Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fashion, Hollywood and Homosexuality in Gillian Armstong's WOMEN HE'S UNDRESSED

If the name Orry-Kelly means nothing to you, you're either young, straight, or simply uninterested in the heyday of Hollywood and its famous fashion designers. TrustMovies has never been all that interested in fashion (he often quite literally loathes it), but he is bi- and has had a hard-on for Hollywood since around the age of two (when he ran away from home and off to a "picture show," as he then called the movies). Although he didn't realize it until he saw the film under consideration here, he's also been a huge fan of Orry-Kelly's work. Those memorable gowns from Les Girls, above, are in fact long-time favorites of his (the movie may be second-rate, but its fashions are absolutely first-).

The new documentary about Orry-Kelly, WOMEN HE'S UNDRESSED has been directed by Gillian Armstrong (shown above, at right, with multi-Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin) and written by Katherine Thomson, both of them Australian, as was Orry-Kelly himself (who, for purposes of space and repetition, will henceforth be referred to as O-K). What these two have given us is really a kind of celebration of O-K: his life, work, sexuality and in particular his ability to live a relatively uncloseted life in tinseltown long before many other gay men cared to and/or were able to do anything like this.

Incredible as it seems, O-K costumed some 301 movies between the years of 1930 and 1963. And many of these were amazing, pivotal works whose costumes were vital to the films, and, as one of the many fascinating interviewees points out, they look as good, and almost as "modern," today as they did back then. O-K clothed some of Hollywood biggest stars -- from Bette Davis and Rosalind Russell to Marilyn Monroe and Shirley MacLaine -- and most of them loved him and his work. One of the joys of this lovely documentary is how well it makes us understand what and how the designer was doing, why it was important and especially why it worked so well. You'll come away from the movie with a new (maybe renewed) sense of the importance of fashion to films.

The movie also captures this Hollywood era in spades, with particular emphasis on what it was like to be gay in Hollywood from the 30s into the 50s and early 60s (O-K died in 1964). We get a good sense of the man's history, and the filmmakers choose to do this via some charming and intelligent re-enactments using actors in the roles of O-K (a sly, sweet job by Darren Gilshenan, above, as the adult O-K, and Louis Alexander, below, as the younger version),  his mother (Deborah Kennedy), and even briefly his first and perhaps greatest love, a fellow named Archie Leach (known to you all as Cary Grant and played in this film by Nathaniel Middleton).

Based in good part on O-K's unpublished memoirs -- which, according to Wikipedia, were discovered in the care of a relative after the man's death -- the film does full justice to the designer's humor, panache, style and wit, regarding both his work and his attitudes. I suspect he would be pretty damned pleased with this funny and charming documentary -- in which some very good and still-living costume designers, along with actors like Jane Fonda, who worked with the man a few times in her early career, talk about him fondly and with great appreciation.

Ms Armstrong, whom many of you still remember for My Brilliant Career) does a fine job of keeping all this moving and snappy so that interest does not lag for a moment. And her interweaving of the reenactments with historical footage and scenes from various film makes her documentary non-stop eye-opening and appealing.

The movie is a fine appreciation of a man and his time in a town that was anything but welcoming of his kind -- and yet in which he managed to make a place and a name for himself. This is a wonderful story, and -- despite a couple of odd fact mistakes -- I am so glad we are now able to see it. (That's a photo of the real Orry-Kelly, at left.)

From Wolf Releasing and running 99 minutes, Women He's Undressed opens tomorrow, Friday, July 29, in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema for a week's run, after which it hits home video on Tuesday, August 9 -- for purchase or rental.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Joost & Schulman's NERVE has some verve -- along with a whole lot of nonsense

Alternately ugly and silly, suspenseful and ridiculous, the new would-be thriller NERVE -- from that Catfish duo, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman -- proves a trying time at the movies. For all its timeliness (giving us an online game more popular than this new Pokemon nonsense), the film keeps asking you to suspend your disbelief over and over until you're ready to scream, "Fuck it!" and take that disbelief behind the barn to permanently put it out of its misery. Younger audiences may be able to manage this. We older folk will want to call it a day well before this 96-minute movie does the same.

Part of the problem here is the so-so screenplay by Jessica Sharzer (from a novel by Jeanne Ryan) in which, necessarily I suppose, the "game" at the center of the film overrides all else. The filmmakers, shown above, with Mr. Joost on the left (photo is by Jimi Celeste, courtesy of Getty Images) are at this point -- after Catfish and some of the Paranormal Activity drivel -- well-versed in hand-held, by-the-bootstraps filmmaking, and they do a good job or putting us in the role of voyeurs in the online game in which you are either a watcher or a player (you pay money to be the former, and perhaps considerably more than that if you choose to be the latter).

The game is basically one of those Do-you-dare-attempt-what-we-tell-you? deals, in which the stakes grow higher and higher, after which most of us would simply say, "Oh, please!" and move on to something else. But this is "the movies" and so instead our heroine (an ever-game Emma Roberts, above) and maybe hero (the slightly-sleazier-than-his-older-brotherDave Franco, below) do the dares and take us along with them.

Some of the dares have built-in suspense aplenty (driving a motorcycle at 60 mph while blindfolded) and the directors milk these for what they're worth. Others (hanging from skyscraper construction beams or waking across a horizontal ladder placed between buildings) seem awfully tired. And some (trying on pricey clothes at a posh department store, and then...) are rather fun.

Much worse is the movie's lame try at characterization. Ms Roberts hasn't much, except to be the usual ugly duckling/hang-backer who suddenly develops into a feisty swan. But Ms Roberts is always pretty and real, with charm aplenty, all of which she must rely on bigtime here. Mr. Franco is relegated to the role of is-he-or-isn't-he a cad and so must rely on his very sexy body to do the heavy-lifting.

Worst of all are the subsidiary characters who either fade into the wallpaper (Miles Heizer, above, right, as the lovestruck best male friend) or change character completely and unbelievably (Emily Meade as the best female friend and Colson Baker/aka Machine Gun Kelly as the top competitor in the game). Themes of ambition, fame, and the meaning of friendship rear their somewhat tired heads, too, and all are given as shallow a treatment as you might imagine.

The movie takes place in New York City and its boroughs (mostly Staten Island), yet the penultimate scene, set in what looks something like the Roman Coliseum by night, seems to be housing maybe twice the population of Rome. (How did these thousands upon thousands of kids get here without attracting a little police attention or supervision?)

Nerve, which becomes uglier and uglier as it goes along, finally offers too little of what its title promises. Think of it as Saw for the PG set. It would like to be a warning call regarding the morality of online game playing, but in its rush to finally make everything all right, not only does it not have the courage of its convictions, it turns out to have lacked any convictions in the first place. But, yes, it is -- off and on -- bad, silly fun.

From Lionsgate and set to entice the marginally-intelligent teen crowd, the movie opens today all over the place. Click here, and you'll be greeted with a venue (or ten) near you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Woody's back -- with the impeccably cast, acted and photographed CAFE SOCIETY

Woody Allen's final-period movies (I am guessing here, of course, but really: He'll reach 81 this December, so how much longer can the guy go on?) continue to grow more assured, pleasurable and (TrustMovies thinks so, anyway) mature. Mr. Allen, below, has finally grown up in ways, movie-wise and maybe otherwise, that he hadn't achieved till now. Less interested in being profound or super witty/nerdy/brilliant, he's finally willing to let his characters behave and learn and grow, rather than merely being mouthpieces (often very clever or crazy ones) for his own neuroses.

This has lent a distinctive autumnal feeling to all his recent work -- whether it's an odd murder mystery like Irrational Man (a better film than was generally acknowledged), a surprisingly sweet love story complete with maybe-the-other-worldly such as Magic in the Moonlight, and now something like his latest, an alternately dark and endearing coming-of-age tale called CAFE SOCIETY. Allen (along with ace casting director Juliet Taylor) has long had a knack for fitting the actor to the role. He fills his movies with fine actors, lets them do their thing, and so -- even with
sometimes middling screenplays -- the movies come together surprisingly well. This casting-coup works as well in his latest film as it ever has. I'd say every role is filled just about perfectly (we'll get to the details in a bit), but there's something more here, too. For the first time Allen is working with the great Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (shown at right), and the result is -- whew! -- something wonderful. Because the film takes place in 1930s New York and Los Angeles, we get the bonus of nostalgia, of course, and handled, as it is, with Storaro's mastery of light and composition, everything from the interiors to exteriors, faces to fabrics glow and resonate. Yes, we're mostly with the wealthy upper-crust, but watch how this master handles the scenes involving the lower-middle class New York family at the center of the film. These scenes resonate cinematically in their own dark, quiet manner.

The story -- of a young man named Bobby (a just-about-perfect Jesse Eisenberg, above, left) who must break away from his family for awhile and so ventures out to Hollywood, where his uncle (the ever more versatile Steve Carell, below) is a big-time agent, then falls in love with the uncle's secretary (Kristen Stewart, above, right, adding another smart feather to an already full cap) -- is serviceable and malleable. And, my, how these actors bring it to splendid life.

Speaking of versatility, there's Corey Stoll (below, whom I didn't even recognize in his role of Eisenberg's older brother, Ben, until the end
credits rolled). I find it amazing how Allen gloms on to new and special talent, always making such good use of it. This is as true with his use of Stoll as it is the way he uses Blake Lively (below, center) in the role of  Bobby's other love interest. Ms Lively brings genuine caring and concern to a part that could easily seem little more than secondary. Ditto Jeannie Berlin, who plays the brothers' mama, Rose, with enough depth and passion to help disguise and rise above a screenplay that is, at best, serviceable and often flits a little too close to cliché.

Good work also comes from the likes of Anna CampParker Posey and Ken Stott. By the finale, we've come, along with Eisenberg's Bobby, through enough incident and revelation to reach a level of maturity that allows us to look back in some sadness, yes, but also with the wisdom to appreciate what we have, as well as better understand what we've lost.

Cafe Society -- from Amazon Studios by way of Lionsgate, and running 96 minutes -- after opening in New York and Los Angeles, hits much of the rest of the country this Friday, July 29. Here in South Florida, it plays the O Cinema Miami Beach, the AMC Sunset Place 24, Coral Gables Art Cinema, Muvico Broward 18 in Pompano Beach, and the Movies of Delray in Delray Beach. To view playdates, cities and theaters elsewhere around the country, simply click here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Beauty in desolation: Nikolaus Geyrhalter's exquisite photographic study, HOMO SAPIENS

Our species appears nowhere in Nikolaus Geyrhalter's brilliant and breathtakingly beautiful, if ironically titled documentary, HOMO SAPIENS, yet our mark is all over the place. In this, the latest film from Herr Geyrhalter, who has already given us a couple of whoppingly good docs -- Our Daily Bread and Abenland -- the Austrian filmmaker who conceived, directed and shot this stunning piece of work (with the prodigious help of Simon Graf in scouting the amazing locations used here) has compiled a series of what could almost be -- were it not for the occasional wind, waves and birds -- still-life photography of empty, desolate but stunning exteriors, interiors and sometimes a combo of the two in which nature seems to be re-enforcing her domain on ours.

The filmmaker, pictured at right, lets his camera remain stationary as it gazes at scene after scene, location after location, for anywhere from 15 to 30-or-more seconds. This gives the viewer ample time to take it all in. And how very much there is to take. Geyrhalter is an artist. His compositions are wonderful: rich and detailed, forcing us to observe closely, think about what we're seeing, then make all kinds of connections.
We go from a gorgeous, decrepit amphitheatre to a deserted (for quite some length of time, it seems) railway station and shopping mall (in Japan, perhaps? The writing we see would indicate somewhere Asian) to an auditorium or two, hospitals, even a roller coaster seemingly positioned in the sea. The locations are bizarre and amazing, and the cinematography is, too. Yet it is not simply beautiful (that might very well be enough), it is also about as artful and thoughtful as photography can get.

There is no dialog here, no sound save the ambient ones: wind, gulls cawing, pigeons cooing, Music? You know, I cannot now remember. The movie was that hypnotic. But yet I never felt sleepy in the least. I would imagine that photography buffs will make a bee line for the documentary, which opens this week in New York City at Anthology Film Archives.

Although there is great beauty here (and Geyrhalter seems incapable of not zeroing in on it with simplicity, always capturing the right composition, angle and even color (or lack of it). He finds his beauty in desolation, and this is the way in which he gets us to considering what homo sapiens have to do with all this. How did the hospital room (above) come into such disrepair, for example? Was that empty shopping mall too near Fukushima? (One of these malls may be closer to the USA, as it bears the name Woodville.)

A house of religion is just as likely to have emptied out as has the mall. Or a prison. Or an office, below, full of aged computers. For me the most beautiful shots of all seems to have been taken in an empty planetarium. Even a greenhouse has gone to seed. The movie offers its own special pacing and an odd kind of momentum. There's dark humor, too: in the loudspeakers atop poles wrapped in vines (or in the winter, snow). Interestingly, the shots taken in the desert seem not as memorable as the others (the desert is already desolate, right?). Ditto the wintertime scenes, where snow can more easily mask the desolation.

And then we've come full circle, back to that original amphitheater. What a journey! Perhaps I missed them, but I tried to check the credits for a listing of locations where the movie was filmed. I am pretty sure Japan, Germany (or Austria) and the USA are among them -- and maybe other countries, too. Whatever, Herr Geyrhalter has graced us with one wonderful documentary that photo buffs will eventually want to own on disc. Unless some enterprising publisher thinks to put out the coffee-table book version.

From KimStim and running 94 minutes (TrustMovies could have watched another hour of it, at least), Homo Sapiens opens this Friday, July 29, at Anthology Film Archives in New York City for a week's run. Elsewhere? There's is nothing as yet on the KimStim site to indicate further showings. But I would hope an eventual DVD or Blu-ray is in the offing.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Straight-to-home-video: Eric Barbier's heist thriller and love story, THE LAST DIAMOND

One of the more inventive and complicated heists the movies have attempted in quite some time, that of the fabled and (so far as I know) completely fictional Florentin diamond -- a huge and super-valuable stone said to be cursed -- is the plot point around which pivots just about everything in THE LAST DIAMOND, a pretty good French thriller-cum-love-story that ought to have been a lot better. The heist itself, as well as the build-up to it, are very well done: smart and tricky but allowing us to remain just ahead of things by a whisker.

Unfortunately, that heist occurs a little beyond the one-hour point -- with another 40 minutes or so to go. It's as though we've started back at square one. This is an unfortunate construction for a movie that needs to sustain its momentum but goes noticeably slack instead.
We stick with it because it has held us well enough for that hour, and so we hope against hope that it will bounce back. Its director and co-writer, Eric Barbier (at left: this is the first of his four films since 1991 to receive any kind of release here in the USA) handles his plotting, pacing and action scenes well enough, and he's cast his film well, too -- with Yvan Attal and Bérénice Bejo (both shown below) in the leading roles.

The beautiful Ms Bejo (above, left, and below, right) has graced a number of good movies at this point (though I think my favorite of hers is the one in Populaire, in which she plays so beautifully an intelligent French housewife of the 1950s), while M. Attal (above, right, and below, left) seem best at playing those rough-veneer/soft-beneath no-nonsense guys, just as he does in this film.

The movie is packed (a bit too-packed) with incidental characters, many of whom are important to the plot and the heist and some of whom get a bit lost in the proceeding shuffle. The film also begins as a relatively light-hearted romp -- until a murder (unplanned but seemingly necessary) occurs, followed some time after by an all-out massacre. This darkens The Last Diamond a bit more heavily than it can pleasingly bear.

Yet it's certainly fun to watch the plot points unfurl -- including disguise (above), love, and betrayal -- and performances down the line are on the mark. Some viewers have complained about the lack of chemistry between Attal and Bejo. Hmmmph! There's a lot more chemistry here than in just about any movie starring Tom Cruise and whichever of his co-stars those complainers might care to name.

Meanwhile, you can view The Last Diamond -- from Cohen Media Group and running 108 minutes -- as it makes its home video debut on DVD this Tuesday, July 26 -- for purchase or rental.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Pieter van Huystee's art documentary opens--HIERONYMUS BOSCH: TOUCHED BY THE DEVIL

In art appreciation classes throughout much of the world, and for decades now, I would guess -- this was certainly true in my day, anyway -- it was always the work of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch that woke up many of us sleepyheads, who might have nodded off during the lectures on GiottoTitianGoya and, hell, even Rembrandt. But Bosch? Never. That work was just too bizarre -- something like the most imaginative X-rated sci-fi fantasy wonderland of pain and evil you could imagine back then. (Even now, too.) With all the current special CGI effects at their beck and call, I am not sure that today's filmmakers have ever quite outdone old Hieronymus -- the death of whom some 500 years ago we celebrate in 2016.

Which brings us to the new documentary by Pieter van Huystee (shown at right; this is his first time as director, after some 80 producing credits), which is all about that art, the artist, and some of the men and women art experts, archivists and curators who explore, treasure and guard that work today. HIERONYMUS BOSCH: TOUCHED BY THE DEVIL is an informative, occasionally surprising and sometimes slow-moving (sleepyheads who watch it may undergo anew their art-history class experience) look at Bosch's art and the question of its attribution. (There evidently were lots of artists in the Bosch family.)

As we learn via explanatory titles at the film's beginning, only 25 paintings by Hieronymus are known to still exist, and his home town of Den Bosch is celebrating the anniversary with a major exhibition at its Noordbrabants Museum-- except that the city and museum actually possess none of his art. This means running around the world to beg and borrow various works from places such as The Prado in Spain; in Venice, Italy; and larger museums in The Netherlands.

Also on the visitation list is a relatively unknown museum here in the USA, which wonders, via some surprise communication, if it might possess a so-far unheralded work by Bosch. As the documentary unfolds, we meet and spend some time with a few of the art experts who, thanks to the latest technology (they can tell whether a painting was executed by a right-handed or left-handed artist), make pretty good judgment calls as to the authenticity of various pieces of art. The results of of their "calls" will surprise you (as it no doubt did some of the museums who house these would-be Bosches).

The experts are identified by name in the doc, though we don't get to learn very much about them. We are also made privy to some of their conversation -- too much of it, actually -- which is part of what slows the movie down. But we also pick up some interesting info about the artist and the work itself: Bosch's use of owls (thought in that day to be the devil's birds) and how his experience as a child during one of his city's major fire's was expressed so often in his paintings.

There's a little suspense along the way regarding The Prado and the possibility of a "loan" (Italy proves more helpful than Spain in that area), and of course all that authentification business. TrustMovies also learned more than he'd known previously about a certain Bosch triptych and an unfortunate woman who became "The Bearded Saint."

Also, and once again, we're confronted with that nagging question of why hell, along with its enticements and discontents, is so much more interesting and fun than heaven. Bosch painted them both, but he lavished infinitely much more time and detail on the former, while the latter looks mostly -- as usual -- generic.  Somewhat slow and sleepy overall, the documentary is redeemed by its close-up look at the paintings, as well as by what we learn about how these experts accomplish what they do.

From Kino Lorber and running 87 minutes, Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil, after screening last week at DC's National Gallery of Art, has its U.S. theatrical premiere this Wednesday, July 27, in New York City at Film Forum for a two-week run, then hits Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal on August 5, with appearances scheduled for ten other cities in the weeks to come. Click here (then click on PLAYDATES) to view all currently scheduled cities and theaters. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Deep, rich, thoughtful and vastly entertaining: Matt Ross' captivating CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

Along with Anne Fontaine's The Innocents, the new film -- CAPTAIN FANTASTIC -- from actor/writer/director Matt Ross -- looks to be a shoo-in for one of 2016's best movies. Mr. Ross graced us back in 2012 with the lovely little indie 28 Hotel Rooms, so his newest work does not come out of nowhere, as they say. But as charming and real and special was the "Hotel Rooms" debut, his new film seems light years beyond it.

This is one of those big-themed movies that manages to deliver the goods on almost every front: ideas, dialog, performances -- they're all first-rate. If Mr. Ross' visual sense as a filmmaker still has a way to go, that's just fine: TrustMovies will take intelligent ideas over flashy artistry any day. Not that Ross (shown at left) doesn't deliver some of the latter, as well. Take his opening moments, for example. It's been a long while since any filmmaker startled an audience this much by tossing us in media res quite so drastically. At the critics' screening I attended the fellow to my left screamed aloud, as though there was clearly something wrong here and that the theater had not begun the film properly. (This is not unheard of: I've already been to one press screening down here in Florida where we had visuals and no sound, and another in which we had sound but no visuals. And once, at a public screening yet, the film remained noticeably out of focus for its entire running time.)

But, no. It was soon clear that Ross had us right where he wanted us. And then the film's title appeared on the screen, and we knew were exactly where we should be in this unusual work. That initial scene, taking place in the middle of what looks like a forest in the Pacific Northwest, involves a father (Viggo Mortensen, shown above, right, and below, center) and his six children faring for themselves -- and I mean really roughing it -- in terms of everything from housing to hunting for food and insuring clean and accessible water.

This is no summer camping trip. The family has been in this situation for some years, except that now, its mom is in the hospital, and dad has to do all the parenting, such as it is. Yet these are highly skilled children. It almost seems as if the family is preparing for some sort of post-apocalyptic living. But, no. Dad and Mom had simply given up on Capitalism and its increasingly meagre results and so have been teaching their kids to live "off the grid."

An event soon occurs that forces the family to rejoin the "normal" world, at least partially and for a time, and it is from there that Ross' film leaps off into a wonderful, problemed, difficult, disturbing, rich and mysterious look at what "good parenting" might mean in our ever more trying times.

To his credit as writer and director, the filmmaker does not turn anyone here into an outright hero or villain. Even grandpa (another very good turn by Frank Langella, above, left), who initially seems like an ornery creep, turns out to be more nuanced and understandable that we might have imagined. (The wonderful Ann Dowd is grandma.) Also in the cast are the always-fine Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn, who play our hero's sister and brother-in-law.

Sure, we're meant to be on Dad's side in all this (even though it is soon apparent that his choices for his kids may not always be the right ones), and Mortensen does his usual terrific job in a role that calls for him to go too far and then have to face the consequences of his "journey." This actor -- whose career has encompassed everything from little-seen indies (The Reflecting Skin) to little-known foreign head-scratchers (Gospel According the Harry) to ever-popular art-mainstream movies (A Walk on the Moon) to international blockbusters (that Lord of the Rings trilogy) -- is always good. You can count of him for reliability, reality, depth, versatility, and of course that gorgeous face and breath-taking body (all of which we view here, including one sustained full-frontal shot). The actor even got an Oscar nod back in 2008 for Eastern Promises; maybe 2016 will be his year to win.

What makes the movie work especially well are the excellent performances given by the six children on view, all of whom, as characters, have been home-schooled, and damned well, by their parents. The kids include a swell mix that ranges from the oldest boy, now of college age -- a great job by that terrific Britisher George MacKay (above, left) -- to one of the young girls (Shree Crooks, at right, below), who can quote you our Constitution and know exactly what she's talking about, as well as understanding the importance of a fellow like Noam Chomsky.

One of the film's loveliest scenes involves a mother and daughter (Erin Moriarty and Missi Pyle, below, respectively, left and right) that the family meets on the road and who discover the joys and oddities of the McKay character's personality.

The kids are amazing (both their characters and their performances). They can scale the side of sheer cliff and hunt their own prey, as well as discuss the likes of Nabokov's Lolita. While they've been given a fine education in so many ways, they have not, it soon becomes clear, been socialized enough to mix in properly with the world as we know it.

How all this resolves (and it does not, thankfully, do so in any pre-formatted fashion) is where Mr Ross goes with his movie, which is part road trip, part coming-of-age tale, and part coming-to-terms with compromise while caring for one's children. The trip is a stunning one. You may disagree with some of the characters and their choices now and again, but you will not easily -- nor should you -- forget their journey.

Captain Fantastic, from Bleecker Street and running just under two hours, after opening in New York, and L.A. two weeks back, opens today, Friday, July 22, here in South Florida at the Cinemark Palace 20 in Boca Raton and Cobb's Downtown at the Mall Gardens Palm 16 in Palm Beach Gardens. This amazing movie is now playing all across the country, and you can click here to view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. There'll likely be one near you.