Monday, October 24, 2016

TrustMovies bonus: Watch HOTEL NOIR -- Sebastian Gutierrez's latest (and still in limbo) charmer -- for free!

Made in 2012 but, after a brief pay-per-view window, still stuck in distribution limbo, HOTEL NOIR is the latest film to have been written and directed by one of TrustMovies' favorite filmmakers: Sebastian Gutierrez. No other movie-maker that I can think of has this guy's oddball sense of humor coupled to an enormous love of women (in so many ways). His product is as charming, enjoyable and off-the-wall as it gets, as demonstrated by his trio of "lovely lady" movies -- Women in Trouble, Elektra Luxx and Girl Walks Into a Bar.  This trilogy (I'd call it that, anyway) offers non-stop delight, with the additional "plus" of an anything-goes attitude that views sexuality as something that ought above all to be enjoyed as pleasurable and joyous -- hell, even humorous, too.

Gutierrez, pictured at right, may not be the first to make a movie that harks back to 1950s noir, but it is certainly one of the more lovingly recreated. It doesn't so much make fun of noir as it does pay it a grand homage -- while at the same time taking the kind of multiple stories and plot strands that this filmmaker so dearly loves and bouncing them into each other with pizzazz and finesse.

My biggest surprise here in that the movie does not have quite the buoyancy and lightness of that earlier trilogy, the reason being, I suspect, that the themes and concerns of film noir -- mystery, murder, betrayal and love (generally unrequited when not out-and-out trashed) -- don't exactly lend themselves to things graceful and lighter-than-air.

Still, what Gutierrez has accomplished here is quite lovely to look at -- the black-and-white cinematography is aces -- with performances from some fine actors, many of whom have graced his earlier work, that pull you in and keep you amused and impressed throughout.

Chief among these is Gutierrez regular, Carla Gugino (above), as a cocktail lounge chanteuse with connections to quite a number of other characters in the film. One of these is the good-looking cop played by Rufus Sewell (above, right. and below, whom the filmmaker used earlier to fine effect in his "naughty mermaid" cable movie She-Creature).

Malin Akerman (below, center) plays a night club performer with ties to the mob and a yen for Mr. Sewell, while Kevin Connolly (in the rain-soaked auto three photos up) plays a nasty piece of work who evidently has attributes that make him very good in the sack.

Since its title would indicate than there's a hotel involved here, most of the film indeed takes place in one -- in which another of our favorites, Rosario Dawson, below, works as a maid who moonlights as, well... other things. 

Along the way she encounters another Gutierrez delight, Danny DeVito, below, who actually begins this movie with a shaggy dog narration that leads to.... No. I don't want to give one more thing away.

Completing the major cast members is another favorite, Robert Forster, below, playing the older, kindly and more seasoned cop who is partner to Sewell. Sex, mostly straight with a little gay tossed in, rears its lovely head, as do a robbery, several killings and a number of surprises along the way, a couple of the best of which are saved for the last.

For folk who are partial to noir, you can relax into this one, knowing that for all the fun to be had, the movie still plays it straight, never descending into camp. The actors are all on the same page regarding style, and much of the fun comes from their very genuine, straight-faced line readings provided by Gutierrez's smart and charming script.

The filmmaker tells me that Hotel Noir came about because YouTube, which commissioned Girl Walks Into a Bar, asked for a follow-up (not a sequel but a similar size/cast movie), so he responded with the idea of a black-and-white period film noir.  

Shot in just 15 days (by Gutierrez regular, Cale Finot), the result can now be viewed by TrustMovies' readers free-of-charge. Gutierrez has graciously agreed to keep the movie up on line for a month, but don't wait too long. I'd hate to have you all ready for a nice evening of noir, only to discover the movie is suddenly gone. To access the film, click here , and if that does not work for you, copy and paste the following link into your web browser: .  Oh -- and Mr. Gutierrez suggests that you view the movie in as high a definition as possible because, yes, it does look good! 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gardeners, arise! Rosie Stapel's gorgeous doc, PORTRAIT OF A GARDEN, is your new must-see

Who'd have imagined that spending 98 minutes (that span a full year) inside the incredible garden on a large estate in The Netherlands could provide such pleasure and interest? For anyone who is a gardener, or loves gardening, TrustMovies should think that PORTRAIT OF A GARDEN will be a "must." Even for someone like me, who hasn't tended a garden since around age eight, the movie proved captivating. It is certainly one of the most beautiful visual and philosophical looks at the productive collaboration between man and nature to find its way onto film.

The filmmaker, Rosie Stapel, shown at left, is a relative newcomer to the documentary field, though she has worked in art departments, on production design and as an art director for nearly two decades. Though this is her first film, as director, producer, cinematographer and editor, she has very skillfully woven together visuals, conversations and ideas into a tapestry that takes us through a full year in the garden, beginning in January, 2013. Winter has set in, yet there is, as always, plenty to do, and her film's two protagonists, who, we see constantly at work -- Jan Freriks, the 85-year-old pruning master (shown below, left), and Daan van der Have (below, right), the estate's owner and gardener -- must get that job done.

The movie may put you in mind of that little-seen gem, A Little Chaos, directed, co-written by and starring the late Alan Rickman, and not only because some of the vegetation here is descended from cuttings from the palace garden of King Louis XIV, but many of the rules of pruning used in this garden date back to that time period, as well.

The pruning master and the gardener have a number of conversations throughout the film, and these are pertinent not only to the garden but to the lives we're living today, and to the way the world is changing. The film's subtitle, Everything Has Its Time, turns out to be applicable not just to the pruning and harvesting -- of which we see much -- but to our world outside that garden, as well.

Unless you are yourself a gardener or are very well-acquainted with a multitude of fruits and vegetables, you will not have seen so many varieties as you will here. While we don't learn all that much about any single one of these, the very act of seeing them and knowing that they exist proves its own reward.

What we do learn is something of the character of the two men we spend most time with: Daan and Jan. The former tells us early on, "To have a beautiful garden, you have to have a very strong desire -- and also be able to deal with the fact that this desire will never be fulfilled." Learn to love what is beautiful and special, he advises, rather than feeling only the frustration. The old-timers have a dry sense of humor, too. "I wish I were 60 again," says Jan. "You mean really young," answers Daan.

Along with all the pruning, and eventually the copious harvests (really something to behold!), we learn some interesting history (fifty years ago, folk spent nearly half their income on food; today it's more like 10 percent) and even a get a recipe or two (fish fried on a fig leaf will capture a delicious taste in the skin). We watch as apprentices are trained, mildew hits the grapes, and seasons change from (seemingly) barren (below) to verdant and lush (at bottom).

By year's end you will have experienced a garden as beautiful and fruitful as any you're likely to see -- by a filmmaker we are sure to hear from again -- and soon, I hope.

From Grasshopper Film, in Dutch with English subtitles, Portrait of a Garden opens this Wednesday, October 26, in its theatrical premiere for a one-week-only run at New York City's Film Forum. It will then play The Screen in Santa Fe on November 18, Time & Space Limited in Hudson, New York, on November 27, and then the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, come February 5, 2017. Click here (then click on Where to Watch) as the weeks go by to see if further playdates/cities have been added.

Of parentage, parenting and naughty genetic experimentation: Anders Thomas Jensen's wacky/remarkable MEN & CHICKEN

The poster quote comparing this very odd film to a combination of The Three Stooges and The Island of Dr. Moreau is actually not that far afield. MEN & CHICKEN, the Danish/German co-production written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen (Adam's Apples, The Green Butchers) offers more proof, if any were needed, that Mr. Jensen's inclination toward the bizarre remains in full swing. In his latest oddball wonder, the filmmaker takes two rather weird brothers, having discovered that their suddenly dead dad is not their biological father, on a road trip to a very un-populated island on which they meet, greet and get to know their whole-lot-weirder extended family.
Further discovery ensues.

Granted that Mr. Jensen, shown at right, has peopled his movie with an array of characters so far from what most of us would call "normal" that it takes some adjustment to weather this movie. The adjustment is worth it, however, for beyond the very dark comedy and search for sexual outlet of the first maybe two-thirds of the film, the final half hour is so increasingly full of surprise, shock, dismay and hope that, should you persevere, you will leave the movie in quite a different state of mind and heart than you found yourself, even a short time earlier.

Much better-liked in England and on the continent than over here in the USA, the movie offers a combination of philosophy, religion, morality and education all wrapped up in black comedy, mystery and family that results in the kind of intellectually horrifying climax (in which the mystery we've been wondering about for most of the movie is finally solved -- but, don't worry, it's not via blood and guts) followed by a denouement that gives new meaning to the idea of "the other," while simultaneously proving almost unbearably moving -- all the more so because it is not "pushed."

The expert cast is led by two fine Danish actors, the peripatetic and versatile Mads Mikkelsen (above, left) and the not-so-well-known but equally fine David Dencik (above, right). The supporting cast of family "brothers" -- Nicolaj Lie Kaas (below, left),  Søren Malling (center, two photos below) and Nicolas Bro (below, right) -- is equally good, though their countenances are obscured by very effective make-up (all our boys here have a tendency toward the hare-lip and other varied deformities).

Because the movie spends a lot of its time on matters related to sex, along with the inability of this family of men to get any, it may strike some viewers as too crass or gross. Again, stick with the film. Its decision to rub our noses in certain things does have a point. (Dad's nickname, it turns out, is "The Sausage of Death," and not without good reason.)

A word must also be said for the Oscar-worthy set design and the amazing location in which much of the movie was filmed. This is a house to remember,  The special effects, too, are first-rate -- often barely there, and just for a moment or two, so that you may find yourself from time to time asking, Did I just see what I think I saw?

TrustMovies missed this film at the time of its theatrical release, as I suspect many of you also did. No matter. You can catch Men & Chicken now, via its Blu-ray/DVD/Digital copy debut from Drafthouse Films.and MVD Entertainment Group. Running 104 minutes and in Danish with English subtitles, the movie hits the street this Tuesday, October 25 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Dutch deadpan in Alex van Warmerdam's very dry hit-man comedy, SCHNEIDER VS BAX

Remember Borgman -- that dark, Dutch, sort-of-variation on Boudu Saved from Drowning (and other what-to-do-about-the-trashy-tramp movies)? Alex van Warmerdam, the writer/director of that strange, cunning little film is back again with another bizarre, deadpan, dark comedy-of-menace titled SCHNEIDER VS BAX. It arrives this coming week on DVD, and if your taste runs to this sort of thing, the movie is a good example of this sub-genre.

Mr. van Warmerdam (shown above, right, and at left) also co-stars in the film, as he did in Borgman, and his gruff, low-key, macho presence is quite right for both his role and the film. He handles the screenplay and dialog with ease, and his direction ropes his entire cast onto the same page and style, making the most of this kind of deadpan, at which you often don't know whether to laugh or wince. (You'll probably do both at once.) The filmmaker has created a cast of characters that you may find it hard to warm up to, but this is fine, since some of them will not survive the trip.

The tale here is of a pair of hit men, evidently quite good at their jobs, who -- for some reason which we never really learn -- have been pitted against each other by the fellow who gives them their assignments. Van Warmerdam plays Bax, and another actor from Borgman, Tom Dewispelaere  (below), plays Schneider. Neither character knows the other, and though they fairly quickly learn that their boss is playing them against each other, they still evidently feel they must kill that other in order to survive.

Bax gets a surprise visit from his grown daughter (Maria Kraakman, shown below and further below, who is very good in this role) and then from his father -- both of whom complicate his life and reactions -- while Schneider becomes involved with a pimp and whore who equally complicate his assignment. How this all works out managers to be very dark, often funny, and even surprising. You will imagine that you know what is going to happen here, but I can tell you with some certainty that you will be wrong -- in at least a couple of important instances.

Coincidence does occur, and certain scenes seem a tad incredible, and yet so bleak, bizarre and weirdly funny is it all that, somehow, credibility is maintained -- if barely. Simply for the scenes between Bax, his father and daughter, the movie manages to rivet you in its own, special, this-can't-be-happening-but-oh-my-goodness-it-is manner.

In its odd way Schneider vs Bax turns out to be a kind of very late coming-of-age tale -- and a pretty good one, at that -- even though it is not clear for quite some time just who it is that's doing the coming.

From Film Movement and running a fairly sleek 96 minutes, the movie arrives on DVD this Tuesday, October 25 -- for purchase or rental.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Vanity, thy name is Lynne Alana Delaney and/or THE REMAKE. Take your pick.

Normally, TrustMovies does not mark a film with the term "vanity production." But when the movie in question is written, directed and produced by and has as its star the very same person (who also had a hand in the film's casting, production design, set decoration, and even the costume and wardrobe departments), one begins to suspect.

Now, I realize that some of that heavy work load may be due to a small budget, so I must give Lynne Alana Delaney (at left, above, and on poster, top) the benefit of that doubt. Otherwise, this woman must take responsibility for handing us THE REMAKE, one of the most obvious, by-the-numbers, what-a-surprise (not), senior-style rom-coms in a very long while. This is too bad for a couple of reasons: One, the movie will bore anyone who wants even the tiniest challenge and genuine surprise; two, its premise is really not bad. In other hands it might have been stylish fun.

That premise is this: A down-on-his-luck Hollywood director seeks to reunite the two actors who starred in his big hit a few decades ago. The problem is that, soon after this, the male actor (Ruben Roberto Gomez, at right in the two photos and poster, above) stood up his co-star at the altar, and the two have not seen nor spoken since.

In the meantime the woman married, raised a daughter (the lovely Tessa Munroe, above, right) and had a decent career, while the man went back to Italy and nursed his wounds. What really happened seems to take an eternity to unfurl here, though the film lasts only 97 minutes. Further it repeats itself unnecessarily (we get it, we get it) and its couple of big would-be surprises telegraph themselves a mile or two away.

So we're left with the writing and direction (perfunctory at best) and the performances, most of which are OK -- with the exception of Ms Delaney herself, who bugs her eyes, overdoes things and wears too much make-up. She is an attractive woman and is probably talented but perhaps has simply taken on way too much here.

In the supporting cast are old-timers like Sally Kellerman (the blond at far left, above, and always fun to watch), Patrika Darbo (near left, above), and especially June Lockhart (shown at bottom, left), who plays one of the nastiest and most clueless grandmothers to be seen in some time. (And, yes, the movie even includes a cameo by Larry King, below.)

And that's about it. Considering that this movie is supposed to be about the remake of an old film, we see almost nothing of that film itself, but spend most of our time on the same old boring romantic problems that seem so obviously fixable -- if only certain people would just talk to each other. Ah, well: How, then, would all these crummy roms-coms and situations comedies exist to reach their foregone conclusions?

Opening today, so far as we know, at a single theater in the Los Angeles area (Laemmle's Moncia Film Center), The Remake will maybe eventually make its way onto DVD or streaming, where, if you don't live in L.A. area, you can still see it and judge for yourself. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Home-grown terrorism, 1960s-70s style: With AMERICAN PASTORAL, Ewan McGregor directs and stars in the latest Philip Roth adaptation; Woody Allen tackles the theme in his Amazon streaming series, CRISIS IN SIX SCENES

Given how life-and-time-changing were the rather large number of incidents of home-grown American terrorism back in the 1960 &70s -- as Civil Rights appeared so strongly on the national agenda, the Vietnam War raged, protests mounted, and bombings and other assorted acts occurred (I don't think we referred to them as "terrorism" back then; they were instead "violent protests" or assassinations) -- it seems odd how little our cultural landscape, then or now, reflected this.

Considering how many movies, books and TV shows covered the Manson family and its so-much-more sensational
crimes, this lack is more than a little noticeable. We've seen a few documentaries down the decades, and we had the pretty-good TV movie Katherine (which has, since then, had its title changed to 'The Radical'), the musical Hair, of course (but that offered protest than was non-violent), and a few novels that, mostly quite after-the-fact, addressed the issues that were then at hand and quite vital to the good old USA.

One of these was Philip Roth's American Pastoral, first published in 1997, of which we now have a movie version, also called AMERICAN PASTORAL and directed by and starring Ewan McGregor (shown at right), with a screenplay adapted by John Romano. The other currently-streaming-via- Amazon cultural artifact that tackles this time period and its discontents is -- of all things -- the latest endeavor by one, Woody Allen, and is titled CRISIS IN SIX SCENES. The two works, while covering similar territory, could hardly be more different.

This is not unexpected, of course, considering the oeuvre of Mr. Allen and Mr. Roth. But comparison of both these two new "entertainments" -- having seen them in the same week, as did TrustMovies -- proves rather striking and edifying. While neither work is entirely successful, both are eminently worth seeing, mulling over and enjoying for their various strong points, which are many. American Pastoral explores terrorism and its results darkly, while Crisis in Six Scenes gives us the light and quite funny/satiric side via the usual Woody witticisms/characterizations. Both make you think and ponder nonetheless. Seen together, they add up to a particularly tasty, nourishing and worth-digesting meal.

I have not read the Roth novel, and therefore can only go by what the movie version offers. (I have read several of Roth's early works and found them sometimes funny and well-written but awfully misogynistic.) The movie, it seems to me, shows that Mr. McGregor has real potential as a filmmaker -- even if the result he has given us here is remarkably flat. But wait: It's often that very flatness that keeps us glued to the enticing and engulfing plot.

Everything is straight up and straight out, from the early exposition/narration to the individual scenes that tell and show us what we need to know. The story, of the "perfect" American family -- Dad's a high school football hero, mom's a beauty queen, and their daughter, ah, there's the catch. She's a lovely little all-American blond named Merry, with a stutter, a keen intelligence and perhaps the kind of real and all-inclusive empathy that (we're being told of late) can prove unhealthy.

In any case, Merry turns into a protester and then into a "terrorist," and the remainder of the movie details the unraveling of this family in a succession of scenes that grows darker and more unsettling, partially because we never completely learn how and why the change (or maybe growth) in Merry happened. We do get a major clue, however, in the scene with the family around the television, as one of those Vietnamese monks of the time self-incinerates himself as the world watches. Merry's reaction here is so strong, so indelible (the fine little actress, Hannah Nordberg, above, right, nails this moment) that it brings the concept of empathy to searing life. Nothing is quite the same thereafter.

If Nordberg allows us inside her character -- she does so again, in a scene that skirts the Oedipal (or its female counterpart) -- most of the other actors do not. And this seems almost purposeful, as we skate along the surface and the plot details build. Jennifer Connelly (three photos above) is fine as the beautiful wife who finds her own way of coping (though Roth's misogyny is most apparent here), David Strathairn (above) impresses, as always, as the narrator, schoolmate, and Molly Parker (below) does, as well, as Merry's double-duty therapist.

Orange Is the New Black's amazing Uzo Aduba shows us a whole new side as our hero's assistant at the glove-making factory (is she Roth's idea of the "good negro"?) that he has taken over from his aging father (the very good Peter Riegert. below). And then there is Mr. McGregor. This actor has been just fine in film after film. Here, he is perfectly OK, but it is in and through him that the flatness of the film most shows up. He's the character we're able least to get inside: Utterly passive; he reacts to everything but rarely acts on his own. While this may have been Roth's and now McGregor's intention, it does leave a kind of hole in the movie.

And yet this very hole forces us to wonder and consider everything anew. American Pastoral may leave you unsatisfied in certain ways, but I suspect your will mull it over. And maybe over again. Is this the plight of the American father and man? To have all the expectations laid out in one neat, long row? And then to have them, like those famous dominoes, fall flat? What was America's responsibility in that very unjust Vietnamese war? And how exactly does an act of political violence assuage anything? (Dakota Fanning (below, right) plays the daughter Merry grown up, and she, too, is flat but still impressive, while leaving us longing for answers, of which there will be none. And rightly so. This character's empathy is far-ranging, eternal and clearly destructive to her and those around her.

From Lionsgate -- and supposedly running a more than two-hour time frame, which now seems to have now been cut down to around 105 minutes -- the movie opens nationwide this Friday, October 21. Here in South Florida it will play the AMC Aventura 24 in Miami, Regal's South Beach 18 in Miami Beach, and the Cinemark Palace 20, Boca Raton. Click here and then click on GET TICKETS to find the theater nearest you.


The game-changing character in Mr. Allen's new series -- quite similar in intentions and even looks (if not at all similar in style and depiction) to American Pastoral's Merry -- is Lenny Dale, played by, of all people, Miley Cyrus (above, left), who is actually good -- charming, bright and alluring -- enough to attract another important character, the also bright-but-too-buttoned-down young businessman, Alan, played by the very good John Magaro (above, right).

It is into the upper-middle-class home of TV and novel writer, S. J. Munsinger (played by Mr. Allen, above, left) and his wife, Kay (the wonderful Elaine May, above, right), that the gun-toting Lennie breaks one late night, turning the Munsinger household upside down. On the run from the law for a number of "terrorist" acts, Lennie brings up those same themes of justice, retribution, rights and wrongs.

But this, being a Woody Allen creation, uses all these same themes for lighter entertainment. The series begins, however, with a montage of 60s events -- civil rights, Vietnam, etc -- that offers ample evidence of Lennie's claims, and so, even as we chuckle and chortle throughout these six episodes, with each one lasting around 22 minutes and giving us a little over two hours of fun and games, we are still consistently reminded of what -- out there and far away from this comfortable household -- is happening to others, thanks to American policy, both foreign and domestic.

If this sounds like an odd combination, it certainly is. Yet Allen pulls it off with his usual savoir faire. His S. J. Munsiger (note the syllable similarity to a certain J.D. Salinger -- which is used for a very funny situation late in the series), offers Mr. Allen in his typically nerdy, neurotic schlemiel mode (just older here). He is as funny as ever, and his ability to satirize the 60s/70s in terms of how events effected (usually not) the comfortable middle class is very much on target.

In his large supporting cast appear everyone from Joy Behar (above, center), as one of Mrs. Munsinger's book-club attendees, to famous French comic Gad Elmaleh as one of Kay's marriage- counseling clients. (Some of her advice to these clients is very funny, if not perhaps very typical). The break-in leads to consciousness-raising, romance, and some silly but funny derring-do (below) by Sidney and Kay -- all before the everything's-gonna-be-fine finish, which seems to gather together on screen maybe half of Westchester County.

From the ever more active Amazon Originals production group, Crisis in Six Scenes is streaming now and should provide copious laughs and not a little nostalgia for the senior set. Amazon Prime members can watch it free of charge.