Monday, November 30, 2015

Orion: Who was that Masked Man?

Probably nobody was more responsible for the Elvis Presley death hoax brouhaha than Gail Brewer-Giorgio. She wrote the conspiracy book shrink-wrapped with a cassette tape of the King supposedly explaining how he pulled it off that you might remember from late television commercials. She also wrote an earlier novel about good old boy rock icon Orion Eckley Darnell, who faked his death at the height of his fame. It was intended to be a fantastical allegory, but the new boss of Sun Records used it as a business plan. Jimmy Ellis was the aspiring singer whose voice fit Orion’s mask. Ellis’s strange and sad career is chronicled in Jeanie Finlay’s Orion: the Man Who Would Be King (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Even during his teenaged years, people were struck by how much the late Jimmy Ellis sounded like Elvis Presley. That might sound like a blessing, but for a prospective vocalist hoping to establish his own identity and career, it was more of a curse. Nobody wanted to sign an Elvis sound-a-like, until Shelby Singleton, the new owner of Sun Records and its storied catalog came across Brewer-Giorgio’s novel, Orion.

Just like the protagonist so clearly inspired by Presley, Singleton had Ellis perform as “Orion Eckley Darnell.” Since he only looked Presley if you were squinting like a bat in a spotlight, Ellis was required to wear a Lone Ranger mask whenever appearing in public. They never really said he was Presley, but there was a whole lot of winking and nudging going on. It was bizarrely successful for a while, as far as Singleton was concerned. Yet, Ellis inevitably became frustrated with the misplaced adulation and lack of proper recognition.

Finlay makes viewers understand full well the sad irony that had there never been an Elvis Presley, Jimmy Ellis could have been huge. He was not some cheesy Roger Clinton southern fried freak show. Ellis always sang with feeling and could croon a ballad with the best of them. Like Presley, he was attuned to many forms of southern music, from rockabilly to gospel. There was just no getting around that Elvis voice of his.

Ellis’s story turns out to be even sadder than we expect, but Finlay’s treatment gives him the respect and perspective he deserves. She engages in a bit of speculation regarding the adopted Ellis’s birth parents, but it is convincing enough to makes you wonder (but not about Elvis Aron, mind you). There is just some really nice documentary-storytelling going on in Orion. Plus, if you dig Elvis, you will definitely groove to Ellis’s spooky dead-ringer recordings.

It would be nice and altogether fitting if we could start speculation Jimmy “Orion” Ellis faked his death to once again pursue his musical dreams with a clean slate, but the senseless criminal nature of his murder and that of his employee are simply not conducive to fun conspiracy theories. Frankly, they both deserved far better. At least Finlay’s documentary will foster an appreciation of his talent, under his own name, which is not nothing. Highly recommended for fans of Presley, Orion, and old school Sun Records, Orion: the Man Who Would Be King opens this Friday (12/4) in New York, at the IFC Center.

Hitchcock/Truffaut: Auteur Interviews Auteur

Few directors ever became a popular celebrity like Alfred Hitchcock. His imprimatur and famous profile were used to brand books, magazines, and even a television show. Yet, as bizarre as it seems to us today (with Vertigo recently eclipsing Citizen Kane on the Sight & Sound critics poll), in the early 1960s, Hitchcock was not widely hailed as an artist. The exception was in France, particularly among Cahiers du Cinema’s grubby circle of critics and filmmakers. That most definitely included François Truffaut. He convinced the Master of Suspense to sit for an epic eight day interview that would eventually be edited into of the most treasured film books of all time. Kent Jones uses the fiftieth anniversary of its publication as a springboard to celebrate the films it analyzes in Hitchcock/Truffaut (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday in New York.

In 1962, Hitchcock only had a handful of films ahead of him, but that would include iconic films like The Birds and Marnie, as well as Frenzy, the late career masterwork the public really missed the boat on in 1972. By this time, Hitchcock had completed signature films like Vertigo that would largely out of public circulation for decades. In the pre-video era, reading Hitchcock/Truffaut became the only way to get a shot-by-shot sense of the master’s work.

In case we doubt that fact, Jones enlists a relatively small but eminent cast of filmmakers to explain how much the book has meant to them. Not surprisingly, many are alumni of the New York Film Festival, including Martin Scorsese, who often appears in filmmaking documentaries and David Fincher, who is considerably less ubiquitous. There are no slouches in H/T, but it seems a strange how little screen time Kiyoshi Kurosawa gets, considering he is probably the closest to Hitchcock stylistically.

Frankly, Jones’ wandering focus makes it tricky to nail down his precise intentions. Although he incorporates considerable excerpts from the surviving audio tapes, he is not solely concerned with the book and interview. There is some background context provided for both titular filmmakers, but he clearly privileges Hitchcock well above Truffaut. In fact, Jones does not even explore Truffaut’s Hitchcockian films, like Mississippi Mermaid and The Bride Wore Black. Rather, it often seems like Jones is content to follow the points raised by his cast of filmmakers and the commentary of Hitchcock himself, in an almost freely associative manner. While that makes it hard to elevator-pitch H/T, its Hitchcock-centrism still makes for fascinating viewing. Let’s be honest, most of us could happily listen to the old master discuss the catering on Topaz.

Jones simply can’t go wrong with Hitchcock. Even if we can’t precisely spell out the film’s thesis, it further buttresses our general cineaste convictions that Hitch was one of the craftiest, wittiest auteurs to ever look at the world through the lens of a camera. Abundantly watchable, Hitchcock/Truffaut is highly recommended for Hitchcock fans (and somewhat so for Truffaut and Nouvelle Vague admirers as well) when it opens this Wednesday (12/2) in New York, at Film Forum.

MI-5--A.K.A. Spooks: the Greater Good

Harry Pearce is about to become the James Jesus Angleton of MI-5. He is convinced there is a mole deliberately sabotaging the intelligence agency. Unfortunately, his efforts to expose the traitor might do even greater damage to British national security. Decommissioned operative Will Holloway will be tasked with stopping him. They have some complicated history that will get even thornier in Bharat Nalluri’s MI-5 (trailer here), the feature continuation of the MI-5/Spooks series, which opens this Friday in New York.

Adem Qasim is one of those smooth talking mass-murdering terrorists the media loves to give a platform to. MI-5 had captured him, but he will escape during the opening action sequence. This leaves the Americans (or the “Cousins” as Smiley called us) somewhat perturbed and Pearce on the outs, since it happened under his watch. Learning the escape was facilitated by a mysterious high level command preventing air support, Pearce goes rogue to uncover the truth. It seems he will even make a deal with Qasim, the Devil himself, to uncover the high level turncoat.

Holloway was maybe not such a great agent, but he knows Pearce. Reluctantly, the top Tinkers, Tailors, and Soldiers bring him back to play Pearce’s game, but they keep him on a short leash. At least they will try. Inevitably, Holloway’s loyalties will be pulled in every which direction. Of course, there is also a ticking clock, since Qasim is imminently planning a spectacularly bloody terror attack.

In the UK, the MI-5 feature was released with the subtitle “the Greater Good,” which reverberates throughout the film, but rises to a crescendo during the third act. Jonathan Brackley & Sam Vincent’s screenplay makes it bracingly clear what sort of grim, difficult choices counter-terrorist services must necessarily face. This is not a vocation for timid or the simplistic. You can definitely see the influence of Smiley and le Carré, but they stop of positing a moral equivalency between the spooks and the terrorists.

In fact, the MI-5 feature treatment is surprisingly well written, taking several twisty turns in between some sharply resonant dialogue. To paraphrase Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War, Kit Harington (John Snow in Game of Thrones) doesn’t look like much of an action star as Holloway, but that is kind of the point. He is supposed to be a misfit. 

It hardly matters anyway. Peter Firth takes complete ownership of the film, reprising his role as Pearce from the series. He brings a Shakespearean element to the film not completely unlike Dame Judi Dench in the admittedly superior Skyfall. It is a deliciously Machiavellian anti-heroic turn. Eleanor Matsuura is also convincingly poised and intelligent as relatively straight-shooting agent Hannah Santo. Returning Tim McInnerny is aptly pompous as agency chief Oliver Mace, but he unleashes some stone cold hardnosedness in the climatic showdown.

As a motion picture, MI-5 is almost entirely self-contained, requiring almost no foreknowledge from viewers besides a rudimentary understanding of the current geopolitical realities, which basically means anyone who doesn’t work in the White House should be able to follow it. Yet despite the presence of several new characters, it serves as a perfect capstone to the series. If you have invested time in MI-5 or Spooks, you will appreciate where it takes the remaining cast, while newcomers should find it a lithe and muscular espionage thriller. Recommended pretty enthusiastically by straight-up movie standards, MI-5 opens this Friday (12/4) in New York, at the Village East.

The Sound of Redemption: the Frank Morgan Story

What was someone as young and talented as jazz musician Grace Kelly doing in San Quentin? She was playing in a unique tribute concert for Frank Morgan, her late, great mentor. Morgan himself was always the first to admit he spent far too much time incarcerated there, due to drugs and flawed decision-making. However, Morgan finally left prison for good in 1985 just in time for a mini-renaissance of interest in the old school bop tradition. N.C. Heiken’s chronicles his tumultuous life and beautiful music in The Sound of Redemption: the Frank Morgan Story (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday in New York.

In a way, music was in Morgan’s blood. He was the son of Ink Spots member Stanley Morgan, but that was a decidedly mixed blessing. Frank Morgan heard Charlie Parker at a young age and was profoundly influenced by his music. Unfortunately, he also developed a Bird-like heroin habit. Like most junkies, Morgan resorted to crime to pay for his habit, but he was especially industrious and/or reckless.

There was indeed a time when people considered the sixteen piece San Quentin Warden’s Band the best big band in California without any intended irony. For years, it was Morgan’s only gig, but it was a steady one. Despite all his promise, Morgan was nearly unknown beyond the circle of musicians who played with him when he was literally just a kid, or had had their own stint in the San Quentin Band.

Man, the 1980s were a good decade, especially for real deal jazz greats like Morgan. However, Morgan’s third act not one of absolutely unalloyed triumphalism. In fact, Heikin nicely tempers the inspirational with the darker backsliding realities of life. Things were as they were, but the music remains.

At the heart of the film is the rather remarkable concert featuring Morgan’s friends and colleagues, performing the standards he was most associated with. Even though we do not hear the man himself in these sequences, they have the right spirit nonetheless. They are also very shrewdly edited. In one memorable scene, we clearly see one resident audience member nodding along knowingly as trombonist and master-of-ceremonies Delfeayo Marsalis explains just how much Morgan lost as a result of his habit.

Heikin is also wise enough to show Kelly’s absolutely devastating performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in its uninterrupted entirety. Frankly, seeing her in front of that rough-looking crowd will alarm a lot of us jazz fans who remember her as the twelve year-old prodigy who exploded onto the scene (with Morgan’s encouragement), but she is in her early twenties now. Regardless, her rendition is exquisitely fitting. Morgan was inspired by Bird, but he had a tender way with ballads that was more like an alto version of Dexter Gordon (a former Central Avenue comrade).
By following up the chilling yet strangely elegant North Korean expose
Kimjongilia with her sensitive and swinging portrait of Morgan, Heikin stakes a claim as possibly the best documentarian working today. Her instincts are sharp and reliable, while her aesthetic sensibilities are unerringly sophisticated. Executive produced by hipper-than-you-knew mystery novelist Michael Connelly, Sound of Redemption does right by its subject, as well as his fellow musicians (especially including Kelly, Marsalis, pianist George Cables, legendary bassist Ron Carter, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, and alto player Mark Gross, who all gigged on the central prison concert, sounding fantastic). A bittersweet treat, Sound of Redemption is very highly recommended when it opens this Wednesday (12/2) at the IFC Center.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

YBCA Music Movies: We Like It Like That

Joe Cuba & Jimmy Sabater penned one of the most infectious dance hits ever. It is impossible to keep still while listening to their original recording of “Bang Bang.” Dizzy Gillespie’s cover was just as groovy, but with more trumpet. Heck, even David Sanborn’s cover is catchy. It was one of a handful of Latin Boogaloos that defined a short-lived but still fondly remembered Latin music craze. Matthew Ramirez Warren’s chronicles the music’s heyday and the musicians that forged its funky trail in We Like It Like That: the Story of Latin Boogaloo (trailer here), which screens this week during the Music Movies series at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

In the 1960s, you heard R&B and soul on the radio. For young musicians coming up in neighborhoods like East Harlem, it was natural to integrate the sounds of their generation with the Latin music they grew up with. Thus Latin Boogaloo was born, more or less. More than anything, they had a groove.

There were only a handful of really classic, influential boogaloos, like “Bang Bang,” Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like it Like That,” Johnny Colon’s “Boogaloo Blues,” and Joe Bataan’s “Gypsy Woman,” but they briefly spawned a host of followers. Many Latin musicians were strongly encouraged record boogaloos. Some embraced them, like Ray Barretto, whereas others were less enthusiastic, such as Larry Harlow (whose presence as a respectful dissenter greatly enriches the film). Then, suddenly around the time Fania Records really established its hegemony over the Latin music industry, the boogaloo just seemed to vanish.

Warren and the musicians he interviews do a great job of breaking down the process of getting down with a boogaloo. Although many were self-taught or informally schooled, it is clear everyone understands music at a very high level. Yet, the documentary is never dry or technical.  Far from it. We Like grooves just as hard as the music it surveys.

Calle 54 remains the greatest Latin music doc ever, due to its elegant simplicity and the sheer virtuosity of the performances it captures, but We Like still ranks way up there. We are necessarily overusing derivations of the word “groove” because that is what it is all about at its core. Indeed, Warren’s film is like a party, except it also comes with a lesson in Twentieth Century music history. Great nostalgic fun, We Like It Like That screens this Thursday (12/3) and next Sunday (12/6) as part of Music Movies at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

AFI’s EU Showcase ’15: Bridgend

These Welsh teens ought to be happily working in coal mines and listening to Tom Jones. Instead, they spend too much time in a creepy internet chatroom that may or may not be encouraging them to take their own lives. Many have already. As a result, their county has become internationally notorious as a so-called “suicide cluster.” It is a very real, still unresolved tragedy that gets a fictional work-up in Danish documentarian Jeppe Rønde’s English language narrative Bridgend (trailer here), which screens as part of the AFI’s 2015 EU Film Showcase.

Dave the copper has returned to his ancestral home of Bridgend with his moody teenaged daughter Sara, despite knowing suicide runs rife amongst the young adult population. There he will apparently be the only civil servant investigating Wales’ most notorious string of untimely deaths. Hey, a gig’s a gig—and what’s the worst that can happen? Despite her Englishness, Sara quickly falls in with her fellow classmates, because they presumably have open spots for new mates.

It does not take long for tragedy to strike anew, but she is shocked to hear it is Thomas, the school’s bad boy with whom she had already developed a complicated relationship. She soon falls back on her first choice, the ineffectual minister’s son Jamie. He is a sensitive lad, who takes Thomas’s kid brother under his wing, but he seems to know more about the suicide epidemic than he lets on.

Rønde’s film is ill-conceived right from the start, largely since the Bridgend phenomenon remains an open mystery. You can tell he is conflicted, laboring to find the right tone and structure, vacillating between some sort of high-end genre conspiracy yarn and a meditative examination of grief and alienation. Magnus Nordenhof Jønck’s lush cinematography is stunningly evocative and Rønde has an undeniably keen sense of visual composition, but the film suffers from an initial, insurmountable credibility gap. You just can’t accept a single widower father would knowingly move his angsty, overwrought daughter to a known suicide cluster.

Problematically, Game of Thrones’ Hannah Murray and Josh O’Connor are both rather vanilla as Sara and Jamie. Frankly, the film feels the lack of Scott Arthur’s Thomas and his visceral brooding rather acutely. Elinor Crawley is also so charismatic as Sara’s welcoming new BFF Laurel, we necessarily fear for her longevity in the film.

Bridgend looks great, but it is impossible to know what to make of it. Clearly, Rønde had no idea where to take it, especially since he could not give it any sort of closure, per se. Instead, it is a strangely accomplished exercise in flailing about, with no sense of direction. It is a bold, potentially offensive failure that will probably gain cult defenders over time. For the forewarned, it screens this Wednesday (12/2) as part of the AFI’s EU Film Showcase.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Jaco: One Name Says It All

For jazz, the 1970s were the best of times and the worst of times. Fusion super groups like Weather Report and Return to Forever were selling out stadiums, but great swing and bop musicians found themselves professionally marginalized. Jaco Pastorius was a big part of that story. For bass players, he was the story. Regardless of what you thought of Weather Report’s style, there was no denying his ferocious technique. Sadly, he met a premature end, just like too many other jazz legends before him. Paul Marchand & Stephen Kijak survey Pastorius’s life and legacy in the simply but aptly titled Jaco (trailer here), which releases today on DVD with a full second disk of additional, high quality interviews.

Early in Jaco, Juan Alderete of the Mars Volta refers to Pastorius as bass players’ “Hendrix” and it is easy to see why. Pastorius even did his own solo rendition of “America the Beautiful”—on the Fender bass. He is one of the few jazz musicians who is often referred to solely by his first name, like Miles or Duke. Granted, Jaco is a somewhat distinctive alternative to Jack or John Francis Pastorius, as he born, but he truly made a name for himself taking jazz to its funkiest limits.

Pastorius’s formative years were spent in Florida, where he picked up all forms of music, including the rhythms he heard on Cuban radio. One of the cool things about Jaco the documentary is the credit it gives to the Florida music scene at the time, including diverse artists like Anglo R&B road warrior Wayne Cochran and Algerian-born jazz pianist Alex Darqui. Just about everyone hired Pastorius, because he was that good. However, Pastorius returned the favor, bringing a number of his FL colleagues up to New York to play spots on his debut record for Epic.

Despite his widely hailed debut, Pastorius’s popularity really exploded during his stint with Weather Report. It was already one of the biggest super group before he joined, but he took them to an unheard of level for jazz. Alphonso Johnson, Pastorius’s predecessor in the band, is quite a gracious good sport talking about the moment when he realized Joe Zawinul (the unofficial, first-among-equals bandleader) had eyes to replace him with Jaco. However, some of the most honest and revealing reminiscences come from drummer Peter Erskine, who joined shortly after Pastorius.

In fact, the interview segments throughout Jaco are unusually insightful and often deeply personal. It must have been a difficult process choosing what to include for the documentary, because there is not a lot of filler in the supplementary DVD. In one case, Joni Mitchell tells an anecdote that is more about Wayne Shorter than Pastorius, but Weather Report fans should find it equally interesting. It is also nice to hear Al Di Meola fondly remember time spent with Zawinul when his band was on tour with Weather Report, because the Austrian keyboardist comes across as somewhat mean-spirited in the doc proper.

In many ways, Pastorius’s story is the oldest one of jazz. He had enormous talent, but also terrible demons to wrestle with. Yet, it was not the drugs and mental health problems that killed Pastorius, but a club owner named Luc Havan, who served four excruciatingly long months for beating to death one of the most innovative bassists of all time, or as Pastorius’ widow Ingrid observed: “one month for each child he left fatherless.” However, Marchand & Kijak (perhaps wisely) prefer to celebrate his gifts rather than to stoke resentment over his untimely end.

If you watch Jaco the documentary and the additional footage, you will understand just how much Pastorius revolutionized music. Jazz fans that still don’t appreciate Joni Mitchell might finally start to get her after hearing how she related to musicians like Pastorius and Shorter. Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) will also surprise viewers with his jazz hipness, earning extra style points for the Thelonius Monk t-shirt. Likewise, Metallica’s Robert Trujillo is just as eloquent speaking of Pastorius and also helped bring the film together by serving as producer.

Both disks comprehensively illuminate Pastorius as an artist and a flawed human being, while further burnishing his reputation as a musician beyond category. Very highly recommended, Jaco the two-DVD set is a terrific package that would make a good Christmas gift for fusion fans.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

South of Hell: Eli Roth & Jason Blum Take on WE tv

When it was founded, Charleston, South Carolina was open to all Protestant denominations. It is also home to the oldest synagogue in the United States that is still in regular use. On the darker flip side, a shadowy satanic cult operated there not so very long ago. It was led by Maria and David Abascal’s late but not nearly deceased enough father Enos. Recently, she has had strange dreams and visions of the malevolent Enos Abascal. It is safe to say they had a complicated relationship, considering he encased a demon within her. Maria Abascal is mostly in control, but her relationship with the sulfurous Abigail is necessarily complex. Still, she does her best to keep Abigail and her more conventional inner demons at bay in South of Hell (promo here), which premieres binge-style with seven back-to-back episodes this Friday on WE tv.

Created by Eli Roth & Jason Blum and produced by Blumhouse Television, South is the show we never thought we would see on WE tv, but here it is. Of course, it has a woman protagonist—or rather two of them, played by Mena Suvari—which apparently counted for a lot. It also has Charleston, providing an unending supply of atmosphere.

Given the Jim Jones-ish notoriety of their father and the dangerous force sealed inside Maria, the Abascal siblings have led a rootless life on the margins of society. They mostly eke out a living as exorcists, but Maria is also a part-time fortune teller, while David is a full time junkie. Thanks to Abigail, they are quite effective when hired to expel evil spirits. Somehow, Abigail developed a taste for eating her own demonic kind. Maria is able to harness that power, but only just barely. Something sinister is afoot, but have perhaps found an unlikely ally in the Reverend Elijah Bledsoe.

One episode is hardly enough to support a conclusive judgement, but at least it leaves viewers wanting more. Logically, it is also helmed by Roth to hook in his fan base. He rather deftly plays up the sinister ambiance, suggesting much that will presumably followed-up on later. Suvari has had an up-and-down career, but she is really terrific as the disillusioned Abascal and the uber-vampy Abigail. She generates some major heat in her scenes with herself. Although, we only see him teasingly briefly, Bill “Old Hats” Irwin shows some serious villainous potential as old man Abascal. David Abascal and Rev. Bledsoe are yet to be fully developed, but Zachary Booth and Lamman Rucker seem well cast thus far.

If you live in Los Angeles, you can make this a demonic possession-themed Thanksgiving weekend by catching the ripping good Korean film The Priests at the CGV and binge watching South of Hell. Although it is too early to pass judgement on the entire series, the first episode is definitely grabby enough to make you want to see the second, which is a tad frustrating when it is all you have. Definitely worth trying (and hopefully worth finishing), all seven episodes of South of Hell premiere tomorrow (11/27) on WE tv.

Submerged: Occupy the Limo, Underwater

The Searles household limo is no James Bond vehicle. It might be well-fortified, which will come in handy, but it also sinks like a stone, which will be a problem. The intrepid family retainer-bodyguard-driver will have to think fast to save his boss’s daughter in Steven C. Miller’s way-better-than-you-expect Submerged (trailer here), an IFC Midnight release screening this weekend in New York.

Initially, it looks like Matt is not doing such a great job protecting Jessie Searles, but as we soon learn from flashbacks, he fought off a large contingent of armed would-be kidnappers rather efficiently. He reasonably assumed she and her club kid friends would be safe once they reached the new limo, considering it is basically a tank with a wet bar. However, when the gang forces them off the bridge, things quickly get dire. While battery power keeps the lights on, the rest of the electrical system is kaput, freezing the doors and windows. Unless they figure a way out, the undertow will drag them out to sea, where they are likely to never be heard from again. Of course, the bad guys are also still out there.

Despite the frequent flashbacks (always a dangerous proposition), Submerged is a surprisingly lithe and economical thriller. Matt’s Army Ranger background is a double blessing, making him a credible action figure as well as a cool and collected (but not particularly talkative) protagonist. His ambiguous relationship with Jessie Searles rather works in context, but the backstory involving his kid brother’s suicide gets a little melodramatic.

What is really bold about Submerged is the villains’ explicit class warfare rhetoric. Frankly, the limo might as well have been attacked by Bernie Sanders. Matt’s boss Hank Searles is also refreshingly positioned as a conscientious boss, forced to initiate a round of layoffs to protect the rest of his employees and the community, but for the conspirators, that is reason enough for him and his daughter to suffer and potentially die.

While his restraint is appreciated, Jonathan Bennett’s Matt is almost too understated for an action lead. However, Tim Daly (yes, from Wings) is quite charismatic and even compelling as the decent but naïve Hank Searles. Mario Van Peebles also adds some vigor and attitude as the Q behind the Searles limo.

Miller juggles the various revelations relatively well and manages to make a film about six people trapped in a sinking limo never feel stagey or narrowly focused. One of the better commercially-conceived American thrillers released this year, Submerged screens round midnight tomorrow and Saturday (11/27, 11/28) in New York, at the IFC Center.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Priests: Father Kim and the 12th Assistant Deacon

Shamans are all well and good for minor spirit infestation, but if you are facing a 5,000 year old arch-demon, you need to go to the Roman Catholic Church. However, you can’t settle for skeptical, hip and modern priest in the Pope Francis tradition. You need someone old school like Benedict XVI. It also helps if he is a little ornery. Father Kim Bum-shin definitely fits the bill. Unfortunately, he has trouble keeping assistants once they experience the long, perilous exorcism of Lee Young-sin. Good will battle evil short-handed in Jang Jae-hyun’s The Priests (trailer here), which opens this Thanksgiving in Los Angeles.

Deacon Choi Joon-ho is the twelfth assistant deacon sent to help the maverick Father Kim in his epic mission. If that sounds vaguely familiar than perhaps you saw or read about Jang’s award winning short film, 12th Assistant Deacon, which he remade and expanded as the feature length The Priests. It might be longer, but you still will not find much padding here.

Lee Young-sin was once a member of Father Kim’s congregation, but she is no longer the innocent girl he knew. Frankly, the demon would prefer to possess a boy, which is why it tried to force her into committing suicide. However, even in her now vegetative state, Lee’s spirit is strong. Still, she is no match for the beast within her. Nor were Father Kim’s previous eleven assistants. The guilt-ridden Choi does not inspire much confidence either, but at least he was born in the year of the tiger, which apparently counts for a lot when you’re tangling with demons.

Jang stays faithful to the essence of his massively atmospheric short film, while expanding the scope rather effectively. The climatic exorcism remains the film’s signature scene and it is still all kinds of tense. However, Jang has added one wrinkle—the use of a pig as a temporary vessel for the exorcised spirits, in accordance with the Biblical exorcism of the Gerasenes demoniac (a.k.a. Legion). Presumably he had more budget available for animal wrangling this time around.

Regardless, The Priests is a gripping horror thriller that treats themes of good, evil, Catholicism, possession, and sacrifice with life-and-death seriousness. It is hard to top the original Exorcist from 1973, but the two films definitely share a close kinship. Along with his prior short, The Priests suggests Jang could be the next major genre filmmaker to emerge from Asia. Yes, they are that good.

Oddly enough, the lesser known cast of the short film might just take the honors over the famous stars of The Priests. As always, Kim Yun-seok has a big presence as Father Kim, but at times his uber-gruffness borders on the perverse. Likewise, Gang Dong-won’s Deacon Choi is frustratingly callow and shallow before he gets his rude demonic wake-up call. However, Park So-dam will scare the pants off you as the slightly disturbed Lee Young-sin.

There is hardly any blood or gore in The Priests, because it runs deeper than that. Jang masterfully controls the mood, steadily cranking up the suspense and dread. He integrates a great deal Catholic imagery and demonic archetypes alongside distinctly Korean elements, such as Father Kim’s shaman colleagues (they are on refreshingly good terms). Altogether, it is a highly distinctive, metaphysically unnerving horror film that will be perfect for family viewing this Thanksgiving night. Enthusiastically recommended for genre fans, The Priests opens tomorrow (11/26) in Los Angeles at the CGV Cinemas and next Friday (12/4) in New Jersey at the Edgewater Multiplex.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dead of Winter: the Donner Party—Weather can be Dramatic

History has been unfair to the Donner Party. While they are often collectively referred to as “notorious,” the Uruguayan soccer team’s 1973 plane crash in Andes is considered an inspiring story of survival. Yet, both did similar things to stave off starvation. While many factors hindered the Donner Party’s passage to California, none were as punishing as the storms that left them snowbound on the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Somewhat logically, The Weather Channel branches out into original documentary production by chronicling and dramatically recreating the ill-fated 1846 expedition in Doug Glover’s Dead of Winter: the Donner Party (promo here), which premieres this Friday on the network.

Like so many who came before and after them, the group that came to be known as the Donner Party saw California as the land of opportunity. George Donner and James F. Reed were relatively successful in Springfield, Illinois, but they were convinced they could make substantially better lives for themselves with the California land grants. Their company of covered wagons was eager to get there as soon as possible, so they took a speculative shortcut called Hastings Cutoff. Obviously, it was a disaster.

Those who only know the Donner Party from its hazy reputation, might be surprised how quickly circumstances turned desperate for the group of pioneers and how long they resisted resorting to cannibalism. Arguably, their torturous crossing of the Great Salt Lake Desert was just as grueling as the snowstorms on the Sierra Nevada, but it came earlier in the trek, so it did not generate as drastic a death toll.

Glover, screenwriter Raymond Bridgers, and the assembled historical experts are all good storytellers, who happen to be refreshingly forgiving of the Donner Party. With a few terrible exceptions, the pioneers conducted themselves just as well as the Uruguayan football players. Men like Donner, Reed, and diarist Patrick Breen just wanted their children to have better lives than they did, but they sacrificed horribly for the sake of their American dreams.

The quality of Dead of Winter’s historical commentary is considerably better than average, while having Powers Boothe (Red Dawn and 24) as narrator gives the film some seriously cool cred. The dramatic recreation cast also look period-appropriate and eventually quite weathered and bedraggled. It is a well-produced documentary that convincingly shifts the focus on the Donner party from the lurid details of cannibalism to their harrowing exploits of heroism. You could almost say Dead of Winter is revisionist, in a good way. Shrewdly, it is scheduled for the night after Thanksgiving (making turkey leftovers look all kinds of appetizing). Recommended for history and weather buffs, Dead of Winter: the Donner Party premieres this Friday (11/27) on The Weather Channel.

Janis: Little Girl Blue

It was a terrible one-two punch for rock & roll. Just sixteen days after the death of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin also passed away. She was supposed to record the vocals for Nick Gravenites’ “Buried Alive in the Blues” that day. Instead, it was included on her posthumous album as an instrumental track. For her songwriter friend, it was the cause of real heartbreak. It was also a bit of a setback for Joplin herself, even though the album went platinum several times over. Amy J. Berg chronicles the short, troubled life of the blues-rock icon largely through her own words in Janis: Little Girl Blue (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

In today’s texting world, it seems rather remarkable how often Joplin wrote letters home to her parents and how forthright she was in her dispatches, considering how drastically her values differed from her those of parents. Her words are often heavy, in multiple ways. For a rebellious, musically inclined young woman like Joplin, Port Arthur, Texas was a good town to be from—far from. For a while, she felt somewhat more comfortable in Austin, but it was only San Francisco that truly welcomed her. However, with that sense of belonging came an introduction to hard drugs.

In fact, her first stint in the City by the Bay did not work out so well, but when she returned, she fell in with a band called Big Brother and the Holding Company. They started to build quite a reputation, but it was Joplin that the promoters and managers were really interested in.

Berg talks to most of the surviving members of BBHC, as well as their contemporaries like Bob Weir from the Dead, Kris Kristofferson, and Country Joe McDonald (but strangely not Gravenites). Several speculate Joplin might have been happier and healthier if she had not agreed to leave the band and take on the pressure of leading her own band, with good reason. Frankly, if there is one thing Little Girl Blue has plenty of, its regret.

Regardless, the film works best when addressing Joplin’s music. Rather than present her as an ecstatic blues shouter, Berg’s experts explain how she was learning to master her voice like an instrument. The sequences involving the great lost love of her life are also quite touching. However, the film gets downright yucky when it suggests she had a sexual relationship with Dick Cavett, whose coyness is truly nauseating. It makes you wish Joplin would rise from the dead just to say it isn’t so.

Berg is an accomplished documentarian, but it still must have been intimidating to interview DA Pennebaker. Yet, he is a big part of the story (having made Monterey Pop), so Berg duly gets the necessary first-hand accounts from the doc trailblazer. All things considered, J:LGB is a highly watchable survey of Joplin’s life and legacy, but as an American Masters production, it is sure to turn up on PBS soon, so causal fans should be able to wait it out. Recommended in theaters for hardcore Joplin fans, Janis: Little Girl Blue opens this Friday (11/27) in New York, at the IFC Center.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bolshoi Babylon: They’d Better Keep on Their Toes

During the Cold War, America had jazz and the USSR had the Bolshoi Ballet. We won the Cold War, but the Bolshoi still tours internationally, spreading Russian prestige. However, backstage drama took a rather ugly and embarrassingly public turn in early 2013 when Ballet Director Sergei Filin suffered a potentially disfiguring acid attack. Instead of bringing the company together it exacerbated pre-existing fissures, at least according to Nick Read’s Bolshoi Babylon (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Babylon starts with the sort of tellingly ironic intro we always appreciate. According to one Bolshoi insider, Russia has two internationally recognizable name brands: the Kalashnikov and the Bolshoi, but the one-time market leading AK-47 has since been eclipsed by other automatic rifles. That says a lot about Russia in general. Unfortunately, Read and credited co-director Mark Franchetti are generally more content to observe than to probe.

We learn there was already deep discontent with Filin’s tenure as Ballet Director, a post roughly analogous to artistic director. Soon, disgruntled Bolshoi dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko is arrested for the crime and the company quickly divides into opposing factions. Dmitrichenko, a Bolshoi legacy, makes no bones of his resentment for Filin, specifically blaming him for sabotaging his girlfriend’s career. For many, this criticism rings all too true.

Frustratingly, Read shows no determination to get to the bottom of the controversy. Instead, he periodically lets partisans from Team Sergei and Team Pavel vent. Much of Babylon proceeds like Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse, offering us opportunities to watch rehearsals and performances from the wings. That is not without interest, especially for ballet connoisseurs, but it avoids the 800 pound gorilla we hear is stalking through the halls of the Bolshoi Theater.

Frankly, Babylon is a maddening missed opportunity. We are told straight up, as the Bolshoi goes, so goes Russia. It hardly seems coincidental corruption threatens to tarnish the storied ballet at a time when the Putin regime has increasingly tightened its control at home and launched belligerent military campaigns against its neighbors, but Read won’t go there.

There is some interesting stuff in Babylon, but it feels rushed out and provisional. Clearly, the guts of this story remains to be told. As a result, Babylon is primarily for dance fans who want a peak behind the Bolshoi’s curtain than serious geopolitical viewers looking for insight into the powerful and privileged of Putin’s Russia. A disappointing and sometimes repetitive mixed bag, Bolshoi Babylon opens this Friday (11/27) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

Unknown Welles: The Deep [Work Print]

Hopefully Guy Maddin (who is scheduled to present a screening at MoMA this Tuesday) was in town last night and able to attend the final Unknown Welles screening, because it was the closest thing to seeing the sort of “ghost films” that have inspired so much of his recent work. You could even say the surviving stitched-together work prints had a spectral look not unlike Maddin’s films. Frustratingly, Orson Welles never finished his adaptation of Charles Williams’ Dead Reckoning (later filmed by Phillip Noyce as Dead Calm), but you could get a vivid sense of what it would have been like when the work print of Welles The Deep screened last night at MoMA as part of the 2015 To Save and Project International Festival of Preservation’s Unknown Welles sidebar.

No Welles fan will be surprised to learn the negative for The Deep is now lost, as are a few scenes here and there. As per his working method, most of the film audio was supposed to be dubbed in later, but Welles hit a snag when his star Laurence Harvey passed away. Repeatedly, Stefan Droessler of the Munich Filmmuseum stressed to the audience this was a work print, struck from the negative on the cheapest, crummiest film stock available. Its sole purpose was to serve as the vehicle for Welles’ editing mark-ups, which he did in a manner guaranteed to maximize confusion for future film restorers. You have to watch it with an eye for what could have been. Frankly, it is probably helpful to have seen the extended teaser trailer Welles cut together that screened with the fragments of The Dreamers to understand the intended look and flow.

Unlike Noyce’s Dead Calm, Welles is more faithful to Williams’ novel, maintaining the original five character cast. It starts in much the same fashion, with John and Rae Ingram becalmed in the middle of the ocean, but not particularly concerned about it. The Saracen still has auxiliary power, but being newlyweds they rather enjoy the time together in the middle of nowhere. Much to their surprise a dinghy approaches carrying the nearly dehydrated Hughie Warriner. He has come from the sinking yacht just now drifting into view.

After tending to the exhausted Warriner, Ingram rows over to the listing Orpheus to investigate inconsistencies in the shipwreck’s story. Unfortunately, once he reaches the sinking vessel, Warriner fires up the Saracen’s motor, abducting his wife and leaving him stranded, but he is not alone though. Warriner’s beleaguered wife Ruth and the Orpheus’s owner Russ Brewer were huddled below deck. Having faith in his wife’s survival instincts, Ingram does his best to make the Orpheus seaworthy. Although Brewer is not particularly helpful, he would also like to catch up with Warriner, who murdered his wife (under circumstances that remain rather murky).

Granted, Welles still had a lot of tightening up to do on the work print, but you can see the makings of a nifty thriller in there. It is obviously a crying shame The Deep was never completed and released, for a number of reasons. It probably would have been regarded as a rough equivalent of Touch of Evil. Clearly, it also would have made great strides in establishing Oja Kodar as a legitimate star in her own right, as Welles so desired. Today, only fans know her as Welles’ just-what-was-she-again, but The Deep would have been some sort of name for her. It is safe to say she is as good as Nicole Kidman in Dead Calm—and stills of her in her bikini and bright red sun hat would have been super publicity-friendly.

The Deep also would have burnished Harvey’s reputation. He was a big name in his day, but now he is largely remembered for The Manchurian Candidate, which had been largely withdrawn from public circulation until its 1988 re-release. Hughie Warriner easily would have been his second iconic role. Of course, Welles and Jeanne Moureau were no slouches either, as Brewer and Ruth Warriner, respectively. There is comparatively less audio of Moureau to extrapolate from, but Welles was deliciously caustic judging both from droll overdubs and his corresponding facial expressions.

The Deep is especially tantalizing because it is so close to being finished, yet so far. It really could have been a commercial hit for Welles. Maybe someday it still can. Regardless, it is a treat to see it, even in a form in which it was never meant to be seen. An absolutely fascinating viewing experience, The Deep was a fitting conclusion to this year’s To Save and Project at MoMA.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Unknown Welles: Journey Into Fear [Preview Cut]

In the Orson Welles’ filmography, this 1943 espionage thriller always has an asterisk next to the title in fans’ minds. Throughout his life, Welles insisted it was directed by his friend Norman Foster, except when discussing the scenes he helmed. Thanks to the misadventure of It’s All True, much of the daily directorial work was indeed left to Foster (who would make a bit of a name for himself with some nifty little noirs), but the Eric Ambler adaptation definitely bears the Welles stamp. Its ragged narrative edges also reflect RKO’s desire to edit it down under seventy minutes. Oh, but there were longer versions screened for preview audiences and European markets. The intrepid Munich Filmmuseum tracked down the various cuts as well as the shooting script to reconstruct a more coherent and surprising funny super-cut of Foster’s Journey Into Fear, which screened last night at MoMA as part of the 2015 To Save and Project International Festival of Preservation’s Unknown Welles sidebar.

It is the early “Phony War” days of WWII, when Britain still expected to forge an alliance with Turkey. It was therefore all fine and dandy that munitions expert Howard Graham was in Istanbul working to rearm the Turkish navy. Graham and his wife Stephanie are due to sail to Batumi (which really doesn’t make sense, since the USSR was allied with Hitler at this time, but so be it), but they will be waylaid by a convoluted conspiracy. Kopeikin, a corrupt representative of Graham’s company drags him to a nightclub, ostensibly to meet the alluring dancer Josette Martel. Through blind luck, Graham escapes an assassination attempt that claims the life of magician Oo Lang Sang instead.

For his own safety mind you, Colonel Haki of Turkish intelligence has Graham whisked away on a dodgy tramp steamer, assuring the baffled American he will personally see to his wife’s safety. In fact, one of the rediscovered scenes suggests Haki does indeed give Ms. Graham some ambiguously special attention. (Let’s not forget, Welles was quite the ladies’ man, who was once married to Rita Hayworth. Plus, Haki’s fur hat looks smashing.) Meanwhile, Howard Graham is spending quite a bit of time with Martel on that dodgy steamer, because she is the only passenger he really doesn’t think is out to kill him.

Journey has always been an entertaining yarn, but the more complete version makes considerably more sense. Even though the Filmmuseum restoration team was again forced to resort to intertitles in places, the reconstructed preview cut gives us a fuller sense of the wit and irony of the script co-written by Welles and star Joseph Cotton. It is rather delightfully mordant.

As Graham, Cotton prefigures many of the classic everyman Hitchcokian protagonists as well as his turn as Holly Martins in the even more classic The Third Man. He credibly portrays Graham’s evolution from clueless passivity to resentful exasperation. While his screen time as Haki is limited, Welles made the most of it. He was also clearly feeling the power of the hat. Everett Sloane also adds some comedic noir flavor as the dubious Kopeikin, while Dolores del Rio’s Martel brings plenty of femme and a hint of fatale.

What RKO did to their Welles catalog makes you want to pull your hair out. A longer, smoother cut could have become an iconic film, much like Lady from Shanghai and The Third Man. Even with intertitles, the Filmmuseum version is the best way to see it, so hopefully it will be more widely screened in the future. Of course, it is a perfect selection for To Save and Project, which concludes its Unknown Welles sidebar tomorrow night at MoMA.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Unknown Welles: The Dreamers

When in Split, Croatia, drop by the Joker Center shopping mall to see Oja Kodar’s sculpture of her longtime life-partner, Orson Welles. In a cinematic sense, Welles also put his collaborator and muse on pedestal in The Dreamers, his oblique and of course unfinished adaptation of two Isak Dinesen short stories, which screened last night at MoMA as part of the 2015 To Save and Project International Festival of Preservation’s Unknown Welles sidebar.

Among the program of maddeningly incomplete Wellesiana, The Dreamers best stands alone as a discrete film in its present state. That said, Welles’ original trailer for F for Fake further advances the docu-hybrid’s meta jokes, while the extended teaser for The Deep ought to make Welles fans drool for the work-print screening on Sunday. Unfortunately, the work-print screening of The Other Side of the Wind scenes edited by Welles are distractingly rough and the events they depict—a film shoot jeopardized by the abrupt departure of its star—are spookily prescient of the fate that would befall the still unfinished film.

While still somewhat fragmentary, The Dreamers manages to end on a note that roughly approximates closure. It is a deceptively simple, almost confessional film, focusing first on Welles playing a 19th Century trader obsessed with the immortal Italian diva Pellegrina Leoni, whom Kodar then portrays in more recent times. In their interpretation, she becomes sort of a Flying Dutchman Norma Desmond. Although Welles and Kodar pitched the film to number of big name stars, he clearly takes pleasure from Kodar’s close-ups.

The Dreamers is a talky film, but it is also eerily intimate. Frankly, the Borgesian nature of the title story makes it a hugely ambitious work to tackle, but even after all his set-backs, Orson Welles was still all about thinking big. While it lacks the power and dazzle of The Merchant of Venice, The Dreamers is still worth seeing, especially to get a glimpse of the exotic couple’s Los Angeles home. Any scrap of Welles is recommended in principle, but The Deep looks like a can’t-miss when the Unknown Welles sidebar continues this weekend at MoMA.

Obayashi at the Japan Society: Sada

She was sort of like the 1930s Japanese Fanny Hill and Lorena Bobbitt all rolled into one. To say Sada Abe’s murder conviction became notorious would be an understatement, given the nature of her surgical cuts. She inspired several motion pictures, including Nagisa Oshima’s nearly equally notorious In the Realm of the Senses, featuring unsimulated sex scenes. That might sound like a tough act to follow, but Nobuhiko Obayashi’s distinctive aesthetics and deep empathy for Abe led to a radically different cinematic take. Of course, there is still plenty of sex in Obayashi’s Sada (trailer here), which screens during the Japan Society’s Obayashi retrospective.

Abe’s initial introduction to sex is not pleasant. A privileged student lures her to an inn, where he “ravages” her, to use a more delicate, bodice-ripper turn. However, some good comes with the bad when the innkeeper’s nephew Masaru Okada comes to her aid. She immediately falls for the medical student, but he has been consigned to a life of sequestration after contracting leprosy. Abe will never see him again, but she will always chastely love him.

Unfortunately, since Abe has been corrupted by the student, she resigns herself to working first as a geisha and then as a prostitute, the latter being less hypocritical. Still, she does not consider this a tragic fate since she genuinely enjoys the work. Nevertheless, she nearly reinvents herself in respectable fashion, thanks to the politically connected Sanosuke Tachibana. Intending to set her up in a cozy restaurant of her own, Tachibana arranges an apprenticeship with the very married Tatsuzo Kikumoto. Their subsequent affair will end badly for both (especially Kikumoto), but at least the sex is great while it lasts.

Although technically a period piece, Obayashi is not overly concerned with recreating vintage 1930s details. Instead, he is more concerned with enhancing and exaggerating the Abe legend through wild flights of stylization. The film starts with a fourth wall breaking Shakespearean prologue from Takiguchi, Abe’s brother-in-law and sometimes pimp cautioning the audience to expect scandal, while knowing full well that is what we came for. Obayashi frequently switches from black-and-white to color and playfully adjusting his film speeds. Takiguchi also pops up here and there to give more on-camera commentary and to engage in some old school physical comedy, thereby re-establishing the carnivalesque atmosphere.

Nevertheless, Sada is often quite serious and unremittingly frank when it comes to sex. In all likelihood, Sada just wouldn’t have worked without Hitomi Kuroki’s unclassifiable lead performance. As Abe, she manages to be naively innocent and ferociously seductive, simultaneously. She is in nearly every scene and she commands each and every one of them. However, Kyusaku Shimada is also bizarrely charismatic, in a rather sleazy way, as Takiguchi, the pimp and master of ceremonies. He even scratches out some unexpectedly touching moments during the long denouement.

In many ways, Sada feels like a precursor to Tetsuya Nakashima’s Memories of Matsuko, except it is less acutely tragic. Both are sweeping tales of corrupting sex and a yearning for redemptive love. Yet, one of the cool things about Obayashi’s take is Abe’s refusal to be a victim, despite being victimized (and arguably psychologically scarred) by men. There are plenty of reasons why it might put off conventional viewers, but the adventurous will find it fascinating and maybe even cathartic. Recommended for fans of intense auteurs like Oshima, Nakashima and of course Obayashi, Sada screens tomorrow (11/22) as part of the Obayashi retrospective at the Japan Society in New York.

Friday, November 20, 2015

RIDM ’15: The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin

Making a film about Guy Maddin is an intimidating prospect. There is no way you can get away with conventional talking heads when profiling arguably the most distinctive stylist in world cinema today. Fortunately, Yves Montmayeur recognized the challenge and brought his A-game for The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin (trailer here), which screens today as part of the 2015 RIDM: Montreal International Documentary Festival.

Before going any further, fans should be duly reassured Udo Kier most definitely appears in 1,000 Eyes. It wouldn’t be a Maddin film without him. As the documentary opens, he and Geraldine Chaplin are participating in Maddin’s séance performance art-installation piece at the Pompidou Center. They are trying to raise the spirits of aborted films that were never produced. Maddin’s persistent fascination with films that never were has proved a rich vein for him to mine, also partly inspiring the mind-blowing The Forbidden Room.

Somewhat surprisingly, Montmayeur has a clear affinity for the more macabre aspects of Maddin’s films, which is not how most of his fans typically think of the surrealist. However, he also explores Maddin’s playfully transgressive sexual themes, which are always hard to lose sight of. Throughout the doc, Montmayeur shrewdly selects film clips for illustrative purposes. However, the auteur’s admirers will really respect the way Montmayeur manages to blend his documentary footage together with Maddin’s films and imagery in accordance the spirit of his subject’s visions. Maddin is also unceasingly helpful, talking seriously about his work, while maintaining a self-deprecating sense of humor. Maddin semi-regular Isabella Rossellini adds some star power, while John Waters and Kenneth Anger further bolster its cult appeal.

Although far from an exhaustive survey, Montmayeur paints a robust portrait of the filmmaker and the tone and motifs of his work. Maddin’s films are bizarrely seductive. Despite their often intentional fakeness, they somehow feel like a very real alternate reality. If you watch My Winnipeg, you will be convinced every strange and absurd story really happened in his Manitoba hometown. Montmayeur conveys a sense of the trippy, intoxicating power his best films have, which is quite an accomplishment. Running an economic sixty-five minutes, it delves reasonably deeply into the Maddin aesthetic without belaboring its points or repeating itself. Recommended for Maddin and Kier fans, The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin screens today (11/20) and Sunday (11/22), as part of this year’s RIDM in Montreal.