The New York Asian Film Festival returns, setting phasers to slay

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On June 29th, The New York Asian Film Festival will return, reliably, to the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center to thrill, dazzle, and vex adventurous movie-goers.  Its unique cinematic offerings, are culled mostly from the realm this and the previous year’s theater releases of Asian countries being represented, along with a handful of premieres.  One can look forward to 2 – 3 screenings each evening (more on the weekends) until things slide downtown to the SVA theater from the 13th – 15thfor a stacked conclusion.

Some things will be familiar to long-time attendees. An award for astounding action cinematography in the name of founding festival organizer Daniel Craft will once again be given, this time to Hong Kong cinema stalwart Dante Lam.  As well as a lifetime achievement award to a veteran figure of Asian cinema, here being Japan’s Harada Masato, and a Rising Star award recognizing vibrant new talent.

Some recently launched innovations, such as a gallery exhibition, this year’s theme being “Safe Imagination is Boring”  and a jury competition for best film, reserved for new directorial voices and now called the Tiger Uncaged Award, continue to take root. Ever changing, the festival will unveil some new features, such an HBO sponsored Free Talks series. Taking place at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center’s Amphitheater, across the street from the Walter Reade, offering a chance for audiences to engage in lengthier dialogues with directors and performers in the movies being shown.

As for the films themselves, they again represent a significant range of countries both with film industries recognized globally, such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, and those with less (or somewhat less) worldwide exposure: Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand. The Philippines has taken on a steadily stronger presence, and this year really has a foothold in the proceedings with the number and quality of films being shown, as well as guests on hand. Deeming this year it’s “Savage Seventeenth” and touting an unofficial slogan of “not (being) your average fucking festival, ” the mostly young crew is staying steadfast in bringing a challenging selection of films, downright confrontational at times, and often with something significant to say.

There is no way I could dream of taking it all in. So here I present a sampling of films I’ve been able to preview that made an impression.  Numerous other films round out the fest, so be sure to visit the NYAFF homepage as you make your plan of attack.

DYNAMITE GRAFFITI (Japan, 2018) directed by Tominaga Masanori

BLOOD OF WOLVES (Japan, 2018) directed by Kazuya Shiraishi

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (Japan, 2017) directed by Shinichiro Ueda

THE SCYTHIAN LAMB (Japan, 2017) directed by Daihachi Yoshida

THE THIRD MURDER (Japan, 2017) directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

RIVER’S EDGE (Japan,  2018) directed by Isao Yukisada 

MICROHABITAT (South Korea, 2017) directed by Jeon Go-woon

MIDNIGHT BUS (Japan, 2017) directed by Masao Takeshita

WRATH OF SILENCE (China, 2017) directed by  Xin Yukun

LOOMING STORM (China, 2017) directed by Dong Yue

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD STILL 6
© Enbu Seminar

Hereditary: playing with dynamics, pushing limits

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19thmoviepass = Hereditary. A film that left me scared, disturbed, and deeply affected, has suddenly leapt into my top 3 of 2018. Proving that effective horror filmmaking is as much about the way of telling the story as the story itself (if not more so, it rides a line between real terror (the aftermath of loss, obsessive behavior) and the fantastical kind, it drags us through a dreary haze, frightening in how familiar it feels. It confuses, disorients, and finally turns into an all out assault. It might even go a tad too far, leaving less to mull on than if it were to pull out before  its mind shattering conclusion. But rollercoasters are not praised for giving us something to contemplate.  There is so much morbid acid-laced imagery that sears itself upon the brain, but the masterful performances of Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne as parents pushed to the brink of sanity that make the most significant impression. A shock to the system cutting through the notion of movie going as a slight diversion.

 

 

Artemis Hotel review: brief, yet overstays its welcome

18th moviepass = Artemis Hotel. Somewhere in this mess is a kernel of a good idea. In a tumultuous future LA, teeming with riots, an unlicensed hospital catering to the criminal element operates in the shadows, run by a tireless yet worldweary soul (Jodie Foster).

I felt a lack of ability on the part of those involved in directing to convey chaos. In its opening, there is rioting in the street, a bank heist is underway, but I wasn’t instilled with any heightened sense of panic. So when we move to the Artemis, I didn’t feel a sense of oasis from the storm; it’s just kinda dull. As we tour the impressively conceived of retro space, it feels like showing off, not development. Foster is fine, but does not command attention for a while long while. Things eventually do start to build to a frenzy, laden with cliches, such as an exciting enough narrow hallway shown down between lone protagonist and a horde of underlings (thanks, Oldboy) but by this point, I was already… checked out (pardon the pun).

Violence is needlessly gruesome at times, and the very underwhelming use of an intriguing cast leads me to the conclusion that this should’ve received a lot of revision before hitting the big screen.

Points for managing to fit Jodie Foster, Batista, Jeff Goldblum, and Charlie Day into one of the most unlikely cast mashups imaginable.

When involved in action sequences, Sofia Boutella is a captivating femme fatale, whose performance will hopefully not be overlooked.