Tae Kwon Do & Synthesizer Rock: LFM Reviews The Newly Restored ’80s Cult Classic The Miami Connection
By Joe Bendel. Miami Vice lied to you. It wasn’t Cuban or Colombian cartels that controlled the South Florida drug trade in the 1980’s. It was the ninjas. However, they met their match in Tae Kwon Do grandmaster and inspirational speaker Y.K. Kim. He and his students lay down some hard rocking justice in his long lost, feather-haired, labor of love, The Miami Connection, which Alamo Drafthouse saved from obscurity to conquer the world through a series of midnight screenings, beginning this Friday (hopefully) in New York.
The Miami Ninjas pick a fight with the wrong band when they try to roust Dragon Sound from their new gig at “Central Florida’s hottest new night club” in Connection, co-directed by Kim and experienced exploitation auteur Woo-sang “Richard” Park. They are a tight band, who live, train, and rock together with Mark, their Tae Kwon Do master. The ninjas and drug dealers might have formed an alliance, but they are no match for the one-two punch of Tae Kwon Do and cheesy 80’s synthesizer rock.
Further complicating matters, Mark’s number one protégé John has been dating Jane, the kid sister of Jeff the gang leader, against his wishes. Granted, he overreacts, but it is hard to blame him for being underwhelmed by the gawky lover-boy. Indeed, things get personal quickly. The plot might be a touch hackneyed (you know when a Dragon Sound member puts on a fancy new suit for a special occasion, he is in for a world of hurt) and the dialogue is what it is (and that’s not much), but the fighting is pretty awesome, courtesy of Grandmaster Kim – who clearly has no aversion to a spot of blood here and there. Former champion kickboxer Maurice Smith certainly knew how to conduct himself in a fight scene as well, but he has some of the most laughable drama as Jim, the keyboard player with the unhealthy mailbox obsession.
Hats off to the in-damn-domitable Y.K. Kim, who is finally getting distribution and cult fandom for Miami Connection, after the snobby Florida critics brusquely dismissed its ill-fated Orlando release in 1987. Thanks to those stick-in-the-muds, Kim & Park’s heartfelt smackdown was almost lost to posterity. That said, the Miami Connection experience is best shared with a rowdy group of likeminded viewers. Hopefully, large and vocal crowds will duly turn out when it screens this Friday and Saturday nights (11/2 & 11/3) at the Landmark Sunshine in New York.
Posted on October 30th, 2012 at 1:16pm.
By Joe Bendel. In classical string quartets, they say the second violinist is not necessarily subservient to the first. They also say there are no small parts, only small actors – but nobody believes that either. The complicated inter-relationships of an acclaimed string ensemble will be challenged to their breaking point in Yaron Zilberman’s A Late Quartet, which opens this Friday in New York.
The Fugue Quartet has performed together for nearly twenty-five years. Yet, as their quarter century anniversary approaches, their future becomes uncertain. Cellist Peter Mitchell, the senior member of the ensemble, has been diagnosed with early Parkinson’s. He can still function well enough to teach his students, including Alexandra Gelbart, the daughter of second violinist Robert and violist Juliette. However, it is not clear whether he is up to the rigorous demands of concert performance, especially Beethoven’s Opus 131 String Quartet in C-sharp minor, a punishing seven movement piece that offers no resting place for musicians who tackle it.
It quickly becomes apparent that Mitchell was the glue holding the quartet together, even though first violinist Daniel Lerner largely dominated the quartet’s artistic decisions through the force of his personality. He also has romantic history with Juliette Gelbart, one of the many reasons for Robert Gelbart’s burgeoning resentment. Yet, recognizing his talent, the Gelbarts send their daughter to him for personal tutoring, resulting in drama that could permanently rip the Fugue asunder.
Essentially, Quartet is soap opera at its most sophisticated and refined. There is plenty of angst and jealousy at play, but the screenplay (penned by Zilberman and Seth Grossman) really sings when addressing the musicians’ approach to their art. For those coming from the jazz tradition, it is fascinating to watch the debate between Robert Gelbart, who wants to play Beethoven’s Opus without charts to give it a freer, more emotionally spontaneous feeling, and Lerner, who insists on following every little notation, down to the squiggle. Gelbert is not advocating improvisation, just a bit more interpretive latitude in their attack, but for Lerner this would ignore the benefit gleaned from years of careful study.
Although he refrains from eccentric Walkenisms, Christopher Walken still steals nearly every scene he appears in as Mitchell. Knocking some richly written lecture scenes out of the park, one wonders if perhaps he missed his calling as a music teacher. Yet, the most Oscar worthy performance comes from the one member of the quartet not previously nominated. Mark Ivanir really opens up the icily precise Lerner, markedly laying bare the messy insecurities so many great artists share. In contrast, as the Gelbarts, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener stay on familiar ground, depicting the petty tribulations of the privileged class. We have seen this from them both before, but at least Zilberman shows them bickering in interesting places, like Sotheby’s.
Perhaps Zilberman’s most important collaborator is the Brentano String Quartet, whose elegantly elegiac rendition of the Opus powerfully underscores the film. Their fans will also enjoy seeing cellist Nina Lee appearing as herself, whom Mitchell is determined to recruit as his replacement. Memorably capturing the heart and milieu of classical music, Quartet deserves attention during award season, particularly for Ivanir and Walken. Yet, as a true chamber piece, it may lack the bombast the academy responds to. Recommended for classical listeners and those who appreciate the drama inherent in creative differences, A Late Quartet opens this Friday (11/2) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine, or so we all hope.
LFM GRADE: B
Posted on October 30th, 2012 at 1:16pm.
By Joe Bendel. He was the one with the pipe. Graham Chapman could be as silly as any of the Pythons, but only he had the noble bearing to portray King Arthur, the would-be messiah Brian Cohen, and a battalion of aristocratic British military officers. He also played the title role in Yellowbeard – but nobody’s perfect. Indeed, that could be the mantra of Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson & Ben Timlett’s A Liar’s Autobiography: the Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (trailer here), a hyperkinetic kitchen sink of an animated biography, which opens in 3D this Friday, day-and-date with its 2D premiere on Epix.
Viewers of Jones (son of Terry) & Timlett’s Monty Python: Almost the Truth will know Chapman was the tragic Python, who struggled with substance and sex addictions, before succumbing to cancer at the terribly early age of forty-eight. Chapman was also perfectly open, if rather ambivalent, about his sexuality. Such a dramatic life offers plenty of grist for a biopic treatment, and it’s all in Liar’s Autobiography—somewhere.
Fourteen different animation houses using seventeen different animation styles illustrate the events of Chapman’s life, as narrated by the subject himself from the memoir that would inspire the film. Given the relative brevity and rapid succession of each constituent episode, it is hard to keep them all straight. At least they proceed in a somewhat orderly narrative fashion, depicting Chapman as a rather macabre baby (not unlike Seth Macfarlane’s Stewie), a precocious student, and as one of the gaggle of monkeys co-founding Monty Python.
The thread is easier to follow in his early years, though Autobiography is still prone to distraction – even dramatizing one of the Biggles war stories (strikingly rendered by Made Visual Studio) that captivated young Chapman. However, by the time Autobiography reaches Treat Studios’ Space Pods, the connection to reality has been gleefully severed.
The greatest irony of Autobiography is that its biggest laughs and greatest emotional payoff comes from the real-life-honest-to-gosh video of John Cleese’s eulogy for Chapman, in which he promises to avoid “mindless good taste.” Most of the Pythons are represented in Autobiography, playing themselves as well as other co-conspirators and innocent bystanders. Fans will be delighted to hear honorary Python Carol Cleveland turns up for old time’s sake, too. Bizarrely, Cameron Diaz, who also used to be famous once, supplies the voice of Freud. However, Eric Idle is MIA, though his song “Sit on My Face” gets the full “Blame Canada” Busby Berkley treatment.
You don’t walk out of Autobiography, you stagger. While the 3D is characteristically hit or miss, the film[s] bombards the audience with wacky, tripped-out imagery. At times it is almost too much, but at least it scrupulously observes Chapman’s wishes regarding gratuitous good taste. You have to give its spirit proper due. Recommended more for the fanatical Python fan than the causal viewer (quick, what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?), A Liar’s Autobiography will be the first 3D release to play at the Angelika Film Center when it opens this Friday (11/2) in New York, simultaneous with its 2D broadcast on Epix.
LFM GRADE: B-
Posted on October 30th, 2012 at 1:15pm.
Vertigo in Southern India: LFM Reviews Akam (Palas in Bloom) @ The 2012 South Asian International Film Festival
By Joe Bendel. They are known as Yakshis in southern India, but we would think of them as succubi. Every culture has their equivalent, but one architect fears he married one. Yet, his perception of reality may or may not be so reliable in Shalini Usha Nair’s Akam (Palas in Bloom; trailer here), which screened at the 2012 South Asian International Film Festival in New York.
Srinivas seemed to have his life laid out perfectly, until an accident left the young architect visibly disfigured. Abandoned by his girlfriend, he descends into a deep existential depression. It is only the chance late night meeting with a mysterious woman that snaps him out of his lethargy. Just what Ragini was doing at his construction site at that hour is a question that will bother Srinivas in months to come, but it concerns him little during their brief courtship.
For a while everything is great, and then just as suddenly things are terrible again. Srinivas finds himself besieged by minor misfortunes and ailments that he is convinced Ragini has caused. He is convinced she is a Yakshi, who seduced him in order to torment and eventually murder him, because that is what Yakshis do.
If Ragini is a Yakshi, Nair isn’t telling. There is evidence in the film to support either conclusion, but none of it is trustworthy, because of the manner in which Srinivas’s obviously warped POV skews the film’s narrative. Indeed, Akam’s open-endedness clearly gave some SAIFF patrons fits, just as Nair intended.
Loosely based on Malayattoor Ramakrishnan’s novel Yakshi, Akam could have featured a spot of gore here and there, but Nair elected to keep it off-screen – which will further frustrate genre fans. That simply is not the tradition the film flows out of. However, there are enough hat-tips to Vertigo to inspire an angry missive from Kim Novak. Present day Kerala might seem worlds and centuries removed from Puritan New England, but Srinivas could almost be considered a Malayalam Hawthorne character, whose outward disfigurement corresponds to a spiritual disfigurement. The real horror of his story is the uncertainty over whether he is the victim or the tormentor, much like a Goodman Brown.
As Srinivas, Fahadh Faasil vividly portrays a man plagued by inner demons and insecurities, while Anumol K’s Ragini certainly suggests a woman with closely guarded secrets. Freed from traditional genre demands, Nair’s pacing is decidedly patient. Unfortunately, the frequent flashbacks are not well delineated from the present day, often causing viewer confusion. Yet, her sparing use of sound, and the film’s overwhelming sense of darkness and stillness are unusually effective. Akam has a genuinely foreboding atmosphere that makes the ambiguous gamesmanship possible.
This is definitely not Bollywood. Technically it is Mollywood, but do not expect any Malayalam musical numbers. While the austerity of Nair’s style is demanding at times, the overall vibe really gets under your skin. Though not perfect, this is a film more festival programmers ought to consider. Recommended for cineastes who have a taste for the macabre but prefer mood over mayhem, Akam is set to have a limited Indian release this November.
LFM GRADE: B
Posted on October 29th, 2012 at 1:36pm.
By Joe Bendel. Welcome to India’s “Red Corridor.” While referring to the ideology of the militant Naxalite-Maoists who exercise de-facto governing authority in some of the country’s poorest provinces, it applies just as readily to the blood they shed to maintain their power. However, one ambitious policeman is determined to reestablish law and order in Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh, a selection of the 2012 South Asian International Film Festival, co-starring Bollywood legend Kabir Bedi, who participated in a special intimate on-stage conversation at the Helen Mills Theater this past weekend.
SP Adil Khan is so by-the-book, he must be headed for a fall. He is in for a rude awakening when he accepts his newest posting, replacing a fallen friend and colleague in the Red Corridor. Just like his predecessor, Khan is lured into an ambush by false Naxalite informants. At least Khan lives to tell the tale and change tactics. Unlike his colleagues, Khan tries to win over the poor villagers’ hearts and minds, but whenever one reaches out to the copper, they are publicly executed by the ruthless Rajan. It looks bad for the home team until Khan’s academy drop-out buddy, Kabir, volunteers to go undercover. With no formal ties to the cops, he is the only one with a puncher’s chance of surviving the vetting process.
Thanks to their cover story, Kabir fits in with the Naxalites rather easily. He feeds Khan breakthrough intel, turning the tide against the Maoists. Yet, as Kabir starts to go proletarian, Khan realizes he may have made a mistake sending an impressionable hothead prone to snap decision-making on a sensitive infiltration mission.
This film would give Debbie Schlussel a conniption fit. Basically, it features the Muslim cop Khan (the only character whose religion is expressly identified, at least to western eyes) waging war against an increasingly sympathetic terrorist cult. Indeed, Chakravyuh is problematic in multiple ways, but also fascinating in much the same manner as the best Soviet propaganda films. There is no doubt that India’s rural poor have a hard lot in life, but it is pretty clear by now that the shining path offers no salvation. Perversely, Kabir and Rajan spend most of the film fighting the steel plant Kabir Bedi’s evil industrialist is trying to build, doing nothing to increase local employment opportunities.
Obviously, the irony of China allegedly supporting the Naxalites – while explicitly repudiating the Maoist excesses of the Cultural Revolution – is an irony lost on director Jha. At least he can stage rousing gun battles and spectacular massacres. Jha also integrates the musical numbers into the action in a manner that is more organic than one might expect. Yes, this is most definitely Bollywood.
Jha gets a critical assist from Arjun Rampal, who is an appropriately forceful presence as Khan. Had Jha belived in his mission, Rampal’s Khan might have joined The Raid’s Iko Uwais as the second great Muslim action hero of the year. Unfortunately, we are clearly meant to identify more with Abhay Deol’s Kabir, but his brooding is more petulant than Byronic. Still, Chakravyuh has the beautiful and well-armed Esha Gupta as Khan’s fiancée and comrade, Rhea Menon. SAIFF special guest Kabir Bedi also chews the scenery in a manner befitting a former bond villain (the lethal Gobinda in Octopussy).
Chakravyuh is simplistic and didactic, but it is never dull. Suitable for action fans who are able to discern and discount propaganda and dogma, Chakravyuh is now playing at the AMC Loews Newport Centre in Jersey City, following its North American premiere at the 2012 SAIFF.
Posted on October 29th, 2012 at 1:35pm.
By Joe Bendel. Heather Mason’s teenaged years have been difficult. Her name is actually Sharon Da Silva, but she and her father Christopher, currently known as Harry, constantly move to new towns under assumed identities. Supposedly he is on the run from the law, but it is really to keep a step ahead of a bizarre death cult. They constantly call Sharon/Heather back to their shunned ghost town through supernatural means, and there will be a macabre homecoming in store for her in Michael J. (Solomon Kane) Bassett’s Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (trailer here), which opens today across the country.
Considered one of the better film adaptations of a video game, the first Silent Hill struck some chords with viewers by seriously addressing themes of faith and sacrifice. To save her daughter, Rose Da Silva accepted banishment on the other side of Silent Hill’s dimensional portal. Her husband has done his best to protect Sharon/Heather alone. However, when Rose sends him a Candyman-style inter-dimensional warning, it may already be too late. In order to save her father, Sharon/Heather resolves to give her tormentors the showdown they want.
Those who have played the survival game will know that there is a complicated backstory to Silent Hill, involving Alessa, the all-powerful witch-girl, whose curse holds the cult’s powers in check. There are also a number of bizarre entities living in this netherworld, including fan favorite Pyramid Head. Apparently one of the knocks on the first film was his relative lack of screen time, so it is rather odd Revelation also uses him rather sparingly again. However, Malcolm McDowell has a long and unpleasant scene as blind bogeyman Leonard Wolf, the former cult leader committed by his own daughter. (Gee whiz, it has been quite a while since his career-defining work with Lindsay Anderson, hasn’t it?)
Frankly, it is pretty easy for non-gamers to follow Revelation’s first two acts, but once Sharon/Heather arrives at Silent Hill, all bets are off. Sure, there is a clear narrative chain of events, but the underlying logic of the how’s and why’s is rather vague. In fact, it is rather like watching someone playing a videogame when you do not understand the rules.
Adelaide Clemens is perfectly credible horror heroine, even delivering a promo-reel worthy speech early in the film. Of course, Sean Bean certainly knows his way around a special effects-driven production by now. As Da Silva, he helps elevate the proceedings with his earnest everyman presence. In contrast, McDowell and Carrie-Anne Moss do not exactly make classic villains as the Wolf family cultists.
In all honesty, Revelation still probably represents the high end of the bell curve for video game adaptations. Good and evil have very real meaning here. While as a gamer Bassett was reportedly already steeped in the game’s mythos, he loses control of the third act, letting the film descend into poorly lit mayhem. There is a measure of payoff, but it comes after a head-scratching sojourn through the titular town’s sub-basements. Only for diehards franchise fans, Silent Hill: Revelation 3D opens today (10/26) in New York at the AMC Kips Bay and Regal E-Walk, obviously scheduled with Halloween in mind.
LFM GRADE: D+
Posted on October 26th, 2012 at 11:30am.
By Joe Bendel. On the anniversary of their young son’s disappearance the Caleighs try to heal their grieving family by renting out the most haunted house in England. Most of the former orphanage’s charges supposedly died in the great flood of 1943, but the truth is far more sinister. It might also have very personal implications for the Caleighs in The Secret of Crickley Hall, a special three hour adaptation of James Herbert’s novel, which airs this Sunday on BBC America.
Eve Caleigh blames herself for the apparent loss of their son, Cam. So does everyone else, but they try not to say so. She was the one who dozed off at the playground and woke up to find him missing. She used to have a pseudo-psychic connection with her son, but since Cam vanished she has not felt his consciousness—until they move into Crickley Hall.
Convinced her son is still alive and in danger, Caleigh starts investigating the old house. It is not pretty. Most of the orphans were supposedly sucked into the well dug into the cellar during the tragic storm, but two remain unaccounted for. Her best source of information is the old gardener, Percy Judd, who understood the grim realities of Crickley that the rest of the town was unwilling to face. He knew the headmaster was badly abusing the children – particularly a shy Jewish refugee – despite the heroic efforts of his potential girlfriend (the new teacher at Crickley), as viewers witness during the frequent flashbacks to 1943.
Thematically similar, Crickley is sort of like the TV miniseries version of Nick Murphy’s The Awakening. Considering that they still have two perfectly good daughters to lose, it is hard to believe the Caleighs do not turn on their heels as soon as they take a gander at that ominous looking well. (What more do they need, a desecrated cemetery in the backyard?) Yet Gabe Caleigh stubbornly refuses to accept his wife’s ghost talk, despite all the spookiness going on around them. Certainly director-adaptor Joe Ahearne wrings plenty of chills and suspense from the eerie setting.
Although the ensemble does not have a lot of big names by the standards of Hollywood television magazines, it holds plenty of geek interest. Suranne Jones, (co-star of a fan favorite Doctor Who episode) is compellingly guilt-ridden as Eve Caleigh. Playing another mournful husband much like his character in The Fades, Tom Ellis is about as sympathetic and convincing as possible as the frustratingly incredulous Gabe Caleigh. However, it is reliable veteran David (Tron, Time Bandits) Warner’s Judd who really gives the film heart, while Game of Thrones alumnus Donald Sumpter also bears watching as the mysterious old parapsychologist come to allay everyone’s fears.
Even though none of the revelations are shockingly original, Ahearne still pulls it all together rather effectively in the third hour. He plays the old dark house card for all it is worth and juggles the two narrative time periods fairly adeptly. Still, the well produced, half-period Crickley’s three hours could have easily been condensed into two without losing much. Of course, it is important to bear in mind that Herbert is a major best-seller in the UK, so a longer Crickley would make sense for the BBC over there. All told, it is fairly scary stuff for an early Sunday evening. Recommended for fans of British supernatural programming, The Secret of Crickley Hall premieres this Sunday (10/28) on BBC America.
LFM GRADE: B-
Posted on October 26th, 2012 at 11:29am.
By Joe Bendel. It is not a case of class warfare, per se. A sociopathic doorman is determined to make his upscale residents miserable simply because he resents their capacity for happiness. It is only fair that he spreads the misery around a little, isn’t it? He will go to truly disturbing lengths to torment one pretty young tenant in Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
In retrospect, giving a surly loner like César Manso access to the keys was probably a mistake. Morbidly obsessed with the cheerful Clara Blás, one of the few tenants who is always friendly and polite to him, Manso knows every inch of her flat. Not content with a mere look-see, he has tampered with items, undermining her health and emotional well-being.
Oh, but it gets even more sinister. Each night he waits under her bed for his victim to drift off. Then he goes to work with his bottle of chloroform. However, the nasty little girl living across the hall has seen him sneaking out of Blás’s apartment at suspicious hours of the morning. The police are also actively investigating the poisoned-pen letters Manso has been anonymously sending his victim, but the concierge has his own plans for a really twisted endgame.
A major hit in Spain, Sleep Tight plays on viewers’ deep fears and nagging paranoia. Manso really is a secret nemesis out to destroy his victims out of pure spite. The fact that he is incapable of taking pleasure from his actions makes it even more unsettling. In a way, he is the Dostoyevskian Underground man – in his darkest, most brutish manifestation. Be that as it may, his role in Sleep is to creep about, acting the malevolent heavy in Balagueró’s psychological thriller. Best known internationally as the co-director of the first two [REC] zombie films, Balagueró eschews the found footage conceit for a moodier, suggestive approach in the Polanski-De Palma tradition.
Luis Tosar is scary intense as Manso. You can see the gears turning in his head and it is a fearsome sight indeed. Iris Almeida also has moments that nearly equal him as Manso’s young blackmailer, Ursula. In the victim role, Marta Etura falls apart quite sympathetically and convincingly, even though her character really ought to be picking up on the scheming concierge’s bad vibes.
Pablo Rosso’s stylishly noir cinematography makes the apartment building look truly menacing. Balagueró maintains the ominous vibe, keeping the audience off-balance and on-edge, even though just about everyone should be much quicker on the uptake. Though Sleep Tight falls more towards the thriller end of the genre spectrum than outright horror, it is decidedly dark, and ruthlessly effective. Recommended for fans of Spanish horror movies nonetheless, as well as those who appreciate a thriller (and undaunted by lurid subject matter), Sleep Tight opens this Friday (10/26) in New York at the Cinema Village.
LFM GRADE: B
Posted on October 25th, 2012 at 10:49am.
LFM Reviews Captain Cornelius Cartoon’s Cartoon Lagoon @ The NYTV Festival’s Independent Pilot Competition
By Joe Bendel. Those of us of roughly a certain generation fondly remember the Captains we came to know and love through kid’s programming; you know, like Captain Kangaroo, Captain America, Captain Crunch, and Captain Morgan. Captain Cornelius Cartoon follows in the tradition of them all. He and the crew of the Manta Ray salvage public domain cartoons from the watery graveyard of the Cartoon Lagoon, in order to riff on them MST3K style. The resulting blend of puppetry and retro nostalgia trips makes Captain Cornelius Cartoon’s Cartoon Lagoon the animated standout of the 2012 New York Television Festival’s Independent Pilot Competition.
The title is a little confusing, but this is indeed animated. Maybe they should have worked in the word cartoon a few more times. Regardless, the potential of creator Manny Galán’s concept is hard to miss. The biggest surprise is how cartoons from established franchises such as Popeye and Caspar the Friendly Ghost could fall into PD. There is no way you will ever see Mickey in the Lagoon. Yet, the clear highlight of the Lagoon pilot was an episode of the long forgotten mid 1970’s Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo (another Captain) that bears absolutely no resemblance to Jules Verne.
The Me Generation Nemo is a blow-dried, jutting jawed male model who accidentally runs over a dolphin, permanently scarring his two juvenile companions for life. To nurse the dolphin back to health, Nemo puts it in a steel cage, while giving loud dramatic readings from Fifty Shades of Grey to scare away the sharks. Or something like that. Obviously, Nemo’s narrative development is a bit sketchy, making it a perfect foil for the Manta Ray crew.
The Lagoon creators readily acknowledge their debt of inspiration to MST3K, following the same format, right down to the portal door through which the cartoon goodness enters. It really works, though, because the creative team has the right pop culture sensibility. Lagoon delivers laughs from start to finish, sprinkling a number of truly memorable quips throughout the pilot. The old school miniature puppetry bringing to life the Manta Ray crew also appealingly resembles a slightly rum-soused Rankin/Bass special.
It is easy to see how a cable network could pick up Lagoon with confidence. That is not so true for the rest of the animated competition this year. Nathan Floody’s corporate head-hunting send-up Hunters is also wickedly cutting at times, but its raunchier inclinations might make it harder to place. However, the Captain pilot is never inappropriate for younger viewers, even though many jokes are aimed above their heads. Nicely executed and consistently funny, Captain Cornelius Cartoon’s Cartoon Lagoon ought to have a long life ahead of it, following its well received screenings at the 2012 NYTVF.
Posted on October 25th, 2012 at 10:48am.
By Joe Bendel. They debuted under the baton of Arturo Toscanini and often worked with guest maestro Leonard Bernstein. Founded as the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) is one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras. Yet their founding members were very nearly caught up in the tragedy of the Holocaust. Bronisław Huberman’s tireless efforts to save Europe’s most accomplished and at-risk Jewish musicians – and the subsequent creation of Israel’s national symphony – are documented in Josh Aronson’s Orchestra of Exiles, which opens this Friday in New York.
Huberman was a child prodigy who played around the world. Yet he was also a politically aware Zionist, who had no illusions about the state of Europe in the early 1930’s. Obviously, the colonial territory the British called Palestine held great significance for him. For years, Jewish immigrants had come there, hoping to realize the Zionist dream home by home. However, the British occupiers halted Jewish immigration in response to Arab riots at a time when it was most needed.
Hoping to establish a symphony for the yet to be recognized nation, Huberman doggedly attempted to work around the various restrictions imposed by the British. Indeed, much of his heroics involved the paper-chase for this or that travel document. There was an important goal in sight: as a principled anti-Fascist, Toscanini had agreed to conduct their premiere performances.
Exiles captures the spirit of a certain group of people at a certain point of time for whom life and art were intrinsically intertwined. Indeed, the founding of the Symphony was critically important for the early émigrés, who dearly missed the refined culture of pre-war Europe. Aronson maintains an appropriately respectful tone throughout, but he stages a number of unnecessary dramatic recreations. For the most part, they are not very dramatic – aside from Alex Ansty’s agreeable appearance as the larger than life Toscanini.
With helpful context provided by an elite cast of interview subjects, including Itzhak Perlman, Indian-born IPO conductor and music director Zubin Mehta, and the Grammy Award-winning Joshua Bell (who currently performs on Huberman’s Stradivarius), Exiles is classy and authoritative. Regrettably, it comes at a time when the civilized world is becoming less civilized. Just over a year ago, an IPO performance in London was disrupted by extremists who were never prosecuted, partly due to the Royal Albert Hall’s refusal to pursue trespass charges (bad show, chaps). While conventional in its approach, Orchestra of Exiles is an elegant and informative film. Recommended for classical music connoisseurs and those who want (or need) a fuller appreciation of Israeli cultural history, it opens this Friday (10/19) in New York at the Quad Cinema.
LFM GRADE: B
Posted on October 23rd, 2012 at 10:43am.
A Space Race with China: LFM Reviews Control @ The New York Television Festival’s Independent Pilot Competition
By Joe Bendel. When we think of space, we think of lofty ideals, passed on down to us from JFK and Star Trek. However, an oppressive belligerent power will act the same up there as they do down here. Indeed, China’s saber-rattling off the coast of Taiwan will bedevil an American manned space mission in Josh Bernard & Bracey Smith’s Control, which screens as part of the 2012 New York Television Festival’s Independent Pilot Competition (IPC).
The NYTVF is the only meaningful festival of its kind showcasing independent talent looking to break into episodic television, in the same way scores of film festivals act as launching pads for indie films in search of theatrical distribution. There are real development deals to be won at this year’s festival. The dollar figures may not be much by studio standards, but they would constitute a significant step up compared to the budgets of many competing pilots. In the drama category, Smith & Bernard’s Control may well be the pilot to beat, which is not all that surprising, considering their Pioneer One (see here and here) won the drama competition two years ago.
The American and Chinese navies are engaged in a war of nerves in the South China Sea. Simultaneously, an American spacecraft is racing to beat their Chinese rivals to a resource-rich asteroid. Long in development, the American mission continued, even when China precipitously laid claim to the asteroid, in open defiance of international law. Apparently a quasi-private enterprise conducted with official government sanction, the mission obviously just became a whole lot more complicated.
The flight director isn’t helping much, either. Not only did he call the president a feckless ditherer on national television (but in more colorful terms), he is also carrying on a not so secret affair with the chief medical officer, who happens to be married to the flight captain.
Of all the genre-related pilots screening in the Drama 1 programming block, Control is by far the one that leaves audiences most eager to see more. Shrewdly, Bernard & Smith end on a monster cliffhanger that cannot possibly be as bad as it seems. Though the flight director resents the U.S. military’s secret involvement in the mission, he might be happy to have them around when it is all said and done. Based on the pilot, Control has the potential to become a cool submarine-warfare in space story, much like the classic Romulan episodes on the original Trek.
The tone of Control is sort of like a cross between Apollo 13 and Ben Bova’s geopolitical sci-fi thriller novels. To their credit, Smith & Bernard do not appear to have many naïve notions with respects to the current (and presumably near future) Chinese Communist regime. It also looks reasonably realistic, thanks to the control room full of computers bought on the cheap due to a tech firm’s bankruptcy (finally, the stimulus plan delivers).
Perhaps most importantly, despite all the intrigue and political infighting, it looks like it will still tap into the warm fuzzy feelings many viewers get when they think about the Space Program, particularly in its Apollo-era heyday. Showing loads of potential, Control is definitely worth seeing when it screens again this Friday (10/26) as part of the 2012 NYTVF’s IPC Drama 1 program at the Tribeca Cinemas.
Posted on October 23rd, 2012 at 10:42am.