New Releases for the Week of October 18, 2013


Carrie

CARRIE

(Screen Gems) Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Barry Shabaka Henley. Directed by Kimberly Pierce

A young picked-upon girl, the daughter of an obsessively devout mother, develops telekinetic powers among other things. Some bitchy cheerleader sorts decide to play a prank on her at the prom – not a very good idea. A remake of the classic 1976 film with Sissy Spacek and itself based on one of Stephen King’s earliest novels.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content)

A.C.O.D.

(The Film Arcade) Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Jane Lynch. The adult son of a divorced couple whose acrimonious divorce scarred him to the point of needing therapy needs to get his bickering parents to make peace so that they can attend his brother’s wedding. He also discovers the therapy he underwent to get through the pain of the divorce was actually a project by a writer to chronicle the effects of divorce on children which led to a bestseller on her part but exposing all of
his most painful secrets. When he finally gets his parents together, his life goes spinning off into directions he couldn’t have imagined. This played the Sundance Across America series at the Enzian earlier this year and my review can be found here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language and brief sexual content)

Boss

(Viacom 18) Akshay Kumar, Shiv Pandit, Mithun Chakraborty, Ronit Roy. A petty criminal takes the fall for his father when he accidentally and unknowingly kills a teenager. After serving his time, he relocates to another city, only to discover that his younger brother has gotten into a conflict with the bullying son of a home minister. He will have to return home to defend his family – a home that doesn’t want him back.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Escape Plan

(Summit) Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vincent D’Onofrio. An expert on structural security who makes a lucrative living exposing the defects in prisons and other correctional institutions takes on a brand new high-tech state-of-the-art Supermax prison. Unbeknownst to him, someone wants him to disappear from the grid – permanently. To survive he is going to have to make an alliance with a brutal inmate and assuming he survives long enough to put his plan into action, find out who put him there…and make whoever it is pay!

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for violence and language throughout)

The Fifth Estate

(Touchstone/DreamWorks) Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, Laura Linney. Idealists Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-berg, disgusted and disillusioned by all the chicanery going on in secret, decide to found a website where whistle-blowers can expose the corruption and crime going on in the political and corporate worlds. However their idealism will be put to the test when a cache of top secret documents from the U.S. Military is leaked and leads to a fundamental dilemma – is the freedom of accessible information more important than the potential loss of human life?

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for language and some violence) 

The Hunt

(Magnolia) Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrom. A substitute teacher in a small Danish town in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle is unexpectedly accused of molesting the daughter of his best friend. Despite his protestations of innocence and a lack of any evidence, nobody believes him and he is ostracized from nearly everyone in the town. As events escalate and grow uglier, he will have to find a way to convince the town – and his friend – that he is an innocent man. One of the best films to come out of this year’s Florida Film Festival, you can read my review here.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content including a graphic image, violence and language)

I’m in Love with a Church Girl

(High Top) Ja Rule, Adrienne Bailon, Stephen Baldwin, Michael Madsen. A young man who has made his fortune as a drug trafficker attempts to get out of the business and go straight although the DEA is skeptical of his intentions. When he meets a beautiful but devout woman, he falls for her despite the difference in their lifestyles. Both of them will be sorely tested in their faith if their love is to overcome the long odds that it faces.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Faith Drama (opens Thursday)

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, a scene of violence, some suggestive content and brief language) 

Paradise

(Image/RLJ) Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Octavia Spencer, Holly Hunter. A young woman who has led a sheltered life in a small Montana town is nearly killed in an accident, causing her to take stock of her situation and her mainly unlived life. Deciding to see for herself what the other side has to offer, she takes her insurance settlement to Las Vegas and falls in with some fellow wounded souls and finds something a little more lasting than sin.

See the trailer, clips and a link to stream the full move at Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, substance abuse, some language and thematic elements)

The Snitch Cartel

(BN) Manolo Cardona, Tom Sizemore, Juana Acosta, Kuno Becker. Based on the life of Andreas Lopez-Lopez, a young boy from a poor background tries to win the heart of the girl he’s had a crush on since he was very young but doesn’t have the money to catch her eye. He joins one of the more vicious drug cartels in Colombia and works his way up the ladder but in doing so catches the eye of the DEA as well.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for strong violence, language, drug content and sexuality/nudity)

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Unfinished Song


Terence Stamp is perturbed that Gemma Arterton refuses to kneel before Zod.

Terence Stamp is perturbed that Gemma Arterton refuses to kneel before Zod.

(2012) Dramedy (Weinstein) Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Eccleston, Barry Martin, Taru Devani, Anne Reid, Elizabeth Counsell, Ram John Holder, Denise Rubens, Arthur Nightingale, Jumayn Hunter, Orla Hill, Bill Thomas, Willie Jonah, Calita Reinford, Federay Holmes, Alan Ruscoe, Sally Ann Matthews. Directed by Paul Andrew Williams

Florida Film Festival 2013

We call ’em tearjerkers. They are movies that (sometimes shamelessly) manipulate us emotionally, bringing us to a nice cathartic cry. There are critics who can’t stand those sorts of movies and excoriate them up one side and down the other. Personally I think these scribes have a real hard time getting in touch with their feelings but that’s just a generalization on my part. However, it is also true that sometimes a good cry is what we need to clean out the old emotional tank and it’s not necessarily a bad thing if we are manipulated into doing so – if it’s done artfully.

Arthur (Stamp) is an elderly retired Brit who seems to be in a perpetual state of grouchiness. He hangs out playing dominos at the pub with his friends and lives with his frail wife Marion (Redgrave) who must be some kind of saint to put up with Arthur’s behavior. She’s a dedicated member of a senior choir who calls themselves the OAPz (for Old Age Pensioners, adding the “z” to show they aren’t out of touch – although that sort of thing is about five to ten years out of date). The choir mistress is the plucky, terminally cheerful Elizabeth (Arterton) whose song choices include the B-52s “Love Shack” and Salt-n-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex.”

Marion has cancer and so it falls on Arthur to take her to and from choir practice. A regional competition is approaching, but Marion’s days are numbered and everyone knows it, including (and especially) Arthur who becomes more and more fiercely protective of her as time goes on. However, as it often does, time runs out before Marion gets to sing at the competition.

Arthur is devastated and his strained relationship with his son James (Eccleston) grows even more so. In fact, Arthur wants nothing to do with his boy and says as much. James is crushed, essentially losing both parents in a fell swoop but  gamely continues to try reaching out until it becomes obvious that nothing will ever come of it.

Elizabeth forms an unlikely friendship with Arthur; both are wounded souls who need someone to lean on and to both of their surprise, it turns out to be each other. Arthur is at last convinced to join the chorus but whether they can defy the odds and beat much more classically-oriented choirs in the competition remains to be seen.

Of late there have been a number of fine movies regarding aging and the elderly coming out of Britain, including (but not limited to) Quartet, How About You? and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This is indeed a worthy addition to that list and is so because of the moving performances of the leads, particularly Stamp and Redgrave. Stamp, best known for his villainous portrayals over the years, channels his inner curmudgeon and gives us a character whose inner bitterness is mitigated by the influence of his wife. When she passes, he is utterly lost and we see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice.

Two of the most affecting scenes in the film take place when Marion and Arthur sing to each other about their feelings, Marion singing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” while Arthur sings Billy Joel’s “Lullaby” after Marion is gone. Definitely not a dry eye in the house for that one. Between them, Stamp and Redgrave have 106 years of experience on the silver screen and it shows here.

Eccleston, better known as the ninth Doctor in the hugely popular BBC series Doctor Who shows his dramatic side as Arthur’s somewhat life-wearied son. A single parent, James has a difficult time of things that Arthur doesn’t help much with; he seems to be a decent sort but is clearly frustrated at the gulf between him and his Dad and isn’t sure how to bridge it. Arterton is also building quite the satisfying resume in her career and this might well be her best performance yet which is saying something.

The one gripe I have with the movie – and to be truthful not just with this movie but in general – is its portrayal of the elderly. Yes, I know it’s cute to have them singing rap songs and pop songs from the rock era but I get the sense that the writers of these screenplays have little if any contact with actual elderly people. You know they do sing rock songs, they do dance and they’re more active than ever. Portraying them as cute but befuddled idiots, hopelessly anachronistic, does a disservice to those old people who are a part of our community and should be more valued than they are, but in all fairness Hollywood’s bias is just symptomatic of an overall disrespecting of the elderly going on in society.

That aside, the movie is definitely maudlin in places but is rescued by the dignified and assured performances by the leads. I knew that I was being manipulated but when it is done by master thespians, it’s hard to mind because the performances are so worthwhile. This is playing in limited release but is absolutely worth seeking out if it’s anywhere near you, or catching it on VOD if not.

REASONS TO GO: Affecting performances by the leads. Heart-warming.
REASONS TO STAY: A bit patronizing to the elderly.
FAMILY VALUES:  Arthur delivers a few choice rude gestures and there’s some intimations of sensuality in the film.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally titled Song for Marion under which name it was released in the UK.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/21/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100; the reviews aren’t scintillating but are trending towards the positive.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Young@Heart
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
The Purge

The History of Future Folk


I have very much the same reaction to banjos.

I have very much the same reaction to banjos.

(2012) Sci-Fi Comedy Musical Thingie (Variance) Nils D’Aulaire, Jay Klaitz, Julie Ann Emery, April L. Hernandez, Dee Snider, Onata Aprile, Teena Byrd, Ivan Cardona, Mario D’Leon, Steve Greenstein, Callie Harlan, Dylan Powers, Eddie Privitzer, Billy Lee, Liz Logan. Directed by J. Anderson Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker   

Florida Film Festival 2013

Let’s say you were the biggest badass on the planet Hondo and you were sent to prepare for an invasion of planet Earth by releasing a flesh-eating virus into the atmosphere, paving the way for the Hondonians to take over. What if you heard music for the first time ever on this puny little pipsqueak of a rock? What if the arrangements of tones were so pleasing to your ear that you suddenly realized that this world just might be a world worth saving?

Bill (D’Aulaire) – better known as General Trius on Planet Hondo – is in just such a position, coincidentally enough. He was about to release the virus when he found himself in….a big box store. Awed by the abundance of goods, he hesitated. And then he heard it – music. Well, Muzak to be precise but it was unlike anything he’d ever heard before.

And so the great General decided to spare this world and took up the banjo. He learned how to play and did some gigs around Brooklyn as General Trius, and it was at one of these that he met Holly (Emery), whom he would marry and eventually have a child, sweet Wren (Aprile) with.

But the leaders of Hondo would not be so easily put off. They sent Kevin (Klaitz), an assassin, to get the mission back on the rails. Kevin is the kind of assassin I’d want after me if someone felt the need to punch my ticket. He is good-hearted and not at all good at his profession. However, he discovers he’s a pretty fair guitar player and singer. Thus the duo of Future Folk are born.

You’d think the high muckety mucks on Hondo would have gotten the picture but NOOOOOO. They send yet another assassin after Bill and Kevin with the express directive to wipe out all life on Earth and this guy is a bit more serious about his work. In the meantime Kevin has fallen for the pretty cop Carmen (Hernandez) and the duo have gotten a regular gig at a club owned by Larry (Snider). Can they save the day and get a record deal on the side?

Of all the movies at the Florida Film Festival I saw this year, this one has the most offbeat and genuine charm. Yeah, there’s definitely a hipster element to it but the filmmakers chose not to stress the usual indie clichés that come with the hipster thing. Instead, they take elements of ’50s b-movie science fiction invasion films, 60s hootenanny films and 70s exploitation flicks. The result is kinda kooky, a little retro, sorta out there but completely fun.

Snider, the frontman for Twisted Sister and occasional Celebrity Apprentice contestant is the most well-known face here but the acting is fairly solid if unspectacular. The music is another matter; the songs are pretty damn catchy and the harmonies spot on with some deft banjo and guitar work. There’s a bluegrass-folk element with kind of B movie Sci-Fi lyrics (and yes there is a soundtrack – you can order it right now through Amazon or iTunes – go to the website by clicking on the photo above for details).

Now I love quirky as much as the next man but be warned that some who have low tolerance for that sort of thing might find the music and movie hard to take. However, the movie is so cheerful in it’s obvious love for all the genres it mashes up that I couldn’t help but feel affectionate towards it. Definitely this takes me back to a certain genre of movies that made rainy weekend afternoons tolerable.

This isn’t a movie that’s out to reinvent the wheel. While it plainly wears it’s heart on its sleeve (and a red plastic bucket on its head), the filmmakers do resist the urge to give their baby a heaping helping of kitsch and instead just let you bask in the goofiness. While a lot of film critics need a film to have some great meaning or message in order to get a favorable review, this movie seems bent only on having its audience feel good by the time the end credits roll and at that mission, this movie succeeds. Five hearty Hondos and an Excelsior to this movie!

REASONS TO GO: Long on charm. Great tunes. And of course, Hondo!

REASONS TO STAY: Some might find the offbeat humor overbearing. An occasional over-emphasis on Hondo!

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some mild violence and a few mildly bad words here and there. Hondo!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Future Folk are an actual band based in Brooklyn who make very similar comments in between songs as they do here; the movie was made in essence to give the band a backstory. Hondo!

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/22/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score listed; the jury’s still out on this one which isn’t opening on its limited theatrical run until May 31. Hondo!

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Alien Trespass and Hondo!

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Star Trek Into Darkness

Pieta


Oedipus has nothing on Kang-do.

Oedipus has nothing on Kang-do.

(2012) Drama (Drafthouse) Min-soo Jo, Jeong-jin Lee, Ki-Hong Woo, Eunjin Kang, Jae-ryong Cho, Myeong-ja Lee, Jun-seok Heo, Se-in Kwon, Mun-su Song, Beon-jun Kim, Jong-hak Son, Jin Yong-Ok, Jae-Rok Kim, Won-jang Lee. Directed by Ki-duk Kim

 Florida Film Festival 2013

The relationship between a mother and son is a crucial one. Without it (or with a toxic one) young men can feel lost, unloved, alone in the world. The psychological damage of a bad or non-existent relationship with a mother can be devastating.

That’s the situation that Kang-do (Jeong-jin Lee) has grown up with and grown up he has. He is a collector for loan sharks who have a particularly brutal policy; those who borrow must sign insurance policies that reimburse them in case of mutilation or crippling. If they fail to pay, Kang-do shows up and cripples them. The insurance money goes to his bosses.

Kang-do is a fella who takes pleasure in his work. When the wife of one of the men who he is collecting from offers sex in exchange for giving them an additional week to come up with the money, Kang-do allows her to strip then beats her with her own brassiere and cripples her husband anyway. Kang-do also does a good deal of masturbating and likes to smear animal entrails on the floor of his shower.

Then one day a mysterious woman shows up at his door. Her name is Mi-son (Min-soo Jo) and she claims to be the mother who abandoned him when he was a baby. At first, Kang-do disbelieves. She has paperwork but it really means nothing. So he asks her to prove it – by cutting off his big toe and having her eat it. Then he rapes her. Did I mention that this fellow is rather sick and twisted?

Slowly however her perseverance begins to overcome his reluctance and suspicion and a relationship is formed. He begins to realize that this is a relationship he has missed and now craves. His outlook begins to change. He is no longer able to do his job as effectively. He has grown a heart. But even as he accepts her, the audience remains suspicious. There is a freezer in an industrial space that she seems unusually attached to. What’s in that freezer – and what does she want of Kang-do?

The first half of this movie is non-stop violence and gore. It is – and let me be perfectly clear here – very disturbing, even for those who are used to disturbing Asian cinema. I’ve heard this film compared to No Country for Old Men and I’ll admit that there are some similar elements here – both films have a bleak undertone. However this film makes the American film look like a Disney film in tone by comparison.

The two leads have an insane kind of chemistry, the kind of warped relationship that is a car wreck you can’t look away from. Even though she knows what her son does for a living, she seems to accept it and even assists him in small ways on occasion. There are times you wonder if she is not more sociopathic than he is and he is about as amoral as they come.

One of the best things about the movie is the performance of the leads. Both Min-soo and Jeong-jin are completely believable and that’s necessary to make their twisted relationship come to life. Otherwise it’s more or less depravity on a stick – and we’ve seen plenty of those sorts of movies that confuse shock value for genuine emotion.

Director Ki-duk Kim grew up in the Cheonggyecheon area where this was filmed. It is a heavily industrialized zone where most of the residents are extremely impoverished. The landscapes are bleak and filled with trash and debris; it looks like a place where the people who live there have given up hope for anything better completely and have simply just adjusted to living in squalor and filth. The environment is very much a character in this film and despite the conditions you get the sense that Kim retains a great deal of affection for the place. The South Korean government, incidentally, have announced plans to completely redevelop the area so these images may well be the last the world sees of it as it is now.

The movie’s last half is much milder than the first in many ways, but there is a shocker at the film’s end as everything is tied together in a way that will simply take your breath away. I’ll just say that the denouement comes as inevitable but still you are unprepared for it.

The movie has had success on the film festival circuit and was South Korea’s submission for the Foreign Language Oscar at the most recent Academy Awards although it didn’t make the final list. I’m not surprised – the first half of the movie may simply be too disturbing for Academy voters and I know a lot of  you will probably feel the same if you do take the chance to see it. I’ll tell you what a film buff friend of mine who saw it at the Florida Film Festival before I did told me – hang in there. It’s rough going in the first half but the second half is so worth it. I agree – and unless you are extremely sensitive to violence and sexuality, it is worth the rough stuff in the end.

REASONS TO GO: Riveting psychological study. Min-soo Jo and Jeong-jin Lee deliver riveting performances. The payoff is extraordinary.

REASONS TO STAY: Getting to the climax requires one to sit through scenes of brutality and cruelty that may be too much for some..

FAMILY VALUES:  Occasionally graphic violence, a good deal of sexuality, some very disturbing scenes, incest and bad language throughout the film.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first Korean film to win the coveted Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100; fairly decent reviews but some critics just can’t get past some of the more disturbing elements of the film.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oldboy

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Rundown

Shepard and Dark


Uneasy riders.

Uneasy riders.

(2013) Documentary (Music Box) Sam Shepard, Johnny Dark, Jessica Lange, O-Lan Jones, Jesse Shepard. Directed by Treva Wurmfeld  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

The beautiful thing about documentaries is that they can get people to reveal something about themselves without them meaning to do it. The camera eye just focuses on them in the act of them being themselves. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about some life-changing subject, although those can be informative and important. Just the focus on a long time friendship can give us insight into our own friendships.

Sam Shepard, the well-known playwright and actor, has been friends with Johnny Dark, a not so well-known author, for about 50 years when this was filmed (the two met in the Village back in1963 when Shepard was just beginning to establish his reputation). They hung out, drank a bit, smoked some weed and partied hard. Shepard eventually would marry actress O-Lan Jones; Dark would marry her mother, Scarlett.

They all lived together with O-Lan and Shepard’s son Jesse. Eventually Scarlett would have a major stroke and lose quite a bit of brain function and long-term memories. Dark would have to almost treat her like a child in many ways, with the kind of patience thee and me couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

Shepard though wasn’t really made for setting down roots and so he left his wife and son for actress Jessica Lange. Dark would have a hand in raising Sam’s son. The two began to correspond regularly and still continued to hang out when Shepard’s increasingly busy schedule allowed.

Dark was almost compulsive about archiving everything and recently when Shepard’s relationship with Lange came to an end, he was left with a lot of time (and it is hinted, a lot of bills) to reflect. When a Texas university expresses interest in archiving the correspondence between the two men with an eye to publishing a book which frankly both men could use – not only is Shepard having some financial issues but also Dark is struggling, working at a grocery deli counter in Deming, New Mexico.

The two decide to get some office space and work on this thing together. Initially their banter is very sibling like with a lot of affectionate (and maybe some not-so-affectionate) teasing. Shepard, notoriously reticent about his private life, opens up somewhat here (and certainly a lot more in his letters), admitting that he regrets some of the mistakes he’s made in the past – and is frustrated that he continue to repeat those same mistakes, even up to now.

This is not an issue kind of documentary. It is more of a relationship documentary as we watch how small little issues can turn into nearly insurmountable barriers. Both men freely admit that they are nothing alike; Shepard has a bit of wanderlust in his soul, preferring a rootless existence while Dark takes great comfort in his home, his books and his cats. Shepard navigates life pretty much by the seat of his pants; Dark is a nearly obsessive organizer.

Some might find it a bit dry given that it’s mostly about human nature. I’d generally be inclined to rate this a bit higher – these sorts of documentaries offer endless insights into my own behaviors and my own relationships but I can see where others might see this as somewhat voyeuristic. Frankly put, this isn’t for everybody but those who are willing to give this a chance will find the opportunity to learn something about human nature.

What I find really admirable is that while there is one person that is famous in this equation (and one that is not), it’s not Shepard’s celebrity that drives this film. While some attention is paid to his fame, that’s not really the focus here and thus Shepard becomes humanized here despite his best efforts to the contrary (he comes off as a bit of a prick in some of the sequences whereas Dark comes off as a bit eccentric in the same vein Hunter S. Thompson was).

It is the one commonality between all of us that we are human. It is our definition of what makes us human that in turn defines ourselves. In watching a film like Shepard and Dark I was struck by this most particularly. These are men who have lived lives I will never lead, made choices I would never make and reap consequences I can’t relate to. And yet we still have so much in common – even in our differences, we have those differences in common as well. Shepard and Dark may not necessarily offer you any great revelations when it comes to your life and friendships, but at the very least it will give you a glimpse into a life and friendship that is different than yours and if you won’t take something from that, well amigo, that’s your choice too but it’s a lost opportunity as well.

REASONS TO GO: Dark and Shepard are both interesting people. The effects of the documentary on their lives is fascinating..

REASONS TO STAY: Not everything here is fascinating to everybody.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some colorful language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Winner of the Grand Jury prize at the New York Documentary Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; has been playing the festival circuit but was recently picked up by Music Box for a  release later on in 2013.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Betty and Coretta

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Pieta

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story


Tomi Ungerer knows how to take a bite out of life.

Tomi Ungerer knows how to take a bite out of life.

(2012) Documentary (Corner of the Cave) Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, Jules Feiffer, Michael Patrick Hearn, Patrick Skene Catling, Steven Heller, Burton Pike, Patrick Joseph Sheehan. Directed by Brad Bernstein   

Florida Film Festival 2013

 

Children’s books are a big business. Dr. Seuss is a household name after all. There have been other authors – Maurice Sendak, Martin Handford, Margaret Wise Brown and Jo Rowling – who have made a good living at influencing young minds and stirring up young imaginations.

Another name on that list should be Tomi Ungerer. Unless you’re my age or older, his name might not be familiar. In the 60s, he was one of the most popular and highly-regarded illustrator and writer of children’s books that there was. He had created such books as Crictor, The Three Robbers, Flat Stanley and Moon Man.

He was born in Strasbourg and was quite young when his father passed away. Not long after that, the Nazis invaded France and in Strasbourg, a city near the French and German border, French was forbidden. Young Tomi learned to speak German (although his mother defiantly spoke French) and became so fluent in it that even today he speaks with a distinctly Germanic accent, so much so that many assume he’s Austrian or German.

After the war he emigrated to New York City, believing (correctly as it turned out) that he could make his fortune here. He had always loved to draw and had become quite good at it. Inspired by the line drawings style of the New Yorker, he got a job with a children’s publishing house (Harper & Row) and soon became very familiar with the top of the bestseller’s lists. Although a bit on the eccentric side, he was tolerated because his books were selling.

As the 60s wore on, Ungerer – whose sympathies lay with the counterculture – produced a number of posters protesting the Vietnam War. He also created a book of erotic drawings called The Underground Sketchbook followed by Fornicon,  a book that not only was erotic but satire as well, commenting on the increasing mechanization of sex.

That was all it took. Abruptly Ungerer’s services were no longer needed. His books were pulled from the shelves and remained so for decades (some of his books only recently returned to print and others remain so). Eventually Ungerer fled New York for Newfoundland where he worked briefly as a pig farmer – by that time he was married with children and had to do something to support them. Eventually he relocated to Cork in Ireland where he remains today.

In his 80s, Ungerer remains something of a gadfly. The filmmaker (a veteran of VH1’s Behind the Music series) effectively utilizes Ungerer’s artwork and animations to great effect, interweaving talking head interviews, archival footage and home movies to flesh out Ungerer the man. As interesting as the art is, Ungerer himself is even more fascinating. He has lived several lifetimes and seen so much – yet he retains that eye that artists have, that personality that allows them to see life through eyes that reject the normal while understanding it.

I found this to be fascinating stuff. I was familiar with his name more than I was with individual artwork or books – although I’m the right age, I don’t remember having any of his books in the house (my mom and sister might chime in and disagree but I simply don’t remember them if we had any) and watching the movie his style looked familiar but not overly so. I might have wished to spend more time looking at his drawings but then there’s always a visit to the museum devoted to his work in Strasbourg. I even have a good friend who lives in the area.

REASONS TO GO: Ungerer is an engaging presence. His work speaks for itself. Brings his story and artwork back into the public eye.

REASONS TO STAY: Some folks might find his point of view and art offensive.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some artistic nudity and sexual humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Like many films of late, this one got much of its funding from a Kickstarter campaign.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/14/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; has been firmly established on the festival circuit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Crumb

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Shepard and Dark

Cockneys vs. Zombies


Alan Ford knows what to do with Jehovah's Witnesses that get a little too aggressive.

Alan Ford knows what to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses that get a little too aggressive.

(2012) Horror Comedy (Shout! Factory) Rasmus Hardiker, Harry Treadaway, Michelle Ryan, Jack Doolan, Georgia King, Ashley Thomas, Tony Gardner, Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Tony Selby, Georgina Hale, Dudley Sutton, Richard Briers, Natalie Walter, Phil Cornwell, Josh Cole, Gary Beadle, Finlay Robertson, Joan Hodges. Directed by Matthias Hoene  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Zombies are the new vampires and fortunately none of them are sparkling, although we have had some sensitive boyfriend zombie sorts (Warm Bodies). But they’ve never run into opposition like they would have in the East End of London.

A couple of construction workers working on a condo project unearth a tomb from the 16th century with a warning from King Charles not to disturb the contents within. Being modern day men, of course they do and release a plague of zombies for their troubles.

Another victim of the condo project is a retirement home where rough and tumble Ray (Ford) resides. His grandsons Terry (Hardiker) and younger brother Andy (Treadaway) don’t want to see the residence torn down but there doesn’t look to be a way out – they’d have to buy the property back from its owner and they don’t have that kind of cash.

But they know where they can get it. With time being a factor, applying for a loan is out of the question. They’ll just have to get the money the old-fashioned way – they’ll have to steal it. Of course, while they’ve had the odd brush with the law, neither one of them is exactly a criminal genius. They’ve added a few bodies to their brigade – their sharp-tongued cousin Katy (Ryan), their somewhat bumbling friend Davey (Doolan) and the one legitimate villain – Mental Mickey (Thomas), a veteran of the Iraq war with a steel plate in his skull and a surfeit of viciousness.

During the robbery, the bank manager presses the panic button, bringing down the police. The desperate criminals take hostages – Clive (Gardner) and comely Emma (King). When they go out to face the cops, the cops are all dead and a flock of zombies is chowing down. They get away in the van but Mickey is bitten. They manage to make it back to the hideout and debate on how they’re going to get their grandfather out of the retirement home. They know he’ll want to take as many friends as he can so their van is out of the question, particularly since it doesn’t always start right up. Mickey turns not long after but head shots don’t work with him because of the steel plate. Instead, a hand grenade is stuffed in his mouth. Innovation is key to surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Meanwhile, back at the retirement home, the zombies are swarming and Ray, his girl Peggy (Blackman) and friends Daryl (Selby), Doreen (Hale), Eric (Sutton) and Hamish (Briers) take refuge in the kitchen. With the van out of the question, Andy and Terri “borrow” a double decker bus and head on out to the retirement home with the surviving members of their gang. Even if they can liberate these none-too-spry pensioners from the surrounded kitchen, where can they go?

This is really quite funny more than it is serious horror and gore, although there’s plenty of that. I’d say it’s a comedy with horrific overtones more than anything else. The cast is fairly well-known in Britain with Blackman being the best known across the pond, largely due to her iconic role of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (and for preceding Diana Rigg in The Avengers – not the Marvel version). The humor is, typical for British comedies, pretty dry although Americans who like their humor over the top will find some gags to love – my favorite was Hamish in his walker being chased by a slow-moving shuffling zombie, complaining “why is it going so fast?” as he plods his way towards safety.

There’s nothing really subtle here at all and they goof on zombie movies not only of the Romero persuasion but also some of the more persistent tropes of the genre. People who are pretty familiar with zombie movies will find a few in-jokes scattered about. Of course these are cockneys for the most part so they use the rhyming cockney jargon (i.e. apple and pears for stairs) that will go sailing over the heads of American audiences. I suspect the average cockney won’t give a crap if it does.

This is entertaining on both fronts – both the comedic and the horrific – that will satisfy fans of both genres. Even Da Queen, not a big fan of horror movies, enjoyed this far more than she thought she was gonna. I understand that the distributors are planning a late summer American release for this – if you see it playing anywhere near you, by all means take the opportunity to see it. It’s one of those delightful hidden gems that you hear nothing about that turns out to be really good and those are definitely one of life’s great pleasures for a movie buff like me.

REASONS TO GO: Cheeky. Occasional elicits some guilty laughs.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the dialogue is difficult for American audiences to figure out.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s lots of zombie gore goodness, a surfeit of foul language, plenty of violence, a few disturbing images and some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This would turn out to be the final feature film role for Briers, one of Britain’s most beloved actors (mainly for stage and television).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100; has mostly played the festival circuit after a brief British theatrical release; may be coming to a midnight movie emporium near you.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shaun of the Dead

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story