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film festivals

DOC NYC 2016 photo
Get your non-fiction on
That time of year is almost upon New York. I'm talking about DOC NYC, America's largest documentary/non-fiction film festival. Now in its seventh year, DOC NYC 2016 will run from November 10-17, with screenings taking place a...

Review: Moonlight

Oct 20 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220901:43153:0[/embed] MoonlightDirector: Barry JenkinsRelease Date: October 21st, 2016Rating: R  Moonlight is told in three parts, each spaced a decade or so apart. In part one, Chiron is a child; people call him "Little." In part 2, he's a teenager; one person calls him "Black." In part 3, he's in his late 20s; everyone calls him "Black" now. Each of the three actors is in the poster, which I think is an excellent poster (there are also individual character posters of each actor in the same position, which is less cool). However, the posters all have the same, dumb tagline: "This is the story of a lifetime." That's a terrible tagline. Unlike, say, the Disney film that you might expect to have the tagline, it's more literal. It is, sort of, the story of someone's lifetime. But that's not a very good measuring stick. I look at that poster and think, "That looks really cool." I read that tagline and think, "That sounds really bland." Though that raises an interesting thought (more on that later). All three parts of Moonlight are good, though they are all good for totally different reasons. Part 1 sets Chiron up, but it's less about Chiron than the man who is his mentor: Juan. Part of me wonders if that's intentional, that it's supposed to be about Juan. Certainly he's a critical part of the narrative (and also of Chiron's development as the film progresses), but this is not his story ultimately. And it seems to me that part of the reason it feels so much like his story is because of just how spectacular Mahershala Ali is in the role. Every moment he's on screen belongs to him. If years down the road, Moonlight winds up forgotten (I don't think it will), Ali's performance will not. The conflict of his character — a drug dealer who sells to the mother of the kid he's now begun to take care of, in large part because the kid's mother is a drug addict — is compelling as heck, and the performance makes it all the more so. Juan isn't in Part 2 (and he's not really in Part 3, but he's also totally in Part 3). He's dead, but no one ever says it. That is actually one of my favorite things about the film. There's no, "Sucks that Juan died in that [whatever happened]." In fact, we don't ever find out what happened. We know from the bits and pieces, the "I haven't seen her since the funeral" and the "This is my house." There's nothing expository here; these words are natural and in character. Writer/director Barry Jenkins trusts the audience's intelligence enough to make basic connections. I have always appreciated that in a filmmaker, and Moonlight is no exception. That said, this is where we should double back to my earlier thought: "That sounds really bland." While no part of Moonlight could be justifiably called "bland," a case could be made that it feels oddly "typical." Chiron's story is, really, not a new one. I've long made a point that, if I can see something coming, it was telegraphed from a mile away, because I more often than not will be blindsided by twists that everyone else sees as painfully obvious. And Moonlight is not really a film about twists (the closest thing the story has to one has already been spoiled in this review (sorry)), but it's a film about a sequence of events. The sequence of events in each story can more or less be predicted within the first ten minutes of each time period. This is especially true of the teenage years, which follow an almost painfully conventional structure. Part 3 diverges most drastically, but the way Chiron would ultimately turn out is not unpredictable.  And yet, it didn't matter. In fact, I'd argue that the film is more effective rather than less as a result of this. Because this is something like a story we've seen time and time again, it highlights just how well crafted it is here. In reviews of foreign films, I've discussed how seeing a different culture's take on the Same Old Story can ultimately create something that feels new and fresh. I wasn't really thinking about it within our borders, but that's a matter of my own blindness. The creative minds behind Moonlight have had unique experiences that the white people who usually make decisions just can't grasp. I don't believe for a moment that a white person could not have made Moonlight feel so... vital, because it would have felt like every other story of its ilk. You may know the beats, but they still feel fresh. And it's a combination of everything, because the writing has to be there; the performances have to be there; the technical aspects have to be there. Truly great movies can't succeed on one level. They must succeed on every level. And Moonlight does. (I want to briefly call out the camerawork, which is spectacular. Hell, just that opening shot is a goddamn masterwork.) And so we return to this idea of representation, and the weight that rests on Moonlight's shoulders. People will look to it as the film that can keep the Oscars this year from being so white. If it doesn't get at least four nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography), well... I can't even fathom that possibility, because this is a film that more than deserves the praise that's been heaped upon it. By all accounts (again, I will not be watching it), the cracks in The Birth of a Nation as a work of art started to show as the narrative of Nate Parker's past emerged. And so were it to achieve ultimate success, some may have seen it more as a response to controversy than a justified win in and of itself. (That would be unfortunate, regardless of the film's quality, but I know more than a few people who would think that way.) There are no such concerns here. Any success that Moonlight has will come without reservation and without question. When the lights came up, I turned to the man beside me and asked what he had thought. "Beautiful," he answered. Nothing else needed to be said.
Moonlight Review photo
Able to bear the weight of its existence
I don't want to (and am not going to) make this review about the fact that Moonlight is a film about African Americans. It's not a topic I can avoid, but I want to get as much of that as I can out of the way in this intro. So...

BHFF Review: Let Her Out

Oct 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220939:43143:0[/embed] Let Her OutDirector: Cody CalahanRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: Canada Helen (Alanna LeVierge) never knew her mother personally, just what she did for a living. Her mom was a prostitute who worked out of a seedy motel. One night she's raped by a mysterious john. She commits suicide not long after that because she's become suddenly and supernaturally pregnant. Twenty-three years later, Helen gets into an accident that triggers the growth of a brain tumor. (It was in the parking lot of an ostensibly abandoned motel. Why was someone driving there?) Inside of that cluster of cells grows a long-dormant vestigial twin. The twin begins to take over, making Helen act like someone else entirely. The look and feel of Let Her Out are great, and sort of reminiscent of a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. On a couple of occasions I was reminded of Neon Demon. Like Refn's latest, the pinks are seductively warm, and the blues are chilly for contrast. Stephanie Copeland provides a sinister synthesizer score that nods to Cliff Martinez. Even as the film gets wobbly, director of photography Jeff Maher lenses each scene with care. Shaun Hunter and Carly Nicodemo offer up some fine special effects and practical makeup, particularly as the movie draws to a close. There are a few memorable moments that involve Helen's twin trying to get out, and it's gooey and gross and offers up some fine moments of body horror. But the look and feel of the film is just one half of the whole. That other half of Let Her Out--the story, characters, and performances--leave a lot to be desired. Helen abhors everything salacious in life; it reminds her of who her mother was, and that's the last thing she wants to be. At least I think that's the case. I never got to know Helen beyond some basics. What's more, her mother never plays a role outside of the introductory flashback, so any contrast between mother and daughter (and mother and daughters) has to be inferred. Helen's mom is just a nameless rape victim and suicide rather than an actual character--that's a major problem. While I'm on the subject of problematic things, the film's views on sex and sex work seem way too puritanical on top of that. Let Her Out pushes a virgin/whore dichotomy when it seems like the film's take on sexuality could have been far more layered. Playing with the sins of the mother and/or the repression of the daughter would have been interesting, and it would have added some needed psychological horror. Sadly the screenplay written by Adam Seybold lacks depth. The supporting cast isn't rendered all that well either. Helen's roommate Molly (Nina Kiri) and her scumbag boyfriend Ed (Adam Christie) are stock characters--Molly the self-absorbed theater person, Ed the self-absorbed dude-bro. One moment Molly is supportive, the next she chastises Helen for not showing up to a play. You'd think she'd take her roommate's brain tumor into account, but no, that was two or three scenes ago. Empathy has a short shelf life. Just a little more time and care with these characters, their situations, and their motivations could have made Let Her Out much better. It would have also given the actors more to work with, and might have led to performances that weren't so synthetic. For everything good, there's a missed opportunity, for every set-up, there's a missing pay off. In my gut I think the movie could have used another draft and, more importantly, a woman's insight. (The film's story was by Seybold and director Cody Calahan.) The subtext of Let Her Out is how Helen assumes different roles out of necessity or expectation; in the case of Helen and her absent mother, it's about being the exact opposite. Maybe with a woman's pass at the script, the more terrifying and unsettling film would have emerged like a parasitic twin and taken over.
Review: Let Her Out photo
The good half and the bad half
Feeling frustrated by a movie isn't unusual. The best/worst kind of frustration is when the hints of a better film are evident. It's like eating a meal and knowing just from flavor or texture what's missing--not enough salt, ...

Apparition Popup Art Show photo
Apparition Popup Art Show

NYC: Check out Apparition Popup Art Show on Saturday 10/8 (Brooklyn Horror Film Festival)

Art and free alcohol--the horror!
Oct 07
// Hubert Vigilla
While the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival gets underway next week, there's a launch event at Catland Books on Saturday, October 8th starting at 6:00pm. The event is free to the public, and there will be free drinks. Art, free a...

Brooklyn Horror Film Fest photo
The inaugural horror fest in Brooklyn
The inaugural Brooklyn Horror Film Festival starts next Friday, October 14th. The BHFF will screen more than a dozen features and 25 shorts, with additional events going on through the weekend, including Grady Hendrix's one-m...

NYFF 2016: Our Most Anticipated Movies of the 54th New York Film Festival

Sep 28 // Hubert Vigilla
MoonlightDirector: Barry Jenkins This year's big festival darling, Moonlight looks like it could be one of the great, daring coming-of-age films this year. Writer/director Barry Jenkins explores aspects of masculinity, sexuality, identity, and passing in the black community, focusing on a bullied boy named Chiron who lives with his single mother in Miami. ElleDirector: Paul Verhoeven After 16 years away from Hollywood and a decade since his last proper film (Black Book), Paul Verhoeven's Elle looks like a provocative return-to-form. Some critics who caught the premiere at Cannes described it as an empowering rape comedy, a combination of words so antithetical I can't help but be intrigued. Starring Isabelle huppert, Elle is France's official selection for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. 13THDirector: Ava DuVernay In the 13TH, an original feature-length documentary for Netflix, Selma director Ava DuVernay focuses on the systemic racism and pervasive inequality of the United States prison system. The film's title refers to the 13th Amendment, which ostensibly abolished slavery. Interviewees in 13TH include Angela Davis, Senator Cory Booker, and, unexpectedly, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Toni ErdmannDirector: Maren Ade The buzz around Toni Erdmann is that it's a masterful three-hour screwball drama-comedy about an estranged father and his daughter. Beyond the great reviews out of Cannes and Toronto, I'm going into the film blind but hopeful. It'll be my first exciting dip into the films of Maren Ade. Toni Erdmann is Gemany's official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. PatersonDirector: Jim Jarmusch Jim Jarmusch is one of my favorite filmmakers, which means that my excitement for Paterson is a given. Getting away from the Detroit-based vampires of Only Lovers Left Alive, Jarmusch instead heads to Paterson, New Jersey where a bus driver (Adam Driver) named Paterson writes poems in private. There's obviously more to it than that, but the beauty is in the smaller things. Gimme DangerDirector: Jim Jarmusch Jim Jarmusch is one of a few people doing double-duty at this year's New York Film Festival. In addition to Paterson, he's also got a documentary on the birth and decline and resurgence of The Stooges. Their third album, Raw Power, is one of the best albums ever made. This is an indisputable fact. I wonder how a mellow guy like Jarmusch does with the raucous squalor of Iggy Pop. Personal ShopperDirector: Olivier Assayas Kristen Stewart is doing her best to break away from the Twilight films. She shook free of that sparkling albatross in Olivier Assays' 2014 drama Clouds of Sils Maria, and she re-teams with Assayas for this year's Personal Shopper. The film centers on Stewart's character (part high-powered personal shopper, part spiritual medium... just go with it) coming to terms with the death of her twin brother. Certain WomenDirector: Kelly Reichardt Another NYFF film starring Kristen Stewart, Certain Women looks like one of those quiet, ruminative character studies that can linger in your memory long after it's over. The three stories in the film (adapted from the work of Maile Meloy) are each propelled by the performances of Stewart, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and newcomer Lily Gladstone. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkDirector: Ang Lee Here's your Kristen Stewart hat trick. Adapted from the novel by Ben Fountain, Ang Lee's latest is all about an Iraq War veteran dealing with a brief return home. The movie co-stars Joe Alwyn, Vin Diesel, Chris Tucker, and Steve Martin. Shot in 4K 3D in 120 frames per second, Billy Lynn should look and feel much different than anything else that's come before.  NerudaDirector: Pablo Larrain Pablo Larrain has had a busy last few years as a producer and filmmaker, and he's doing double-duty at the New York Film Festival this year. In Neruda, Larrain tells a semi-fictionalized account of the political exile of Pablo Neruda in Chile during the late 1940s. The poet is on the run from a shadowy Chilean agent played by Gael Garcia Bernal. JackieDirector: Pablo Larrain Just announced yesterday, Pablo Larrain's Jackie will have its US premiere at NYFF 54 at a special screening. His English-language debut is a biopic of Jackie Kennedy set around the time of the JFK assassination. Natalie Portman stars in the film, and she's apparently turned in a remarkable performance as the former First Lady. GraduationDirector: Cristian Mungiu Cristian Mungiu's films have a devastating power. Much of it comes from his control of long takes and what that does to the perception of a scene. In Graduation, Mungiu turns his attention to a father determined to have his daughter graduate and study abroad after she's been assaulted, no matter what compromises must be made. Graduation is Romania's official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Manchester by the SeaDirector: Kenneth Lonergan Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is a movie I've been wanting to watch all year thanks to major buzz at Sundance. The film follows Casey Affleck's character, who returns home to Massachusetts after the death of his brother. Lots of pain and carefully observed family drama ensues. JulietaDirector: Pedro Almodovar I never expected Pedro Almodovar to adapt Canadian literary fiction icon Alice Munro to the big screen, but here goes with Julieta. Taking stories from Munro's collection Runaway, Almodovar continues to do what he does best: explore the lives and relationships of fascinating women. Julieta is Spain's official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait PhotographyDirector: Errol Morris There are certain things audiences expect from an Errol Morris documentary, but The B-Side looks like it'll throw fans for a loop. Morris puts away the Interrotron and instead spends quality time with a good friend. The friend in question is photographer Elsa Dorfman, best known for taking endearing, oversized 20x24 Polaroid portraits.
NYFF 54 Preview photo
Just a handful of major highlights
The 54th New York Film Festival kicks off on Friday, September 30th and runs until Sunday, October 16th. This year's slate looks generally solid, and several of the movies are going to be shoo-ins for best-of-the-year lists c...

NYFF 2016 photo
NYFF 2016

54th New York Film Festival starts Friday, runs September 30-October 16

Flixist coverage kicks off this week
Sep 27
// Hubert Vigilla
The 54th New York Film Festival kicks off this Friday, September 30th and runs until Sunday, October 16th. One of the biggest end-of-year film festivals, Flixist will be there checking out some of the most acclaimed anticipat...
Brooklyn Horror Film Fest photo
Brooklyn Horror Film Fest

NYC: Tickets available for first ever Brooklyn Horror Film Festival (October 14-16)

A showcase of independent horror
Sep 16
// Hubert Vigilla
Tickets are now on sale for the inaugural Brooklyn Horror Film Festival (BHFF), a showcase of independent horror movies taking place in North Brooklyn from October 14th through the 16th. The BHFF features world and regional p...
Women Texas Film Festival photo
Women Texas Film Festival

The first Women Texas Film Festival is coming (and worth paying attention to)

Also, I'm in it (just sayin')
Jul 29
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
It feels like, at any given moment, there are at least 25 film festivals going on that I'm supposed to be watching out for. There are big ones that everyone knows and small ones that no one will ever know and everything in be...

NYAFF Capsule Review: The Mermaid

Jul 27 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220644:42996:0[/embed] The Mermaid  (美人鱼)Director: Stephen ChowRelease Date: February 8, 2016Rating: NR 
The Mermaid Review photo
I... don't understand
It's always fascinating to me to see blockbusters from other countries. The Mermaid is the highest grossing Chinese film of all time; that's a big flipping deal. Apparently the lead actress was chosen out of literally 100,000...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Maverick

Jul 03 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220643:42980:0[/embed] Maverick (菜鳥)Director: Wen-tang ChengRating: NRCountry: Taiwan 
Maverick Review photo
Slow and steady wins the race
When you think of "Asian cop movie about systemic corruption" you likely get a very specific image in your head: fast-paced, action-packed thrill rides that keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. That's not t...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Twisted Justice

Jun 30 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220637:42978:0[/embed] Twisted Justice (日本で一番悪い奴ら)Director: Kazuya ShiraishiRating: NRCountry: Japan 
Twisted Justice Review photo
Missing chapters
It's fascinating to watch a film about the police searching for criminal guns while living in a country where the ubiquity of guns is a constant national conversation. It's something I think about a lot while watching foreign...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Seoul Station

Jun 29 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220639:42977:0[/embed] Seoul Station (서울역)Director: Yeon Sang-hoRating: NRCountry: South Korea 
Seoul Station photo
Hardcore animation is hard
At NYAFF 2012, I saw a movie called The King of Pigs. I wanted to like it, but I couldn't get over the atrociously bad translation. It ruined what should have been a very serious dramatic animated film. Seoul Station is ...

NYAFF 2016 photo
NYAFF 2016

The 2016 New York Asian Film Festival Is Almost Here

June 22 through July 9th
Jun 14
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
Is it really that time again already? Wow. Apparently it is. NYAFF time. For the past five years, we have been covering the latest and greatest Asian films as brought to us by the swell folks at Subway Cinema, and this year i...
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...
DOC NYC 2015 photo
DOC NYC 2015

DOC NYC starts this week, runs November 12-19

The largest documentary fest in the US
Nov 09
// Hubert Vigilla
DOC NYC is one of my favorite film festivals in New York City. Each year, DOC NYC showcases some of the best non-fiction filmmaking from all over the world, including a number of Oscar winners and Oscar contenders. DOC NYC st...

Review: Shrew's Nest

Nov 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220097:42685:0[/embed] Shrew's Nest (Musarañas)Directors: Juan Fernando Andrés and Esteban Roel Rating: NRCountry: Spain  The term "slow burn" gets thrown around a lot. I know I've used it more than once. Sometimes it's a useful term to describe how a film functions; other times it's a way to say something is boring without having to use that language. Sometimes people think things are a slow burn when they're really not. Shrew's Nest isn't a slow burn, though I know of others who say it is. Those people are either accidentally ignorant or willfully ignorant, but either way they're wrong. They're wrong, because the sequence of events that ultimately lead to the narrative boiling over aren't slow at all. They're very deliberate, placed perfectly in order to ratchet up the tension while also revealing the multiple facets of each character. At first, we see characters effectively through their own eyes, how they try to present themselves to the world. Then we see them through the eyes of others, where some of those seams start to show. Ultimately, we see them for who they truly are. And, not unexpectedly, what we find there isn't pretty. Montse is confined to the house. Not by some external force but an internal one. She can make it to the door, but she'll never go past it. Her sister, who she refers to as niña (translated as "the girl"), can go out. The girl goes to work during the day, and Montse stays home. She cooks and cleans and makes sure that her sister stays away from men. Because men are bad people who do bad things. (Note that it's clear almost immediately what happened to Montse, but that doesn't make the ultimate reveal any less painful, nor does it really prepare you for what follows.) One day, a man basically falls into her lap. As Carlos tries to leave his apartment (a floor above the girls'), he falls down the stairs, breaking his leg and hitting his head. After asking for her help, he faints. She brings him inside, binds his leg, and puts him in her bed. What follows, of course, is misery. Also, Misery. From the outset you know that Montse is unhinged, but the question is how far she'll go to keep Carlos there. The answer: Really Fucking Far. But in order to get to that point, we need context. Montse is viscous, something we learn early on, but seeing how her madness manifests itself is crucial to making the violence feel justified. Violence for the sake of violence can be fine, but there's something disquietingly realistic about characters in Shrew's Nest. Montse has had a rough time of it, and her psyche has been shaped accordingly. The girl is a little afraid of her sister, but the relationship is at the point where that's generally fine, until Carlos comes into the picture. Carlos isn't particularly concerned, particularly since Montse is so kind to him, but he doesn't understand the situation. He believes her when she says she had a doctor visit, but we know she's lying. Each time a character makes a decision, even if they make the wrong one, it felt fair. Characters do stupid things, but so do people. And characters don't do certain stupid things that they would be expected to do in a horror movie. Shrew's Nest is not particularly scary, but it is consistently unsettling. It's also claustrophobic, taking place entirely in a single apartment building (two apartments and the stairwell between them). That's good both for both budgetary and narrative reasons. The world never really feels larger than the one building, even as people other than the leads come in and out. That's important, because Shrew's Nest takes place in a place where other people live. Misery was in the middle of nowhere, but Montse doesn't have that sort of luxury, and neither do the filmmakers. This building – and really just the one apartment – needs to feel like the entire world, and it succeeds in that respect.  In fact, it succeeds in pretty much every respect. The minor issues I had ultimately don't matter, and as I think back on it, I barely even remember what they were. Only the good things stick in my brain, and there are a whole lot of good things. It's well crafted, well acted, well concepted, and well executed. There are some moments that are truly grotesque in the absolute best way, and there are images I'm not going to be able to scrub from my mind for quite some time. With a film like this, that's really all you can want. And Shrew's Nest delivers that and a whole lot more. 
Shrew's Nest Review photo
Shrew's Company
When I was in middle school, we'd periodically have a writer, Jon Land, come and talk to us. He'd talk about writing and life and whatever else. (Honestly, I don't really remember what most of those talks were about, but what...

NYKFF 2015 photo
NYKFF 2015

The 2015 New York Korean Film Festival is coming

Runs November 6-11 at the MoMI
Oct 26
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
My favorite New York-based film festival of the year is the New York Asian Film Festival. It has a special place in my heart for a lot of reasons. Among the smaller, more tightly-focused festivals, though, the New York Korean...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Partners in Crime

Jul 23 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219686:42500:0[/embed] Partners in Crime (共犯)Director:Country: Taiwan  
Partners in Crime photo
Jungle of breadcrumbs
Partners in Crime is the reason I love the New York Asian Film Festival. It's the reason I love film festivals in general. It's the sort of gem that you will likely never see outside of a festival. I have always been imp...

Japan Cuts Capsule Review: Pieta in the Toilet

Jul 23 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219688:42498:0[/embed] Pieta in the Toilet (Toire No Pieta | トイレのピエタ)Director: Daishi MatsunagaCountry: Japan 
Pieta in the Toilet photo
Don't let the name fool you
Pieta in The Toilet is done a disservice by its name. From the country that brought us Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead, there are certain expectations that come with a name of that sort. And the use of such a well-known religi...

Japan Cuts Capsule Review: Strayer's Chronicle

Jul 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219670:42496:0[/embed] Strayer's Chronicle (Sutoreiyazu Kuronikuru | ストレイヤーズ・クロニクル)Director: Takahisa ZezeCountry: Japan 
Strayer's Chronicle photo
X-Men for nihilists
It's hard to make a rip-off of X-Men without hundreds of millions of dollars to back up the production. With a relatively minimal budget, any version of the mutants with superpowers who have to fight other mutants with (bette...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Kabukicho Love Hotel

Jul 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219626:42495:0[/embed] Kabukicho Love Hotel (Sayonara Kabukicho | さよなら歌舞伎町)Director: Ryuichi HirokiCountry: Japan 
Kabukicho Love Hotel photo
No hope for the hopeless
When director Ryuichi Hiroki came out to introduce Kabukicho Love Hotel, he said something to the effect of, “Please stay through the credits. After the credits, you will see some hope.” It wasn’t really adv...

Japan Cuts Capsule Review: I Alone

Jul 21 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219665:42490:0[/embed] I Alone (この世で俺/僕だけ | Kono yo de ore/Boku dake)Director: Sho TsukikawaCountry: Japan 
I Alone Review photo
Save the baby
I Alone is a film about a lot of things. It's about political corruption and kidnapping, sure, but it's also about responsibility and staying true to one's own beliefs. It's about fighting until the bitter end, because i...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Revivre

Jul 14 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219609:42489:0[/embed] RevivreDirector: Im Kwon-TaekCountry: South Korea 
Revivre Review photo
The End
Revivre is director Im Kwon-Taek’s 102nd film. Think about that. Really, really think about what that means. Even if most of his early films were essentially throwaways created to entertain the unwashed masses, this man...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Coin Locker Girl

Jul 14 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219612:42486:0[/embed] Coin Locker Girl (Chinatown | 차이나타운)Director: Han Jun-HeeCountry: South Korea 
Coin Locker Girl photo
Family values
Director Han Jun-Hee introduced Coin Locker Girl as a "fun" film. He said that he doesn't joke much but he made a fun movie and hoped we would have fun with it. And either his translator really missed the point of his in...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Chasuke's Journey

Jul 13 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219663:42484:0[/embed] Chasuke's Journey (天の茶助 | Ten no Chasuke)Director: SabuCountry: Japan 
Chasuke's Journey photo
Mr. Angel's Screenwriting Workshop
Chasuke’s Journey is an indictment of dramatic shortcuts in writing. The head tea server in heaven works among the screenwriters who decide the fates of everyone below, but their stories are trite. The immortal one who ...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Nowhere Girl

Jul 13 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219660:42485:0[/embed] Nowhere Girl (Tōkyō Mukokuseki Shōjo | 東京無国籍少女)Director: Mamoru OshiiCountry: Japan 
Nowhere Girl Review photo
Whup whup whup whup
New York Asian Film Festival co-programmer Samuel Jamier has a tendency to describe films as “interesting,” and he will sometimes say the word five times in half as many minutes when introducing them. He didn&rsqu...

NYAFF Review: Tokyo Tribe

Jul 07 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219610:42463:0[/embed] Tokyo TribeDirector: Sion SonoRating: NRCountry: Japan  If you asked a small child to describe to you what they thought when they heard the phrase "rap battle," you'd probably get something like Tokyo Tribe. This isn't a film about a few MCs spittin' some ill beats in order to prove themselves and ultimately win the respect of their peers; it's a film about a city ravaged by rap-related crime and the ultimate gang war that breaks out. And much of the dialogue spoken between the characters flows against the thumping beats that back the entire film. It's a rap musical; it's a martial arts action film; and it's a sardonic comedy eviscerating systemic issues with Japanese culture. It's everything you could possibly want it to be and a whole lot more shoved into just two hours of screentime. (It's also a manga adaptation. Shocker, that.) I honestly wonder who will find the music more grating: people who hate rap, or those who love it. It's pretty obvious why the former would hate it, but the latter is the more interesting thing to discuss. This is a film that clearly has reverence for rap music, but more often than not it makes a pretty poor case for the genre. Rapping is hard. (I should know. My dream is to be a white rapper some day, but I'm terrible at it, and it definitely won't happen.) I get the impression that a lot of people don't appreciate the linguistic ability and agility required to really get some funky fresh rhymes going. Unfortunately, those are things the general cast of Tokyo Tribe lack. When the credits rolled, a couple of Japanese names (written in Japanese letters) were followed by "Young Dais." I'd been expecting something like that, because I knew right off the bat that Kai, the head of the Peace and Love gang, was actually a rapper. Everyone else had an awkwardness to their rhythm that Kai had on point from start to finish. Everyone else was amateur by comparison. And yeah, of course they were. They're actors, and he's a rapper for one of Japan's various boy bands. It was a good casting choice, but it made me wish that there were more rappers and fewer actors. (There were some others that were clearly rappers as well (I particularly liked the heads of the female gang), but they weren't crucial to the story and didn't get much screentime.) Sion Sono has played up style at the expense of substance in the past, but never so dramatically as here. Tokyo Tribes oozes more character from an average frame than most films in their runtime. Whether it’s the ridiculous and elaborate sets or the bizarre image distortions and lens flares (or a combination of the two), this is a movie that is distinctive and memorable. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny it. You don’t forget that you’ve seen a movie like Tokyo Tribes. You can’t, unless you legitimately have a memory disorder. And if you do… well, you’ll get to see it for the first time all over again, and there’s something magical about that too.  But, of course, form can overtake function, and that undoubtedly happens here. During the film’s final confrontation, one of the characters raps The Point of the movie, and I nearly said (out loud), “Oh! So it’s a film with a message.” It wasn’t funny then, and it’s not funny now, but up until that moment the film wasn’t building up to anything other than a battle. I mean, there’s a “Good vs. Evil” thing in the sense that the bad guys hate Kai's gang because of the peace and love thing, but that never feels like more than a way to artificially build conflict. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but to pretend at the 11th hour that this was all in service of something? Come on.  The only time when style gets away from the film is in the moments of pathetically poor CGI. There are a few moments where it’s so blatantly fake that the veracity of the moment is ruined. You have to suspend a whole lot of disbelief in order to get into this movie, but there’s still a limit. A tank that looks like something a child would make in a My First AutoCAD class is that limit. And it’s not just that tank, though that’s the most obvious example of it. What’s worse is the blood. In the past, Sion Sono films have been horrifyingly bloody, but the blood was real. It felt like a thing that existed in the film. My only real problem with Why Don’t You Play in Hell? was that it took the easy way out on occasion (and lower-budget Asian cinema clearly hasn’t figured out digital blood sprays yet (come on guys, Fincher had this shit down in 2007)). But here it's worse, because even if the initial spray in his previous film was sometimes faked, at least the blood staining the floors and the people after the fact were real. The moment could be forgiven in service of the greater good. Not so here. The film verges on being bloodless, because the red stuff has no feel to it. It's just an effect lazily thrown onto the screen a few times and then forgotten about. But those are all relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. People have said that Tokyo Tribes is too much of a good thing, and I don't think that's quite accurate. It's not too much of a good thing, because it's too many things to be too much of any one of them This film throws the proverbial kitchen sink at the screen and does so with an ungodly amount of technical flair. When you get sick of rapping, it turns into a (fantastic) action movie. The punches may not always land, and the wirework is very clearly wirework, but ya know what? It's freaking awesome. And then there's more rapping. And then there's some rapping and fighting. And it's all awesome. A plausible argument could be made that there's just too much movie, that it could have been cut down by 20 or 30 minutes without much narrative impact. But to what end? The content of the film is nothing if not excessive. Why shouldn't the film itself embody that as well?
Tokyo Tribe Review photo
Well then.
My favorite film to play at last year's New York Asian Film Festival was Sion Sono's cinematic love-letter/masterpiece Why Don't You Play in Hell?. It's a spectacular film, and now that it's seen a domestic release, y'all hav...

Fantasia 2015 photo
Fantasia 2015

Full 2015 Fantasia Film Festival lineup unveiled

Festival season keeps going strong
Jul 07
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
Although we've just kicked off coverage of one film festival and will soon be covering another, this seems like as good a time as any to let you know that there is a third pretty awesome festival that happens every July: the ...

NYAFF Review: Meeting Dr. Sun

Jul 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219608:42457:0[/embed] Meeting Dr. Sun (Xingdong daihao: Sun Zongshan)Director: Chih-yen Yee Rating: NRCountry: Taiwan  Everyone knows the rule of threes. You can do a joke three times before it becomes grating. If done well, that repetition can make it amazing, but going beyond that just becomes frustrating. I don't know who who it came from, but I've heard it said that the trick to Family Guy's humor is that things become funny again after you've done them for the 27th time. It's funny, funny, funny, not funny, not funny, infuriating... kinda funny, funny, amazing. And that's kind of accurate. I'm sure there's something in our brains, probably a fear response, that tells us that eventually this thing that is making us uncomfortable with its repetition is actually something to be laughed at (again), lest we drive ourselves actually crazy. Whatever it is, it works. Sometimes. Meeting Dr. Sun really wants that to be true. Or at least, its editor does. Because apparently he left the editing bay after he put together his rough cut and someone walked by and shouted, "It's perfect!" Every single scene is too long. Every. Damn. One. You could cut at least 10 seconds from the end of every sequence in the film and it would only benefit the film. Most shots go on too long, and every joke definitely goes on too long, but sometimes they become funny again. Meeting Dr. Sun is a heist movie, of sorts. Some kinds can't afford to pay their class fees, so they decide to steal a statue and sell it for scrap. But they have to steal it. But because they're children (end of middle school/beginning of high school (or the Taiwanese equivalent of that), if I had to guess), everything is inherently very silly. As it's presented, there are no great stakes, and there are no serious dangers. It's not even really clear what it would mean if the kids didn't pay their class fees. (Here my American ignorance is probably at issue, though the film's dialogue makes it seem like it's not a necessity to get through the year.) The whole thing feels appropriately childish, and on some level the humor actually works like that as well.  Some years ago, I was having dinner with a friend and his extended family. His very young cousin wanted to be the center of attention, and so he said to said to his dad, "Hi mommy!" and everyone laughed. And then he went to every single person around the table (nearly a dozen of us) and said, "Hi mommy!" to all the men and "Hi daddy!" to the women. The first couple of times, it was adorable. By the time he got to me? It was infuriating. But the kid thought he was the cat's pajamas, and he kept doing it until his dad (thankfully) stopped him. He would have done another round of the table, I'm sure, because he didn't understand what actually made it funny, just that other people were laughing. And that's what the humor in Meeting Mr. Sun is like. I laughed pretty hard on multiple occasions, and some of the people around me laughed so hard I literally (not figuratively) thought they were going to die, but then once I'd moved on, the young kids onscreen wanted to keep doing the joke. They keep pantomiming or dancing or talking or moving or doing any of those other things that kids do, because... they're kids. What else are they gonna do?  That said, there's a weird, dark undercurrent about issues of socioeconomic class structures throughout the film. And while it's always there, it doesn't come up explicitly until the end, when it hits in a fascinating, mood-wrecking kind of way. And thinking back on the film through that lens, it's actually pretty seriously depressing; a (very) long sequence involving two characters trying to prove that their family is worse off is played for humor, sort of, but it's really very sad. At the time, that was in the back of my mind, but it didn't snap into focus until that moment near the end. But this theme seems so at odds with the comedic intentions of the film. Director Yee wanted us to laugh. But here was this grand theme about poverty and what it forces people to do, even on a small scale. And... we were supposed to laugh at it? I mean, I definitely did. I'm just not sure how I feel about having done so.
Meeting Dr. Sun Review photo
Child's play
In the two hours leading up to the US premiere of Meeting Dr. Sun, I saw director Chih-yen Yee speak twice. First was at a reception hosted by New York Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. The second was just minute...

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