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Foreign

Kodoku Meatball Machine photo
Kodoku Meatball Machine

The trailer for Kodoku: Meatball Machine is blood-soaked and absolutely bonkers (NSFW)


Content and title are a perfect match
Dec 06
// Hubert Vigilla
If GWAR in its classic form decided to remake Tetsuo: The Iron Man, it might look like Yoshihiro Nishimura's Kodoku: Meatball Machine. That is all I can really say. There are no words. Just feelings. Strange, strange feelings. Seriously, watch this f**king trailer, dudes. Note: There is a lot of blood and some (maybe fake?) nudity.
9-min Great Wall trailer photo
9-min Great Wall trailer

9-minute trailer for Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall is more than just Matt Damon


Maybe the trailer is overcompensating?
Dec 01
// Hubert Vigilla
The old myth was that astronauts could see The Great Wall of China from space. A new 9-minute trailer for Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall has been released, and I'm pretty sure it can be seen from space. They have free wifi up t...
Mad Shelia photo
Mad Shelia

Witness the trailer and poster for Mad Shelia, a Chinese Mad Max rip-off


MEDIOCRE!
Nov 28
// Hubert Vigilla
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best action movies of the 21st century, and was one of the best movies of 2015 by far. We were bound to see some movies trying to capitalize on the look, feel, and stuntwork of George Miller's...

Review: Evolution

Nov 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220389:42858:0[/embed] EvolutionDirector: Lucile HadzihalilovicRelease Date: November 25, 2016 (limited/VOD)Rating: NRCountry: France The world of Evolution is mysterious from the get go, which is due largely to the coastal locale where the film is set. We don't know what year it is, or quite where this place is either. It's all so otherworldly, the sort of setting for tales, allegories, and de Chirico paintings. There are white stucco buildings built near the water, and the sand is black leading to the turbulent shore. It's beautiful in how stark it is. In the distance, there's a medical facility that looks like it was abandoned years ago, but boys and their mothers walk back and forth for periodic examinations. There are only grown women and young boys on this island. There are no men, there are no girls, and the mothers have a sinister uniformity about them. At night, the mothers leave their homes carrying hand lanterns and congregate near the water. The boys are just boys but are in the dark about their caretakers. The boys are raised on a diet of mashed kelp and something like worms, one of those foods that while heated in a saucepan still looks cold when it's served. Evolution centers primarily on Nicolas (Max Brebant) and his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier), and what Nicolas discovers about this town and where babies come from. We follow him into the night, down long corridors, to water in the dark, and in the process participate in the act of discovery, unwrapping the allegory along with Nicolas, sharing in his repulsion and curiosity. Roughly midway through Evolution, this dive into the unknown slows, maybe too much for what's revealed about the mothers and their boys. Yet even what's revealed is just enough to suggest larger possibilities and delve deeper into the thematic territory of the movie--sex, childbirth, asexuality, violation, flesh, reproduction, biological processes. I sensed in the film's lull that Hadzihalilovic was signalling a move away from an explicit exploration of the plot and the machinery of the world to a series of ruminative brushstrokes, each one a deliberate move to the film's finale, which is more conceptual than visceral. In the immediate aftermath of Evolution, I felt a little let down, expecting more of a resolution to what's introduced early on. Yet the movie has this strange, lingering quality thanks to its pervasive otherworldliness. I mentioned Lovecraft and Cronenbeg earlier, but Hadzihalilovic makes this movie her own, invested with unique hobbyhorses and a fascinating sensibility. It's rare to see a movie that sticks around in your mind after an initial sense of disappointment. The fact I'm still thinking about Evolution, and deeper now than in the hours after the first viewing, have made me reevaluate Hadzihalilovic's languid pace, which unfolds with the same speed as a dream verging on a nightmare but never quite arriving there. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse does a magnificent job in rendering these images and giving them such a haunting quality that I can't get several of them out of my head. Evolution's grown on me, like a skin graft or like coral, or maybe it's grown in me, like the stuff of recurring bad dreams.
Review: Evolution photo
Lingering, haunting, and yet
There's so much going for Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Evolution, a film expertly lensed from the deliberate first shot: looking up to the sky from underwater. From beneath, the ripples and waves on the ocean surface produce undul...


Review: Elle

Nov 10 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220908:43150:0[/embed] ElleDirector: Paul VerhoevenRating: RRelease Date: November 11, 2016 (limited)Country: France  Elle starts with the rape, in media res. Verhoeven shoots the scene with surprising restraint. There's the noise of the assault off camera. Michèle's pet cat looks on blankly. The rapist, dressed in black with a ski mask, stands and wipes blood from his hip and groin and then walks away. Michèle tidies up around the kitchen and continues about her day in a daze. She's in shock, but it's subtle. A brief bubble bath scene is so artfully done and haunting. Michèle's a bit angrier at her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) when he comes to visit than she would be otherwise. Vincent asks about the bruise on the side of her face. She says she fell off her bike. The rape goes unreported. When Michèle finally mentions it to anyone, she waits for the most awkward moment possible to bring it up. She says what happened as if she lost a credit card. Is it a coping mechanism or is it just the movie playing provocateur? Elle aims for the uncomfortable laugh, and for a while it succeeds in doling out its cringe humor. At a certain point, it's just cringes. While dealing with horrible things in life, one hundred other genres may be occurring in the world simultaneously. A portion of the film plays like a thriller, with Michèle narrowing down the suspects in her life while her attacker stalks and harasses her. As this thriller plays out, there's a family dramedy: Michèle's jealous about her ex-husband's new girlfriend, annoyed by her son's screwed up relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, and can't stand her mother's new boyfriend either. Then there's the matter of her father and an infamous trauma in her past, one essential to Michèle's character but never explored substantively in the story. Huppert's a saving grace for the film in that she plays everything so straight, even Michèle's unexpected actions and reactions. Yet these are just actions in a performance, not necessarily actions stemming from a character. I could rarely get a handle on who Michèle was or how she interpreted the world and the events around her. The rape is replayed explicitly in the film, and then played again as a kind of revenge fantasy. Later, Michèle seems to invite victimization. There's a harrowing scene in which Michèle seems turned on by the idea of the man she's with raping her, recreating the trauma that opened the film. Is she feeling pleasure? Is that pain and masochistic shame? Is it a mix of both, and if so, what then? Huppert wears an inscrutable mask before, during, and after the scene. The moment is never discussed afterward. I don't need on-screen psychoanalysis or to be handheld through a narrative, but I'd like to be given some hint of what Michèle feels about what's happened. Elle avoids exploring the emotional impact of rape. Instead the film tries to offer Michèle's detachment as some opaque and oblique portrait of her psychology, but even this amounts to a blank gray page. This is all extremely difficult and sensitive territory to explore, especially when Michèle's motives are so ambiguous. Sure, there's never a single correct way for someone to respond to trauma, but rather than provide an alternative portrait of recovery or greater insight into this personality in flux, I felt as if Elle was simply pushing buttons and inverting the traditional rape-revenge narrative for the shock value. That's easier and less painful than really getting into someone's interior life after such a traumatic experience. The film's MO seems to be keep the focus on the inscrutable surface, and make it shocking. It doesn't help that Elle's perspective is male dominated; it's directed by Verhoeven from a script by David Birke, and adapted from a novel by Philippe Dijan. Am I watching a woman's experience as she struggles to retake power as all the men in her life rob her of agency? Or am I just watching a male interpretation of all this that indulges in a little bit of rape fantasy? This might all be up for audience interpretation, which makes me surprised that so many critics have written that the film is so empowering to women and makes bold statements. I don't think it says anything at all, or intends to empower anyone; it's just well-orchestrated provocation. No surprise that by the end of Elle, I was left feeling a sour and empty frustration. Michèle is the head of a video game company, though this portion of Elle serves as a mild subtextual and metatextual backdrop. They're making a medieval action-adventure--think Warcraft by way of Assassin's Creed with really antiquated graphics. During a meeting, one of her designers--a man who may be the rapist--says that Michèle's pretentious literary background has gotten in the way of the game's basic playability. I think Verhoeven's penchant for provocation might have gotten in the way of the fundamental human concerns of Elle.
Review: Elle photo
Provocative, but is it saying anything?
Elle has been billed as a rape-comedy, but that's a misnomer. It's a comedy in the classical sense given the events of the story, but it's not necessarily funny (there are funny scenes, though). And yes, it's about rape. Elle...

Pokemon: The First Movie photo
Pokemon: The First Movie

Pokemon: The First Movie is coming back to theaters October 29th and November 1st


Gotta catch em at Cinemark
Oct 24
// Hubert Vigilla
The popularity of Pokemon Go spawned a forthcoming Detective Pikachu movie from Legendary Pictures. With the Pokemon resurgence, it should come as no surprise that the Pokemon Company is going to milk all of its adorable...

Review: Tampopo

Oct 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220968:43157:0[/embed] TampopoDirector: Juzo ItamiRating: NRRelease Date: October 21, 2016 (limited)Country: Japan  There's a familiar old west tale in Tampopo, with variations on cowboys and saloons and pretty schoolmarms. Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) are a pair of truck-driving gourmands that mosey into town. They stop by a noddle shop in a sorry state run by a widow named Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). She's quaint, mousy, often dressed in gingham, demure to a fault. Also, her ramen just plain sucks. Since they're good cowboys, Goro and Gun help Tampopo improve her shop, sort of like working the farm or rebuilding this here schoolhouse. Tampopo spends the the film perfecting her ramen and in the process attempts to perfect herself. It's not just a western but, philosophically, a martial arts movie. This is a story about the discipline of mastery. Think Jiro Dreams of Sushi, except ramen: self-improvement through a process of trial and error and practice. It's a familiar narrative, but when filtered through an unexpected intermediary, it achieves remarkable existential heft. Even in a decidedly lighthearted comedy like Tampopo, it's moving to witness someone try and try again until they achieve some ennobling dignity, no matter how small. All that effort for a good bowl of soup. But that's just part of the oddball/heartfelt appeal of Tampopo. Soba isn't the only noodle. The movie starts with a gangster in white (Koji Yakusho) and his moll (Fukumi Kuroda) entering a movie theater, ostensibly to watch the main story of Tampopo described above. The gangster waxes philosophical about life, death, and the movies, and then roughs up a guy crinkling a bag of chips in the row behind him. Later in the film, the gangster and his moll reappear periodically, using food as foreplay. By comparison, these scenes make 9 1/2 Weeks seem like the missionary position in Mormon underwear. Swirling around these two recurring narratives are a series of one-off skits on the role of food in people's lives. So many rituals, roles, and social codes are built around food and propriety, and we take a break from our gal at the noodle shop to get a survey of food culture in 1980s Japan. What Tampopo seems to emphasize in most of these one-offs is the sensual pleasure of food, and how our desire for sweets and richness and even just sloppy eating can't be restrained. Yet even when defying restraint, our taste for the sensual can be refined and in the process our appreciation for pleasure deepened. Tampopo isn't a movie for foodies. What a wretched, bourgie word that is. Tampopo is a movie for uplifting gormandizers who want to suck marrow rather than spoon it from the bone. Tampopo was just the second film from Itami, though it seems so assured and confident. Who else but a confident filmmaker decides to include a goofy rice omelet scene with a hobo? At numerous times the actors address some off-camera interlocutor by looking directly at the audience. This recurring quirk is sort of like Ozu, but not like Ozu at all. Tonally I was reminded a little of A Christmas Story, but then in comes a sexy or dark or sensitive moment redolent of some separate influence. Every couple minutes, unexpected surprises, and just more and more delight.
Review: Tampopo photo
Zen and the sexiness of ramen making
Prior to this week, the last time I saw Juzo Itami's 1985 food comedy Tampopo was in the mid-90s. I remembered so little of the movie save for the fact that I enjoyed it. Some isolated scenes are easy to recall, though. There...

Review: Fire at Sea

Oct 20 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220906:43140:0[/embed] Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)Director: Gianfranco RosiRating: TBDRelease Date: October 21, 2016 (limited)Country: Italy Fire at Sea is two different movies. In one movie, dozens of malnourished refugees die from inhaling gasoline fumes from the ship's engine. In the other film, a 12-year-old boy named Samuele struggles to steer a rowboat at the pier. One moment's dire and heartbreaking, the other is played for laughs. There's the coziness of Samuele's town, and then there's the squalor of a refugee ship. We watch Italian boys shoot cacti with slingshots and play war. We also watch a man from a war-torn country hyperventilate after being saved from a ship; he might be dying, he might have died. Everything about the town seems inconsequential, particularly two or three scenes involving a diver who adds little to the film save for some nice underwater photography. While a mix of emotional highs and lows can work, here's it's just so mannered, calculated, and done with an off-putting emotional disinterest. Fire at Sea has so many obvious counterpoints to highlight thematic or symbolic material, it's as if Rosi cared more about the metaphors than the actual human suffering. There's minimal connection between the refugees and the people in town. None of the townspeople in the film work in the Italian coast guard, and only one person actually interacts with the refugees or talks about them meaningfully. For everyone else, the refugees don't seem to exist. Toward the beginning of the film, an elderly woman cooks while listening to a radio. The DJ reads a report about drowned refugees. Those poor people, she says, and carries on. There's a doctor in town who treats refugees fished from the Mediterranean. He recounts this in troubled tones. The things he's seen, the dire conditions, haunt his dreams. The doctor later appears in the film talking to Samuele about the boy's lazy eye. (A metaphor for how many people choose not to see or cannot see the horrors that refugees face--okay, yeah, I get it). Samuele goes off, performing for the camera like a neurotic elderly man. In another movie, this may be charming. In Fire at Sea, the moment made me angry, and probably not in the way that Rosi intended. Yeah, okay, I get it, the contrast is meant to upset the audience's comfortable lives and sensibilities. But isn't all of this also obvious? Fire at Sea is most effective when focusing on the refugees and the rescue teams. That's when the film feels humane rather than an exercise in contrasting aesthetics. A man who's been beaten on the boat literally cries blood. A woman breaks down before the camera, and despite being severely dehydrated, she first pours a cup of water over her head in relief. In a refugee processing center, a room of refugees prays as if in a Pentecostal revival, singing their story of survival. At night, refugees from different countries have a pick-up soccer game, as if some humanity, that dignity they risked their lives for, has been restored to them. But then back to Samuele, who slurps up spaghetti good and loud for laughs. I understand Rosi's intentions intellectually, and this collection of contrasts and disconnects does sound interesting in the abstract. But these are real people, and the last thing I want out of films or books is to be merely interesting. Being merely interesting is easy. The more I think about Fire at Sea, the more I'm offended by the choice to aestheticize human suffering for the sake of mere interestingness. Rosi may be well-intentioned, but Fire at Sea came across as unintentionally callous. That may have been the point. That doesn't mean I have to like it. It's telling that the final scenes of Fire at Sea are all about Samuele rather than the refugees. Those poor people, Rosi's film seems to say, and carries on.
Review: Fire at Sea photo
When refugees are a secondary concern
Sometimes I'll see a movie and that makes me shake my head and say, "Okay, yeah, I get it". These sorts of movies are ones that I can understand at a formal, metaphorical, or thematic level, and yet even though I understand t...

BHFF Review: We Are the Flesh

Oct 13 // Hubert Vigilla
TRAILER IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK (NSFW) [embed]220963:43146:0[/embed] We Are the Flesh (Tenemos le carne)Director: Emiliano Rocha MinterRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: Mexico  We Are the Flesh reminds me of early Clive Barker splatterpunk stories; one scene in thermal vision even recalls Barker's little-seen short film The Forbidden. There's also a hint of Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man, though it's shorn of the technological madness and kinetic stuff--this transgression is luridly organic. Maybe Tetsuo by way of Gaspar Noe, with occasional outbursts of hysterical excess straight out of Andrzej Zulawski (Possession). The film also has some moist, mucus-rich makeup effects that wouldn't be out of place in a Brian Yuzna movie (Society, From Beyond). This paragraph is either a warning or a recommendation--if you want blood, you got it. There's a man with a demonic smile (Noe Hernandez) who lives in an abandoned building. He gets high on homemade gasoline and gets off on solitude. A boy (Diego Gamaliel) and a girl (Maria Evoli), siblings, enter his building. They're desperately in search of food and shelter. The man lets them stay as long as they help him construct a claustrophobic landscape within the building. Think of something like a cave and a uterus complete with a pseudo birth canal; a psychoanalytic hellscape where the id can thrive. All the while, the man tries to coerce the boy and the girl to break social, sexual, and interpersonal taboos. Minter builds up dread through whispers and shouts as he mounts transgressions upon each other. There's incest, rape, murder, cannibalism, on-camera sex, and necrophilia, and even now I can't say what it all adds up to. We Are the Flesh may not add up to anything, to be honest. Even though Hernandez and Evoli give the film their all--Evoli in particular goes for psychotic broke--the movie may just be images and noise with the intent to shock. I think there's a political allegory about Mexico and poverty, that a lack of means reduces us to some base state of nature in which social mores no longer matter. But it's a bit of a guess. It might be a stretch. Sometimes extreme cinema is just extreme cinema, but I can't help but sense something more meaningful behind all of this given how repulsed yet affected I felt. When someone lets out a blood-curdling scream, there has to be a reason, right? Maybe? Or was it just the desire to scream? This struggle for meaning is probably an intentional provocation from Minter. When confronted with something shocking, I usually feel challenged to interpret it. Yet Minter evades overt meaning making. There seems to be 10 minutes missing from the final act of the 80-minute film. Several events take place off camera unexplained, and it leads to total narrative disorientation. We Are the Flesh was a feverish nightmare already, and then that skimpy dream logic breaks down completely. No order, not for this this movie. What Minter provides is a sustained sense of unease, however. That feeling remained with me even after a less than satisfying conclusion. Even if We Are the Flesh only prompts exasperation and disgust, it's such a strange trip into the abyss I want to send others down there into the dark who are willing. Minter, like or hate it, is a Mexican filmmaker to watch. I'm reminded of something Clive Barker said about movies once (paraphrased): I want to feel something, even if it's just disgust; better that than thinking, okay, let's go for a pizza. After We Are the Flesh, pizza was the last thing I wanted.
Review: We Are the Flesh photo
The ecstasy of pure id
Reviewing We Are the Flesh from writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter is tricky. On the one hand, it's a deeply flawed film aimed at a limited audience. It's transgressive in the extreme, sexually explicit bordering on pornog...

NYFF Review: Toni Erdmann

Oct 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220911:43142:0[/embed] Toni ErdmannDirector: Maren AdeRating: RRelease Date: July 16, 2016 (Germany); December 25, 2016 (USA)Country: Germany/Austria I love Groucho Marx as a character, but I would never want someone like that as a father. In some ways, Toni Erdmann is what it would be like if Groucho Marx was Margaret Dumont's dad. Ines (Sandra Huller) is our girl Dumont. She's a high-level consultant working in Romania to negotiate an outsourcing deal. Like so many women in the business world, she needs to work twice as hard as her male counterparts, fighting the entrenched sexism of the workplace while out-politicking others in the office. She's always working and seems to get off on forceful shows of control. While trying to unwind at a day spa, she complains that her masseuse was too gentle. "I want to be roughed up," she smiles. Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is her dad Groucho. Rather than a painted mustache, Winfried's got a pair of ugly false teeth and a wig. It's not hard to see why Ines' mother divorced Winfried, or why Ines tries to avoid her dad. He imposes, he mocks, he's a bit of a chaos agent. The man can't take anything seriously. After his dog dies, Winfried spontaneously vacations in Romania to connect with his daughter, eventually adopting the persona of Toni Erdmann. The name sounds so serious and German (redundant?), but in English the name apparently translates into "Toni Meerkat". Ines is too ruthless and needs to lighten up, and her father is a potential catalyst for that change. Questions of value are pretty common in works about corporate life (i.e., human value vs. the bottom line), and these are often the weakest parts of Toni Erdmann because they're familiar in an obvious way. Perhaps Ade sensed this when sculpting the final edit; a character and a plot thread totally vanishes from the movie at a certain point. For a film that strays into unconventional territory, Ines' reconnection with the world of the common folk is expected. Toni isn't just her Groucho but her Drop Dead Fred. Ade even uses the common grammar of these contrasts between wealth and poverty in the globalized world: from Ines' office window, she can look over a Romanian hovel. When Toni Erdmann lets go, it's at its best. Huller plays so many of her scenes like she's at the verge of a breakdown. She's a great straightwoman, but there are moments of absurd release that hint at the person Ines was before she bought into the quest for status. There are different Ines facades for the different roles she has to play or the tasks thrust upon her, but rarely does she get to be herself. Winfried is a little more one-note on the surface since his solution for everything is a joke, but there are moments of vulnerability between father and daughter that suggest that jokes are all he has left. Connecting with someone emotionally can be painful and awkward, and humor is one way of circumventing those difficulties. If the only tool you have is a hammer, you wind up hammering everything. That goes for both father and daughter. A lot of what works in Toni Erdmann depends on what the audience brings to it, which might be the case of any movie about parents and children. The way we measure other families inevitably winds up being our own family experiences, which is what makes Toni Erdmann familiar in a surprising way. What is it about Ines that I see in myself, or Winfied in my own dad, or vice versa? Sometimes I look at these on-screen family relationships and see myself or people I know. Other times I see versions of characters. Families are weird like that, and when Toni Erdmann is at its weirdest, it's also its most heartfelt.
NYFF Review: Toni Erdmann photo
Estranged daughter, strange father
There's no way Toni Erdmann could ever live up to its hype. Reviews from Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival touted the German film as a 162-minute screwball comedy masterpiece, packed with high emotional stake...

Review: Under the Shadow

Oct 06 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220388:42856:0[/embed] Under the Shadow (زیر سایه)Director: Babak AnvariRating: PG-13Release Date: October 7, 2016 (limited)Country: Iran  It's easy to spot shadows everywhere in Anvari's film given the nature of the beast. Set in 1980s Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War, there are frequent air raid sirens and the threat of missiles coming down on civilian targets at any moment. Anvari sets up a particularly memorable tableau of an unexploded missile that's come through an apartment ceiling. An elderly man lies prone on the ground as if pinned there beneath the shell; the pointed nose seems to have pierced him through the heart. Our hero Shideh (Narges Rashidi) lives in the apartment below, and that particular attack has left her ceiling a mess of cracks. For the characters who live in the building, their meager defense against being blown to pieces involves taping their windows and waiting in the basement for the terror to pass. There's more than the threat of bombs. Under the Shadow opens with Shideh getting kicked out of medical school because of her activism during the Iranian revolution. She's maintained a defiantly western mentality even after the Shah was exiled. Shideh rarely wears a hijab or chador (traditional headscarf and cloak, respectively), and she owns a VCR--a Jane Fonda aerobic workout is a form of dissent. When her husband is called away to the frontlines, Shideh is left alone to look after their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). The rest of the building seems to be fleeing, and there's talk of djinn, an ancient evil of legend, riding on the wind. Anvari gets a lot of thematic mileage out of the chador and masking tape on windows. Ana Lilly Amirpour, writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, said that wearing a chador felt very bat-like to her, which helped inspire her chic vampire film (sort of like the Persian-language cousin of Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive). For Shideh in Under the Shadow, the chador is a stifling metaphor: an invisible specter delineated in a sheet, a manifestation of Iran's political oppression, the symbol of a gender role she's disavowed. These things cannot be kept out by putting masking tape on windows. At various times in the film, the tape is peeling away. Anvari was born in Iran and lived there 17 years, but is now based in the UK. While he's sometimes distanced himself from the film's politics to emphasize the personal story between Shideh and Dorsa, it's hard for me to view Under the Shadow apolitically. It's a political movie because Shideh's a politically involved hero. Even if it's not always front and center, her actions speak to her politics. Shideh's struggles to keep the bombs and the djinn out aren't just for her own dignity but for Dorsa's future. Dorsa's little doll goes missing amid the chaos, and by extension we're left to wonder what future Dorsa's daughter might face if they were to remain in Iran. (Under the Shadow was shot in Jordan given numerous government restrictions/requirements when making films in Iran.) I'll admit I didn't find much of Under the Shadow scary, but I rarely find horror movies scary. It's eerie, however, and well-crafted. Most times I appreciate a horror movie for being memorable more than being scary. Rashidi is a solid emotional anchor for the film. Manshadi's not given as much to do acting-wise, but that says more about the nature of Dorsa as a character, who's a little one-note adorable. Rashidi plays Shideh with that exasperated air of a parent pushed to her limit, a woman who cares for her daughter so much yet can't help but feel she's also failing her in some way. It might be the all the other worries of country and career that makes her feel this way, pressing down more and more. The cracks begin to show, and they grow bigger, and it's always getting darker.
Review: Under the Shadow photo
Darkness, darkness everywhere
Some of the most notable indie horror movies of the last few years have been by women or about women. For example, see Jennifer Kent's The Babadook, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows, and Robert Eggers' The Witch. Each ...

Headshot trailer photo
Headshot trailer

The Raid's Iko Uwais beats the hell out of jabronis in this trailer for Headshot


BOOM! Headshot
Sep 07
// Hubert Vigilla
The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berandal opened things up for director Gareth Evans and star Iwo Uwais. Uwais is back in action for Headshot, a film co-directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto. If Tjahjanto's name lo...
Elle trailer photo
Elle trailer

Paul Verhoeven is back with Elle starring Isabelle Huppert, watch the trailer


An empowering, lighthearted rape movie?
Sep 06
// Hubert Vigilla
Though Showgirls eventually achieved camp/cult status, it was a major strike against Paul Verhoeven's career. He couldn't find steady footing in Hollywood afterwards, Starship Troopers notwithstanding. Showgirls also torpedoe...
Guardians trailer photo
Guardians trailer

Check out the trailer for Guardians, a Russian Avengers-style superhero epic


In Russia, love comes to get you
Aug 26
// Hubert Vigilla
In the future, all movies will be superhero movies and all restaurants will be Taco Bell. Search your feelings, you know it to be true. While the United States has flooded the market with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the...

Review: Train to Busan

Aug 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220738:43030:0[/embed] Train to Busan (부산행)Director: Yeon Sang-HoRelease Date: July 22, 2016Rating: NR I assumed while watching it that a big part of the reason Seoul Station was animated was the costs that would have been involved with making it for real. It's a sprawling narrative, going all around a city that I expect is very expensive to shoot in. A higher budget would have absolutely allowed the movie to be live-action, but the resources weren't available, so animation was the only way to tell the story. And that's fair enough; you do the best you can with the resources that you have.  Train to Busan solidifies that theory, because it works on a much smaller scale than its predecessor. Much of the film takes place in a train, bringing to mind Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer (which, it should be noted, is another film I liked less than most of my movie-obsessed friends), though it's on an even smaller scale than that. This isn't a future world train. It doesn't have greenhouses or saunas or crazy engine rooms. It's just a train, albeit a pretty nice one. (The KTX looks much nicer than the Amtrak train I took this past weekend, and I'm now extremely jealous of South Korea's infrastructure. But I digress:) The potential benefit of a movie with a small scale is the ability to really connect with its characters. Without crazy set pieces to eat up minutes, there's more time to learn about (and hopefully care about) everyone. And caring is crucial in a film like this, where, let's face it, major characters are going to die. That's a thing in zombie movies, and Train to Busan is no exception. It's also a Yeon Sang-Ho movie, which means a whole heckuva lot of people are going to die. Probably in terribly depressing ways.  Or so I had thought. And, look, characters do die in some horrible and depressing ways, but it didn't feel as consequential as I had expected. Part of me missed that pervasive horror that has defined Yeon Sang-Ho's earlier work, but another part of me was glad that things weren't quite so dark. Things definitely get bad, and there are bad people who do bad things (and make good people do bad things), but it just doesn't feel as horrible as it did in the earlier works. I assume that this has to do with the live-action thing and the fact that a larger budget (I'm guessing) means that someone somewhere said, "Hey, we need people to go to this thing, so cut back just a bit." It's not neutered, necessarily, but it's definitely scaled back. For most people, I think that's a positive, but I'm kind of on the fence. I know I felt more from the deaths in Seoul Station than I did in Train to Busan, even though I was distanced from the action. The characters themselves were just better developed. And perhaps that's because it was less ensemble-y than its sequel. There may only be one protagonist, but Train to Busan is as much about the other people on the train. There are multiple character threads, and while they're easy to keep track of, they all feel like they needed more time to build up. The most interesting character by leaps and bounds is Ma Dong-Seok's Sang-Hwa, whose personality is obvious from the moment you see him in his absolutely fantastic getup. Costuming says a lot, and his costuming is particularly on point. Other characters have pretty good costuming as well, but nothing is so interesting. You know who the other characters are by their clothes, but you don't know who they are deep down. He is the only character who really feels alive. But don't let this sound like it's all negative, because it's not. It's clear that Yeon Sang-Ho has learned a lot from his time directing animated films, and I hope that he goes forward with more live-action films, because it's a very nice looking one. It's very well directed, and I want to see him go further (and with more money). It's also got a different take on zombie mythology. These zombies function solely on vision (and, I guess, sound, but to a different extent). As soon as you're out of sight, you're instantly out of their minds. (Worth noting: I'm fairly sure that was not the case in Seoul Station, which (if true) is problematic, but eh. It's not that big a deal.) It's a change, and it means that hiding is a very effective tactic to stopping a zombie attack. And because of that, the characters are able to do some interesting things. In the cloak of darkness, they can play tricks in order to move the zombies as they like. There are some very clever moments as the characters attempt to get through the infested cars, and there are definitely some very intense moments. Part of what makes it intense is that this is a zombie movie completely devoid of firearms. No guns means no bullets to the head means no dead zombies. They can just keep coming and coming. And while it doesn't quite work out that way (the tension is diminished somewhat by unclear rules regarding the zombies), it's genuinely refreshing to see how characters try to deal with an enemy that they cannot kill. I am fairly sure that I've never seen a zombie film without guns before, and for that alone Train to Busan deserves props. For all the times it feels like Just Another Zombie Movie, it also feels like something unique, and in a genre that's this stale, that means a lot.
Train to Busan Review photo
A bit more than just Zombies On A Train
In my review of Yeon Sang-Ho's Seoul Station from this year's New York Asian Film Festival, I said that I felt it would have been better as a live-action film than it was as an animated one. There was just something...

Godzilla Resurgence photo
Godzilla Resurgence

The new Godzilla Resurgence trailer is full of gravitas, pathos, and splosions


You'll cry, and you'll kaboom
Jul 19
// Hubert Vigilla
I wasn't that much of a fan of Gareth Edwards' 2014 Godzilla. While well-shot, the story was so-so and focused too much on Aaron Taylor-Johnson's bland lead character. It didn't help that Blandy McBlanderson was surrounded by...

Review: The Lobster

May 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219844:42633:0[/embed] The LobsterDirector: Yorgos LanthimosRating: n/aRelease Date: October 16, 2015 (UK); May 13, 2016 (USA)Country: UK, Greece, France  In the world of The Lobster, single people are social pariahs. After the death of a spouse or a divorce, a single person is forced to check into a hotel filled with other single people. They have forty-five days to pair up and get married, otherwise they are killed and have their consciousness transferred to an animal. Lots of people choose dogs, but throughout the movie we also see horses, pigs, and peacocks. Our hero David (Colin Ferrell, with a slight gut) chooses a lobster; he brings his brother (who is now a dog) with him to the hotel. You can earn extra time to prevent metempsychosis by hunting down single people in the woods with a tranquilizer gun. The hotel operates with business-like efficiency, providing scheduled social activities like some bad singles cruise from hell. To reinforce the importance of relationships, the hotel staff puts on skits: A single man pantomimes eating a meal alone, he chokes, he dies; a man and his wife pantomime eating a meal together, he chokes, she administers the Heimlich maneuver, he lives--applause. To determine whom you can pair up with, you're asked whether you're straight or homosexual (the latter sounds so much like business-ese in the context of the film). David asks if there's a bi-sexual option and is shot down--you can only choose one or the other, not both. Paper or plastic, soup or salad, efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. And it's blackly hilarious. The international cast adds to the oddball appeal of The Lobster, and they deliver their lines in an intentionally stilted manner. Olivia Colman's hotel manager strikes just the right balance between clinical, supportive, and fascistic to make her moments memorable. As for the guests, at times they seem like awkward pre-teens going through the early stages of adolescence. David befriends men played by John C. Reilly (with a slight lisp) and Ben Wishaw (with a slight limp), but they act like boys in the schoolyard. In some scenes the lines are bumbled or devoid of actual human emotion, like they're reading a script or they're pod people acting like humans are supposed to act. Flirtation is no longer about attraction or fun but learned behaviors about how people are supposed to flirt, or the desperation of a ticking clock scenario; relationships are a form of mutually beneficial transaction (i.e., we get to remain humans) that's not necessarily satisfying. Some of the best moments in The Lobster come from Lanthimos' exploration of the various forces that urge people to get into relationships against their will. The time limit might be taken as a biological imperative to have kids, or even just a desire to get married by a certain age; the pressures of the hotel staff are the different cultural, familial, and religious expectations attached to marriage and relationships. Any time your relatives have nagged you about dating, marriage, or kids, you have occupied a room in Lanthimos' hotel. Lanthimos also pokes fun at the arbitrary ways we sometimes choose who we want to be with. Limping Wishaw is looking for a woman who also has a limp, because something in common (no matter how arbitrary) might mean greater compatibility. Sometimes shared interests or traits are an arbitrary reason to get into a relationship. Does he or she really need to like your favorite band? Is a 99% match on OK Cupid really a guarantee of compatibility? A number is just a number like a limp is just a limp, and what people share together isn't a matter of arithmetic or mere reflection; there's a kind of private language and grammar that develops between people who are really fond of one another, and these things can't be forced or imposed from the outside. Since The Lobster is rooted in binaries, we also get to learn about the harshness of single-life out in the woods. In the wild and the damp, we meet the leader of The Loners played by Lea Seydoux, who's both a kind of political revolutionary and a radicalized kook. She asserts her own absurd will over The Loners that is in stark contrast to the rules of the hotel--instead of relationships, it's all about forceful solitude. And yet like the hotel, her rules are equally arbitrary, equally absurd, and also blackly hilarious. It's no longer a case of "paper or plastic" among The Loners, but rather "with us or against us." Lanthimos is equally suspicious of these denials of attraction and the repression of our desire to connect with someone else; it's another imposition on human nature and individual choice. In the woods, animals who were single people wander through shots. They're probably better off. For all the absurd and anarchic humor throughout The Lobster, the movie loses momentum before it comes to an end. It's as if Lanthimos exhausted the possibilities of his conceit and didn't figure out the final pivot his story could take. (I mentioned Barthelme earlier, and his best stories often have a sort of pivot near the end, revealing an additional train of thought that's been operating, parallel or hidden, all along.) The Lobster can feel a little one-note at times, but I suppose it's really one note that's played by two opposing sides, a kind of tyranny of logic. During the New York Film Festival press conference after the screening, Lanthimos said his screenplay was very logical. The comment drew some giggles from the press, yet it's true. The Lobster adheres to the logic of its conceit, and maybe too much. But there's still enough to love.
Review: The Lobster photo
Love is strange (so is loneliness)
I still haven't gotten around to seeing Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth, though I intend to. The blackly surreal 2009 film was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar and drew favorable comparisons to the work of Luis Bunuel ...

Review: Dragon Inn

May 09 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220493:42920:0[/embed] Dragon Inn (Long Men Ke Zhan, 龍門客棧)Director: King HuRating: NRRelease Date: May 6, 2016 (limited)Country: Taiwan An evil eunuch named Cao (Ying Bai) has seized power from one of his political enemies, putting him to death and exiling his children. Cao makes a power play to assassinate these exiles, which leads to a conflict with three heroes on a mission to prevent this from happening. There's a dashing rogue who carries an umbrella (Shih Chun), and there's a swashbuckling brother and sister duo consisting of a bullish hot-head (Hsieh Han) and a woman so skilled with a sword she causes gender confusion among her foes (Lingfeng Shangguan). There's conflict between these warriors, which has to be set aside to save the day. Sure, it's a familiar dynamic that isn't particularly complicated, but Dragon Inn is such an undeniable joy, like a grandparent's cooking. Yet to call it high-end cinematic comfort food sells Hu's craftsmanship short. He's mastering the form with just his second film in the genre. Like certain scenes of Come Drink with Me, much of the tension in Dragon Inn is the result of keeping heroes and villains in close quarters with one another. Cao's goons overrun the eponymous inn, which is situated in the middle of a rocky wasteland--part sanctuary, part target; a little bit Motel 6, a little bit Alamo. The heroes are grossly outnumbered, and they're always targets or under siege. When Chun's dashing rogue appears, there's a sense of calm about him, as if all is well while he tries to control the situation, eventually leading to a scruff. Lingfeng and Han have some comic moments, particularly during one scene where they dine with their enemies as a bit of subterfuge and do their darndest to avoid being poisoned. I mentioned the gender confusion earlier, which is a common trope of martial stories of all kinds--women warriors mistaken for men given their prowess. In many of King Hu's films, he has women as the front-and-center heroes. It's Cheng Pei-pei in Come Drink with Me (who would later play Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Hsu Feng in A Touch of Zen. Though Chun's mysterious rogue is the primary badass of the movie, Lingfeng's young heroine in Dragon Inn gets a fine moment to shine against dozens of goons, and this gender confusion offers a great way of undercutting traditional gender roles and gender expectations with the draw of action, as if skewering sexism, the patriarchy, and machismo with an elegant jian. The fights of Dragon Inn are staged like a movie musical, which may have a lot to do with the influence of Peking Opera. There's also the feel of a samurai movie about the fights since the visual rhythms and vocabulary of the Chinese martial arts movie were still in development. There's a major leap made between Dragon Inn and A Touch of Zen in terms of the pacing, staging, movements, and editing of the fight scenes, which makes both films essential for action aficionados. There's a softness to the fights here that hardens in Zen, as if Hu would ironically discover the visceral stuff of combat while making his meditative spiritual epic. A similar leap was made from Come Drink with Me to Dragon Inn. When the genre eventually turned away from swordsman pictures to the unarmed fighting genre, the vocabulary, grammar, and sheet forcefulness of the action would change again. Beyond its history, Dragon Inn is so watchable because it's a pure delight. The rousing Lan-ping Chow score is like some sonic representation of a dashing chilvaric code, all flight and blades and evasions. The height of the wuxia film in the late 1960s is still a glorious landmark nearly 50 years later.
Review: Dragon Inn photo
King Hu's landmark early wuxia film
While King Hu's 1971 epic A Touch of Zen is his towering masterpiece, his earlier film Dragon Inn may be the best entry point into the director's work. This 1967 adventure is one of the essential early martial arts ...

Review: A Touch of Zen

Apr 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220492:42919:0[/embed] A Touch of Zen (Xia Nu, 俠女)Director: King HuRating: NRRelease Date: April 22, 2016 (New York, with subsequent expansion)Country: Taiwan A Touch of Zen is such a singular sort of movie. After the success of Come Drink with Me and Dragon Inn, Hu had the creative freedom to do what he wanted, and the result was a movie of different moods and different modes. There is the wuxia element centered around a heroic fugitive named Yang (Feng Hsu), a swordswoman fighting for her life after corrupt government officials have murdered the rest of her family. She's one of Hu's many female heroes, though this movie doesn't have the same level of gender role confusion seen in other martial arts films. Yang is a woman but never mistaken for a man (the common genre convention), and she's the most capable fighter in the film. The centerpiece fight in the bamboo grove is an exhilarating bit of old school swordsman action. When A Touch of Zen was released as two films, the bamboo fight concluded the first movie and opened the second. Hu further adapts the theatrical movements of Peking Opera and the visual style of Japanese samurai pictures (en vogue at the time) to a swashbuckling cinematic form uniquely suited to Chinese martial arts. Trampolines give the heroes and villains a kind of superheroic flair as they clash with one another on rooftops and treetops. Hsu slashes, evades, and ripostes, and Hu cuts the action together to add intensity to the elegant movements on display. The action in A Touch of Zen feels like a transition period in fight choreography between the stage-like combat of the 1960s to the faster-paced cinematic combat that would be pioneered by later Shaw Brothers filmmakers Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-Leung. Yet the first fight doesn't occur until at least one hour into the film. Instead of rollicking adventure, A Touch of Zen opens with the banal rhythms of pastoral life. We follow a bumbling mama's boy/artist-scholar named Ku (Chun Shih), who takes an interest in Yang and a blind man (Ying Bai) who are hiding in an abandoned ruin. Ku is an archetypal fool, and a great vessel for the audience into the story (which has an archetypal opening: a stranger comes into town). While he's crafty, Ku's a coward and he falls in love too easily, which is a great contrast to Yang's ruggedly stoic heroism. Before A Touch of Zen, Chun Shih played the hero of Hu's Dragon Inn. In a subversive move, Hu has a previous star play against type and also against gender stereotype. And then there's the Zen Buddhism, which pervades the film's visual style emphasizing nature, seasons, and impermanence. I mentioned patience at the beginning of the review, and Hu's return to slow rhythms and long takes seems to give the audience a chance to breathe and take in each scene. A group of Buddhist monks show up when Yang is on the run, and they are unstoppable force and immovable object. They're shot with diffuse or star-filtered light emanating from behind them, and they seem to be followed by a supernatural veil of mist. The Zen aspects figure heavily in the film's unexpectedly bonkers finale, which I can only be described as 2001: A Space Odyssey meets El Topo.  The 4K digital restoration looks great during the daytime shots--you can make out the dust on King Hu's camera lenses as he lovingly absorbs hillsides and waterfalls and sky--though I noticed some major issues with image noise during the nighttime scenes. One of the pivotal action sequences in the last half of the film is at night, and it was often difficult to make out what was happening in each scene. Part of it may be the limitations of lighting and photography that Hu had to work with back then, though I sense there might have been an issue with the projection and/or the copy I saw during my screening. I'm curious to see A Touch of Zen again now that it's out in theaters, just to see for myself if the digital noise has been eliminated/addressed. Besides, I could use a little more patience and adventure in my life.
Review: A Touch of Zen photo
The beguiling wuxia masterpiece in 4k
A Touch of Zen is King Hu's masterpiece, yet unless you're patient and a bit adventurous, it may not be the best introduction to his work. Dragon Inn, his straightforward wuxia classic from 1967, might be a more palatable ent...

Review: April and the Extraordinary World

Apr 08 // Geoff Henao
[embed]220489:42898:0[/embed] April and the Extraordinary WorldDirectors: Christian Desmares and Franck EkinciRating: PGRelease Date: April 8, 2016 In an alternate 1870 France, scientists were being mysteriously kidnapped. As it's revealed, Napoleon III was in search of a serum that would turn his soldiers invincible, created by a scientist who successfully injected the serum into two lizards. Frightened by their ability to talk, however, Napoleon III destroys the makeshift lab and everyone inside. The next day, Napoleon IV signs a peace treaty with Prussia. As time passes, notable scientists like Albert Einstein and Alfred Nobel go missing, halting the advancement of science in the late 1800s. By 1931, the world is still reliant on steam and charcoal to run their machinery, essentially creating the steampunk setting of April and the Extraordinary World. The scientist's descendants are on the cusp of re-creating the serum that would essentially grant immortality. However, they are hunted down by a French officer under orders to kidnap them for enlistment into France's weapons program. The incident culminates in the loss of many lives and the family's young daughter, April, left alone with their talking cat, Darwin. Ten years later, April is on the brink of remaking the serum when she suddenly finds herself in the middle of a dark mystery that ties her missing family in with a secret government conspiracy that can change the entire world. April and the Extraordinary World is a mix of Hayao Miyazaki's fascination with machinery and strong female leads, Pixar's overarching theme of strong family bonds, and the distinctly "French" style of animation. As previously mentioned, the art style is more or less governed by steampunk, giving this alternate Paris a very bleak and dull look that permeates beyond the visual elements of the film. Everything is very detailed and looks technically amazing; however, it just lacks that certain "IT factor" that Studio Ghibli films have. The film's plot is very predictable, even down to the plot twists that you know are coming. Given the film's PG rating, there just weren't many risks that could have been taken with its plot. However, despite this, the film is aimed more so at adults, given the strong ties to issues that aren't important or captivating to the normal child. There's much to be said about the political issues at hand, the sci-fi elements of an alternate universe that runs on steam, and the outdated notions of a modern film falling into an all-too-familiar trope, but that's better left for armchair activists and essayists. While April and the Extraordinary World is a solid family film, I wish it explored its "extraordinary world" more. Given its title, one would assume the setting, which is admittedly the most exciting aspect of the film, would play more of a focal point in the film's narrative. All of this isn't to say April and the Extraordinary World isn't enjoyable, it just leaves you wishing for something truly extraordinary.
Review photo
More like April and the Ordinary World.
Animated films are the best, aren't they? They give more life to their worlds than most live-action films do with their mixed use of CGI and human actors. Even as technology advances to the point where CG characters will be f...

NYC: 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest showcases the badassery of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Golden Harvest

Apr 06 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220479:42891:0[/embed] Enter the Dragon (1973)Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Bolo Yeung Even though Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) is my favorite Bruce Lee movie, I can't deny the importance of Enter the Dragon. The landmark movie brought Lee international stardom, and it helped kick off my personal martial arts movie obsession. (Ditto Infra-Man.) The film would also help propel the film careers of perennial bad guy Bolo Yeung (Bloodsport) and blaxploitation star Jim Kelly (Black Belt Jones). The set-up is simple: infiltrate an island, punch and kick people really hard, repeat. In addition to one of the most brutal kicks to the head in cinema history and a funky ass Lalo Schifrin score, Enter the Dragon manages to impart some martial arts philosophy amid the mayhem. Sammo Hung makes a cameo appearance, as does Jackie Chan in two blink-or-you'll-miss-him moments while Bruce Lee dispenses of faceless goons. [embed]220479:42892:0[/embed] The Man from Hong Kong aka The Dragon Flies (1975)Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, George Lazenby, Roger Ward, Hugh Keays-Byrne Australian exploitation movies are bonkers in the best possible way. Take The Man from Hong Kong for example. The film stars Shanghai-born Jimmy Wang Yu (Master of the Flying Guillotine, One-Armed Swordsman) as a violent Chinese supercop sent to fight an Australian crime boss played by George Lazenby (James freakin' Bond). The film is recklessly enjoyable. Yu blows up cars, demolishes a Chinese restaurant, blows up buildings, and effortlessly seduces comely Aussie women (whom he apparently detested behind the scenes). Sammo Hung also appears in this movie, as does Roger Ward (Mad Max) and Hugh Keays-Byrne (Mad Max, Mad Max: Fury Road). For more on The Man from Hong Kong and other great Australian exploitation movies, I urge you to watch Mark Hartley's excellent documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! [embed]220479:42889:0[/embed] Pedicab Driver (1989)Starring Sammo Hung, Nina Li, Lau Kar-Leung, Billy Chow Both Enter the Dragon and The Man from Hong Kong are American and Australian co-productions, respectively. Pedicab Driver, on the other hand, is a Hong Kong movie through and through, featuring hard-hitting action, broad Cantonese comedy, machismo, and extreme melodrama. It may be a matter of taste, but I love that histrionic hodgepodge. (Though its gender and sexual politics are definitely of a different era.) The film follows the travails of some pedicab drivers as they look for love and seek justice against an irredeemable crime boss. Pedicab Driver features an exceptional fight between director/star Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-Leung. Lau was one of Shaw Brothers' premiere action filmmakers, which makes his on-screen battle with Hung feel like a generational passing of the torch. Sammo Hung also dukes it out with Billy Chow (Fist of Legend). Both fights typify the fast, fierce choreography that Hung perfected in the 80s. [embed]220479:42890:0[/embed] Rumble in the Bronx (1995)Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Francoise Yip, Bill Tung Jackie Chan didn't break big into the US market until Rumble in the Bronx, which received a major push when Quentin Tarantino championed Chan's work at the 1995 MTV Movie Awards. For most Americans, Rumble in the Bronx was Jackie Chan 101: Introduction to Jackie Chan. While not his best Golden Harvest movie, Chan shows off his prowess as a choreographer, stuntman, and cornball comedian, including a memorable clash with a gang in a hideout full of props. Based on the info listed by Subway Cinema and Metrograph, Old School Kung Fu Fest is apparently screening the longer Hong Kong version of Rumble in the Bronx rather than the American cut released by New Line Cinema. This means you get a better-paced film with the original score and sound effects, and you'll be seeing a version of the movie not readily available stateside.
Old School Kung Fu Fest photo
Celebrating Hong Kong action cinema
This weekend (April 8-10) is the 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest, put on by Subway Cinema and held at Metrograph in the Lower East Side. This year's unifying theme is Golden Harvest. Co-founded by Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho, Gol...

Old School Kung Fu Fest photo
Old School Kung Fu Fest

NYC: Check out the trailer for the Old School Kung Fu Fest at Metrograph (April 8-10)


A harvest from Golden Harvest
Mar 29
// Hubert Vigilla
The 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest is coming to New York at the ginchy new Metrograph cinema. The Old School Kung Fu Fest is put on by Subway Cinema, who are also responsible for The New York Asian Film Festival (NAYFF), one of ...

Review: Baskin

Mar 24 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220410:42869:0[/embed] BaskinDirector: Can EvrenolRating: NRRelease Date: March 25, 2016Country: Turkey Can Evrenol's Baskin began its life as a short film, and it's pretty obvious in the feature length version of the story. It even ends with the sort of moment that's more acceptable or expected in a short. As a feature-length movie, Baskin's a bit thin, which is different from a movie being lean--in terms of content, think chicken wings vs. chicken breast. Five dirty cops are called in for back up. They arrive at a decrepit building that used to be a police station during the Ottoman Empire. Deviltry ensues. Of course, it takes about half an hour to get to the meaty, muddy, bloody stuff. Evrenol draws out moments of Baskin to varying degrees of success. Our first introduction to the five cops is a tense and sordid scene. We watch the bro-y camaraderie of this group as they go about their hypermasculine way of life (i.e., they talk about getting laid and try to pick a fight with an innocent kid). As they leave the restaurant, they listen to a pop song and get lost on the road. There are villagers with faces like Rondo Hatton, and then finally the building. Oh yeah, also portentous frogs. In all this lead up, one of the cops has recurring visions, the first of which involves a memory about the death of a childhood friend. Whenever a short is turned into a feature-length film, the movie usually feels like it's killing time. Baskin can't avoid this, but it tries to breathe a little life into its stock characters. A few of the drawn out moments effectively heighten the dread of the situation, delaying the gratification and catharsis of a jump scare. Cinematographer Alp Korfali shoots everything with great care, with some impeccable lighting and wonderful compositions. It gives the pre-building portion of the film an entirely different feel from the bugged-out building stuff. Some shots have a deeply saturated palette straight out of classic Argento, others have a sort of grainy quality you'd expect out of a crime drama. The core audience for Baskin will mainly be drawn to the third act set piece, which is sort of like Lucio Fulci doing Hellraiser. While the rest of the film's slowness seemed to be an excuse to hit the feature-length mark, the finale uses the slowness to give the proceedings a sense of languid ceremony. This is a ritual, a vile one, and these are the events of the ritual, and these are the words that are spoken, and these are the screams of the men, and these people (if they are even still considered people) have done this before many times. At the center of this finale is an actor named Mehmet Cerrahoglu, who has a look and demeanor so unnerving that he may become an international horror icon if he continues to find roles. Baskin shows lots of promise from Evrenol, who seems like an avid student and lover of the genre. The hallucinatory imagery of the film has a unique flavor to it, as does the ritual imagery, and even the cop stuff looks solid. I'm just hoping his next feature feels more like a full-blown feature rather than a blown-up short.
Review: Baskin photo
1980s Italian-style horror (from Turkey)
I was talking to another film critic a few weeks ago and he mentioned catching a screener of Can Evrenol's Baskin. "You have to see it," he said. He added that he spent the last third of the movie looking away in disgust...

Old School Kung Fu photo
Eight classic kung fu flicks
There's nothing like a good kung fu movie to make me smile. When done right, they're almost like musicals, just with more kicking in the face. If you live in New York and love kung fu films, you're in luck. The 6th Old School...

Japan Sings! April 8-23 photo
Check out the Japan Sings! series
Japan Society is a great place to catch Japanese cinema here in New York. If you're around in April, you'll definitely want to check out Japan Sings! This film series (curated by Michael Raine) runs from April 8th to April 23...

New Directors/New Films photo
New Directors/New Films

NYC: New Directors/New Films starts next week (March 16-27)


A showcase for emerging filmmakers
Mar 08
// Hubert Vigilla
The 45th edition of New Directors/New Films starts next week in New York City. New Directors/New Films showcases emerging filmmakers from around the world, and screens some of the most talked about films on the festival circu...

RIP Andrzej Zulawski (1940-2016)

Feb 17 // Hubert Vigilla
RIP Andrzej Zulawski photo
A great cult filmmaker from Poland
Andrzej Zulawski, the Polish director behind cult classics such as Possession and On the Silver Globe, passed away on Wednesday. He was 75 years old. In 2012, BAMcinématek held a retrospective of Zulawski's work titled...

The Survivalist photo
The Survivalist

Watch the trailer for The Survivalist, a moody post-apocalyptic drama/thriller


One of my favorites from Tribeca 2015
Jan 26
// Hubert Vigilla
The Survivalist was one of my favorite movies from last year's Tribeca Film Festival. (You can read my review at another site here.) It was a moody, memorable indie drama set in the overgrown woods of a post-apocalyptic futur...

Review: Ip Man 3

Jan 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220266:42751:0[/embed] Ip Man 3 (葉問3)Director: Wilson YipRelease Date: January 22, 2016Rating: NRCountry: China In the three Donnie Yen Ip Man films, the constant concern has been how a person can remain righteous while dividing energies between country, family, and the martial arts. This boils down to the obligations a person has to the future of a culture, to immediate loved ones, and to the self. It's also about punching people in the face repeatedly very fast, sure, but if we're looking at the martial arts as a way of being (i.e., a way), Ip Man's always been about how a person takes a core belief, universalizes these dictums, and then puts this into action. It's explored visually in The Grandmaster with the way every strike disturbs the environment, but watching so many kung-fu movies over the years has made this whole notion of the extension of thought into action into the world more apparent. Maybe what makes Ip Man such a compelling hero is that taking thought into action into the world is what makes all sorts of heroes memorable. There's philosophy behind every punch. Ip Man 3 continues this tradition of duties to country/family/self, and the plot is mostly  hinged to all three. The film opens irreverently with Ip Man meeting a young Bruce Lee, who proceeds to demonstrate his fighting prowess in what can only be described as a martial arts anti-smoking ad. The rest of the plot involves a foreign crime boss trying to shut down a school to claim the land for his own (Mike Tyson), a would-be Wing Chun master in search of fame (Max Zhang aka Jin Zhang), and the health of Ip Man's wife (Lynn Hung). Ip Man, a righteous dude, volunteers to defend the school--Ip Man tropes ensue. The fights in Ip Man 3 may some of the finest in the series in terms of variety and staging. Sammo Hung handled the choreography in the previous two films, but Ip Man 3 instead turns to Yuen Woo-Ping. The fights seem more grounded though just as brutal, and generally a little more old school than bombastic. Yen's talked about how his diet and training changes with each role to better embody the character. Playing Ip Man means cutting carbs and staying as slim as possible, and Yen looks especially thin here. As much as I love Ip Man and kind of liked Ip Man 2, the biggest hurdle to each fight was Ip Man's sense of invincibility. He spends all of the first movie in God Mode, dominating almost every fight he's in, even the final battle. In Ip Man 2, he's still in God Mode for much of the film, which makes that movie's final battle feel out of place; what's more, Ip Man's solution of how to best his overpowered opponent would have been the first thing a skilled martial artist would consider, not the last. There was rarely a sense of danger. Ip Man 3, by contrast, seems to acknowledge that Ip Man is nigh invulnerable despite his age. The danger comes from having to defend other people nearby rather than just defending himself. It's a simple but great idea, and it leads to a harrowing rescue attempt as well as an excellent sequence involving an elevator later in the film. Much has been made of Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson's bout in the film, and it's one of the film's highlights, and it was more exciting than the Wing Chun vs. boxing bout that finished Ip Man 2. And yet the fight reveals Tyson's presence in Ip Man 3 as some hollow stunt casting. There's something great about Tyson cursing people out in snatches of Cantonese, but the entire storyline involving his character is dropped at a certain point. The whole impetus for the action fades away, which makes me wonder if Tyson was only available for a week or so, or if a finger fracture Tyson sustained while filming the fight scene required changes to the script. Even though Tyson's plotline feels unfinished, it's fascinating where the other threads go, and how they reveal the foundation for Ip Man as a character, as if Yen and Yip are tying to make their final definitive statements about who Ip Man was and what he'll represent as a cinematic icon moving forward. Ip Man's a loving husband, for instance, but not always attentive (think about how Peter Parker's love life is ruined by having to be Spider-Man). Here, he tries to focus more on home and what matters to him most, and there are some tender moments between Yen and Hung, as if Yen's trying to channel the acting chops that Anthony Wong and Tony Leung brought to the role, and Hung is trying to find the right note of melancholy glamour that Zhang Ziyi brings to her roles. Some of these scenes between Ip Man and his wife are lensed with a level of attention that might have been inspired by The Grandmaster; more beautiful to look at than anything in the previous Ip Man films, though a few scenes are marred by a semi-chintzy nylon-string Spanish guitar love theme. I began to notice this steady evolution of Ip Man's presence as a political/cultural icon as well in Ip Man 3. The first film was decidedly against the Imperial Japanese forces, which places Ip Man in the home of a character like Chen Zhen from Fist of Fury. The second film skirted this line between anti-colonialism and Chinese nationalism, with the British aristocrats rendered as grotesques of the nobility. Ip Man 3 also has a scoffing, snooty British caricature (he sounds like he should be tying women to railroad tracks while twirling his mustache), but the political stance is decidedly anti-colonial in a universal way. Ip Man even has a monologue in which he rails against oligarchs and plutocrats. If Mike Tyson was cast as a way of garnering attention for Ip Man from western audiences, this populist shift in Ip Man may signal an attempt to position him as a cinematic hero with a strong cultural identity but no borders in terms of an audience's ability to identify with him. If this is Yen's last full-on kung-fu film (there's still that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel to consider), he's ending his career with the movie series that catapulted him into leading man status. I got a sense he was passing the torch to Max Zhang. Zhang's 41 years old, but he makes a strong impression here as a performer and fighter, just as he did in The Grandmaster. (In another strange coincidence, Zhang also starred in SPL 2, the sequel to the 2005 movie (aka Kill Zone) that boosted Donnie Yen's star and signaled a kind of comeback for Hong Kong action films.) Zhang's character is a Wing Chun up-and-comer eyeing Ip Man, sizing him up, wondering if he's better as new blood. This had to be intentional, they had know what they were doing. Ip Man 3 might be my favorite film of the trilogy because of how knowing and assured it is, and because it understands the core of its main character so well. It's also a film that knows where it stands in terms of martial arts film history, and the same goes for Donnie Yen's filmography. Really, there's something rather Ip Man-like about Ip Man 3.
Review: Ip Man 3 photo
An Ip Man movie about Ip Man movies
It's weird to think that the first Ip Man came out in 2008. It seems so much longer than that. Since then, the series has spawned two sequels as well as plenty of other media about the eponymous real-life practitioner of...

Review: Seven Weeks (Nononanananoka)

Dec 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220169:42720:0[/embed] Seven Weeks (野のなななのか, Nononanananoka)Director: Nobuhiko ObayashiRelease Date: March 2, 2014 (Japan)Rating: n/aCountry: Japan There's a line in Neil Gaiman's Sandman that goes, "If you keep [stories] going long enough, they always end in death." Ironically, death is also a great place to start a story. When a friend or relative passes away, loved ones gather to mourn and remember, and in the process they find something useful for the future. Seven Weeks opens on a similar note, commemorating the real-life passing of a director before saying that each time someone dies, someone else is born to take his or her place. So stories keep going, and there's death, but it's not necessarily the end; it's more like a continuing historical process. That's the broad shape of Seven Weeks. A family's 92-year-old patriarch, Dr. Suzuki Mitsuo (Shinagawa Toru), passes away, and the film proceeds to explore the town he lives in, his secret past during WWII, and the lives of his surviving family and friends. The film is set in Ashibetsu, a mining town whose population has dwindled as reliance on coal has declined. The characters in the film often have rapid, funny exchanges with one another, especially in the first hour, which plays out with the speed of a screwball comedy. It's not just Mitsuo's surviving family members doing the talking. The ghost of Mitsuo also has a chance to comment on his own life and death, which he does at length. Even though I'm only mildly familiar with the history and politics of post-war Japan, the setting is essential for Obayashi's concerns, which are at once distinctly Japanese and yet also universal. So many of the anxieties of every generation are rooted in the inability to account for a world that's constantly changing. Moving from coal power, Japan settled on nuclear energy, and yet with nuclear power comes a reminder of the atomic bomb and, more recently, the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. What next, where to go, what to do? When Mitsuo's family brings these concerns up, Seven Weeks feels like a message movie about green energy, albeit a sincere one. The local economy in Ashibetsu isn't what it used to be and may continue to decline, and yet Obayashi lovingly photographs the rural landscape, always finding beauty and grace in the hillsides. It's as if somewhere in the past, in the very soil of this place, there's an answer, or at least a chance for beautiful reflection that can inspire worthwhile solutions. I sensed a few nods to Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, which is apt. Similar concerns of place and tradition come from a few of Mitsuo's drunk contemporaries, who talk about the loss of a traditional Japanese culture, the west exerting more cultural influence on the country and its youth in the post-war period. Mitsuo's own struggles with the past suggest an unwillingness to let go, haunted by a poem and the memory of a woman. His clinic even has an adjoining local history museum, which suggests different ways and reasons why we hold on to events from our past. Seven Weeks clocks in at nearly three hours. Some long films feel much shorter, but Seven Weeks feels like it's three hours. That's not really a bad thing, but anyone expecting the movie to be brisk will be disappointed. Anyone expecting an experience like Hausu will be especially disappointed. Seven Weeks contains a few flashes of anarchic experimentation like Hausu, but it's mostly a grounded affair given the subject matter. The characters are quirky, but mostly only just. There's a monk who plucks and admires his comically large ear hair, which has a nice payoff in a scene in which one of Mitsuo's grandsons starting picking his own nose hair. A few uses of blue screen and green screen to convey the passing of time and the change in the seasons are jarring since they look spotty, but for the most part there's a slow, deliberate confidence in much of Seven Weeks that reveals an old director in complete control of his material. There's an overture played throughout Seven Weeks by a group of marching ghosts. The spectral musicians are motif I've seen in a few other Japanese movies, though I'm still never quite sure what to make of them. The melody they play is rather charming, and the slow yet beautiful dazzle of the tune seems mirrored in the pace of the film. The ghosts walk the landscape and play their song, and they're a calming presence in Seven Weeks. The whole film has a calming and contemplative presence, in fact, like a grandfather telling a story. Sometimes we drift in and out when listening to the tale, but there are details and textures we recall vividly, and it's just nice to hear that voice.
Review: Seven Weeks photo
Past, present, future
Even though most people in the US know Nobuhiko Obayashi for his 1977 cult classic House (Hausu), he's remained a prolific filmmaker in Japan. His body of work is varied, including the body swap comedy Exchange Students ...


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