Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present

Tony Conrad was an avante-garde film maker and musician, and is credited as being the pioneer of drone music.

This documentary, released just before his death in April last year, looks at his career and has plenty of footage and interviews. Tony himself basically narrates the whole thing, along with other people I had never heard of before, except John Cale and Moby.

Quite interesting stuff, and Tony was a funny guy in his own way. He despised art galleries.

Not too shabby at all.

Date watched: May 6th
Score: 7.5/10
Film count 2017: 64

El Viaje Del Acordeon

I have been concentrating on The Walking Dead on Amazon Prime recently, as well as catching up on various YouTube channels I follow, so I have not had time for films. So last night I decided to watch something on Mubi, and found this Colombian documentary.

It follows three Colombian musicians, as they try to win a big event called the Vallenato Legend Festival. They had been trying for sixteen years to win it, but despite getting to the semi-finals plenty of times, never made it. They had won other festivals all over the country, and were much loved by the public.

The German company that makes the accordion that one of the musicians uses invited them to Germany to play in a concert that the company runs, so off they went. It was amusing to see them play with snow for the first time in a field, with one saying “there is enough snow here for 20 or 30 slushy vendors”!

Overall, it was a good watch, mostly because the musicians were fun guys, and they are very talented musicians. The music was good too, even the German accordion orchestra which I didn’t expect to be very interesting was quite good. The three players though were very impressive.

Good stuff.

Date watched: April 29th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2017: 62


I am having a good run on Mubi, continuing with this excellent film.

Here is the plot from Wikipedia: Overweight and depressed 15-year-old Terri Thompson starts to slack off in school and wear pajamas, to the chagrin of his teachers. Soon Terri is taken under the wing of unconventional assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald, who creates a series of Monday-morning counseling sessions for social outcasts at the school.

The acting and directing is top notch, and the story while not original, moves along at a good pace. There are no big name actors in this apart from John C. Reilly, who is brillo as usual.

Good stuff.

Date watched: April 22nd
Score: 9/10
Film count 2017: 61

I Won’t Come Back

Browsing through the list of films to watch on Mubi, I found this 2014 flick and chose it mostly because Mubi had it listed as an Estonian film. Actually, online it says it is a Kazakhstan, Russia, Estonia, Finland, and Belarus production.

The story mostly takes place in Russia, ending up in Kazakhstan. Here is the blurb for the film:

Anya, an aloof and love-spurned graduate student, is on the run from the police when she meets young Kristina, a precocious orphan determined to find the only family she has left. The pair embark on a harrowing and unpredictable odyssey hitchhiking across the intimidating terrain of Russia.

It is not exactly a happy film for the most part, although there are a few light moments, and the ending while uplifting was a bit syrupy. The dreary weather and bleak landscapes did not help much, but it was interesting to see the Russian countryside, life there looks quite harsh in places.

What made this film though was the superb natural acting from the two very young main actresses. There is very little on both of them on the interwebs, and this is the only film both of them have made. The younger actress in real life actually spent time in an orphanage when young.

Jolly good stuff, and it again proves that Russia makes excellent films.

Date watched: April 21st
Score: 8/10
Film count 2017: 60

Ashik Kerib

I am trying to get my money’s worth out of my Mubi subscription, so I watched this 1986 Soviet Union film.

This was actually made in what is now Georgia and Azerbaijan, with the story based on Azerbaijan folklore. It also appears to have two audio tracks, one in Georgian and the other in Azerbaijani. The main track is probably Azerbaijani, with the Georgian track being narrated by one guy, and the problem is both are playing at the same time! So, along with reading English subtitles, things get messy.

The Minstrel

It all starts out with a simple story:

Poor Ashik Kerib plays the Bağlama at weddings and other celebrations. He falls in love with Magul-Megeri who is a daughter of a rich man but her father opposes since Ashik Kerib is poor and he expects rich prospects for his ‘daughter from heaven’. Ashik Kerib vows to wander for seven years to get rich or die. (from Wikipedia).

The story is obviously based on folklore, and gets pretty wiggy with all kinds of weird stuff happening, which is what I like. In one scene some women are holding submachine guns (even though this is set in ye olden times).

The Machine Gun Harem

One thing going on throughout the film is the use of fake moustaches and beards with even some women wearing them for some reason. Monobrows also seem to be important in folklore.

The villain of the story, the rich father-in-law-to-be.

It feels more like a play than a film, with lots of dramatic over-acting, dancing and prancing around, and groups of actors all together facing the camera.

“Play dat funky lute!”

Eric Idle?

The director, Sergei Parajanov, is actually well respected in film circles, but was somewhat mistreated by the Soviets and was imprisoned for five years in Siberia, partly because he was homosexual. The film ended with a tribute to the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, a friend of his who had died two years previous.

Wonderful stuff, quite inventive and entertaining. I must seek out more Soviet era films.

Date watched: April 15th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2017: 59

A Night in Casablanca

This was the second to last film the three Marx brothers made together, and unfortunately not one of their best.

The jokes were a bit old hat at times, and the story and supporting cast were quite mediocre.

Harpo and Chico were not as entertaining as they were in earlier films, but Groucho is funny in anything, so he saved the day somewhat. Harpo did his harp playing bit, and Chico tinkled away on the piano, both highlights of their parts.

The original idea was for this to be a parody of Casablanca, released four years prior (1942), but for reasons I cannot find on the interwebs, this was abandoned. There was some amusing controversy at the time though.

A Day at the Races is the best film by The Marx Brothers, and one of the weirdest and funniest films I have ever seen, so skip this one and watch that one.

Date watched: April 13th
Score: 4/10
Film count 2017: 58

Sleeping Dogs

This is a film I have been wanting to see for years, so when it popped up on Mubi I had to watch it.

This was Roger Donaldson’s first film, made back in 1977, and starred a young Sam Neill with this film being the third of his career. There was also a cast of New Zealand’s Who’s Who of actors and actresses of the seventies, including Ian Mune (he also wrote the story), Ian Watkin, Davina Whitehouse, and Donna Akersten (Meet the Feebles, Bad Blood). Warren Oates played an American Army dude.

From Wikipedia: In the scene where Warren Oates steps out of his jeep and meets “Smith”, he is actually holding a page of the script, fearing that he’d forget the lines. Oates acted as if the paper was a list of directions to the motel. Ha!.

Sam Neill

The story was simple, and somewhat full of holes and unexplained things. It was a bit disappointed actually, I was expecting a bit more depth. It is basically about the government deciding that repressing the people was a good idea, with Sam’s character involuntarily becoming a member of the resistance and hunted by government thugs. There is one scene in the film which was a talking point at the time (this was a big film when it came out in NZ) involving riot police beating up protesters with plenty of blood flowing. This was quite unthinkable at the time, but a few years later this would actually happen when the South African Rugby team visited NZ, causing riots.

Seeing 1970’s New Zealand was interesting, and there was plenty of beautiful landscapes to look at which made me terribly homesick.

This was the first New Zealand-made feature film to be filmed in 35mm. The next Roger Donaldson film I must see is Smash Palace, which I may have seen a very long time ago, but I have forgotten.

Date watched: February 15th
Score: 6.5/10
Film count 2017: 36