Sunday, October 4, 2015

A young Dutch woman discovers her sexual identity in Colette Bothof's film, SUMMER

It's a hot one -- temperature-wise and otherwise -- in the new movie from The Netherlands titled SUMMER (Zomer in its original Dutch), in which a girl on the cusp of young womanhood, who is both attractive and smart yet never feels that she quite fits in, discovers what her sexual wants and needs really are. In gay men's movies, we call this "coming out." In lesbian women's films, the event often tends to be less raucous and dramatic, more inner and "felt."

In the hands of seasoned director Colette Bothof (shown at right), fledgling writer Marjolein Bierens and the fine cast assembled here, this ongoing "event," which I must admit we've seen many, many times previ-ous, takes on new interest and appeal, mostly by virtue of the movie's locations and setting. We're in a small and quite provincial country town in The Nether-lands, in which, as our narrator and heroine, Anne (Sigrid ten Napel, below), explains it, "nothing changes."

Well, dear: better get ready. This little community lies nearby a nuclear plant which provides it with electricity, a plethora of employment, and probably some not-so-healthy radiation. But the populace is behind the plant 100 per cent; they make short work of any environment-minded protesters who show up.

While Anne seems relatively content to be just "one of the boys," she also resists the romantic craving of one of them and then one day in her art class using a live model (above), something appears to click -- in all the boys, of course, but in Anne, as well.

At this same time, our girl encounters a newcomer to town, an exotic beauty (exotic especially to this white-bread village, in which one of the boys is nicknamed Negro by his compatriots who evidently have never seen one) played by Jade Olieberg, below, who immediately charms the pants off Anne, and the two begin a courtship dance that involves much back-and-forth, yes-and-no behavior from Anne.

For TrustMovies, the film's main interest derived from it concentration on the subsidiary characters, each of whom is well-drawn and well-acted: Anne's parents and siblings (one of whom is handicapped), her peers (both girls and boys), and especially the "tenor" of the little town and its environs, where "if a girl falls off a horse, she belong to the local farmhand."

This latter event is shocking and strange yet seems quite in keeping with the ideas of the local populace and even the Church. The film is clearly against the idea of organized and powerful  religion, yet it also allows us to see and object to an unpleasant bit of cat-calling against those who follow that religion.

The film's pièce de résistance may be its very interesting conflagration of the Virgin Mary, Nuclear Power and blinkered attitudes -- all presided over by a useless church.

As I mentioned earlier, films about women finding their way into a lesbian relationship tend not to be as testosterone-fueled as their male counterparts. Summer manages a confrontational scene that, for me, seemed somewhat short of believable -- needing either to go farther into confrontation, given that's it's already gone this far, or to draw back from confrontation earlier along so as not to give us the kind of "pussyfooting around" that defies credibility.

This is not a deal-breaker, however, because there's too much else good in the movie, from parent-child relationships to how citizens too often look the other way when things go bad, instead of stepping up to the plate and handling the problem while it's hot. In fact, what happens to the various friends and relatives here actually reduces the central love story to something less important in the grand scheme of things. Intended or not, this makes the movie richer and more interesting that many other lesbian and gay coming-of-age tales.

In any case, Summer is a film worth seeing ,and I am glad that Wolfe Video has stepped up to that plate, distributing the film via VOD, across all digital platforms including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand, and .

Saturday, October 3, 2015

One of the world's smartest, most talented provocateurs is back: Jafar Panahi's TAXI

In his home country of Iran, filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has given us some of the best Iranian movies -- hell, best from anywhere movies -- has, for some time now, been banned from making them by his country's powers-that-be. Still, he soldiers on. His latest provocation, and perhaps his most charming/scathing/endearing endeavor is called TAXI, and in it, Mr. Panahi plays (or maybe is) a taxi driver in downtown Tehran.

Panahi (shown at left with what looks like maybe his Golden Bear award from this year's Berlin International Film Fest, where he also won the FIPRESCI Prize) usually uses a documentary style, and his films often look like they are indeed documentaries (especially his last one, This Is Not a Film). Hardly. They are planned and plotted as tightly as the best of mysteries, making use of everything from irony to subtlety to quiet drama and on-the-fly humor. Yet they appear to be near improvisation, spinning outward into greater meaning and importance as they cleverly unfurl.

The movie begins with a panorama of Tehran traffic. Hey, we're just driving around; what's wrong with that? We'll soon see, as Panafi's new movie adds another link to the chain of work from this talented, put-upon man. (Under house arrest for some time, he is still banned from filmmaking.) Slowly, the soundtrack offers some music (the first notes of which may put you in mind of I Love Paris) and then dialog begins, as the taxi driver picks up passengers, one of whom is a blowhard whose dialog about the need for capital punishment for thieves causes the other passenger, a woman, to argue heatedly against this idea.

By the time the man has left the taxi, the first of many ironies to come has made itself plain -- and surprising, even funny.When at last we are allowed to see Panafi -- who's driving that cab, the effect is terrific. What a face this guy has! He might have become an actor (well, he is one, here), his visage is such an effective tool. In fact, this movie ought to have rightly been called Taxi Driver -- had that title not already been commandeered.)

Panafi's next fare recognizes him -- it's an black-market video dealer (above, left) from some time back, who used to provide the filmmaker with banned movies he craved to see. The guy is still up to those same old tricks, and we learn something of Panafi's taste in film (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and Midnight in Paris). A wounded man and his wife must suddenly take over the cab -- and Panafi's cell phone -- for a video of the guy's last will and testament. Later two middle-aged ladies carrying fish in a glass bowl (below) plead for and receive a ride -- until the needs of the filmmaker's own niece (in the penultimate photo) supersede.

These little vignettes and those that follow -- all staged brilliantly to effect a reality that stings -- take in everything from politics to economics, crime, culture, tradition, belief, age, maturity, "rules" for movie-making, law (in the form of a lovely lawyer, below), prison, torture, voice recognition, and so much more. Further, these incidents seem to mirror each other in ironic ways, and while the movie looks like simplicity itself, its content is anything but.

Taxi is Panafi's most charming, plaintive, complex and inventive work to date. This man ought to be considered a national treasure rather than some kind of criminal. But there you go. How he has been getting away with these provocative little gems of cinema -- in Iran, yet! -- without losing his license, if not his life, is troubling to consider. (You fear for, not just the well-being of the filmmaker, but also for any of the actors/people he uses in his films.) This is "heroic" cinema of the highest order, every bit as entertaining and well-crafted as it is righteous.

Panahi's finale proves a mitzvah filmed with rare sweetness and subtlety -- which is then immediately leavened with an ironic touch of exactly the opposite. If Taxi isn't a cinematic masterpiece (and that's a word I almost never use), I sure wouldn't know what is.

The film -- from Kino Lorber, in Farsi with English subtitles and running just 81 minutes -- opened yesterday, October 2, in New York City at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and will grace Los Angeles next Friday, October 9, at various Laemmle theaters. In the weeks to come, TAXI will have opened in 25 cities across the USA.  Click here and scroll way down to see all currently scheduled playdates. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler's APARTMENT TROUBLES hits dvd; nice Chekhov!

OK: The movie's a mess. But, gheesh, it's sort of an endearing mess -- funny in odd ways rather than the expected, and as ditsy, charming and irritating as its two leading ladies, Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler, who also wrote and directed the film. You might call this a "vanity production," except that the filmmakers are as apt to show their worst sides as their better ones. Also, they do have a bundle of talent, even if it's oddball rather than mainstream.

Ms Prediger (shown at right) and Ms Weixler (below) both have a barrel of indie-film credits (Weixler has 37, Prediger 22) so they've been around the block a few times. Here, they take a well-known fact of life these days (nobody except the very wealthy can afford an apartment in New York City or its environs) and use it a leaping-off point for their adventures -- which prove to be a kind of first-class road trip to Los Angeles and back again.

That their film lasts only 77 minutes is probably wise, and the fact that it ends on a strange, lovely
and appealing note will send any Chekhov lovers in the audience levitating in a state of grace. The Russian master and his work figure in this film a couple of times and in major ways -- firstly in a weird piece of performance art that the two girls, Nicole (Weixler) and Olivia (Prediger) decide to act out on a kind of America's Got Talent TV show. It's a odd homage to Anton Chekhov and his play, The Seagull, in both the kind of amateur theater production it appears to be imitating and in its use of some of the dialog from the play. What's more, these lines appear again at film's end, this time performed by Weixler in what is the most beautiful rendering of them--visual and verbal--I've yet seen/heard.

I am guessing either or both of these actresses did Chekhov in high school or drama school and probably fell in love with him and his creation, Nina, from The Seagull. In any case, the movie's use of these few lines at the finale gives it a strange and slightly Armageddon-like quality, which is probably not amiss in our current times (just as it would not have been in Chekhov's own).

Also in the cast are three more noted and popular performers who were somehow corralled into joining the cast, which proves all to the good. Jeffrey Tambor -- shown above, right, and currently riding and definitely adding to the heights of Transparent (the double meaning of this terrific title word only became apparent to me as I typed it now). Tambor plays the girls' odd landlord (everything and everybody in this movie is odd), who for some reason enjoys showering in their apartment but is not happy about their consistently tardy and under-market rent payments.

Once they arrive in Los Angeles, they're given a lift by an even odder character played by Will Forte (above, right), who appears again toward the end to goose the movie into a kind of "full circle" thing. Forte is fresh and funny (and real), as usual.

But it is Megan Mullally (above, left) as Nicole's odd aunt, who gives the movie a consistent lift. Clearly sexually attracted to Olivia, as well as wanting to help the pair, she simply can't keep her hands to herself, making Prediger's character as uncomfortable as it makes us viewers amused. (That Mullally and Prediger could pass for mother and daughter adds a soupçon of further naughtiness to the proceedings.)

And that's pretty much it: They come to L.A., they do silly things, and then they leave again for NYC. But beneath the veneer lies longing and frustration of artists and women who cannot express themselves and be heard, so the expression comes out in, yes, odd ways. In a sense, both these young women are Ninas -- but let's hope as in the earlier, rather than the later, portion of Chekhov's play.

Prediger, looking like a lost little girl struggling to grow up, has a lovely, true and dulcet singing voice, which we hear only haphazardly at the aunt's dinner party. I'd like to hear it again.

Weixler, whom I have in the past compared to a young Meryl Streep, here looks more like the youthful and oddly beautiful Bette Davis. The actress has an edge that she knows how to use, and she does so quite purposefully here.

If it sounds like I am raving about this strange little mistake of a movie, well, so be it. It certainly will not prove to be to most audiences' tastes. But for those willing to take a chance, or who love Chekhov, or enjoy any of all of the performers mentioned above, it is worth that chance. As a whole, it may go right by you, but certain little scenes, I swear, you'll remember for quite some time (particularly if you're a cat person).

Apartment Troubles, from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Gravitas Ventures, will appear on DVD this coming Tuesday, October 6, for purchase or rental.    

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bayou vampires reign, as Buz Alexander's NOCTURNA hits Blu-ray/DVD/VOD and EEST

Oh, boy, a new vampire movie! We haven't seen too many of this genre lately, perhaps because HBO's True Blood cornered the market on the fang-mouths, and then (as often happens when a series overstays its welcome) bled it dry. So, we should not be too hard on NOCTURNA, the newest entry into eternal life mode, which makes its straight-to-home-video debut next Tuesday. If this film breaks no genuine "new ground," at least it rings a few changes on stuff we've seen plenty of already.

Novice writer/director (he was also one of the executive-producers on the film) Buz Alexander -- shown, left, and photographed within a closed coffin. Try as we might, we could not find a photo of this guy -- has cobbled together in pretty professional fashion many of the standard tropes of the genre, then given them a tidy and interesting plot on which to hang. The result is a movie that holds your interest, provides some excitement (if not a lot of suspense) and offers enough gore and special effects to induce a few scares.

We're in New Orleans (though the film was actually shot in Baton Rouge and St. Francisville), in a broken-down shack on what looks like a bayou. The tenant hears a noise, the source of which then terrorizes and hypnotizes him into a suicide of sorts (above) -- all because of a missing young girl (below).

We soon learn that New Orleans has quite a number of vampires, all living (whoops: that's not quite the right word) under the nose and even the protection of the local police -- especially the higher-ups, who turn a blind eye to the blood-letting.

There is also on display a mix of really-bad vampires and not-so-bad vampires. The former drink the blood of innocent children, while the latter only drain murderers, child molesters and other of society's dregs. Oh, yes -- and they all use guard dogs (above) as protectors,

Into this mix arrives a new young cop (played with a rather charming sense of incredulity by Danny Agha) , untutored in the ways of the not-quite-dead, who is taken under the wing of an older cop (Mike Doyle, above), who himself lost a wife to the bloodsuckers some time back. Ex-pretty-boy Johnathon Schaech (below) plays the lead vampire. The film's best scene takes place in a hospital, and might just recall some of the glories -- the shock and violence -- found in one of, if not the best of the vampire movies, Near Dark.

The movie's reinvention of certain cliches includes using the usual Christian cross (here seen as a tattoo!) as a way to resist a vampire's hypnotic powers, and "voice recognition" as a new skill among the undead. This is the plus side. On the negative are some very poorly-staged action sequences, and the complete omission of any closure regarding our two heroes' "quest" -- to locate the place where those really-bad vampires sleep by day. This seems to have fallen off the filmmaker's agenda.  Or maybe he's saving it for the sequel. (That's Estella Warren, below, as the "romance connection" among the good vampire group.)

Overall, Nocturna is at least good enough to sate the appetite of those who must have a vampire movie in their diet every now and again. It's reasonably entertaining, lasts only 95 minutes, and offers a surprise or two up its well-worn sleeve.

From Alchemy, the distributor that seems to be releasing every second movie these days, Nocturna hits the street this coming Tuesday, October 6, on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD and EEST (that's Early Electronic Sell-Through, for those of you -- like me -- untutored in the new technology). If you want to learn just about everything regarding EEST, click here to read an eye-opening article from Variety

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Feelings, responsibility and autonomy compete for attention in James C. Strouse's grown-up rom-com, PEOPLE PLACES THINGS

If at first this new rom-com-dramedy seems like the usual bill of fare -- man catches wife in flagrante delicto with another man -- just give the film a few extra minutes. That should be all it takes to allow the cast and especially the film's main character (that befuddled hubby played by the extremely versatile Jemaine Clement, shown on poster, left, and below throughout) to win you over. PEOPLE PLACES  THINGS proves the best of the three movies written and directed by James C. Strouse (the other two are Grace is Gone and The Winning Season) because it keeps character more important than situation,  thus allowing that situation to avoid much of the supposed feel-good necessities that so many other rom-coms embrace.

Filmmaker Strouse (shown at right) has here fashioned a film about a number of different and interesting subjects -- from working as a comic book artist/teacher and marital infidelity to middle-aged dating and joint parenting -- and he juggles them quite well. Further, he has devised a set of fine supporting characters, each one of whom allows us to view his main character, Clement's Will Henry, in a different and increasingly expansive light.

These include his student Kat (a sassy and winning Jessica Williams, above) and her mom (given a nice blend of sophistication, sex appeal and vulnerability by Regina Hall, shown below, left, with Mr. Clement.)

Also on hand are Will's two daughters, below, played by twins Aundrea and Gia Gadsby with the kind of wise-beyond-their-years affectation that here manages to charm rather than annoy us.

Especially well-drawn and well-acted is the character of the girls' mom, played with a alternately funny and annoying combination of befuddle-ment/entitlement/confusion/anger by Stephanie Allynne, below, left.

Strouse's one big slip-up -- for me, at least -- concerns his belief that a professor of American literature who teaches at New York's Columbia University would have had over her life and career no connection to or appreciation of comic books and graphic novels. This rather beggars belief, but I would not let it stop you from viewing and appreciating what's so very good in this film -- which handles growing up, facing stuff and finally moving on about as well as I have seen in some time.

Oh, yes -- and the animation, the art for which our hero is noted, is expert, as well, including Will's explanation to his class about why what's between those comic book frames of art (and the connection that viewers make in their mind) is sometimes as important as the art itself.

From The Film Arcade and Alchemy, the movie hits DVD, VOD and early EST this coming Tuesday, October 6 -- for purchase or rental.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Discover the everlasting in Tim Grabham & Jasper Sharp's doc, THE CREEPING GARDEN

One of the most information-packed documentaries imaginable -- on a subject about which most of us know next to nothing -- THE CREEPING GARDEN will introduce you to a substance/life form/entity that may indeed give you the creeps. Except that it is fascinating enough to easily outweigh that creepiness. TrustMovies has long heard that at the end of civilization as we've known it, only the cockroaches will still be alive and kicking. After seeing this particular documentary, I'll place my bet on slime mold.

The product of two born documentarians, Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp (pictured above, with Mr. Sharp on the left), the movie -- which begins and ends with a newscast from the 1970s featuring what looks like a "Blob" alert -- quickly turns into a fascinating study of both slime molds and the folk who study them.

These would include a handful of scientists, both professional and amateur. But, as one of them points out, the word amateur derives from the Latin word to love, and it's more than clear how much these scientists, whatever their rank, love the molds. Not too long into this fungus-fest, you may wonder how it is that slime molds have not taken over the world by now. Rest easy, blob-fearers, for on the basis of what we learn here, they're not particularly pro-active in that regard. 

In fact, as one scientist notes, it is not clear whether the molds are actually smart or simply "appear" that way. In any case, they can solve maze puzzles faster than most people I know, and slime mold networks actually mimic transportation patterns and road networks in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

As scientifically smart and interesting as the documentary is, it's also a treat visually, offering some splendidly creepy time-lapse photography. (The musical score by Jim O'Rourke is pretty special, too, befitting its subject quite well.)

One of the most telling segments involves an experiment in which scientists track how humans compare to slime molds in terms of their navigation and cooperation skills. We also learn about sonification -- the sound production of slime mods, that offer up differing audios when they're happy or panicked (the latter occurs when food source and humidity level drastically lessen.)

Robotics and slime molds, mushroom spores as survivors, and the hibernation process -- all this and more wend their way through this funny, informative, delightful film. And music? Well, let's just say that it may indeed have charms to soothe the (not too) savage slime.

Still, as one scientist points out toward the conclusion of the documentary, slime mold behavior is not really behavior. It consists of "mechanistic responses to environmental stimuli." In fact "If slime molds were eliminated from the planet, we might not even notice."

You can catch this wonderful little 81-minute movie -- from Cinema Iloobia and Ryan Bruce Levey Film Distribution -- at New York City's Film Forum (where else?!), beginning tomorrow, Wednesday, September 30, for a one-week run.