Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A good bio-pic about a rarely-explored woman: Haifaa Al-Mansour's intelligent MARY SHELLEY

Although Frankenstein, in all its many derivations, is almost never not in the crosshairs of our current culture, its author, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, is much too rarely there. (One of the more recent and best of these derivations is the cable series Penny Dreadful. If you've still not seen it -- perhaps the best-written of all "supernatural" series -- do yourself a favor and Netflix stream it now.) Opening this week in limited release in New York, L.A. and via VOD the following week is a new movie devoted to this quite interesting woman and her late-teen/early-adult life.

MARY SHELLEY, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour (shown at right) and written by Emma Jensen (with some help from Ms Al-Mansour), is not a great bio-pic but it is good enough to engulf the viewer in the place and time period (Great Britain from 1814 through 1818) and the characters of Mary and her family; her lover and mate, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; the famous Lord Byron, and others.

Older viewers may faintly remember a 1986 movie entitled Gothic, the only so-so Ken Russell version of these folk. The big difference here is that Al-Mansour concentrates on the characters of the women, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont, played respectively and very well indeed by Elle Fanning (below, center left) and Bel Powley (at left, below).

These two actresses are well abetted by the film's two male leads, Douglas Booth (above, center right, and below) as Shelley and Tom Sturridge (above, right) as Byron. Mr. Booth, in particular, seems to grow stronger and more versatile with each role. (Don't miss his terrific turn as the music hall entertainer Dan Leno in The Limehouse Golem.) Here he brings such charisma, beauty, intelligence and passion to his rendition of Shelley that you'll understand perfectly how and why just about everyone fell for the man and his poetry.

If the writing is fairly ordinary -- not bad, just nothing special -- the movie still holds you via its often dark period look, the story it tells, and the very good performances from the entire cast. Ms Fanning gets inside Mary well enough to bring you along, too, and Ms Powley's Claire, always in Mary's shadow, makes a sweet, sad, Look-at-me-I'm here-too! sidekick.

The various strands -- events and psychology -- that might well have led Mary to create her unexpected masterwork are brought to life appealingly and believably, and the facts of how and why this enduring tale was created by a woman and yet had initially to be published without that woman's name attached to it adds strongly to the movie's never-pushy-but-feminist-all-the-same conclusions.

From IFC Films and running a lengthy but never boring 121 minutes. the movie opens this Friday in New York City at the Quad Cinema and in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica Film Center, with its VOD debut coming the following Friday, June 1.

Monday, May 21, 2018

THE MISANDRISTS proves a step backward (or, rather, a return to form) for Bruce LaBruce

With Gerontophilia (back in 2013), GLBT director Bruce LaBruce (shown below) proved at last that he could make a movie and tell a story that resonated politically, philosophically, culturally, socially, and emotionally while holding it all together. Up until then, while he'd done each of those things at some point along the way via various films, he usually did this rather clunkily so that plot and politics, humor and emotion (very little of the latter, as I recall) stood apart from each other, never really melding fluently into the whole. Characters would often spout some philosophy before going back "into" character to further the plot.

This was often done humorously (at least I suspect that was B laB's reasoning) but it grew tiresome quickly. With his latest film (made in Germany), THE MISANDRISTS, he's back into this stand-apart format during which the audience is treated to political/gender philosophizing that, despite its being so important to the tale the filmmaker is telling, is still handled clunkily enough to keep getting in the way of his story and its very real and could-have-been-major entertainment value.

I had to look up the word misandrist, and the very idea that I had to do this intrigued me. We're much more familiar with the words misogynist (one who dislikes women) and misanthrope (one who dislikes the human race in general), yet we almost never see or hear misandrist written or spoken -- so unusual is its use in our society, culture and media for us to even be aware of the possibility of singling out the male as the dislikeable object. Mr. LaBruce, no doubt, is more than aware of this. Consequently the patriarchy takes quite a deserved drubbing in his film.

The tale the filmmaker tells takes place in 1999 (for whatever reason -- pre 9-11-2001? -- I'm not sure) in the German countryside in a supposed school for wayward girls, supposedly run by a group of nuns. In reality (or what passes for same in a B laB film), this school's actually a training ground for the Female Liberation Army, which is planning to take over the state, if not the world, by virtue of a secret scheme which we eventually learn at film's finale, and which seems about as goofy and and nonsensical as all else we've seen.

One day, as two of the girls from this school frolic sexually in a field nearby the woods, they encounter a young man -- an out-of-favor leftist -- injured and on-the-run from the authorities. One of the girls decides to rescue him, hiding him in the basement of the school. A few complications ensue. And that's pretty much the entire plot.

Along the way we're treated to the usual philosophizing (sort of), satire (sort of), humor (sort of) and very camp sensibility, the special combination of which is the hallmark of B laB. There are oddball moments of fun (a sudden Charleston done by one of the nuns), lots of sex (mostly lesbian but a little homo, via some gay pornography the girls are made to watch as one of the plot points here), and the filmmaker's penchant for overkill (a pillow fight among the girls that goes on ad infinitum).

LaBruce's goal, it seems, is to convince the world that boundaries -- sexual, gender, political, philosophical -- are all somehow nonsensical. While I can understand and somewhat identify with this idea, he is neither a witty enough writer nor a good enough filmmaker to make his case with any great success. Maybe B sees his role as mostly that of prankster, in which case, he succeeds. Somewhat, at least. Why introduce a "mystery" character peering out of the school's attic window early on and seen periodically along the way, and then never explain her existence in your film -- unless pranking -- and/or upending expectations -- is your main concern?

Performances by the oddball assemble cast are OK overall (they get the job done), but the actor who best exemplifies the B laB style is his semi-regular, Susanne Sachße (shown below), who plays the school's "commandant" with the proper style, subtlety and wit.

If you're already a major fan of B laB's work (outside of Gerontophilia, which is probably way too "mainstream" for his heavy-duty fans), you will probably embrace The Misandrists with much more zest and enjoyment than could I.

You'll get your chance when the movie -- from Cartilage Films and running 91 minutes -- opens this Friday, May 25, in New York City at the Village East Cinema, and the following Friday, June 1, in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt

Sunday, May 20, 2018

VODebut for George Russell's provocative doc about the uses of the internet, TROLL INC.

You may have heard or read about a certain internet troll named Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer who goes by the alias of Weev. If so (or even if not), you're going to learn a hell of lot about him from the new documentary TROLL INC., in which Auernheimer plays a major role, acting as our host and guide through the thicket of internet trolling. TrustMovies admits he went into this film with a heavy bias against what he imagined to be the very negative/ugly/angry world of "trolling." Coming out of the doc, however, he felt both surprised and somewhat chastened at the realization that internet trolls -- some of them anyway -- might actually be serving a valid and important purpose by keeping the world's populace more aware of the how easily (often stupidly) we can be swayed by what we see and hear online.

As produced, directed, edited and even partially photographed by a filmmaker new to me named George Russell, the movie begins with an introduction to Weev (shown above and below) and to what internet trolls do and how they do it -- with an emphasis more on the positive side of things than the negative, which can move from mere nasty joking to stalking, hacking and much worse. For instance, we're shown how, in Australia, the internet was able to defend its own community from government censorship.

Early on we're told that "computer security on the internet is shockingly, inherently insecure," and then shown examples of this, such as the Apple iPad/AT&T security scandal, which Weev and his compatriot Daniel Spitler, along with the "organization" known as Goatse Security, leaked to the world -- and afterward, as you'll learn, paid bigtime for their efforts.

We also learn of that infamous and bizarrely funny would-be scandal, Amazon-Hates-Gays-and-Is-Delisting-GLBT-products, that Weev foisted upon the world -- for fun and also to make us more aware of the nonsense that can be provided some of our major companies due to their lack of proper security on the internet.

To the film's credit, Weev comes off as both a kind of necessary prophet and an asshole. "Being a jackass on the internet is a real career," he notes at one point toward film's end. He's a genius of sorts but mostly a provocateur. But hearing the thoughts of and praise from his many friends and compatriots should give you pause. As one of them notes (the fellow who paid Weev's parole bail after his Apple/AT&T arrest), "I bailed him out, despite all the terrible things he's said, because he has a strict moral code."  I think you'll agree with this once you've finished the film. Another explains that Weev is truly "testing the limits of our Constitution's First Amendment."

We hear and see various experts on technology and digital culture (above and below), dip into the nostalgia of Occupy Wall Street, and even learn about something called Gayniggers from Outer Space. By the time you've finished this exceptional documentary, you may find yourself less inclined to believe (or even maybe care about) much that you "discover" via the internet, while simultaneously becoming more interested in and aware of security issues -- results that I suspect would please both filmmaker Russell and Weev.

Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer may be one of the weirder documentary heroes you'll have encountered, but he is a kind of hero nonetheless. What happened to him post that Apple/AT&T event, legally and otherwise, makes for most interesting viewing. Where he resides now -- this we learn during the final moments of the film -- is even more so.

From Virgil Films and running a swift 79 minutes, Troll Inc. makes its VOD debut this Tuesday, May 22, via Vimeo on Demand, for rental or purchase. (It may be available elsewhere, too.)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

U.S. Blu-ray debut for Abdellatif Kechiche's stunning, if overlong BLACK VENUS

Tunisian-born filmmaker
Abdellatif Kechiche, who has lived in France since the age of six, has now written and directed eight (very) full-length films. One of his hallmarks, in fact, is length. The four of his films that TrustMovies has seen are too long. His shortest (Games of Love and Chance) runs just over two hours, and his longest (Blue is the Warmest Color) a three full hours. His latest, in fact (not yet seen in the USA), is so long that it had to be split into two parts, with the first one running nearly three hours all by itself.

While judicious editing anywhere from ten to thirty minutes would improve each Kechiche film mightily (the filmmaker is shown at left), still, I would not have wanted to miss any of them. BLACK VENUS (from 2010), which makes it U.S. Blu-ray debut this coming week via Arrow Academy, may be the best of the lot -- even though at the time of its international festival/theatrical debut, it was rather roundly panned for being exploitative and/or sleazy in terms of its handling of story and lead actress, the memorable Yahima Torres (shown below). Again, I suspect this stems as much from America's ever-prudish sensibilities as from the too-lengthy scenes of the degradation of the film's main character, a black woman known during the time frame of the film's setting -- 1810 through 1815 -- as the Hottentot Venus. Audiences quickly got the point M. Kechiche was making -- yes,  this is awful stuff! -- but the filmmaker's refusal to tighten his scenes comes off as though he's unduly rubbing it in.

And yet, in many ways this is Kechiche's most powerful movie: Stunningly beautiful and eye-poppingly gorgeous in its new Blu-ray transfer (Arrow offers some of the best transfers I've seen), it captures the time and place in all their despairing, often ugly glory. And the story it tells of the abuse of this woman, born Sarah Baartman in South Africa, is such a staggeringly amazing and ugly one that it practically becomes an instant and major historical marker for the Me Too movement. (In this sense the movie was nearly a decade ahead of its time -- as poor Ms Baartman was a couple of centuries ahead of hers.)

Performances from the entire cast  -- Kechiche's usual "unknowns" (here led by the amazing Ms Torres, who, sadly, has done no acting work at all since this, her debut role) mixed with some very "well-knowns" (Olivier Gourmet (above and below), Andre Jacobs (below, right), and the incomparable Elina Löwensohn).

M. Kechiche proves himself once again a born filmmaker, despite his love of length and overkill. How he tells his tale -- beginning with a lecture given by and to France's leading doctors and professors regarding the sexual organs of the Hottentot, then arriving full circle, once we've learned the history and current-day story of our black beauty -- could hardly be bettered, save for the occasional need of those editing scissors.

The costumes, sets, and ace cinematography (from Lubomir Bakchev) all conspire to make viewing the movie a consistent pleasure, even as we move from the "peep" show staged in London (below)...

to the British high court (below), where our little "theatrical troupe" is brought up on charges to the environs of French royalty, who at least act somewhat better toward our heroine than do England's hoi polloi.

All the while, and despite (sometimes because of) the despicable circumstances of our hottentot, we find ourselves, over and over again, entering her mind, soul and heart. And Ms Torres' remarkable performance enables us to do this so easily, thanks to her seeming innate ability to simply be this young woman: to bring us into her thoughts and desires, her abilities and her hopes.

Where Sarah Baartman goes and how she gets there will amaze and disturb, and the filmmaker sees to it that every jolt sinks in, along with the very occasional moment of kindness or delight.

Despite its flaws, Black Venus is an extremely powerful film. I believe it only received a minor limited theatrical release some years back, so I hope viewers will be able catch it in this current format.

From Arrow Academy and distributed in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group, the film hits Blu-ray this coming Tuesday, May 22 -- for purchase and (I would hope) rental.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review time -- Don Graham's GIANT: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film

It's rare that TrustMovies takes time off from his movie watching to actually read a book. And, in fact, he didn't. But because his spouse, Bruce Gorbel, is such a huge fan of Elizabeth Taylor and had only recently watched again (via TCM) one of her better films, Giant, when the chance to read and review the new book by Don Graham, entitled (with surely one of the longest subtitles in book history) GIANT: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film, appeared in his inbox, he ordered a review copy and gave it forthwith to that spouse. Below is the result:

Reading this book is almost like being on the set of Giant, as the filmmaking took place -- so filled it is with detail, people (many of them very famous), and gossip. Especially gossip. The author certainly knows how to write well. He pulls you into the filmmaking process, what was going on in America (especially in Texas, the film's location), regarding the culture and prejudices of the time (the mid-1950s), as well as into the lives of the film's three leading actors  -- Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and especially James Dean.

However, the sense of being on set and observing it all acts as something of a double-edged sword. Just as the actual filmmaking process can be repetitive and lengthy -- all those "takes," over and over again! -- the book eventually grows a little tiresome, too. Really: How much new is there to say (and do we really need to know it all) about James Dean?

Still, for fans of the film -- and they are legion -- and for fans of these particular actors, Don Graham has researched and written a lollapalooza of a movie book: full of facts, possibilities, suppositions and even more rumors and innuendo.

Graham's insights into the personal interaction between the three stars are certainly interesting, even if somewhat conjectural. Surprisingly enough, it is supporting actress Jane Withers who comes across here as a particularly kind soul.

Much credit is also rightly given to the film's director, George Stevens, and to the author of the original novel, Edna Ferber, along with a nod to her influence (and her attempted influence) on the finished film. There is, of course, quite a difference between that novel and what the movie finally became. Reading this book will help you understand what happened -- and why.

Published by St. Martin’s Press, 
GIANT: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, 
Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary 
American Film went on sale April 10, 2018. 
In Hardcover: $27.99 USD 
and via eBook: $14.99 USD.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Cecilia Atán & Valeria Pivato's THE DESERT BRIDE: a little movie that looms quite large

A small film that gets just about everything right, THE DESERT BRIDE (La novia del desierto) takes a sad situation -- that of a 54-year-old Chilean maid who has worked for an Argentine family for over 30 years and is now being let go, due to the sale of the house in which she has lived and labored for most of her life -- and turns it into a near-perfect character study that encompasses everything from class, gender, servitude, religious faith and more -- all accomplished, movie-wise, without beating the drums or even raising the voice.

As written and directed by Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato (shown above; Ms Atán is on the left) with some writing collaboration from Martín Salinas, the movie flashes back to our heroine, Teresa, and her work for that family, even as it moves gently forward on a road trip that is halted midway, taking this woman into new and quite uncharted territory.

If the film's leading lady looks familiar, that is because she should. Back in 2013 Paulina García (shown above and poster, top) made a much-deserved international breakthough as Gloria, the leading role in in Sebastián Lelio's eponymously titled film, following this up with a nice supporting turn in Ira Sachs' Little Men. In Desert Bride, Ms García lands another plum role that she makes utterly memorable via her wonderfully expressive face and her ability to give us so much of her character's inner life so quietly and with such subtlety and strength.

In the role of the older man whom she meets on her journey and who changes her route, Argentine character actor and theater director, Claudio Rissi (above), proves equally adept at creating character via small, keen strokes. The two actors work beautifully together, drawing us into their lives and their needs.

The filmmakers seem to me especially good at visual storytelling. Whether in focus or out, long-distance, middle- or close-up (the fine cinematography is by Sergio Armstrong), the landscape, with its vast distances, as well as that of the human face are both captured beautifully.

Via flashback and tiny, present-day events, character is revealed. One of the film's dearest moments comes as Teresa measures the height of the family's son, even as the depth of the relationship between these two comes clear. 

The Desert Bride may be small scale, but its accomplishment in telling its tale of life and change is a big one. And Ms García adds yet another memorable role to her impressive career.

From Strand Releasing and running a mere 77 minutes, the movie opened in New York City and Chicago two weeks ago, and in Los Angeles (at Laemmle theaters) this past Friday, May 11. This Friday. May 18, it hits several other cities, and here in South Florida it will open next Friday, May 25 --  in Miami at the Tower Theater, in Fort Lauderdale at the Savor Cinema, in Hollywood at the Cinema Paradiso, and at the Lake Worth Playhouse. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then click on Screenings in the task bar midway down.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Leitch/Reese/Wernick/Reynolds' DEADPOOL 2 proves every bit as much fun as you've hoped

So, is it as good -- funny, nasty, satirical, and ridiculous -- as the original? Yep. It is even better? Maybe. It depends. By the time you've reached the finale of DEADPOOL 2, which boasts, among other things, one of the funniest and lengthiest comedic death scenes on film (or digital), it you have not laughed yourself silly, TrustMovies will be very surprised. Manohla Dargis probably won't appreciate the sequel any more than she did the original, but that's OK. Many of us indeed will.

If you're old enough, or movie-fan enough, to recall those Mel Brooks comedies of a half-century ago, this is the experience of which Deadpool 2 may most remind you: joke after joke after joke, coming so fast and furious that even if half of them don't hit the mark, are too obvious/repetitive or simply deflate, the other half work. So you won't quite have finished laughing at one before the next bulls eye is hit.

As ably directed for pacing, action and fun by David Leitch (above, of Atomic Blond, which provided similar things, but not nearly to this level) and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (both of Zombieland and the under-rated Life), with some writing assistance from the film's star Ryan Reynold(below), the movie is scattershot, all right, but so filled with delight at how much fun there is to be made of super-hero movies, that both the many folk who love 'em and the less number (like me) who hate 'em, will be able to fully enjoy it.

As for the plot, don't worry: there will be no spoilers here. In fact, it would almost impossible to spoil this movie, plot-wise, since it practically has none. Oh, there's something about an angry kid with super-powers, and the bad guy from the future who comes to kill him, but all this is simply a bone tossed to mainstream audiences so that the movie can get on with its real purpose: to make fun of super-heroes and the movies about them, as well as about the kind of culture -- political, social and otherwise -- in which we reside today.

I doubt you will have heard so many "in" jokes about movies since, well, the original Deadpool. And while some of these jokes are already past their sell-by date, some of them still draw laughs. More important, the satire of and comic references to the times we live in are often on the nose. Simply for the jokes about Jared Kushner and Fox and Friends (and, yes, Green Lantern: do stick around through the end credits to savor every one), I'd be willing to watch the movie all over again.

In the large and very game cast, in addition to Mr. Reynolds, who keeps proving himself worthy over and over again, we also have Josh Brolin (above, looking both beefy and buoyant and having the time of his life), the delectable Zazie Beetz (below, who plays a character named Domino with more pizazz and pleasure than just about anyone in the entire recent Black Panther nonsense. This character, whose superpower is simply being excessively lucky, is a keeper, and so is the luscious and lively Ms Beetz.

That angry super-powered kid is played with nasty relish by Julian Dennison (below, from the over-rated Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and the rest of the cast is game and fun, while the movie itself is fun and games.

Do watch for a terrific new character call the Vanisher (shown below, just left of center), and then pay attention to the actor who plays him (listed in the end credits), giving certainly the greatest, most moving performance of his entire career. Oh -- and, yes, the film is very violent, but in such a jokey, silly manner that I know my grandkids will be more than up for it.

There's less sexual references this time around, because our hero's girl friend, played by Morena Baccarin (below), is sidelined early on. A shame.

The audience with whom I viewed the movie (scattered press but mostly a typically mainstream crowd) seemed to relish every last joke, character and situation, most of them staying through the very long end-credit roll. Can't blame them. We did, too. Who'd want to miss that final laugh?

From 20th Century Fox and running one minute short of two full hours, Deadpool 2 opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, May 18. Click here to find the probably many theaters near you.