the one who records it). Bennett is clearly telling the story and he makes sure we are aware that portions of the film are made up as the Alan Bennett’s argue about made up sequences. (A bit toward the end had several people at the press screening rolling their eyes since they felt it came from movie and made it less real- of course they had no problem with the multiple Bennetts and breaking of the fourth wall as they were equally realistic)

Maggie Smith gives an acting masterclass. Fully inhabiting the person of Miss Shepherd it’s hard to imagine anyone else being her, even the real Miss Shepherd. One of he keys here is Smith’s use of the her eyes. Watching the film you get the sense of a whole life going on behind them. In the last half hour as when Miss Shepherd goes to the day center your heart breaks not because of anything overt but from the small facial tics that almost might be joy at the prospect of a bath or a piano. And while the weight of her words in the simple line to Bennett that it was okay to take her hand because it was clean, shattered me into a million pieces not for what was said or how but for the desperate need behind the eyes for actual human contact. Additionally one need only watch the shift in how she holds her body when being lifted into the ambulance to see the regalness beneath the filth that Bennett mentions. Watch when it happens- really watch it- and you realize it’s an ever so slight shift in her posture and altering of her eyes and expression  that nails it(It had me murmuring audibly). She doesn't seem to move but somehow she does (I think).

Smith’s performance is one of the greatest I’ve ever seen and it’s a shame that all the Oscar talk is not focusing on this tour de force by an acting pro but the workman like of young women who don’t really know what true acting it. Mark my word if Smith isn’t honored at years end with in five years people will realize the mistake.

While all the attention will go to Smith it has to be pointed out that Alex Smith as two of the Alan Bennetts is scary good. I’ve seen Bennett is numerous interviews and he has it down-so down in fact that when the real Alan Bennett rides into the film had to do a double take as to whom I was seeing.

As a film unto itself, LADY IN THE VAN is really good. I suspect that my opinion of the film is affected by the baggage I carried in. I have quibbles but they are purely the esult of being so aware of the story and other versions of it. I know my feelings for the film are going to strengthen over time as I revisit the film over and over again and the film is no longer compared to what I expected after however many years of Miss Shepherd around with me. Don't forget the film is frequently laugh out loud funny and incredibly touching. I cried several times during it often not long after roaring with laughter..

In thinking about the film between seeing it and writing this piece I’ve come to realize that it is a much richer telling of the story. The addition of more information about Bennett’s own life from his relationship with his deteriorating mother to his sexuality adds a great deal to the complexity of the film. I like that Bennett has crafted a film that spins the story into being more than just a recounting of an intriguing yarn and instead becomes a meditation about kindness, human nature, the relationship of mothers and sons and faith. The layering of additional material makes me feel that the film is less biography but instead an honest and true drama in its own right. I know some of these changes come from the play but at the same time the play’s structure was a theatrical construct, but I think now Bennett has finally managed to weave it all together into a package that will live on for decades to come.  The title at beginning of the film being based on a mostly true story is correct.

I really like the film a great deal. I suspect down the road and two or three more viewings I’m going to love it.

LADY IN THE VAN opens Friday in New York and LA for a week long Oscar qualifying run. It opens wide in January

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Nightcap 11/29/15- the annual pause begins, cinematic Russian Roulette and Randi's links

The film year has deflated and is packed up like the worlds biggest rubber duck now we have to get ready for 2016

The pin is pulled and we are now on the down slope to the New Year. Look for a flood of new films in theaters and for Unseen Films to drift back to older titles as we play catch up with everything.

Personally I’m looking forward to getting my life back and just chilling. Well not chilling so much as clearing the crap of the last 10 months. I have tons of laundry to do, piles of books and press notes to sort and pitch and friends to reconnect with. Somewhere along the way I’ve lost a few friends simply because I was so busy doing Unseen that I couldn’t make time for them and they ran off into the night.(They may have been kidnapped by aliens I believe I got a frantic text from Chocko saying something to that effect)

As it stand now we have little that we’ve actually said we’d cover so much of the next few weeks are going to be whatever the hell we want to share with you. There is going to be a bunch of new releases this week, some Cannon films releases around Christmas and a bunch of reposts. As things stand now I’m trying to put together a long gestating project involving an overview of Peter Greenaway films for January. I’m also toying doing a month of films on the order of the month of Zatoichi that we did two years ago.

But keep reading because at this point I don't know whats going to be coming (well this week a whole bunch of new releases and after that who the hell knows)
Typically- Give me time with no need to review anything and I'll start going through the piles of DVDs I collect. I literally have piles of film of stuff I'm handed from people who know I'll watch anything, stuff I ordered or, my favorite, stuff from discount dollar bins- sure they aren't always a dollar but films for a couple of bucks with no cover just a cardboard or paper sleeve are things I can't resist. Its the cinematic equivalent  of playing Russian roulette- you never know what you're going to get so you could hit the jackpot or hit the eject button.

Since I've been so busy lately I really had no clue what to watch on Thanksgiving eve, I simply reached into the pile and started to watch things at random...

ACOD (2013)
A man with severe problems as a result of his parents divorce has to contend with his parents coming together for his brothers wedding and the discovery he was secretly part of a program to study children of divorce. Meh film has moments but is too mannered to be much of anything.

Characters similar to those in the HANGOVER are forced to participate in HUNGER GAMES like tournament against other movies. Stupid ass mash up has some laughs but is not something you ever want to admit to paying for. I paid 2 bucks for a DVD and should probably be laughed at because of it.

You like the first film? Then you'll like this. More of the same for the ten year old crowd.

Soldier in Vietnam is dumped by his girlfriend risks going AWOL to sneak back home during leave to win her back. If you like trashy romances you'll love this.

White kids wants to get on the basketball team  because he thinks it will make him seem black. WTF film misses the mark despite some moments.

Space scavengers find some alien technology and are pursued by people wanting to possess it. Good looking low budget scifi is perfect late night popcorn fare. Not high art but in the right frame of mind highly entertaining.

TAMMY (2014)
I haven't seen many, if any at all, Melissa McCarthy films but this film is so bad I never want to see another. I threw the DVD so hard it stuck in the wall

And Now some links from the one the only Randi:

female gladiators
the darkside of toy story
Oz in disrepair
The legendary Palace theater is moving-up
The Japanese censor their f-ing sale

And from John
The difference between Spielberg and Kubrick

All About E (2015)

E is a hot shot DJ in a gay club. She breezes through life getting any girl she wants. One morning she wakes up to discover that she has some how picked up a bag of money. Her best friend, and faux husband Matt wants to give the money back but E talks him out of it  with thoughts of opening their own club. However the pair soon end up on the run as her boss wants his money back, and will stop at nothing to get it back. The pair end up fleeing into the out back and to the home of E's great love who has very mixed emotions about E's return.

Good time passer is enjoyable more for the characters than the plot. Writer Director Louise Wadley has fashioned some rather complex characters with none of the three principles, E, Matt or E's love Trisha being simplified romantic comedy characters. Wadley gets many bonus points for daring to make a film where you really don't don't like the main character for a third to half of the films run time.  E really is a screw up who's blustering through life really has reduced bits of her life to ash.

The problem with the film comes in the plotting.Instead of just being a complex and adult romantic comedy drama Wadley throws in the bag of money. While it does act as a catalyst for the events to transpire it also cause friction since the "crime" sequences are not as strong as the interpersonal ones and the characters attached to it such as Johnny, E's boss, are no where near as well drawn. I kept wanting the film go go back to watching the two women crash into each other.

I like ALL ABOUT E, but I'm really annoyed because there is some truly great stuff here and I wanted to love the film. However despite not loving the film I do recommend this nice little confection because the good ultimately out weighs the bad and you'll really want to see this.

ALL BOUT E hits DVD, Bluray and VOD on Tuesday and is worth a look.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

In Brief: Grace of Monaco (2015)

Troubled biography of Grace Kelly during a key moment in the history of Monaco is an enjoyable time passer.

The plot of the film has Grace Kelly wrestling with the place she belongs. The battle within her is brought to the forefront as Alfred Hitchcock comes calling looking to see if she'll star in a film called MARNIE. Meanwhile France is looking to annex Monaco and if Grace doesn't help the country might disappear.

Well made and well acted film is an odd one to have been at the center of all the controversy swirling around it. Made from a script from the Blacklist of 2011 (best un-produced scripts) the film ended up being the opening movie of the Cannes Film Festival but ended up not getting a speedy release because the Weinstein organization wanted changes. Battles ensued and in the US the film ended up cut for a third time before it ended up on the Lifetime channel.

As it stands now the film is a good if slightly trashy look at an an old Hollywood actress. Its the cinematic equivalent of a pulp novel. Its full of good looking rich people and faux famous people. Think of it as a popcorn film for those who love TMZ or any of the TV gossip shows.

Is it high art? Oh hell no. Its just entertainment. And I do mean it's just entertainment since the film has very little in common history.

If you like gossip and trashy novels and you haven't seen this when it ran on Lifetime you may want to give the film a shot when it hits home video Tuesday

Friday, November 27, 2015

Crappy movies for after Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving over we move from turkeys to just plain crappy

Way too talky film concerns a woman looking for her missing brother in post war Japan.She gets mixed up with an ex-service man about three feet taller than her (no really he's huge). It all goes wrong- for both the characters and the audience.

Weakly acted, cheaply made the whole thing is set bound. Little actually happens. Its mostly talk. I got bored real fast. I wouldn't have cared but it just isn't good or bad enough to enjoy.

SHOCK (197-) (aka Beyond the Door 2)
Mario Bava's more or less final film is a major disappointment. While not quite a turkey it is, as the title of this post says, crappy. The plot of the film has a mother, her new husband and her son moving into a house. Things are going along fine for a while until the son begins to talk to and become possessed by his dead dad. An occasional great shock moment aside  (the son running to the mother changing into the dead father kicks ass, especially when you consider it was done without computers and took multiple takes to get right) this film is a turkey. The special effects are uneven, the performance by the actor playing the son is uneven and the plot twists are WTF material.  By the time the film ended I was roaring with laughter. This is just not a good film.

Bad found footage film about the Bell Witch (a supposed real ghost) trying to come back. The footage is in desperate need of an editor and some one to point the camera at something so we can actually see it.
Pure crap.

Top billed Corey Feldman is in this for just over a minute. Another evil entity tries to cross over this time at a haunted house Halloween attraction. Apparently it was filmed at a real scare park. They should have filmed a trip through its confines instead of giving us this crappy story.

Jaw droppingly awful western has a show girl saddling up and taking on bandit terrorizing a western town. Words can't describe this film.  How bad is it? There is a musical number in the old west where a piano, a banjo and a guitar sound like rock band with electric instruments and a full horn section. The mind boggles. Films like this are why I hated westerns for years

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A menu of bad zombie movies for Thanksgiving

Zombie Hunter with Danny Trejo
It does have it all
Over acting, bad acting, bad special effects, non-sequitir, stereo typical characters (The guy who thinks he is tough, the tough guy who puts him in his place. The girl trying to pull off tough and fails. Bad special effects. Stupid news people.
It's either a bad movie or an attempt to make a bad movie that is just bad.

Zombie Diaries 2
Five years after the first film showed us video diaries charting the start of a zombie outbreak this film follows a bunch of survivors as they make their way across England. Enough with the found footage, the film is completely wrecked by the constant camera motion and the camera not showing us anything.

Nightmare City
Atomic zombies run about killing people and drinking their blood. And I do mean run about so the idea that the 28 Days films created running zombies is hogwash. This Umberto Lenzi monstrosity has things set in motion when a military plane lands at a civilian airport and disgorges its contents of irradiated zombies. Making no sense whats so ever the film grows tedious rather quickly as beautiful shots (the running lawn mower crossing the lawn) mix with horrible makeup (some people appear to have fright masks) and special effects (that's not blood that's paint). There is no real plot just a series of loosely connected incidents. Watching the film recently I realized that over the previous 35 years I'd never seen the film all the way to the end, turning it off somewhere along the way. Put this on my all time worst list.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

GENUINE A TALE OF A VAMPIRE (aka Tragedy of a Vampire aka Tragedy of a Room aka...) (1920)

Robert Wiene's follow up to THE CABINET OF DR CALAGARI was GENUINE A TALE OF A VAMPIRE it was and is one of the most god awful messes I've run across.

The plot of the film has something about Genuine coming to life out of a book or painting (depending on the version) and running off . She then becomes a high priestess somewhere, is taken prisoner by a rival tribe who sells her into slavery. She is then bought by an old man who keeps her locked up. Various people fall under her spell. The old man is killed, Genuine treats everyone badly and then the towns people all come in and kill her.

WTF doesn't begin to describe it. I was watching the version put out by Alpha Video but was so confused I started doing research only to find that what I thought was the plot was more or less the plot give or take some details.

Considered a bomb when it was first released I'm absolute saddened that this piece of crap has survived the last century when other films were lost to the sands of time.

Avoid this one at all costs.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Its Alive (1969) Thanksgiving Turkey

This is a Larry Buchanan disaster about a fish-man kept alive by a farmer who kidnaps people to feed it.

Yes friends another film from Buchanan a man who's awful (and therefore often wonderful) movies scarred generations. Buchanan was a man who would make a film on any subject for a buck. Usually he'd take something from the headlines (say the JFK assassination or Bonnie and Clyde) and turn it in to weird little films (His Beyond the Doors about Jimi Hendrix Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison has to be seen to be believed). In the mid 1960's he was asked to make a bunch of quick films for TV syndication. Doing what any exploitation filmmaker would do, he remade several Roger Corman and AIP films from the 50's with out credit. When the syndication package fell apart the films ended up in theaters.

This was based on a script from AIP that was never filmed. Its got lots of stilted dialog, lots of voice-overs and scenery shots and a monster suit from another movie.

Its awful.And if you're disposed to liking bad films somewhat enjoyable.

Bad movie fans can give it a shot. All others avoid it like the plague.

Monday, November 23, 2015

No Escape (2015)

Owen Wilson and his family go to South East Asia for Wilson's new job. They almost instantly run into the middle of a coup. Worse they are being hunted by the bad guys because his company is felt to be trading "water for blood".

Arriving in theaters in late August and disappearing after a week or two NO ESCAPE got a very mixed collection of reviews. The people I know who saw it liked it enough that when I was offered a chance to review the film in connection to the home video release I said yes.

I really liked the film a great deal. Essentially one long chase the film scores major points for never stopping long enough for you to realize how insane chunks of this films are. There are plot points that don't make sense, owing mostly to coincidence but unless you pause the film you won't catch them until it's over. Mostly you'll be like me, squirming in your seat wondering what else was going to go wrong.

As good an action film as NO ESCAPE is, the real reason to see the film is Pierce Brosnan.  Taking a small but pivotal role as a British tourist who ends up aiding Wilson and his family he's kicked the door down concerning James Bond and becomes a full on character actor. Who the hell knew he was this damn good? Yea I'd seen him in GHOST WRITER or SERAPHIM FALLS or SURVIVOR and he's given really good performances but this was and is something else- it makes me go "who is this guy and why haven't we seen him before?" He's so good that even if the rest of the film had been bad I'd recommend the film.

NO ESCAPE is one to track down. Its a solid popcorn film and something worth your time when it hits home video tomorrow.

Alexander the Great (1956) Thanksgiving Turkey

Alexander the Great starring Richard Burton is a terrible film. Its a big bloated Hollywood epic and needs to be killed.

Coming in ten minutes from the start when it ran last year on cable I figured I could hunker down and see what all the bad feelings were about. The film has never been held in high regard. Most things I had read called it silly with a bottle blonde Burton looking bored as he tried to carry the film.

Having seen the film I would say that I don’t think he tries. Personally I think he just wanders through the film looking bored and wondering when the next check was going to clear. Its an epic film full of inaction and tableaux.

Nominally the story of Alexander from birth to death the film is a Cliff Notes version of the story hitting a good number of the highlights. It tries to do too much in it’s 135 minute running time and has no narrative flow it’s just boom on to the next thing, boom into the next thing. People talk more then they act. Its uninvolving and deadly dull.

I suppose we could blame part of the problem on the film being trimmed by some estimates by at least a third, the film was planned to run over three hours and have an intermission, but based on what’s here it would have just been an hour more talk.

I know many people hate Oliver Stone’s Alexander. Stone himself has an ever changing relationship with the film which has caused him to re-cut the film four different ways (Original, an American version, a Final version and recently another final cut) but at least it was alive. It moved and had characters and tried to tell the story. Even if there were changes to the story, Stone could explain what he did and why.

With the 1956 film I have no idea why the choices were made. It feels like a wax museum and not real life.

Skip the Burton version and see the Oliver Stone film (any cut)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nightcap 11/22/15 The best of DOC NYC 2015, The Kool Aid List or great directors you never heard of and Randi's links

With DOC NYC done and after seeing 132 of 157 films I thought I’d put together a ten best list- and keep it at ten films. Having seen as many films as I did that was a damn tough thing to do.

What I resorted to doing was removing all of the "short list" films of possible Oscar contenders. I then went through a list of all of the films and the ones I didn’t hesitate for a second went on the list. This resulted in NEW HIGH, WILHEMINA’S WAR, BOLSHI BABYLON, BOUNCE, FRACKMAN not making the list because of a momentary hesitation. Since I didn’t see SPPEED SISTERS that’s not included despite everyone telling me how good it is. I also removed MAN UNDER which is one of the best films I saw in 2015, but I already put on Tribeca’s best of list. I felt bad including it again.

 My best films list ended up being:
And most of the sonic Cinema- SYL JOHNSON: ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS, HUSTLERS CONVENTION, MAD TIGER & THEORY OF OBSCURITY because they all are that good.

While there are a few films I didn’t like putting them on a worst of list is unfair since where DC NYC is concerned they are being unfairly compared to 157 other great films. Its like picking the worst Vermeer- you’ll like some more than others, but they are still all Vermeers

Earlier this month I reviewed Christian Svanes Kolding's END OF THE INTERNET and I mentioned that there were a couple of filmmakers whose work I love but whose names you’d never know and a couple of people asked me who these people were.

While I have a long list of filmmakers where I've only seen a single example of their work but who have impressed me none the less  (Jason Kartalian or the duo of Jordan Harris and Andrew Schrader for example) The group I’m talking about have taken the next step and made a couple of films that I think are as good if not better than their firsts. These are the guys I'm waiting to make the jump to super stardom. These are the guys whose work made my jaw drop and murmur under my breath that I was seeing the emergence of someone great-not just once but twice or three times or more. These guys make up the so called KOOL AID LIST because as far as their ability to turn out great films is concerned I'm all in and I've drunk the Kool Aid.

The list is unscientific and purely personal. While I have seen other directors who may have as much talent as these guys the guys on the Kool Aid List score in one key place- I can't shake their films. These are they guys who's work I keep thinking about. And these are they guys I want to name drop when I get involved in talking about the up and coming talent and the next big film directors. I love these guys and I love that there work has become part of my psyche.

The listing below is not in any order- they are all just great directors.

Christian Svanes Kolding as you know is a great filmmaker. I loved his THE EMERGENCY KIT and now his END OF THE INTERNET is even better. You can read my thoughts on EMERGENCY KIT in the review for END and you can put him on the list of people to watch

Jon Kasbe has made a whole bunch of films including MIPSO IN JAPAN and BEAUTIFUL WASTE (see them at his website) and I love every one of them.  Jon has an eye and a sense of place and beauty that is the sort of thing that in a few years is going to be the style everyone is copying. While the look of his films might be enough for some filmmakers its not for Jon who turns in compelling tales every time. (Here is the trailer for his next film and I can't wait)

Jerimiah Kipp is one of the greatest directors of horror films I’ve ever run across.He deserves to be in the pantheon of guys who will scare the crap out of you over and over again. He’s directed a bunch of films but simply on the basis of this two films THE DAYS GOD SLEPT and MINIONS (not the cartoon) he deserves to be making full length fright films because he knows how to disturb his audience deeply. This isn't to sell his other films short- they are damn scary films, but DAYS and MINIONS still haunt me and make me not even want to think about them.

Chun-Yi Hsieh is one of the greatest directors working anywhere in the world. He contacted me way back in 2011 and told me I needed to see his film THE BRAID and he was right it was one of the best films I saw that year, and it’s a film that has haunted me ever since. When he gave me the link to that film he accidently gave me links to a whole bunch of other films that he had made. It was clear back then that he had the right stuff. He’s now back in Taiwan making feature films and his APOLITICAL ROMANCE just kicked it to the curb as one of the great films of NYAFF 2014.

I debated including Alec KUBAS MEYER in this group for two reasons. First he’s a friend which makes my recommendation suspect and secondly the films he’s made that put him on the list haven’t officially premiered yet. REEL, a Hollywood action film is finishing post-production and NOT TOO YOUNG has been submitted to several film festivals for next year. However based upon those films, plus his earlier film MIRANDA and his student films Alec is a filmmaker to watch. While I’ve talked at length about his ability to handle action in my piece on MIRANDA, it’s the handling of troubling difficult subject matters in NOT TOO YOUNG and two additional films he’s working on that forced him on to the list.

And so concludes my Kool Aid List. Take notes and watch for these guys to break out and do something wonderful real soon....

And now several weeks of links from Randi


If you still have Halloween Candy- How to trade up
Blair Witch the Greatest Horror film?
Potboiler quiz
Pictures from un released Australian films
A kick ass piece on NOSFERATU
Onion Studios Covers
Bring me the head of Winnie the Pooh
The Death of the Yeti
On the newly restored William Gillette SHERLOCK HOLMES
How TRICK R TREAT became a Halloween classic
The original Urban Cowboys
Death Avenue
25 years at a video store taught me
David Lynch talks ERASERHEAD
When Disney was trippy
Films de fin d'études 2015 – G
Most powerful photos
Serial's place in film history
Still haunted by the Yorkshire ripper
lost disney film found
Sea monster?
Creepy houses
record treasure of Mongolia
You can be too clean
Story Time gallery
The opening of the Lion King on Broadway in 360 degrees
This week look for a bunch of cinematic turkeys as Unseen presents it’s annual Thanksgiving series.
After that look for what has become the usual mix of films- old and new which should head straight on until our 6th birthday in February

Last House (2015)

Jason Mewes plays Ned, a young man in love with a call girl named Love. He doesn’t care that she’s a call girl, he just loves her. She loves that he accepts her. However she knows it’s time to get out of the business and she lets her pimp know she’s leaving. He agrees if she’ll go to this one last party with a couple of other girls. It turns out that the party is with some crazies and it looks like it’s going to fall to Ned to rescue her.

Strangely low key horror film is better than you’d think it will be gains points for not following the typical mad psychos on the loose film. In it’s way the film is actually restrained with nothing too graphic and there being a lot of good talk. I’m not sure that the film is scary but it does hold your attention better than many bigger budgeted or so called better films.

The one place where the film gets wonky is in the casting. While most of the cast is good, there are a few that are less so including top billed Mewes who even after 83 roles, according IMDB, is still stiff. While he’s better than he was in some of his earlier films, he’s still not an actor. Strangely despite being top billed and having a good chunk of screen time he’s not really given a great deal to do.

LAST HOUSE is a good little film. While not likely to become your next all time favorite, it is a pleasant time passer, especially when you want to go off the board and see something that isn’t your typical by the numbers film.

LAST HOUSE hit home video and VOD on Tuesday

Above and Below (2015) DOC NYC 2015

ABOVE AND BELOW played a single time at DOC NYC I'm not sure if it was worth going to see.

The film is Nicolas Steiner's look at fringe dwellers in the American South West. April takes part in a simulated Mars trip, Dave lives in an abandoned bunker and a trio lives in the storm drains of Las Vegas and have to deal with the occasional dangerous flooding. We watch as the various people go through their lives and discuss how they got to this point.

To be honest this film completely eluded me, no not eluded me made me wonder why I was watching it and why anyone thought that this film should run two hours long.

The problem for me is that there have been variations on the stories told here over the last few years and they were done more quickly and much more to the point. The one film that instantly jumped to mind was Steve Birnbaum's LOST VEGAS which covered the stories of people living in the Las Vegas storm drains much more succinctly. LOST VEGAS moved me deeply. ABOVE AND BELOW had me nodding off.

Its not bad, more it's just not particularly exciting.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

the last night of DOC NYC 2015- The Award Presentation and the screening of DREAMING AGAINST THE WORLD and CLAUDE LANZMANN SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH

You would think it a joke if I said the final night of the 2015 DOC NYC was a dark and stormy night, but it was. A wicked rain storm lashed the New York Metro area making it a very unpleasant night to be out. Thankfully movies this time of year screen inside so all one had to do was make it to the theater to be safe and warm for a couple of hours.

I was going to the screening of CLAUDE LANZMANN SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH which was screening with DREAMING AGAINST THE WORLD at the SVA theaters. The original start time was supposed to be 730 but things had gotten moved around because of security issues with Hillary Clinton who was attending MAKERS:ONCE AND FOR ALL which screened earlier in the evening. That was fine with me because I got to have a long leisurely dinner with Mondocurry.

When I got SVA it looked dead, the heavy rain keeping anyone without tickets away from the theater. I picked up my ticket and went inside.

Sitting in my seat I ended up talking to Dave Schachter who produced BARGE as well as Kurt Vincent  who directed and Irene Chin LOST ARCADE. Vincent seemed a bit ansy about the future of his film I assured them that the demand was there as was strong word of mouth and that at the world premiere no one wanted to leave the stand by line even after being told they couldn’t get in. Dave Schachter also made some suggestions about getting the word out to a wider audience. Vivent said that he had already lined up a screening at the soon to open Metrograph theater which is located not far from the location of Chinatown Fair, the subject of his film
Thom Powers and Basil Tsiokos begin the introductions
The evening began with some thank yous and then the announcement of the awards…

Three shorts got special Jury Mentions
Two shorts won top prize and both go onto the Oscar short list
Eric Rockey accepts his award
Stephen Maing accepts his award
Announcing the Metropolis awards

David Shapiro stands to accept the audience applause
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Marc Levin and subject accept his award
NEWMAN wins Special Mention in the View Finders Category
Nicole Horanyi accepts her award

Directors Justin Schein and David Mehlman accept their Audience Awared
After the awards the directors of the two films came up and introduced their  films

Or not.

Francisco Bello and Timothy Sternberg who directed DREAMING said they don’t like to talk before a screening so they said nothing.

Adam Benzine director of CLAUDE LANZMANN SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH said a few words, largely dedicating the screening to the people of France.

The lights went down and the films started.

DREAMING AGAINST THE WORLD  is a very good portrait of artist Mu Xin.

A Chinese intellectual, he ran into trouble off and on over the years with the communist government and found himself imprisoned. During the time he wrote a prison diary and painted pictures which he hid had to hide lest he be executed. The film is a singular portrait of a singular individual who refused to be broken or to die despite poor treatment by the Chinese authorities. In his way he got the last laugh living long enough to be considered a cultural icon. Its a great little film and seeing the art on the big screen was absolutely  stunning.

An aside, during the Q&A the film makers said that they got the interview with Mu Xin, who had only done two previous, very short interviews by showing up at his home with a collection of Beethoven CDs.

In the time between the films about a third of the audience got up and left. I recognized most of them as filmmakers of other DOC NYC films who had shown up for the awards ceremony. While I know why they left, they were there to see who won the various award, I think it was bad form and thought they should have at least waited until the second film ended.

The LANZMANN film disappointed. The film consists of a 2013 interview with Lanzmann where he recounts his life and the making of SHOAH and some outtakes from the epic film. While its good, it isn’t anything special. Worse there is little here that anyone who knows Lanzmann and his work hasn’t heard before, though the footage of the attack by Nazis that put the director in the hospital for a month is new and chilling. The film is a kind of puff piece DVD extra. I’m not sure what it’s point since it’s clear that there could have been more being told- a fact made clear when director Adam Benzine said he shot with Lanzmann for a week. A week and you only could cull 40 minutes out of it? What we have is good but Lanzmann deserves more-he deserves at least a couple of hours.

After the films the directors were brought on stage as was Richard Brody Film Editor of the New Yorker and Professor Stuart Liebman Media Studies, Queens College; CUNY Graduate School.
Timothy Sternberg tries to remain awake as Richard Brody talks and talks and talks
I'm going lose friends by saying this but the addition of Richard Brody  was a major mistake by the festival. I say this because once Brody started talking he didn’t shut up.

There was one question to Timothy Sternberg and Francisco Bello about DREAMING and the next question went to Brody who then talked for about ten minutes on the importance of SHOAH and going into great deal about several sequences in the Lanzmann film. He apologized for talking so long but after a couple of questions to Adam Benzine and Professor Liebman he jumped back in and just went. What he said wasn't bad but what he didn't realize the night wasn't about him, which is what it became. (there were only two audience questions)

I always hate multiple film Q&As because one  film always gets shut out but this was ridiculous. It would have been better if the only film screened was the Lanzmann doc and there was an hour discussion because DREAMING ended up unfairly forgotten in the discussion.

The evening wasn't bad it just was really odd.

And with that DOC NYC was done for another year.

Over all I had a blast and I can't wait until next year.
Professor Stuart Liebman

For more pictures from the evening go to our Tumblr page

(My personal best of DOC NYC  list will appear Sunday night)

Sunshine Makers (2015) DOC NYC 2015

The story of Nick Sand and R.Timothy Scully who tried to turn the world on to LSD. They made millions of tabs and were hunted by the government.

Sorry if that isn't exciting, but to be quite honest this is one of the duller films that played at DOC NYC. Its a portrait of two mellow guys who had their minds expanded by the drug,  but even with all of the intrigue are much too low key to sustain a 90 minute movie. The problem with the film is that it doesn't pick up steam until we get to the final third when the police begin to take center stage.

This is the sort of a film that you kind of get a bead on ten minutes in and you realize that unless they suddenly make an exciting turn the film was going to remain on one level. I knew after ten minutes that the film was going to end up too long and that this would have been better as an episode of some true crime show on History.

The problem, aside from the slack pacing is that we never really get to know either guy beyond what we know in the first couple of minute. Scully is a scientific genius who has a touch of Asperger's who wants to give the acid away and Sand is ladies man driven to make money turning the world on. That's about it. There is no sense as why we should want to listen to them for 90 minutes. Its an interesting story but not told this way nor as the main focus of a feature. Its a short film, and if someone went at this film with a pair of sheers you's have an great short doc.

Wait for this to show up on TV, either cable or PBS.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ariela wrestles with MUSTANG (2015) France's Oscar entry

MUSTANG was like watching a nightmare. The movie isn't scary per say, but the subject matter is very unsettling.

MUSTANG takes place in Turkey. The film starts off with a group of girls(who we later find out are 5 sisters) leaving school with some boys and going to play in the lake. When they get to their home, an older woman starts yelling at them and one by one locking them in a room and beating them. I was as confused as they were, as to why this was happening. They kept yelling "what is this about??" and they protested and wouldn't let her grab the other girls. She then says that a woman down the street said they were being promiscuous with the boys. They were shocked because they were just playing with them and it wasn't anything "dirty".

The next thing you know, this woman, who turns out to be their grandmother, as their parents both passed away turns the house into a prison. Putting up bars so they can't escape, not allowing them to leave or go back to school and then bringing over women to teach them how to be to cook, and sew. At one point they do escape(to go to a sports game), and the uncle who also lives there, winds up putting up higher and higher walls. The custom is that once a girl reaches a certain age, she has an arranged marriage. One by one this happens to the girls and it was hard to tell what the timeline was..if they just married them off one after another, or if they were actually getting older (not much time had passed between each one and when they were starting to try to marry off the even younger girls, it was disturbing). One of the girls is in a relationship with someone, but the grandmother says if she ever wants to be with him they have to get married, so at least she has a happy ending..the others are just set up with whomever. Some rebel and some don't. One girl befriends a nice man with a car to teach her how to drive.

 It was enraging that the girls didn't try to fight what was happening to them. I wanted to shake my fist at them. I was surprised that they just went along with it. The story really shows oppression of woman. The movie was good, but definitely not a happy good feeling film, though I did have hope for the youngest one, She was a fighter!