OLD SCHOOL KUNG FU FILM FEST: Hapkido with Angela Mao Intro

Angela-Mao-hapkido-1972-1499128213-726x388In a manner befitting the impressive combat acrobatics on display over the course of the weekend, even the Q&A session at the opening night screening of the seventh Old School Kung Fu Film Fest was a display of physical acumen. Where a simple raised hand would suffice, kung fu fans excitedly leapt from their seats, gesturing frantically for the opportunity to ask a question of martial arts legend Angela Mao. This display set the tone for a weekend full of fist-and-foot action mostly on 35 mm.

Mao was onhand to introduce her 1972 classic “Hapkido.” With the help of a translator, Mao recounted her preparations for the film (also known as “Lady Kung Fu”), traveling to Korea to study the eponymous local martial art until she obtained a third degree black belt. This training coupled with acrobatic skill learned at the Peking Opera House prepared her for the role of Yu Ying, who opens a martial arts school in her native China with two partners. The nationalist tendencies of the era’s kung fu films come into play when they’re challenged by a rival Japanese school; a parallel narrative can be found in the same year’s “Fist of Fury” with Bruce Lee, who Mao described as like a big brother when they worked together the following year on “Enter the Dragon.” Read more

Film Review: KUSO

In 2016, Park Chan-Wook’s psycho-sexual thriller “The Handmaiden” —one of the best films of the year— included among its visual oddities a POV shot from the perspective of a vagina. In 2017, musician and producer Steve “Flying Lotus” Ellison’s “Kuso” shared the view from inside George Clinton’s anus; while one could see this as indicating a spiritual kinship between Park and Ellison’s films, it’s safe to say that “Kuso” is far from the year’s greatest. Kuso Much of the early buzz around “Kuso” centered on its Sundance premiere, where the walkouts it inspired were sometimes discussed more than its content. This mass revulsion seems to be Ellison’s desired reaction, as every aspect of the film is a carefully crafted provocation. The characters are sad creatures living lonely existences in a Los Angeles ravaged by an earthquake that somehow led to denizens being deformed with boils, blisters, and sores. Child abuse, rape, and deviant sexual behavior are common practices for most of these characters. Even the sets are gauged to disgust, liberally smeared with a substance one can only hope is chocolate. The gross-out assaults are meant to inspire shock in some and laughter in others, but their ubiquity just grows tedious as the film progresses. Read more

NY Asian Film Festival Review: MATANGTUBIG (TOWN IN A LAKE)

MatangtubigAt first glance, Jet Leyco’s “Matangtubig” (“Town in a Lake”) appears to be the result of filtering David Lynch’s sensibilities through the culture of the Philippines. The plot –focused on the rape and murder of a female high school student and the disappearance of another in a small town– bears more than a passing resemblance to the story of Laura Palmer in “Twin Peaks”; the fact that both girls are represented by framed photographs in the media hysteria that ensues calls to mind Laura’s ever-present homecoming picture. Just like in Lynch’s television masterpiece, the crime is merely a pretense to explore general aspects the town, including school life, political maneuvering, and law enforcement. Leyco even pays homage to Lynch’s enthusiasm for strobes as scenes that suggest a meeting between two worlds —law-abiding and criminal, earthbound and otherworldly— are bathed in a red light.

Leyco’s reverence for the work of the American master also plays a role in shaping his cinematic grammar, but it is in this realm that his personal style shines through. Like Lynch, the Filipino director plays with time, alternating the film’s pacing to keep the viewer on his or her toes or to heighten a sense of dread. His scene transitions in particular can be jarring; many scenes end by suddenly cutting to another scene or to a black screen that lingers silently for what could feel like a few seconds too long. These transitions work well, though, in drawing the viewer into the frenzy surrounding the search for the killers. Read more

Film Review: Folk Hero & Funny Guy

folk_hero_and_funny_guy_original_1With its bifurcated title, “Folk Hero & Funny Guy” —the new film from “It’s a Disaster” director Jeff Grace— makes a clear mission statement of comparing and contrasting a pair of individuals before the audience has seen a frame. Grace follows down-on-his-luck comedian Paul (Alex Karpovsky) as he joins childhood friend and famous musician Jason (Wyatt Russell) on a small club tour of the east coast. Shortly before Jason convinces Paul to join him on the road, a split screen shot shows the beginnings of each of their days. While Scott trudges through a work day as a temp, Black stays in bed —sleeping and otherwise— with a ladyfriend. Their vastly different routines prepare the viewer in a purely visual manner for the conflicts to come.

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Tribeca Film Festival Review: Bobbi Jene

Bobbi-Jene-main-still-Web1About an hour into “Bobbi Jene” —director Elvira Lind’s winner of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival’s Best Documentary award, the audience is presented with the mission statement of its subject, dancer Bobbi Jene Smith. In an interview with a journalist, she explains that —in her craft—she seeks ‘a place where I have no strength to hide anything.’ Lind’s masterful film firmly situates Smith in this place regardless of whether she is on or off the dance floor.

After quickly detailing the 21 year-old Smith’s earlier relocation from New York City to Tel Aviv to perform with the Batsheva Dance Company, the film begins with the now 30 year-old dancer returning to the United States. From the first shots, Smith’s face conveys a quiet, simmering intelligence that —coupled with the raw physicality of her dancing— demands attention. We often see her dancing in a frenzied state, her long hair billowing as she swings her arms upward and downward. Her performances sometimes end with contemplative stares into the distance, and her intense control is such that the viewer is left wondering whether these moments are genuine or part of the choreography. Read more

A Look Back: Good Night, and Good Luck

good-night-and-good-luck-immagini-dal-film-3An American politician uses fear of a foreign entity in an attempt to wield authoritarian power. His enemies are branded as sympathizers at best and collaborators at worst. Among those enemies is the news media, who he attempts to delegitimize with accusations of bias. While this situation reasonably applies to 2017 and the 45th president of the United States, it diverges from current events when the efforts of a courageous television journalist and his intrepid news team ultimately help to discredit the politician and cause him to lose the public’s trust.

The year in question is actually 1953. The politician is Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The journalist is Edward R. Murrow. And the film that recounts this fight for American ideals is George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Read more

Tribeca Film Festival Review: King of Peking

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 12.37.32 PMDirector Sam Voutas’ “King of Peking” shines a light on an unsung hero of the film industry: the projectionist. Big Wong (Jun Zhao) and Little Wong (Wang Naixan) travel from village to village in contemporary China executing outdoor screenings of Hollywood favorites in courtyards. The flagging fortunes of their business —which threatens to deny father/son visitation as Big Wong’s ex-wife demands past-due child support— rally when Big Wong finds a DVD recorder, and the duo starts selling bootlegs under the moniker King of Peking.

Just like a projectionist, Voutas is concerned with framing the film’s proceedings. A red curtain acts as a framing device for the film; we begin and end the movie on an image of the type of hanging, billowing red velvet that encases a cinema screen. Big Wong’s own understanding of the world is so grounded in the context of the cinema that he claims early in the film that he used to believe Italy and France were entirely black and white, as he only knew Europe through black and white classics.The film itself is broken into chapters that take their titles from whatever role Big Wong is playing at the time, starting with “The Projectionist.” These reframings are an astute choice in a film interested in how one’s status in life influences one’s perception. Read more

Filmwax Radio Live with D.A. Pennebaker & Chris Hegedus

May 20th • Doors at 6:30, event begins at 7:00, no entry after 7:30

DCTV, 87 Lafayette, NYC

DCTV and Filmwax Radio cordially invite you to a special live podcast event, a conversation with filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, one of the most respected teams of documentary filmmakers working today, about their longstanding careers and new documentary feature, Unlocking the Cage.

Unlocking the Cage follows animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans, by filing the first lawsuits that seek to transform a chimpanzee from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with legal protections.

Unlocking the Cage opens May 25th at New York’s Film Forum, and nationally in June.

This event is a part of DCTV Presents, DCTV’s signature screening and event series that highlights innovative and provocative work from the independent filmmaking community.

Back at South By: Hunter Gatherer, The Arbalest, Tony Robbins, and the Death of the Theatrical

Hunter GathererSomething was in the air this year at South by Southwest. A number of people I hung out with complained that the films weren’t as good as last year. I didn’t have that experience. As many times as I promise myself I’ll leave time for wildcard screenings (spontaneous choices), I always end up going with my planned selections. This year I reached about half the movies I intended to. That’s not terribly surprising considering I also do a lot of podcasting at SxSW and this year I also attended a few panels and ran one myself. More on that in a bit; first the films. One of my favorite films which had its world premiere was “Hunter Gatherer”, directed by Josh Locy and which stars Andre Royo, Bubbles on the HBO series The Wire. Royo, who won the Special Jury Award for his performance, is unforgettable as Ashley, a recently released ex-con who is ceaselessly hustling in his own benign way to make a few bucks. The movie opens with Ashley’s elderly and cantankerous Mom  setting up a birthday party for him while he fruitlessly calls friends to invite them over. Even though he’s middle aged there’s something innocent, almost childish about him, despite his having served three years in the slammer (reasons which are never quite explained). What we do learn relatively quickly is that he harbors a deep love for the woman he was involved with before he went into prison and who has since moved on to another relationship. Ashley doesn’t stop hustling and when he meets Jeremy (George Sample III), another innocent, the two make unlikely friends. Read more

NYFF52: Due Maestri Italiani

NYFFFilmwax Radio blogger Herbert Gambill’s 3rd dispatch from the New York Film Festival press & industry screenings. The Festival runs from Friday, September 26th through Sunday, October 12th.

The plot of Eugène Green’s “La Sapienza” brings to mind Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy.” In that 1954 film an estranged couple’s visit to Pompeii provided something of a rekindling of their love. In Green’s film a successful middle-aged French architect, Alexandre (played by Fabrizio Rongione, who also stars in the Dardenne brothers’ “Two Days, One Night,” another film in this year’s NYFF main slate), depressed by changes ordered by a client, travels with his wife Alienor (Christelle Prot Landman) to view the works of one of his heroes, the Roman Baroque architect Francesco Borromini. The couple, whose relationship has been running cold for many years, first visits Borromini’s birthplace, Ticino, in the Italian-speaking southern part of Switzerland, by Lake Maggiore, where they meet two teenage siblings who make a huge impression on them. Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) wants to study architecture himself; his sister Lavinia (Arianna Nastro) suffers from dizzy spells perhaps induced by her fear of being separated from her brother. Though Alexandre gives Goffredo a chilly initial reception, his wife talks him into proceeding to Rome with him, leaving her to tend to an ailing Lavinia. Read more

NYFF52: Goodbye to Language, ’71 & Misunderstood

Filmwax Radio blogger Herbert Gambill’s 2nd dispatch from the New York Film Festival press & industry screenings. The New York Film Festival runs from Friday, September 26th through Thursday, October 2nd.


2014 NYFF poster (Artist Laurie Simmons)Jean-Luc Godard’s latest, “Goodbye to Language” is in 3D, and the iconoclast disrupts its conventions almost as brilliantly as he did two dimensionally in his first feature, “Breathless.” Turns out, for example, that a lap dissolve doesn’t quite work in a 3D film; neither does increasing the contrast of the image. But “Goodbye to Language” is much more than an essay about the relationship between a form of pictorial representation and its ideological assumptions. Godard continues using his most recent palette (even at times re-using some images from his “Histoires de Cinema” and references to images like Courbet’s painting “The Origin of Life”) which means only a Godard enthusiast–which I encourage everyone to be–will appreciate this 70-minute film. The minimal plot is the same one he has used in many films: a couple argues. Discourses multiply. Godard may be saying goodbye to language but not to parole (speech), a fact underscored by the sounds of an infant babbling and his dog Roxy’s barking which ends the film. There is also much of the unfortunate petulant comments about history (“Hitler didn’t invent anything.”) that sound less ironic when they are narrated as opposed to coming out of the mouth of a character. But when it comes to image, sound and the communicative and poetic possibilities and dangers of myriad discourses (used book customers distracted by iPhones), Godard always provokes in an interesting way. Maybe love means never having to say anything? Read more

In Praise of Older Women

L-R: Moderator Anna Merlan, Rosie Perez, Brooke Shields and Daphne Rubin-Vega

L-R: Moderator Anna Merlan, Rosie Perez, Brooke Shields and Daphne Rubin-Vega

“When you get older the sex gets better,” actress Rosie Perez observed yesterday in a discussion held at Manhattan’s NeueHouse work collective space. However, she and three other female stars related, the same is not always true for a woman career in the film industry.

The second annual First Time Fest opened with a panel on “Women in Entertainment” featuring panelists Carol Alt, Rosie Perez, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Brooke Shields. Moderated by Village Voice writer Anna Merlan, the four women talked about the sexism, racism and agism still prevalent in Hollywood.

Model, actress and nutrition activist Carol Alt, who, at 53, “can’t fit into sample sizes anymore,” talked about the careful negotiations for her Playboy December 2008 issue shoot. No retouching was allowed for the cover and fold-out of the then 49 year-old, who calls herself “the Babe Ruth of modeling.” (One thing I learned about her I didn’t know before that we have in common: we were both in Army ROTC!)

Brooke Shields lamented the unfortunate reputation her protective mother got just trying to enforce regulations like the California Child Actor’s Bill, also known as the Jackie Coogan Act. After finishing college Shields says she was horrified to find that four years at Princeton hurt instead of helped her career. Compare that with James Franco’s hiatus at Columbia. Read more

The Filmwax Favorites of 2013

This is largely an arbitrary list that is no particular order.  I am not ranking them because, well,  I’m just lazy like that. I just walked out of all of the below very impressed or engaged or moved in some way. Among some of the most cited films of the year I still have not seen The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Dallas Buyers Club or Captain Philips. Here we go:

  • All is Lost (JC Chandor)
    let the fire burn

    A photo from Jason Osder’s LET THE FIRE BURN

  • The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer)
  • Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling)
  • Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski)
  • Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg)
  • Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
  • Mother of George (Andrew Dosumnu)
  • Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
  • Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener)
  • Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
  • All The Light in the Sky (Joe Swanberg)
  • Let the Fire Burn (Jason Osder)
  • 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
  • Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen Brothers)
  • 20 Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville)
  • Our Nixon (Penny Lane)
  • Springbreakers (Harmony Korine)
  • The Dirties (Matt Johnson)
  • This is Martin Bonner (Chad Hartigan)
  • Gravity

DOC NYC 2012

In this year’s DOC NYC —its third season— the festival runs from November 8-11 and will showcase 61 feature-length documentaries as well as many shorts and panel discussions by leaders in the field of documentary filmmaking. Standouts include opening night’s “Venus and Serena,” a portrait of the tennis stars the Williams sisters; “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp,” about the life of the writer who vividly captured street life in the ‘60s; and “The Central Park Five,” the eagerly-awaited film about the controversial Central Park Jogger rape case, co-directed by Ken Burns, which closes out the festival. Go here for more information and a full schedule.

The team behind 2006’s entertaining and thought-provoking documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema have followed up with a new essay doc investigating how films influence our collective beliefs and practices by helping to shape our dreams. The style of “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” is exactly like the earlier film: the colorful, heavily-accented Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek uses scenes from films to illustrate intellectual arguments; these are punctuated by Slavoj continuing his narration in costumes and sets which pay homage to the films.

Clips from John Carpenter’s 1988 cult film “They Live” are used to explain Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser’s concept of ideological interpolation, in which our subjectivity is addressed (and partially created) by the social structures we inhabit. A drifter has discovered a pair of sunglasses that reveal the hidden instructions behind the surface of everyday life. An ordinary billboard advertisement turns into the text “OBEY” when viewed with the glasses! Read more

New York Film Festival: To The Barricades!

A scene about one-third of the way into French director Olivier Assayas’ wonderful new film “Something in the Air” brings up a question that was central to film criticism and theory during the time in which the film is set, the early 1970s. It also amounts to something of an embedded self-criticism by the filmmaker. There is a screening of agitprop films for a group of young French and Italian revolutionaries. During a Q&A session someone remarks that the film shown may have political content but its form is not political; it’s simply a conventional document of political struggle.

The filmmaker, in the film’s defense, is that he doesn’t make films for “aesthetes,” he makes them for workers. Assayas can’t make the same excuse, of course; it’s unlikely his new film —or his last, the terrific made-for-French-TV mini-series “Carlos”— will be shown at any factories soon. But the simple binary of political film/film made politically has subsequently been shown to be insufficient to evaluate the political agency —or effectiveness— of a film. Read more