Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Minimalist Vampire Flick

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) - Amirpour
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Vampire genre has been explored and elaborated in a lot of different ways in literature and film. What else is left there in it to explore? Ana Lily Amirpour's minimalist vampire flick in farsi has a couple of things going for it. One is moody, beautiful night time b & w cinematography. The second is Sheila Vand who plays a mysterious young woman. She listens to 80s pop songs in her dark basement apartment, skates in the empty streets at night and happens to be a vampire.

There is Arashi (Arashi Marandi) and his junkie father and Atti (Mozan Marnò) the prostitute storylines that intertwine with the girl's, but who really cares? She listens to Lionel Richie and she ends up with a big fluffy cat that belonged to her victim! The film is a sly take on Iranian society, being a lonely, young, moody person. There is nothing much going on and substance is lacking, but I can't help being pulled in by the film's seductiveness.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

George Miller is a Miracle Worker

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - Miller
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Full of smashing metals, grit but short on dialog, Mad Max: Fury Road is just the antidote we've been hoping for in yet another slumming Hollywood superhero movies season of tight costumes and heroic speechifying in front of green screen backdrop. From beginning to end, Mad Max is first and foremost, just like its predecessor, Road Warrior, a chase movie. Max hisself is, as he always ever were, a loner whose only concern is his own survival in a dusty, dog eat dog world of the future. He is not as cunning as Yojimbo, nor as cynical as man with no name in Leone's Spaghetti Westerns. He just wants to be left alone. He was a good man once and there is a remnants of that man still alive inside that rugged exterior and hidden in that indecipherable grunts.

Miller at 70, who still has a vastly different ideas and aesthetics on how to make an action movie (thank god for that), concocts a movie that is so impossibly refreshing, you just have to sit back and admire his singularity. Whoever decided to give him millions of dollars- that blind faith, just like they did with Peter Jackson some time ago, needs to get credit for its success.

The movie's real hero is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a one-armed, dusted, chiseled, smeared tanker driving megababe who turns her back on whatever the hideous bad man's name is (and it's not important) and decides to save a handful of teen supermodels who are kept wives of that hideous man. And if this sounds extremely sexist a la Reagan era 80s, you just wait, for there are a bandit of kick ass grannies living in the desert! (I mean, Miller must be channeling some Ursula K. Le Guin fan fiction here, jesus christ) And it works! Miraculously! I love this movie and am going to see it again in theaters soon!

My Mother My Sister

Sister (2012) - Meier
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Simon (Kasey Mottet Klein) is a young boy who lives in a some economically depressed Swiss town right below a ski resort. He makes a living stealing skis and gears and brings them to whomever want to buy it, pretending he is one of the rich tourists with masks and gloves and ski boots. He blends right in. He lives with his older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) who's not really home much. She's always out with some guys with expensive cars. Their apartment is a mess. It seems it's Simon who provides food on the table and money too. He obviously has mommy issues as he clings on to a svelt English speaking tourist (Gillian Anderson) who is there with her two young sons. He lies to everyone that his parents were long dead from an accident, or owns a big hotel but too busy to be with him.

Simon tells his sister that his ski stealing business is a low risk job. But he gets caught and roughed up from time to time. Since it's Switzerland, there are no law enforcement anywhere it seems. No one really cares since the business around skiing is a seasonal affair- for both who work in the resorts and skiers.

Ursula Meier examines the class disparities as well as interesting family dynamics. The 'big reveal' is pretty devastating. Seydoux is lovely, so as Anderson, but it's Klein who shines in a psychologically complex role. Simon is a tragic figure - lonely, small kid who is left in his own devices to fend for himself as he grapples himself with the idea of 'family'. Great little movie.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Not Without My Daughter

In the Name of My Daughter (2014) - Téchiné
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Based on the memoir of Renée Le Roux, about the disappearance of her daughter Agnes, André Téchiné, the French master of subtle psychological dramas, tackles real life intrigue with In the Name of My Daughter. The Le Roux case held on to French public's attention for the last 30 years and still retains some mystery. It is the esteemed director and Catherine Deneuve's 7th collaboration to date.

Deneuve plays Renée, a widow and owner of the last remaining casino that is not yet taken over by mafia. She is aided by her loyal lawyer Maurice (Guillaume Canet) to tread the troubling times. It's Maurice's cunning political maneuvering that makes Renée to take total control over the casino. But her daughter Agnes (Adèle Haenel, Water Lilies, House of Pleasures and this year's Cesar Award winner for Best Actress for Love at First Fight) arrives, expecting to cash in on her inheritance and set up a little business for herself. Athletic, sultry Agnes slowly but surely falls for studious and enigmatic Maurice who is married and also has a string of mistresses.

After getting rejected by Renée for advancement, Maurice, along with Agnes arranges for ousting of Renée from the leadership of the casino. Lovesick Agnes becomes completely dependent on him. Even though he tells her that he can never reciprocate the love she has for him, she leaves all her money matters to his able hands.

in the name of my daughter poster.JPGBut things aren't going well. Agnes, jealous of Maurice's other women, becomes suicidal and one day disappears without a trace. There are no evidences of foul play, except desperate phone calls made by Agnes to Maurice. Soon after, Maurice transfers all of Agnes's money to his account. After a long investigation, Maurice is cleared of any wrong doing.

Twenty years later, Maurice is flown back to France from South America where he lives now, to stand for the trial, accused of the murder and disappearance of Agnes, brought on by diligent work of Renée. Even though her daughter betrayed her along with him.

Building suspense or clear resolution is not what Téchiné's after in his films. Despite its terrible American title (its original title is L'homme qu'on aimait trop which means 'The Man Who Loved Too Much' which makes much more sense in the film's context), the film is yet another great example of Téchiné's astute examination of unpredictability/duplicity in human nature that he is known for.

All three principal actors are terrific in their own hammy roles. But it's Canet, whose becoming a major force in French cinema, steals the show. There is intensity and danger hidden behind his calm demeanor and small physique. He shines as a duplicitous Maurice, the inscrutable.

Beautiful French Riviera setting helps too, shot energetically by a veteran cinematographer Julien Hirsch (3 Hearts, Bird People, Godard's In Praise of Love and Notre Musique as well as Téchiné's Unforgivable and The Girl on the Train), the film is another strong outing from Téchiné.

In the Name of My Daughter opens in New York and LA in 5/15. National roll out will follow. Visit Cohen Media website for more info.

Dark Desires

Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World (2014) - Sallin
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Hans Ruedi Giger, the artist known for his nightmarish vision, passed away in 2014 at the age of 74. Luckily for us, Swiss documentarian Belinda Sallin has made a comprehensive, yet intimate portrayal of the artist just before his passing.

It was his Oscar winning work in Ridley Scott's seminal sci-fi, Alien - the facehugger, the phallic, acid bleeding creatures, the skeletal inner sanctums of the creatures, based on his paintings and sketches from his book Necronomicon (1976), that really put his often obscene dreamscapes of birth, death and sex into the mainstream consciousness.

With such dark imaginations, you'd expect a tortured soul. But as Sallin invites us into Giger's home in Zürich, Switzerland, you soon find out the opposite is true. Mild mannered and soft spoken in the last of his years, the famous artist's look and demeanor don't really match his famous creations or vice versa. His old house, filmed from corner to corner by Sallin, is like a living museum, packed with his paintings, sculptures, mountains of books filling every square inch. The front yard is planted with Giger artifacts everywhere, complete with a little haunted house ride where you literally go through trauma of birth- through the vaginal gates and with hundreds of deformed fetuses adorning the walls.

The film starts with Giger holding his first human skull, given by his father. He talks about his fascinations with death early on. He dragged the skull around on a string to get over the fear. He is surrounded by admirers and supporters (current wife and director of Giger museum Carmen Maria, poster designer and colleague Leslie Barany, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, musician/assistant Tom Gabriel Fisher among them) who talk about Giger's incredibly kin sense of perception and appreciation for humanity's deepest, darkest desires and fear. His works are like his subconscious channeling through the other side. Many juicy anecdotes are told, including his early obsession with the Egyptian concept of afterlife after seeing a mummy in a museum and the heavy use of LSD in the 60s.

darkstarposter.JPGWith a wealth of archival material and interviews, Sallin charts the young artist selling posters of airbrushed, almost photographic images of biomechanoids which had become his signature work in the 60s and 70s. His dark images were used in many album covers as well. People flocked around him, especially women. They found his nightmarish images erotic and beautiful and full of energy. Li Tobler, a Swiss model who was depicted in many of the Giger's famous paintings, as they were deeply involved, wasn't as lucky as him channeling inner demons. Her suicide in 1975 from depression is one of the things Giger still has difficulty talking about. He chokes up as he says that not only his art couldn't help her but was possibly responsible for her demise. 

Dark Star gives us an incredible access to an artist and his dark art. It's a portrait of an artist at his most natural environment: he sketches, has a dinner with his friends, cuddles his loveable Siamese cat Müggi. Sallin also knows how to satisfy fans of the artist by providing many previously unseen Giger works and plenty more as she and crew explore nooks and crannies of his Zürich house.

Many talk about Giger's generosity to younger fans. Even after the success and fame he had found in Hollywood, he's been answering fan letters and corresponding with many of his admirers. It is still evident in book signings- whether it's at a museum in Lintz, Austria or at Giger Museum (Chateau St. Germain, which he purchased in 1998) in Gruyéres, Switzerland, that he connects with all his fans from all over the world. Most touching scene plays out when a heavily tattooed diehard fan breaks down and cries in front of his idol.

As his bookkeeper/mother-in-law tells Sallin, Giger is a very normal man who used his art to confront his fears. People tend to suppress their nightmares and dark desires, but Giger with his airbrush confronted these inhibitions head on. The images in his head was so frightening, he had to depict it. It was a form of art therapy.

Intimate and thoroughly insightful, Dark Star is a great ode to the prince of darkness of the art world.

DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER'S WORLD opens across the U.S. and Canada theatrically on May 15th. Check Icarus Films' website for more info and dates.

Cobain Remembered Expansively/Expensively

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) - Morgen
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It's been more than 20 years since the death of Kurt Cobain. Crazy. And here I thought Montage of Heck is too soon. Then again, I remember watching the unwatchable doc called Kurt & Courtney where its director interjected every five minutes, "The song I just described here I can't play because Courtney Love people didn't grant me the rights to it." With an unprecedented access (with blessing of Love and everyone else), Brett Morgen paints almost a complete picture of the life of Kurt Cobain. Like many others and being in Seattle around the time when grunge happened, I too, took to the music. It wasn't the thrift shop flannels or sulking teen angst but Cobain's tortured voice that stood out among the rest and made an impression on me. Where were you the moment you heard the news that Cobain passed on? I was in college in Boston at that time. Many of us are bummed for many months.

With audio tapes, home movies, drawings, journals and beautifully animated sequences, Morgen charts mostly familiar territories - loner kid from broken home, unloved and angry, grows up to be anti-social punk rocker who couldn't handle his sudden stardom. But it's done so beautifully. His drawings come alive, and his agonized writings get accentuated. And I find the faults in its beauty. Nothing can be as dramatic as the life Cobain led and how he exited, for sure. But the slick filmmaking plays up to that with dimmed lighting and introspective framing. The whole thing feels like the director fell on a pile of money to make a documentary about the grungiest musician ever lived.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

No Subtitles Necessary

The Tribe (2014) - Slaboshpitsky
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Miroslave Slaboshpitsky literally 'shows' that basic human emotions doesn't need translations. A silent film comprised only of highly choreographed long, wide steadicam shots, the Tribe is technically brilliant. Bleak, dehumanizing setting - a deaf school doubling as lowly criminals' den ripe with violence, theft and prostitution, is not particularly interesting though. Yes it is a cool concept to have a film entirely in sign language without subtitles. Violence, love and revenge- all easily understandable but what else is there? Everyone in the film is a stock figure, even the good natured boy in the beginning who falls into 'the tribe'. He is nothing but a schoolboy crushing on a blonde who is used as a truck stop whore. And I'm sick and tired of this type of schoolboy macho filmmaking.

I really don't see any merit or intelligence beyond the initial concept of The Tribe. I just hope Slaboshpitsky comes up with something for the next film to prove me wrong.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Happy Accidents

Familiar Grounds (2011) - Lafleur
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Maryse (Fanny Mallette, from Lafleur's debut, Continental) leads a quiet, boring existence day in an day out. Her absent facial expression says it all. But lately, small things are getting to her - a mini forklift parked right outside all winter in front of her house, clogged sink, daily chitchat with her husband...everything. Her brother Benoit (Francis La Haye, also in Lafleur's Tu dors Nicole) is a ne'er do gooder. He keeps screwing up his relationship with a devorcée with a son who hates him. He is a child in grown man's body, still living with his aging dad. Then there is a man from the future. He is a local owner of a car dealership. He just happens to be from the future 6-7 month ahead.

Familiar Grounds is split in 3 chapters - Accident #1, 2 and 3. These accidents slightly propels the film forward. First one is offscreen severing of a worker's arm at a cardboard box factory Maryse works at. This makes her preoccupied with the thought of putting a severed arm in ice in order to reattach it later. The motif of arm, whether it's her examining hers in front of the mirror for hours or people raising their arms to say hi or that of mannequins courses throughout the film. Lafleur's connecting visual gags are perhaps the subtlest of them all in cinema and I love it. The second "accident" is a small bird running into Benoit's window. He cooks it for dinner (it was still alive according to him), not realizing that it is too small for 4 people. The third one concerns the man of the future, as he tells Benoit that his sister is going to be in a fatal car accident. He also tells him that it will be a beautiful summer. And Benoit decides to take charge.

Then the film becomes a road movie with the siblings going up to their dad's old cottage to get a trailer (to get rid of the forklift) in the blizzard. Winter has been long and miserable for both of them. Something's gotta change....

Wry, affecting and inventive, Lafleur's world has a unique, quiet charm all to itself. These accidents in life are not going to be life changing for these lonely, confused, disconnected people, but they give them a some sense of comfort for us to know that whether they know it or not, that we are all somehow connected in this world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Invisible Connections

Continental: A Film Without Guns (2007) - Lafleur
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Stéphane Lafleur's debut film charts a group of lonely people in Quebec. As he indicates with the title, Continental is a film without ever showing or firing a gun. Nor does it have any nudity or touching. Urban loneliness of Lafleur's world has more common with 90s- 2000s Asian films than any pretentious North American indies with the same theme with some quirky premises. Quietly, Lafleur paints these characters with real care and feelings. Their small connections don't feel labored or out of place. Their interactions are full of awkwardness and longing and their desires as grand as that of gods. They show their care in almost invisible ways but for us to see.

Monday, May 4, 2015

NY African Film Festival 2015

Scanning through the list of this year's New York African Film Festival, I am once again astonished by the breadth and scope of African diaspora in the 21st century transnational society. The countries represented in this year's festival, excluding the ones from the continent, are: Denmark, Spain, Brazil, Israel, Czech Republic, France, United Arab Emirate, USA and Canada. All in all, the staggering lineup represents 25 countries from all over.

22nd edition of the festival places special emphasis on digital technology and short form filmmaking which freed new generation of filmmakers from budgetary and technical limitations. The highlight of the result is shown in Women in the Media and Afripedia sidebar sections as well as two feature length documentaries - 100% Dakar and Stories of Our Lives. These films and filmmakers respresent the vibrant, multi-ethnic, collaborative art communities that are springing out from everywhere throughout the continent that we don't hear much about.

The Festival also put a spotlight on the modern classics of African cinema, including Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), Mossane (1996) and last year's Oscar nominated Timbuktu.

*Read my interview with Abderramane Sissako (Timbuktu)

*Read my review of Timbuktu

Many of the filmmakers and actors will be on hand for the Q & A sessions after the screening of each film.

The quality of all 7 feature films I was able to preview here for this year's festival is quite extraordinary. For the list of the films and tickets please visit New York African Film Festival website.

The festival runs from 5/6 - 5/12 at FSLC, 5/14 - 5/17 at Maysles Cinema Institute and 5/ 22 - 5/25 at BAM Cinematek.

Cold Habour (Dir. Carey McKenzie, South Africa) *Opening Night Film
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Sizwe (Tony Kgoroge) is a beat cop and an ex-soldier against apartheid. He is a hard working man, but finds himself pitted against corrupt police establishment and former comrades-turned-criminals.

While investigating the death of a Chinese triad member at the harbor, involving illegal abalone poaching and drugs, he gets a much sought after promotion as a detective. But forces behind the promotion are dictating his actions. Sizwe must play his boss, seductive Chinese triad boss (scrumptious Nan Yu) and the Specialist (underworld crime boss and his former comrade in struggle) in order to survive.

Cold Habour is a superb policier from South Africa. Moody and understated, McKenzie's cold palette is big a contrast against sunny and earthy disposition of other recent South African films. Tony Kgoroge has a real presence as a brooding cop whose loyalty is being tested in an uncertain world.

Wednesday, May 6th, 7pm (Q&A with Carey McKenzie and Tendeka Matatu) – Walter Reade Theater, FSLC

Monday, May 11th, 2pm – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

100% Dakar - More Than Art (Dir. Sandra Krampelhuber, Austria/Senegal)
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Austrian filmmaker Sandra Krampelhuber documents a booming artist community in Dakar, Senegal. These young musicians, rappers, graffiti artists, fashion designers and dancers talk about their beloved city - Dakar is where it's at. For an African artist, days of being an expat, living in Europe or America is over. As the case of many interviewees, they were educated in other parts of the world but all have decided to come back.

They are short on resources, but counting on the country's 60% population being under the age of 25, they see a great potential being just where they are.

They talk about success in collaboration. These business savvy artists seized the opportunities after historic presidential election in 2012 where corrupt incumbent prez Abdoulaye Wade lost in a landslide. The young Senegalese said goodbye to the old ways of doing things- depending their future solely in the hands of politicians and authorities. As one says in the film, 'cultural activism became much more effective than political one.'

These artists are like kids left to their own devices. They are full of enthusiasm while being practical. It's their sense of optimism that I take away the most from watching 100% Dakar. And it's a good feeling.

May 9th at 4:15pm (Q&A with Sandra Krampelhuber)
Tuesday, May 12th at 4pm – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

Love the One You Love (Jenna Cato Bass, South Africa)
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Terri (Chiedza Mhende) works as a sex phone operator and Sandile (Andile Nebulane) works at a dog shelter. They are a great couple. All their friends say so. They themselves seldom question this fact. But deep down, Terri wants more than just love. She never utters "I love you"s but receives it aplenty from Sandile. For her love is the most insidious weapon there is. There is a world out there and South Africa is too small for her.

Everyone, including a shaman and a priest, reiterates that the commitment to love is a burden- might be a light one, but all the same. Terri's indecisiveness becomes a great chasm between them.

Then there is Nelson (Nelson Da Neves), having a hard time letting go of the memories of his ex. He hangs out with the ex's younger brother and leaves the side of the bed where she used to sleep untouched, keeping his melancholy vigil of the love that got away.

A conspiracy finds its way to the two interweaving stories - Sandile is convinced that it's some kind of outer force working against their happiness. Nelson finds an undisputed fact on the internet that he and his ex are meant to be together.

First time director Jenna Cato Bass has a delicate, fluid touch in sketching out the big questions/minutia in love and relationship in multi-culti, burgeoning Johannesburg. Love the One You Love is honest depiction of a relationship that is both charming and melancholic.

Friday, May 8th, 9:00pm – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

Red Leaves (Bazi Gete, Israel) *Centerpiece Film photo 3b45227c-be82-434c-be52-6ad02bff83f9_zpslgwzti6x.jpg
Ethiopian Israeli director Bazi Gete tells a King Lear inspired story taking place in bustling cosmopolitan city, Tel Aviv, starring non-actors. Not long after his wife's passing, an old Ethiopean-Israeli patriarch, Meseganio, announces at the shabatt dinner that he sold his apartment and that he intends to move in with one of his children. It's a shock to all three of his children, who have their own family to take care of and have gotten used to modern way of living.

Meseganio goes to his older son only to discover his daughter in-law being disrespectful and his daughter disobeying his wishes. Disgusted and upset, he leaves for his second son's house. Everything is ok at first, but soon he finds that there has been rift between his womanizing son and his long suffering wife. They fight like children in front of him and their teenage son. It is too much to bear for an old man who is a forever immigrant in a foreign country where he doesn't even speak the language.

To make matters worse, two sons decide to suggest Meseganio go to an old folks home, full of white Israeli retirees. He throws a fit, and leaves the house, only to be picked up and handcuffed by immigration services.

Red Leaves is a film that is shot like an observational documentary. Easy comparison can be made with Ozu's seminal Tokyo Story. But unlike the Japanese counterpart with its passive, aging father, Meseganio is still spirited man who is too proud to give up his old Ethiopian ways. His belligerence is treated without any sympathy. It's a harsh reality both generations have to face with head on and Gete doesn't shy away from its ugliness.

Friday, May 8th, 6:45pm (Q&A with Bazi Gete)

Sunday, May 10th, 4:15pm (Q&A with Bazi Gete) – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

The Narrow Frame of Midnight (Tala Hadid, Morocco/France/UK)
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A stunningly beautiful, haunting film about displacement, memories and human connection. Moroccan-Iraqi Zacaria is on the road to find his brother, Yoseph, who went back to Iraq. Yoseph always has been the brave one, the one who had conviction.

Zacaria's path crosses with Aicha, a little girl kidnapped and sold to some Westerner sleazebag for pleasure, on route to a meeting point with her pimp and his girlfriend. She's come from a long way and wants Zacaria to take her away with him. He drops her off to his former French lover/wife Judith (Marie Josée Croze) living in remote Moroccan village. His journey takes him to Turkey then to Iraq.

Rather than long expositional dialog, director Tala Hadid relies on impregnated, poetic images and flashbacks to roughly sketch out the character's back stories. Lensed by Sokurov cinematographer Aleksandr Burov (Second Circle, Father and Son), the images and colors have real impact on understanding the violent history of the region and sorrows and loneliness of the displaced.

Monday, May 11th, 6:30pm (Q&A with Tala Hadid and Danny Glover) – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

National Diploma (Dieudo Hamadi, Democratic Republic of Congo/France) photo c78e644d-60ee-4067-8f50-300d12e4ad39_zpsrryey2em.jpg
Dieudo Hamadi documents trials and tribulations of high school students in Democratic Republic of Congo as they prepare for the National Exam. It's a do or die situation for many impoverished students because without the diploma, their fate is pretty much sealed in living in poverty forever. The school year has been bad - teacher's strike left many of the students lagging behind their studies. Teachers subsist on student's fees, so unpaid students get kicked out of the classroom every morning, during the roll call. It's cutthroat like that in Kisengani. The students who can't afford, and there are many, get together, chip in a little money for marquis (common house), start living together to study day and night for two months for the exam.

It's mindblowing to see how motivated and driven they are to pass the exam. It's an intense religious affair also- a preacher at the church blesses their ball pens, a girl falls down to the floor because she is possessed by ghost of her family members who don't want her to pass the exam so she needs to be exorcised, a kid goes to see a traditional witch doctor to bless him, etc.

Corruption is rampant. There is a racket for selling leak answers to the exam and everyone talks about strategies on how to cheat. Teachers come in to their marquis, complaining how they are not getting paid.

Come the exam days - one day it's a disaster because of leaks didn't provide right answers, the next day everyone's overjoyed because the given answers were right. Two months later, there are mad celebrations on the street. Then there are heartbreaks. We talk about our education system being broken. National Diploma is an eye opening experience into an education system that has everything going against students.

Sunday, May 10th, 9:00pm – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

Run (Philippe Lacote, Ivory Coast/France)
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A gritty modern parable that reflects recent civil war of Ivory Coast. Run tells an orphan boy named Run (played by Abdoul Bah as a boy and later Abdoul Karim Konaté), always running away from his ever changing circumstances and changing his allegiance.

Run starts first as the rainmaker's apprentice which signifies the west African country still steeped in mysticism. It's his hand that the rainmaker has to be sacrificed but he runs away. Then runs into and becomes an assistant to 'greedy Gladys', a plump woman touring and making money off of binge eating reflecting short-lived good times and greed after the country's independence. When she can't eat no more, he denies his acquaintance to her and joins a rebel group, Young Patriots, on the street. Young 'admiral' as their leader, the rebels act as the invisible arm of the government who incites jingoistic patriotism against all foreigners. Run, again, with shifty identity, running from one situation from another out of survival, has no loyalty toward the group.

It's Assa (Isaach de Bankolé), a father figure who gives him a purpose in life by training and arming him to kill the newly minted country's Prime Minister (who happens to be Admiral of the Young Patriots) for the better future of all Ivorians. The act also corresponds with the old rainmaker's prediction in the beginning what Run is destined to do.

From it's cyclical structure to beautifully shot and edited images, Lacote's skillful filmmaking is in its highest order. Combining elements of mysticism, political intrigue, gritty urban drama, Run is hypnotic and original film artfully reflecting the beleaguered nation's complex history.

Monday, May 11th, 9:00pm (Q&A with Isaach de Bankolé) – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

Leave Me Where I am, I'm Only Sleeping

Eddie The Sleepwalking Cannibal (2012) - Rodriguez
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A once famous Danish painter Lars (Thure Lindhardt) gets a job in some snowy art college in a small town Canada. His intention is pure - he wants to teach and maybe start working on a new project ten years after his initial success in a tranquil, solitary environment. The town's suspicious inhabitants are hostile and the college folks are eager to use him as a savior as the school is in need of cash. In order to make good with the folks at college, he agrees to take care of Eddie, a big mute manchild whose aunt had been a sole funder for the school. There is one problem though. Eddie has a tendency to sleepwalk in his underwear and eat small animals in the woods.

Lars finds his new friend's appalling habit but also compelled by the carnage the sleepwalker leaves behind. He finds an inspiration for blood and gore for his new painting, just like he broke out in the art scene ten years ago after experiencing a catastrophic accident. In order to pump out new paintings, he needs to encourage Eddie to sleepwalk and ...kill. The great Stephen McHatty and his Pontypool co-star Georgina Reilly make an appearance. Another fun,wry horror comedy from Canada.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Intelligent Sexy Grindhouse

The Ladies of the House (2014) - Wildman
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An intelligent grindhouse movie sounds like an oxymoron but that's just what The Ladies of the House plays out to be. A husband-wife team behind the film - John Stuart Wildman and Justina Walford, gives the genre a dash of feminist twist and the result is gory, tension filled ride that is also funny and touching.

3 bros go to a strip club and behave badly and consequently get their comeuppances - sounds pretty formulaic but things get darker, weirder by the minute in The Ladies of the House. The men are there to celebrate a birthday of Kai (RJ Hanson), an obese, half-witted brother of studious and mild mannered Jacob (Gabriel Horn). But it's Derrick(Samrat Chakrabarti), their obnoxious friend who is the instigator and enabler of the whole mess. After a little squabble at the strip club, Derrick has a brilliant idea of following Ginger (Michelle Sinclair), the stripper of whom Kai has a crush on, to her home for some late night R & R. Ginger, new in town and doesn't know the house rules of her saucy co-workers/roommates, invites the boys in for a little party. As we soon find out, they chose the wrong house and wrong girls to party with.

Ginger's roomates, motherly Lin (Farah White), her lesbian lover Getty (Melodie Sisk) and sweet Crystal (Brina Palencia), come home before the boys have a chance to flee and find the house a mess and Ginger shot in the abdomen and dying. They put the house in a lock down and hunt for the men responsible.

It turns out that these ladies are not as sweet and sugary as they first seemed at the strip club. They have a Texas Chainsaw Massacre style slaughter pen with a heavy sliding door where Lin makes all the delicious meat dishes. They keep a piglet- a mute man servant, in a cage inside a walk-in closet. Crystal has a tendency to fall in love with their male victims and keep mementos in scrapbooks with their names.

The Ladies of the House Poster.jpgJacob, the most remorseful of the three, after discovered by Crystal in hiding in her closet, gets tied up in bed and becomes the object of her affection. He's for keeps, not for dinner, for now.

The Ladies of the House has everything that exploitation aficionados want in a movie- hot lesbian sex, mutilation, cannibalism as well as lots of stabbing, blood and gore. But even though they are long legged and perfectly proportioned murderous cannibalistic sexpots similar to the kinds that populate typical exploitation movies, you can't help rooting for Lin, Getty and Crystal. 

As the cat and mouse game drags on, we get the sense that the ladies have been in this situation before and that they are taking their sweet time. Wildman and Walford's script achieves each character's complex background with much reserved exposition. Besides being murderesses and cannibals, they are just a trio of lovely ladies surviving in a man's world. Their fraternity comes naturally.

The dinner scene is a cross between the one in Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief and His Wife and Her Lover and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It ends with Getty telling an abortion joke that is as more biting and telling about women's place in our society than some dry dissertation in social disparity. Wildman succeeds in making grindhouse both intelligent and sexy

The Ladies of the House sees a VOD release on May 1. You can preorder the film on iTunes.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fetishistic Whimsy

The Duke of Burgundy (2014) - Strickland
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A primp woman, Everlyn (Chiara D'Anna), walks to a vine covered grand old mansion. She is a maid and she is late. The lady of the house, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a proper lady in dolled up hair and silk stockings, coldly orders Everlyn around while reading or typing something. The wall is covered with collection of butterflies and moths and chrysalides. Cynthia is an entomologist who belongs to a society of women scholars it seems. Everlyn seems to get off washing Cynthia's colorful underwear and peeping on her master when she is changing to various lingerie.

This master/slave relationship turns out to be a game between two lesbian lovers. They follow scripted scenarios in endless cycle. It's demanding Everlyn's idea to be punished: be sat on, locked in a trunk, peed on and so on an so forth. Older Cynthia seems to be on hand at Everlyn's every whim and desires.

You can't help comparing Strickland's sumptuous craftmanship to French duo Hélèn Catet and Bruno Forzani (Amer, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears) who also dabble in giallo inspired filmmaking. Only here, his style is much more classy and refined. Throwing in some repressed, prudish English attitude to female sexuality, you get a definite winner.

Collecting insect has been a center of other films, most notably Philip Haas' Angels and Insects, a British chamber piece based on A.S. Byatt's writing. In it, Byatt metaphorically uses bug collecting hobbies as main character's entrapment in a rigid society where perversion and cruelty rule the day. In Silence of the Lambs, it signifies Buffalo Bill's belief in transformation. No metaphorical musings in The Duke of Burgundy. Butterfly motifs are used as decorous, with its colorful wings and soft texture, adding to the fetishistic whimsy of two lovers in a man-less world Strickland creates.

But it's breathtakingly gorgeous though, and very hot! Especially the scene where a irresistible feathered blonde carpenter (Fatma Mohamed) visits to discuss a construction of a tiny bed where lovers can't escape being either on top or bottom.

Strickland confirms himself as one of the leading visual stylists. The Duke of Burgundy lasts a twee bit long for my taste. I would've been perfectly content with the butterfly/moth montage sequence 2/3rd way in as the end.

Beirut Confessional

Birds of September (2013) - Francis
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I can see Birds of September fitting nicely in the catalog of films Havard Sensory Ethnography Lab has put out. A van equipped with large glass panels for sides and back slowly drives around Beirut with interview subjects candidly talking to the unseen director, Sarah Francis. The subjects are usually in the back of the van, sitting on a chair while the background changes constantly as the van weaves around busy traffic, day through night. It has a similar effect of Manakamana or a Kiarostami film. But the interviewees stories are distinctly Lebanese and Beiruti. Downtown Beirut seems very cosmopolitan and secular even though ahan (call to prayer) is heard from time to time. It's also achingly beautiful in rain.

Francis records people from all works of life - unemployed man, nurse, yogi, middle aged business woman. The film has several different layers visually and aurally. Their stories are recorded separately and laid over the subjects as they quietly look around their surroundings. They are separated from their environment by glass walls, yet not. In intervals, a male narrator's philosophical musings (written by Francis) fill the gap. The city with such a violent history seem like just any other place - the subject's lamentations are about the same as our concerns and wishes. 'Loneliness in individualism' bit strikes a cord with me. One of the best films I've seen this year.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Homeward Bound

White God (2014) - Mundruczó
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Despite its dumb, Sam Fuller mis-inspired title, Hungarian Kornel Mundruczó presents a simple, tugging at your heart strings tale of lost dog found or dog-finds-his-way-home-bloodily-avenging-misdeeds-along-the-way. White God is a technical marvel and dog trainers involved should get some recognition for this.

A button nosed, rebellious girl Lili (Zsófia Psotta) and her trusty brown lab mix, Hagen, have to spend three months at her divorced father's small bachelor apartment because her mother is going to Australia. Apparently there is a tax for keeping non-purebreeds in apartment buildings in Budapest, so there is a rift between father and daughter. After getting in trouble bringing in Hagen to a music practice (Lili is a trumpet player in a school band practicing Tannhauser for concert) and an argument, dad leaves Hagen in the middle of the street, much to Lili's dismay. Then the film becomes a harrowing homeward bound story. Hagen and his new stray friends on the street are persecuted and hunted by evil humans: nosy neighbors, city's dog pound, illegal dog fighting ring. Some of the film's sequences are hard to take and will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows of American viewers, however well faked they are. The question is: Will Hagen, now trained to be aggressive killing machine on the loose and hell bent on revenge, tear apart little Lili? Gotta admit though, watching hundreds of dogs flooding out the streets of Budapest and behaving the same way while Wagner blaring is at once comic, surreal and thrilling. Be nice to animals yo.