I know many of you are anxiously awaiting Cinedelphia’s annual Film Festival reports and I must apologize as I’ve barely had a chance to see anything yet in an actual theater. This past weekend, Cinedelphia presented three standing-room-only performances of Nosferatu with a live score at PhilaMOCA, attended an Argento-themed burlesque show, and greatly enjoyed an outdoor 16mm double-feature of Godzilla vs. The Thing and Mac and Me (it goes without saying that that presentation is easily more impressive than anything at the Festival). Thankfully, Cinedelphia contributor Aaron Mannino has been picking up the slack. So what we have here are a whole bunch of capsule reviews, we’ll be doing two more of these recaps by Festival’s end…
Alyah : Alex deals drugs. It’s the first thing we learn about him, virtually before we even see his face. We spend the rest of Alyah wondering and learning moment by moment, gesture by fleeting gesture, who this man is beyond and beneath his perplexing guardedness and stoicism. Alex is what people mean when they say “I cant read them.” Pio Marmai embodies this vagueness and impermanence with nuance. Alex isn’t sure who he is either, and so he leaps at the opportunity to leave Paris and the drug game for Israel, where a cousin of his is investing in a restaurant venture. In order to get there, he has to come up with $15,000 in investment money, and starts selling cocaine. The film could have fallen into that nauseous Requiem For A Dream peril, but is focused instead on the strained familial bonds in Alex’s world, his budding potential relationship as well as his emotional past, and his attempts to investigate his own Jewishness. Everything is exposed and authentic in this film, to an exemplary degree. Moralizations are thankfully kept in check. (AM)
Alyah will screen at the Ritz East at 2:45 PM on Thursday, October 25.
A Band Called Death aka A movie called awesome! The story of the Hackney brothers is bigger than the proto-punk band they started in Motown-driven Detroit ’74, which predates the Ramones and the Sex Pistols by at least two years. As one article said, “They were punk before punk was punk.” Though the band only survived as Death till around ’80, it winds up being the through-line sewn across their lives. Their story is its own dramatic arc. Like their never-released album as Death, the story simply needed to be shared. Covino and Howlett’s film is simple, sensitive, and also enthusiastic. More than mere archival materials, the photographs used in the film were digitized and dimensionalized so that actual cinematography could be applied to static images. The effect is elegant and energizes the materials. The music is fantastic, the history of these brothers as told by the two surviving siblings is compelling, and the karmic payoff for all their struggles and losses will leave you smiling. When I get my next paycheck, I am buying Death’s record, 35 years late but still a towering work. (AM)
A Band Called Death will screen at the Ritz at the Bourse at 5:40 PM on Friday, October 26.
The Central Park Five : My personal pick for best film of the festival. Ken Burns finally pulls the critical punch we have all been waiting for with this scathing investigation of the Central Park Jogger rape convictions that put five innocent teenagers behind bars on no evidence in the late 80’s. Burns is unsparing, not because he aims to be, but because his subject reveals itself to be terrifying on its own terms. TCP5 feels modern, vital, and is something rare: its important. Utterly. (AM)
The Central Park Five will screen at Noon on Wednesday, October 24.
The Comedy : You know you’re in trouble when the title is intentionally the funniest thing about a film called The Comedy, a purposefully meaningless meditation on the wealthy young bearded and mustachioed manboys of Brooklyn (I’m sure that some would say that it’s a critique on “hipsters”, but that’s stretching the term a bit far when you’re talking about leading men the likes of Philly’s favorite comedic sons, Tim and Eric, and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, all in their late 30s/early 40s). With no apparent jobs, these mean-spirited slobs spend their time interfering in the matters of others, verbally tormenting everyone around them, and exerting a constant holier-than-thou attitude that obviously embodies the filmmakers’ intentions as they proudly welcome criticism and theater walkouts. It’s not challenging to the audience, it’s insulting (though it’s also kind of a challenge since the whole thing is a real bore that’s tough to get through). “The Comedy? It wasn’t funny at all.” Exactly what they want to hear. (EB)
The Comedy will screen at the Ritz at the Bourse at 10:10 PM on Wednesday, October 24.
The Good Son : A classy production that brings true scope to boxer Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini’s life and the unfortunate result of his ’82 match with South Korean Deuk-koo Kim. Jesse James Miller brings a visual panache that embraces his subject and the sport. Mancini himself is full of heart, and he lights up like a child as he articulately recalls events and places from his past. Heart and clean artfulness is what sets this film apart. Director Miller takes a familiar format but enlivens it with an impeccable sense of craft and focus. The ephemera that would be perfectly framed in another film are placed on tabletops and within real domestic spaces. In that unkemptness, Miller makes them feel vital, as if a family member were pouring over them in a stroll down memory lane. The dramatic arc leads to the meeting of Mancini and Jiwan Kim, the son of the man he killed in the ring on national television. The perspective gained of Deuk-koo’s life is so valuable to the drama of the film and to the history of the still living Mancini. As Boom Boom says himself, their two identities are entwined now and forever. Beautifully shot, emotive, and informative. (AM)
The Good Son will screen at the Ritz at the Bourse at 4:45 PM on Wednesday, October 24.
I Declare War : Realism via fantasy, fantasy via realism…a grand game of war played out by middle schoolers in a forest. I’ve been looking forward to this one since it won ActionFest, but unfortunately its parodic embracement of action tropes gets old real quick, like 15 minutes in. A sound concept that equals a feature-length bore; props to the young actors though, the ruthless villain driven by childish jealousy is a particular joy to watch. (EB)
I Declare War will screen at the Ritz East at 10:15 PM on Tuesday, October 23 and at the Ritz at the Bourse at 10:00 PM on Friday, October 26.
The Iran Job : The early screening of this gem on the 19th was packed to the gills with school children that were more well behaved and engaged than I could have hoped for. The Iran Job is a lighthearted doc that follows Kevin Sheppard, an international circuit basketball player from the US Virgin Islands recruited to play for Iran in 2008. The director, Till Shauder, was present for a Q&A. He said that although he had heard of US players going to Iran to play ball in ’07, he didn’t want to make a film until he found someone truly captivating. It was better for everyone that he waited until the charismatic, fun-loving (if not a tad irreverent), and passionate Sheppard came along. He is such a joy to watch as he uninhibitedly interacts with teammates and locals. The film balances socio-political contexts with that of the team’s upward climb from obscurity to playoff hopefuls, and the two inform each other’s urgency. The real surprise comes from the three women who befriend Kevin and share a rare perspective from within the culture. Also….Farsi Hip Hop sounds kinda badass. If you liked Undefeated (2011), you’ll love this. (AM)
Room 237 : This film, a film about film…more pointedly about A film (The Shining), is also a film about the act of interpretation itself. Room 237 is ultimately about the thing that makes humans intrinsically so; our imaginations. Our ability to decode, to recombine information in novel and deliberate fashions, and to actively filter our experiences with different lenses. Director Ascher’s cannibalization of other films, including The Shining, to visually narrativize each speaker’s analysis and recollections is great fun and belies its complexity. There are many moments of humor, and also some truly fascinating observations about the subliminal insanity of Kubrick’s famed film. If nothing else, as a film lover and film writer, it is exciting to see a film about a film that is built upon people’s impassioned interpretations. A dynamic visual essay, and a solid work of visual comedy. (AM)
Room 237 will screen at the RAVE at 7:30 PM on Monday, October 22.
Simon Killer : A completely unlikable recent college graduate gets dumped by his girlfriend of five years, moves back in with his parents, and goes on vacation to France for recovery purposes. The titular protagonist is a spoiled brat with a quick and selfish mind that is always ready to hurt those around him for the sake of either survival or adventure. He shacks up with a prostitute, uses her as a means to get ahead, and then abandons the whole thing as he aimlessly drifts towards his next conquest, calling home to check in with his parents thoughout. Not a lot of fun, but very well-made with moderate pacing and some really long takes, which I always tend to respect. It also contains what may be the most accurate portrayal of a European brothel that I’ve ever seen on film (not that I would know…) (EB)
Simon Killer will screen at the Ritz East at 7:15 PM on Monday, October 22.
Somebody Up There Likes Me : An endlessly charming indie comedy from Bob Byington (Harmony and Me). Decades in the life of droll everyman Max pass by as he goes through a seemingly endless succession of failures with women. Some characters age, most of the main ones don’t as they’re played by the same actors with no change to their appearance despite the passage of time. At times the actors seem to be taking the script no more seriously than its characters take their own world; it’s all in good fun and it actually leads to a rather bittersweet take on modern living. With the comedic whimsy/anarchy (I couldn’t decide which word to use) of early Woody Allen and the pleasantly hip-yet-classic design sense of Wes Anderson, Somebody Up There is a welcome relief from the revelatory-minded, self-indulgent indie fare of late (more on that here). (EB)
Somebody Up There Likes Me will screen at the RAVE at 7:15 PM on Tuesday, October 23.
Stop back in on Thursday for our next Festival report. And in the meantime, do yourself a favor and read the first part of friend-of-Cinedelphia Greg Christie’s (see, we’re your friends, Greg!) Twitch Film report on the Philly Film Fest thus far. Oh boy.