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 out 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.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Back on the rez again, in Jack Pettibone Riccobono's documentary, THE SEVENTH FIRE

Is there a cinema subject as consistently, singularly depressing as that our American Indians and the
"reservations" on which they are living -- and hopefully, leaving? (Except that, since it is usually the most promising of those young Indians who leave, this just makes it more depressing and difficult for those who remain.) Add to the list of worthwhile movies on this subject, both narrative and documentary, the new one by filmmaker Jack Pettibone Riccobono (shown below), THE SEVENTH FIRE.

The reason for the depression is twofold: first, what our country's "settlers" gave the Indians (smallpox, death and destruction) and how we have treated them ever since (hoarding them into ever smaller and less comfortable living quarters; even now we continue to take away their tribal land). "Make America Great Again"? Yeah, right, Mr. Trump. Maybe you could think about starting here. For all the horror of slavery, many Blacks survived, while the Indians were mostly decimated. What remains are condoned off and hidden away from most Americans.

The Seventh Fire -- that title has to do with some kind of spiritual incantation/episode/journey about which we learn very little -- takes us into the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota, where we meet, among others, two males important to the reservation. The older of these is 37-year-old Rob Brown (above and below), a big, beefy, good-looking guy who, during his life, grew up in some 39 foster homes, has already served five prison terms, and is now, as we first meet him, about to go away to prison once again.

Rob is the "criminal kingpin" of the rez, even though his supplying drugs and what-not to the locals seems to extend no further than the borders of the reservation. He also has a young daughter whom he loves and tries to care for -- clearly at somewhat of a distance.

The other male is a young man named Kevin, above and two photos below, who appears to be a kind of acolyte of Rob, striving to carve out his own large patch of the kingdom. Early on, Rob (or maybe it was another of the characters) tells Kevin, "If you're gonna risk your freedom, make sure the reward is worth it." Quite. Notes another rez resident, "One out of ten young people, every ten years, will make it out of here." This is not exactly a happy prognosis.

Mr. Riccobono takes a discursive, disjointed, seemingly haphazard and sometimes near-surreal (above) look at all this, bouncing from time and place so that we are not always sure what's going on or why. Some of his images are strange and compelling, and the film never loses our interest for long, but had I not had access to the press kit that accompanied the film and that did some explaining that The Seventh Fire itself fails to do, I am not sure I would have understood the documentary nearly so well.

On the plus side, Riccobono proves something of a smart investigator, following young Kevin around discreetly and perhaps on the sly. Initially we see and are charmed by the fact that Indians and whites in the local town get along so well. Well, sure and why not, since Kevin proves to be their drug dealer? We're privy here to everything from doing drugs and fighting to sexual connections. We even get an afternoon filled with Bingo.

All of this is, as expected, depressing as hell. You leave the film as you probably have so many others down the decades, narrative or documentary -- from Smoke Signals (one of the most positive of these movies) through Drunktown's Finest to the recent Songs My Brothers Taught Me --  with that gnawing sense of justice trampled in perpetuity, with nothing at all being done about this.

From Film Movement and running only 76 minutes (we probably could not take much more), The Seventh Fire has its U.S. theatrical premiere on Friday, July 22, in New York City at the new Metrograph theater, and on Friday, July 29 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. Another ten cities are scheduled for screenings in the weeks to come. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Ab-Fabbers are back, this time in ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE

The popular British TV series Absolutely Fabulous, which had a twenty-year run (not bad!) during the era in which our last century slithered into this one, was a lot of fun and rather set the current stage for gals behaving badly. The product of writer and star Jennifer Saunders, with the help of costar Joanna Lumley, it deservedly captured the fancy of folk on both sides of the pond. Now, four years after the demise of that series (in Britain, at least; it may have ended earlier here in the USA), the movie version, long talked about and/or in gestation, arrives.

And? TrustMovies found it pretty good and often very funny, if a little too gassy and taking too much time to get airborne. I resisted for awhile, thinking, "What? All this again?" But then at some point I let out a loud laugh, began chucking at the antics of these two women -- Edina (Ms Saunders) and Patsy (Ms Lumley) -- and by movie's end was thoroughly satisfied that my humor quotient had been met for the day. The director here is a woman named Mandie Fletcher (shown at left) who helmed several of the TV episodes and so was evidently tapped by Ms Saunders and maybe the producers to direct the film -- which she has managed to do quite serviceably.

The setting this time out is the current world of fashion, which is shown us as mostly a hotbed of silliness and stupidity. Edina (below, left), who hopes to land a book deal for her memoirs (what she submits to the publisher is pretty funny) but is rejected, then moves her goal to doing PR for the fashion set.

Ms Lumley (above, right) plays her usual hanger-on, providing drugs alcohol and other fun stuff. But the ladies are down to their last pound -- even if they are living in a modern mansion well beyond their means.

Series regulars like Julia Sawalha (as Edina's straight-laced daughter) show up, along with "secretary" Bubbles (Jane Horrocks, above, left) and Edina's mother (June Whitfield, above, right) -- with the latter two barely used except as a kind of reminder of the fun we once had.

So the movie belongs, and rightly so, to Saunders and Lumley, the latter of whom seems to hang back and be used for the usual only -- until a little over halfway along, when she comes into her own with a delightfully goofy impersonation that will keep a grin plastered on your face for the remainder of the movie.

The film owes its ending to the great Some Like It Hot but the homage/steal is good enough to please fans of both films. We get currently posh-if-squalid London and the French Riviera as locations, plus Ms Sawalha doing Karaoke in a gay club (above), and a bunch of cameos from folk we love (or maybe used to) such as Joan Collins and Barry Humphries (above) -- plus a few new surprise personalities, as well.

As it is set in the fashion world, we get our fill of "fashion" faces, too. Kate Moss (above) is used for beauty and fun, good-naturedly putting herself through the wringer for our gals. And none other than Jean-Paul Gautier (below) makes an ironic appearance as a old beachcomber-type fellow searching for coins and other precious metals in the beachside sand.

A word must also be said for one of the most beautiful new faces to light up the screen in some time -- that of Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness (shown below, left), the lovely young girl with a mouthful of a name, making her screen debut as the Saunders character's granddaughter, Lola.

So, yes, you can expect to have a good time at this current rendition of Ab/Fab. It's not great art but it is (mostly, at least) good, silly fun.

From Fox Searchlight and running a thankfully lean and let's-not-outstay-our-welcome 90 minutes, the movie opens nationwide this Friday, July 22. Click here (then scroll waaaaay down to the bottom to find the theaters nearest you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Brady Corbet's festival winner THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER hits theaters/VOD

Brady Corbet's an interesting actor. He has a quality that can so easily move from pretty-boy cool to creepy-guy strange. Contrast his work as the title character in Simon Killer with his supporting turn as the intelligent young film director in Clouds of Sils Maria. Now Corbet has made his first full-length film as director/co-writer (with Mona Fastvold), and it's every bit as oddball as you might expect from this young fellow. As its title proclaims, it tracks some formative time in the life of its titular character.

Corbet (the filmmaker is shown at right) has divided his film into "tantrums" that our child -- a pretty little boy whom we meet in the time between World Wars I and II -- throws whenever things do not go his way. One might think that a kid like this, given the time period (post-WWI) & place (Europe) would be knocked across the room during tantrum one, and that would end that.

But no. The mom and dad here (Liam Cunningham, at left, and Bérénice Bejo, below) are models of poor parenting in extremis. They are either missing in action or take no intelligent steps to help either their son (a bizarre and unsettling performance from newcomer Tom Sweet) or the situation. So, yes, bad parenting can lead to fascist tendencies. Unless of course the child in question is simply a bad seed -- and our little angel looks like one of the worst. In any case, there's plenty of blame to go around here,
including that of the nanny (that gem, Yolande Moreau, underused in this role), who coddles our little boy; and the kid's "teacher" (Stacy Martin, shown below, with young Master Sweet), one of whose duties would appear to be servicing the father, too. This little group also includes friend-of-the-family and political somebody named Charles (Robert Pattinson) who seems a bit too fond of mother.

What a group! But so what? Mr. Corbet seems to know his history of that time between the wars, and his scenes of powerful men working their power hold both interest and truth. His scenes involving the family, however -- though shot in color-drained hues and exhibiting fairly little dialog -- grow less and less involving and more and more repetitive as the film moves along. Surely there must be more?

And yes, there is. It comes with the finale, as we move a decade or more ahead in time to find the Pattinson character now somewhat enthroned and our child maybe serving him. And suddenly the movie which has been shot in quiet, subdued, stately fashion seems to explode, camera-wise, with the visuals going gaga, perhaps mirroring the craziness of this new era. (The costumes and sets are suddenly very neo-fascist drab-but-commanding.)

The music is pretty enthralling throughout (Scott Walker composed it), the cinematography (by the fine Lol Crawley) is worthwhile and fun to view, and the performances are as good as Corbet allows (he seems to want to keep everything at a very low simmer).

But what the film has to say about fascism and its origins is so thuddingly obvious and is never explored beyond the cursory that the film fails on its most important level. My spouse called it pretentious. I would not berate it thus, but simply say it does not work -- except in the most general and obvious of ways. Next time, and I am sure there will be one, please tell us something we don't already know.

The Childhood of a Leader, from IFC Films and running a very long 116 minutes, opens this Friday, July 22, in New York City at the IFC Center and next Friday, July 29, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Monica Film Center. A further rollout in limited release is promised. Simultaneously with its theatrical opening, the film will appear nationwide via VOD.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Heartbreaking/groundbreaking nostalgia in Catherine Corsini's best so far: SUMMERTIME

Taking place in France in the 1970s, among a group of early feminists pushing the boundaries of the French in ways -- women's rights, gay rights, abortion -- for which the French were unprepared, Catherine Corsini's newest film is up there with her best, which would include for my taste The New Eve (1999), La répétition (2001), Leaving (2009) and Three Worlds (2012). In fact, I think SUMMERTIME (La belle saison) is her best yet. It takes us back to a period that the older of us will remember well (even if we weren't in France at the time, what occurred there was simultaneously going on throughout much of the western world), and Ms Corsini captures both events and characters with a hand as deft as it is subtle & cinematic.

The filmmaker, shown at left, casts her films especially well, too -- sometime surprising us with her choice of stars. Emmanuelle Béart made a fine impression in La Repetition, and more than any other of Karin Viard's films, The New Eve helped place this supporting actress on the map to stardom. Kristin Scott Thomas is always fine, but Leaving gave her one of her strongest roles, while Three Worlds offered Clotilde Hesme and Raphaël Personnaz characters that brought out new richness and depth in both performers.

Corsini tends to tackle themes involving both class issues and "the other," with the latter sometimes hinging on one's sexual orientation. So it is again with Summertime, in which a beautiful young farm girl, Delphine (a glowing performance from Izïa Higelin, below), after enduring her parents' constant pushing her into marriage with some local boy and when a secret lesbian affair goes south, takes off for the big city in an attempt to discover another life. Which she manages -- in spades.

In Paris, Delphine falls into an activist women's group, where she meets Carole (another knockout performance from César-winning actress Cécile De France, shown below),  and a relationship blooms.

How this happens is presented believably on both an emotional and societal level, with genuine feeling and attention given to Carole's male partner (beautifully nuanced by Benjamin Bellecour) whom she must give up for Delphine. The same feeling and caring is provided the young man in Delphine's farm community who has been in love with her since childhood (a wonderful, heartbreaking performance from Kévin Azaïs. below, right).

The only other major character is played by that fine French actress, Noémie Lvovsky, below, who brings enormous strength and anger to her role of Delphine's mother, who cannot begin to accept anything but the standard straight-and-narrow sexual relationship for her daughter. Ms Lvovsky has one of the film's strongest and most difficult scenes, and she wipes the floor with it.

But Corsini's movie rightly belongs to her two lead actresses, who play with and off each other quite beautifully throughout. Ms De France's versatility is by now well known. Here we view more of her physically than we ever have, and she proves something to see. As does Ms Higelin (this film should ramp her career into high gear), who has such a buoyant and contagious liveliness than viewers of any gender or preference should easily fall for her -- either/both sexually and/or aesthetically. She is something special.

Corsini's strength here is in bringing us equally close emotionally to the highs and lows of the relationship, as well as making us understand and feel the social/societal difficulties implicit in such a bonding back in the distant 1970s. Both these strands come together to deliver a richly textured, marvelously empathetic movie. Don't miss it.

Summertime -- from Strand Releasing (this independent/foreign film distributor is on one hell of a roll lately!) and running 105 minutes -- opens this Friday, July 22, in New York City (at the IFC Center and Film Society of Lincoln Center) amd in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Claremont 5), and then in another half dozen or more cities in the weeks to come. Click here, then click on Screenings on the tool bar halfway down the screen to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Is Ken Russell's CRIMES OF PASSION (now on Blu-ray/director's cut) as bad as we thought?

Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! But you know what? With time -- 32 years -- the movie seems to have become a lot more fun. Not nearly as much fun as, say, Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, though the two films have things in common. Both want to get us all bigtime hot-and-bothered, while simultaneously teaching us the right pathway to pursue. Meyer's is the much better of the two films, though Ken Russell's over-the-top movie (the filmmaker is shown below) has its own special charm -- and a couple of very hot actors in the leading roles.

We forget how incredibly gorgeous and sexy (and talented) was its leading lady Kathleen Turner, just three years off Body Heat when CRIMES OF PASSION was released (1984). Co-star John Laughlin was in his prime at the time, too, and he makes one hot hunk of beefcake in the role of a horny husband whose wife (Annie Potts) wants nothing to do with him in the sack. Mr. Russell made a number of good movies in his time (his bio films for the BBC about artists constitute his best work), but this one is not among them.

Ms Turner plays a smart and sexy young woman who goes by the name of Joanna Crane at her day job in the garment industry; by night she's China Blue (above), a hot-looking whore with a rather low-end clientele who is menaced (though she does not seem to realize this for quite some time) by a Bible-toting nutcase, played in his best-though-much-overused nutcase fashion by Anthony Perkins (below).

Into the mix comes Mr. Laughlin (below), hired to trail Turner due to some supposed industrial espionage, who falls prey to her charms and is soon banging her every which way, and at the same time, of course, falling in love with the gal.

And therein lies the biggest problem with Crimes of Passion. Every time Russell (along with the script, penned by Barry Sandler) gets serious, the movie goes south. Scenes evidently designed to comment on societal hypocrisy play like something written by and for Boy Scouts (granted, these Scouts have very dirty mouths), but then we get back to the sex-and-sin and come-on-in, and things get enjoyably hot-and-heavy once again. (Russell was always pretty good at giving us "shock value".)

Along the way, we see various of China Blue's clients in multitudinous positions -- most of which may have seemed shocking in their time but today seem more recherché than anything else.  By the time we get to the suspense-thriller finale, it's all so been-there/done-that, you'll see the "big surprise" coming a mile away.

Still, there is fun to be had in watching Turner strut her stuff and noting once again that Mr. Russell's would-be shocks can sometimes prove less transgressive than merely tired. The director's true home was either in those long-ago black-and-white biography films (his Savage Messiah is also pretty good) or in the fun-and-frolicsome genre of The Lair of the White Worm.

From Arrow Video (via MVD Entertainment GroupCrimes of Passion , running 107 minutes, hits the street on Blu-ray + DVD this coming Tuesday, July 19 (or maybe on July 26: I've been told two different street dates on this one), with a huge load of bonus materials, plus both the director's cut and the unrated version of the film included.
Click here for further details.