Friday, November 17, 2017

Nicole Garcia's old-fashioned love-story-plus-twist, FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON, on DVD

Some of us will watch Marion Cotillard in just about anything, but don't worry: You won't have to lower  your standards much to find one of her latest endeavors, FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON, worth your time.

This old-fashioned-with-a-twist love story, set a half-century back, is well-acted, -written and -directed, even if it does ask you to accept one whopper of an imagining by it's protagonist. But then, l'amour fou can do that, don't you think?

As directed and co-written by French actor and filmmaker Nicole Garcia (shown at left), the movie is beautiful to view and rather fun to consider, both as it is moving along and post-viewing, too.

Adapted from the novel by Milena Agus, the film takes place in France, Switzerland and Spain and stars Ms Cotillard, Louis Garrel and Alex Brendemühl. Visually and talent-wise, what's not to like?

Each actor acquits her/himself well, and the cinematography (by Christophe Beaucrane) is generally entrancing and always varied, as we travel from the French farming countryside for a rest-cure in Switzerland and eventually to sunny, coastal Spain.

Ms Cotillard (above) plays a physically and emotionally problemed character named Gabrielle, forced by her mother into marriage to a man (Brendemühl, below, right) for whom she cares nothing. But when M.Garrel (at left, two photos below) comes into her life, ah -- things change!

How all this pans out, beginning near the end then flashing back to the start of things, works well, and Ms Garcia proves adept at holding us firm through some very quirky situations. (The oddest of these flirts with mental illness in a manner that displeased my spouse but which I was to view as unlikely but acceptable, given that, hey, this is a movie, after all.)

The film's great theme is actually love -- in two of its many forms: one, a short view that's immediate and insistent, the other a long one, strong and sacrificing. The result is strange, beautiful, thought-provoking and, yes, sentimental, but awfully kind and caring.

From IFC Films, in French with English subtitles and running two hours, From the Land of the Moon (the original French titles is Mal de pierres) arrives on DVD this coming Tuesday, November 21 -- for purchase or rental.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Jamie M. Dagg's sophomore effort, SWEET VIRGINIA: good cast, good score, so-so movie

SWEET VIRGINIA, the second full-length feature from director Jamie M. Dagg, bears more than a passing resemblance to this year's much better mystery, Wind River. For starters, Jon Bernthal acts in both: here in the leading role, in Wind River playing a supporting part. Both take place in out-of-the-way locations and feature a murder mystery at their center.

But in Wind River, the theme of justice is paramount; Sweet Virginia, a much more manufactured concoction, is content to connect its dots via the father of the film's "villain" being a big fan of its hero, an injured-and-thus-retired rodeo cowboy named Sam Rossi. The connection is tenuous at best, silly at worst.

So be it. And since we must, in all fairness, deal with what we have, Sweet Virginia does offers a number of pluses. Director Dagg, shown at left, has assembled an excellent cast, a good musical score (by brothers Brooke and Will Blair), and a number of scenes that pack in enough suspense, mystery and drama to keep us hooked.

The biggest problem -- other than there seems to be no ongoing investigation by authorities of the triple murder that begins the movie (one scene, hell, even one shot, of something like this might have set our minds to rest) -- is the exceedingly coincidental quality of the tale told here.

That cast, though, is a very good one. Led by Mr. Bernthal, above -- who currently seems to be the go-to guy for "strong silent type" roles and is here able to communicate with few words a depth of feeling and caring that helps considerably in keeping us attached to the wobbly plot -- it also includes another excellent and upcoming young actor in the role of Bernthal's ambivalent antagonist,  Christopher Abbott (shown below) of Hello I Must Be Going and James White.

Our hero's main squeeze, a lately widowed woman, is played by the fine Rosemarie DeWitt, below, while the always interesting Imogen Poots (two photos down) has the role of the character who sets the story in motion: a three-year unhappily married woman (also recently widowed by that multiple murder) who does not, it turns out, possess a whole lot of smarts or morals. The women, as so often happens in American movies, play a distinct second fiddle to the guys.

The screenplay and dialog for Sweet Virginia were written by twin brothers Benjamin and Paul China, and the Chinas prove good at plot machinations without undue exposition -- even if, as noted above, those machinations soon begin to seem more manufactured than organic. (I did miss some of the mumbled dialog toward the beginning of the film, however. I suspect this was due less to the actors than to the sound quality of the streaming link we critics were sent, in which ambient sound and musical score occasionally overpowered dialog.)

The very dark cinematography, coupled to the location shooting (said to be Alaska but filmed in British Columbia), the musical score, and low-key performances of characters who are themselves all pretty dark and unhappy, combine to bring a finale that features some violence and blood (but not enough to qualify as gore).

From IFC Films and running a just-about-right 93 minutes, Sweet Virginia opens theatrically tomorrow in New York City at the IFC Center, (and maybe elsewhere, too), as well as simultaneously via VOD. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Streaming tip: Take a chance on Martin Rosete and Josep Ciutat's nifty little thriller, MONEY

Sick of super-heroes? Can't blame you, particularly after subjecting oneself to the supposed "amusements" of the latest and just-about-worthless Thor installment. If your pleasure runs more to character, dialog and oddball incident, you might enjoy a small but smartly done crime puzzle called MONEY. As written with relish and enough little tricks up his sleeve to last the requisite 86 minutes by Josep Ciutat (his first screenplay) and efficiently and crisply directed by Martin Rosete (his first full-length film after a slew of short ones), the movie also boasts a very good quintet of actors, each of whom captures character and moment with the proper intensity and believability. This little movie is a tasty surprise.

Mr. Ciutat has concocted an unusual but well-thought-out what's-going-on-here? puzzle that plays out quite briskly and felicitously, and Mr. Rosete (shown at right) gives the tale just the right pacing and lustre that it needs to engage and hold us.

One seemingly wealthy couple Kellan Lutz and Jess Weixler (below, right and left, respectively) is having one of the husband's work mates and his date over for dinner. Mr. Lutz captures both the "hot" quality of his slick character as well as the man's weakness, while Ms Weixler unveils quite a reserve of strength under her elegant exterior.

That work mate turns out to be a prime asshole (played  by Jesse Williams, below, with a cocky surety that will have you rooting for him to get his comeuppance), while his date (the glamorous and feisty Lucía Guerrero, shown at bottom) proves to have a bit more on the ball that her hosts might have initially imagined.

Into this quartet arrives a fifth wheel who provides the film with its fuse, trigger and explosives in the form of a very fine actor, Jamie Bamber (below), who would -- were the others not so very good, as well -- steal the movie. Bamber's entrance changes everything. But then, again and again, things continue to change -- in terms of both plot and character.

I don't want to make major claims for the movie, as it does have a bit of the "exercise" about it. Yet it is so well-written, -directed and -acted that it consistently rises above mere exercise into what I'd call nifty entertainment. Also, Money is not, thankfully, super-violent. Yet its occasional use of violence is very smartly handled.

So if you're browsing Netflix streaming and, as usual, find so much to choose from that you can't easily decide, take chance on this original and clever movie about money and its uses. It's also available on DVD for purchase or rental, and probably on other streaming venues, too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

In PORTO, Gabe Klinger gives us a compelling tale of young, passionate, but one-sided love

The end credits begin with a dedication -- to Anton -- which is both justified and due, since the film's star is the late and hugely lamented Anton Yelchin, an actor whose fine performances have graced so many movies and TV shows since the turn into this new century that his loss is only beginning to be felt. (He also possessed one of the most distinctive voices in recent cinema.) The actor should have lived, worked and grown for decades longer. Yelchin turns in another memorable performance in Gabe Klinger's deeply experienced and probably very personal love story, PORTO, which takes place in that eponymous Portuguese city and details the very brief affair between a young man and an only slightly older woman -- the knockout Lucie Lucas -- over a very short time.

In order to get at the feelings of its two protagonists more deeply and also, I think, to make those feeling seem more spontaneous and honest, Mr. Klinger, shown at left, takes an oddly circuitous route, coming back and back again to the same moment but filling it in each time with more detail and sometimes a different POV. This forces us to think about the differences we see and hear and also to question their meaning(s). Eventually -- rather soon, in fact -- it becomes clear that this brief but very passionate affair has meant much more to the man, Jake, than to the woman, Marti, and that Jake, after all, is the movie's main character. (To call Jake a stand-in for Klinger seems almost obvious: The two possess such a similar look and physical build.)

As we bounce back and forth in time and place, we get know our two people, at least as much as they get to know each other in this relatively short span. Basically a two-hander -- with minor appearances by her older boyfriend-and-then-husband and their child -- the movie, as co-written (with Larry Gross) and directed by Klinger, manages to get inside the glamour/trauma of initial love and lust and make these very nearly as appealing, sexy, and frustrating as the actual event.

Yelchin, above, as Jake, looks surprisingly dark and drawn here, opening up and coming to life only in his physical/emotional connections to Ms Lucas, below, who plays Mati and offers him (and us) the kind of facial beauty and knockout physique that may put you in mind of the young Monica Bellucci -- yes, she is that stunning -- with a body that is on prominent, full-frontal display here. The sex is not skimped upon; instead it is a major part of the couple's equation.

Yet it is the emotional connection, felt so much more strongly by Jake than by Mati, that is the strongest and saddest element of the film, one that leaves Jake lost and adrift, for how long we cannot know. Yelchin captures all this, the disbelief that turn to enormous disappointment, with such strength and depth that we are with him all the way.

How the couple meets, the places they go, the things they talk about -- all of it seems simultaneously expected yet fresh. And since the movie lasts but 76 minutes, it nowhere near outstays its welcome. Just as did not Mr. Yelchin. What a loss this was. For those not so strongly acquainted with the actor's work -- aside from his best-known performances in the most recent set of Star Trek movies and the critically acclaimed but under-seen Like Crazy -- I would recommend Charlie Bartlett, Odd Thomas, Rudderless, and that great first-love story 5 to 7 for a crash course in Anton.

Meanwhile, Porto, also recommended and from Kino Lorber, opens this Friday, November 17, in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and on Friday, November 24, in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt. Elsewhere? Nothing scheduled yet, so far as I know, but surely this movie will eventually make its way to home video.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Greta Gerwig's LADY BIRD: Yes, it's as good as you've heard, but not groundbreaking....

...which, when you think about it, is pretty much what you'd expect from Greta Gerwig as a filmmaker, considering what she's given us, over and over again, as an actress: performances that are genuine, specific, quirky (but never overly so) and absolutely reality-based. That rather covers LADY BIRD, her first solo outing as both writer and director (back in 2008, she co-wrote and co-directed Nights and Weekends with Joe Swanberg). Lady Bird makes the best of her mumblecore roots while allowing the result to rise to a much higher professional level -- without becoming in any way slick. As I say: just about what we would expect from this talented and original young woman, pictured below.

Gerwig sets her movie back in the 1980s, which turns out to be a fine period for it: one not overly concerned with nostalgia for its own sake yet gloriously free from near-constant use of cell phones and the internet.

The filmmaker juggles a good deal of themes here -- from coming-of-age and family problems to the meaning of friendship, fitting in, and even coming out -- and she is so dexterous that one theme surfaces, calls out for our attention and then dips into the next so naturally that we're barely aware of the movement.

Gerwig, as both performer, writer and filmmaker seems to possess an intuitive sense of the psychology of character. Every one of her people in Lady Bird seems as real and as full as his or her connection and importance to the movie requires. There are simply no red flags here.

This begins with the filmmaker's star, that Bronx-born, Ireland-raised wonder, Saoirse Ronan (above and on poster, top), who would seem a perfect choice for the title role and the filmmaker's needs. Ms Ronan ought to have won Best Actress for her fine work in Brooklyn, two years back (she was first nominated for her work in Atonement almost a decade ago); Lady Bird may see her garner a third nomination, as well. The actress brings all the mixed signals and actions of late-adolescence/early-adulthood to her performance, and the result is funny, awful, mesmerizing and more.

As her put-upon mom, Laurie Metcalf (above, left) is just about Ronan's equal, bringing such concern, love and anger to her performance that you will alternately identify and wince, while the amazing Tracy Letts gives another memorable yet self-effacing performance as Lady Bird's kindly but sad dad.

Every single supporting performance here is brought to full, rich life, with special mention going to Beanie Feldstein (above, left) as Lady Bird's overweight and utterly winning friend, Julie; Lois Smith as the nun in her school with more on the ball than we initially imagine; Lucas Hedges (below, left, of Manchester by the Sea), who plays the boy who has too much respect for our heroine to actually touch her boobs; and Odeya Rush as the school's uber-pretty and rich girl who turns out to be -- hey! -- a full-bodied and intelligent character, too.

Gerwig doesn't do heroes and villains. She already understands the mixed bag that we all are, and she's able to communicate this without underlining it -- which makes her movie a double pleasure. I don't want to make great claims for the film because it remains (and clearly wants it so) a small film in every way. Its achievements, however, are many and wonderful. (Simply for the manner in which Gerwig incorporate Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along into her film, I'd watch it all over again.)

Lady Bird -- from A24 and running 93 minutes -- after hitting New York, L.A. and elsewhere, opens here in South Florida this Friday, November 17, in the Miami area at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, AMC's Aventura 24 , O Cinema Miami Beach, Regal's South Beach 18; at the Gateway 4 in Fort Lauderdale; Cobb's Downtown 16 in Palm Beach Gardens; at the Movies of Delray; the Cinepolis Jupiter 14;  and the Cinemark Palace 20 and Regal Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton. Wherever you live, to find the theater nearest you, click here.

Pat Collins' SONG OF GRANITE gives us -- very elliptically -- the story of Joe Heaney and traditional Irish singing

Filmed with the kind of breathtaking black-and-white cinematography that will have aficionados drooling, this year's Irish entry into the Best Foreign Language Film sweepstakes is a movie entitled SONG OF GRANITE, directed and co-written by Pat Collins, a documentary filmmaker who in 2012 gave us his first narrative movie, Silence, and has now come up with this new one, which traces the life, parental history and career of a man named Joe Heaney, of whom TrustMovies had never heard but who was evidently known as a great singer of traditional Irish songs.

Mr. Collins, pictured at right, possesses a highly poetic sensibility, and he and his cinematographer (Richard Kendrick) have contrived a movie so steeped in gorgeous images -- there's one, of a father and son sitting in front of a stone wall and doorway, that I could look at, I think, maybe forever -- that you don't want to look away from the screen for even a moment.

The poetry goes beyond mere images, as Collins also tells his tale by moving back and forth in time and and also by interspersing archival images with those he and Kendrick has more recently created. At film's end he even joins the older Heaney man with his younger self across both time and a lovely outdoor landscape.

If only Song of Granite's aural qualities were anywhere near its visual ones.

Granted, I am not the best person to judge this, since I knew next to nothing about traditional Irish singing going into the movie (if I've ever hear much of it previously, I most likely and immediately tuned it out).

Coming out of this film, I am most definitely not a fan. I find this particular musical genre consistently dour, repetitive and an absolute drudge to hear.

I would estimate that there is at least as much song here as there is dialog (maybe twice as much, unless I am letting my distaste for the genre get the better of me). At times I felt like turning off the sound completely, but then I'd have missed some of the English dialog (much of the film's is spoken in Irish/Gaelic, I am guessing, with accompanying English subtitles).

Eventually I had to content myself with those visuals and with the interesting performances of the cast Collins has assembled, beginning with that of Colm Seoighe, above, as the youngest of the Joes, and especially that of Michael O'Chonfhlaola (three photos up, at microphone) as the adult-to-middle-aged Joe, who has a beautifully sculpted face that seems designed to please the camera.

Because Collins jumps around so much, but does so poetically, while we don't always get the details, we can follow both the story and the emotions it and its characters convey. If you've a taste for traditional Irish singing, by all means see this film. If you're a novice to the genre, Song of Granite is certainly one place to start learning. And if you're not a fan, well then, you know what you're in for.

From Oscilloscope Laboratories and running 104 minutes, the movie opens in New York City at Film Forum this Wednesday, November 15; in Los Angeles on December 8 at Laemmle's Monica Film Center; and in Santa Fe on December 29 at the Jean Cocteau Cinema.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

DREAM BOAT: Tristan Ferland Milewski's gay cruise doc might possibly put you off both cruising and gays

OK: TrustMovies may be exaggerating a bit in his headline, but this new German documentary -- DREAM BOAT -- about (what I presume is) a popular gay ocean cruise seems more like being trapped within New York City's annual Greenwich Village gay parade for one week straight (or in this case, one week gay). It's heavy going, to say the least, and there's no easy exit -- unless you'd like to swim ashore. Fortunately, the film's writer/director Tristan Ferland Milewski (shown below), keeps the running time to a reasonable 93 minutes, which is a blessing, though his film still seems on the long and repetitive side.

In it, we meet a half dozen or so fellows of various ages and nationalities who have come on the cruise to maybe meet someone "special." Thus we flit from man to man, learning a little about the history and hopes of each.

They're a nice enough bunch, I guess, but as what we learn goes no deeper than what we might in a minimal few moments of conversation with any of them, we neither see nor hear much that merits attention.

Cruises mean, however, that you are rather a captive audience, and since these are the guys Herr Milewski has chosen for us, we're stuck with them and so must make the best of it.

Among these fellows is one from Poland (via Britain, I believe), another from India who's afraid to come "out," a Palestinian who had to leave his homeland due to being gay and is now thankful to the country of Belgium for taking him in, and another fellow who is wheelchair-confined and who talks about his olden days as both a "looker" and an athlete. These are all marginally interesting and would have been more so had Milewski spent a little more time with them.

Instead we get numerous shots of the cruise ship, the ocean, the rowdy goings-on (there's a bit of nudity and even a few moments of full-frontal fellatio along the way), and of course beaucoup Halloween-Gay-Parade type personages. But oddly, we get little sense of what the cruise itself is comprised. Are there no group activities? What are mealtimes like? Sometime it seems as though the film might have been shot on the sly.

As ever, coming out to family, friends and co-workers is a big thing for some of our fellows. We also get a smidgen of philosophy and life-advice from one man to another. But there's little new here we haven't seen nor heard elsewhere (just maybe not while on a cruise ship).

By the time the film ends and we get the credit-crawl update on a few of these guys, this provides what I suppose you'd call a "happy ending." Though none of it appears to have occurred due to the cruise itself.

From Strand Releasing -- and in English, German, French and Arabic, with English subtitles -- Dream Boat opened in New York City a week ago at the Quad Cinema and will hit the Capitol Theater in Cleveland on December 12 (for the first day of Hanukkah!). Otherwise, it's been all GLBT festival screenings. But Strand promises a home video release, which, if you are interested, you can get by clicking here and then clicking on either the DVD or Blu-ray link, which you'll find under the suggestion, Pre-order Now.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bring back the Monarchy! Blu-ray debut for THE SISSI COLLECTION, Ernst Marischka's classic trilogy starring Romy Schneider as Princess Elisabeth of Austria

"Dated" does not begin to describe the look, dialog and attitude to film, history, royalty, family and just about else else on display in the THE SISSI COLLECTION, the five-disc set of Blu-ray transfers of the series of films that were international hits back in the 1950s and turned a certain 17-year-old actresses named Romy Schneider into an worldwide movie star. And yet it is that very dated quality, utterly unapologetic and in-your-face, that makes this collection almost shockingly enjoyable. These of-their-time blockbusters out-Hollywood even Hollywood's attempts at this sort of thing, combining the lavish with the charming in such perfect measure that unsuspecting viewers are likely to find themselves as surprised as they are enrapt.

The work of a writer/director named Ernst Marischka (shown at right), of whom TrustMovies had never heard, the films bespeak that ever-popular "timeless" and fake-historical kind of movie-making (Gone With the Wind is another such) that thrills audiences while sending critics round the bend. Marischka wrote some 96 works and directed 34 films, but none, I suspect, matched the success of these Sissis. And we're talking about a time in which no one had yet imagined CGI effects, so the crowd scenes here use actual crowds, while the pomp and circumstance on view offers so much glitter and gilt that any guilt you might be feeling simply melts away.

From the first scene in the first of the films, as we watch "royalty" in action, so charming, kind and lovable are these characters you'll wonder how and why the monarchy was ever allowed to disappear. SISSI, made in 1955, details Princess Elisabeth's coincidental meeting with Emperor Franz Joseph, played by Karlheinz Böhm, above and below, right (aka Carl Boehm: remember Peeping Tom?), their falling in love and eventual marriage. Any resemblance to actual characters is accidental, of course, but, boy, is the movie sweet, old-fashioned fun.

SISSI: THE YOUNG EMPRESS (1956) follows Sissi's travails as she tries to outmaneuver her dragon-lady of a mother-in-law while helping the country of Hungary turn its fealty toward Austria. She accomplishes both and lots more, while giving birth and holding the marriage together by, of course, remaining true to herself and her ideals.

In SISSI: THE FATEFUL YEARS (1957) , that nasty mom-in-law (Vilma Degischer, above) is still making trouble for poor Sissi, whose health deteriorates some. Still, she manages to do for Austria's Italian provinces pretty much what she did for Hungary, winning hearts, minds and probably other bodily parts, as well. (All three of the Sissi films contain a smattering of international/historical-politics-for-dummies to pass minimum muster.)

The collection also includes two more films: VICTORIA IN DOVER (1954) -- a German version of the Victoria and Albert love story, also starring Ms Schneider and filmed by Marischka -- and FOREVER MY LOVE (1962), a version of the trilogy in which the roughly five-and-one-half hours that make up the three films have been condensed into two-and-one-half and then dubbed into English. I have watched neither of these two "bonus" discs, but the three that make up the Sissi Collection are more than worth their viewing time.

As enchanted as viewers may be by this series, some older ones may find themselves musing on the great success of the trilogy, which came at a time when Germany was still recovering from its recent Nazi past and needed something to feel good about. So turning an Austrian princess into a heroine of the people was not a bad idea, and Ms Schneider could not have been a more delectable nor charming choice for the role. It must have nice to be able to forget the Holocaust, even briefly, by embracing an earlier period pre-Hitler in which everything on view appears quite heavily Christian. And then -- such luck! -- to have the trilogy embraced by international audiences.

Performances all-round are all you could want -- charming, reassuring, expected -- given the time period in which the films were made. The Blu-ray transfers are quite wonderful, as well. Capturing amazing detail in both close-up and the vast scenes of spectacle, the transfer occasionally offers up a little surprise -- such as Ms Schneider raising her arms to wave to her subjects and in the process revealing some armpit hair (European women of the 1950s had not yet collectively embraced the American habit of shaving).

In all The Sissi Collection proves a surprise treat with luscious, endlessly entertaining visuals. From Film Movement Classics and running a total of 600 minutes(!), the collection features the films in both their original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, and in eye-popping 16:9 widescreen (which I watched on our widescreen TV and found pleasing indeed. Bonus features include a 20-page booklet that offers a smart and engaging essay on the films by Farran Smith Nehme. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD editions hit the street this coming Tuesday, November 14 -- for purchase and (I hope) rental.