Friday, April 18, 2014

Streaming Vincenzo Natali's latest scare flick: HAUNTER, with a well-used Abigail Breslin

TrustMovies has greatly enjoyed the half-dozen films by Vincenzo Natali that he's so far seen, so viewing HAUNTER, which received highly mixed notices from critics and audiences, was still a shoo-in. Sure enough, Natali and his writer Brian King take a bunch of much-used terror tropes and ghost goings-on but bounce them around creatively until they come out rather fresh. The movie will bring to mind The Others, Groundhog Day, the Amityvilles and another half-dozen well-trod tales but still manages to become its own special story as it moves interestingly along.

Natali, shown at left, has always had a smart visual sense combined with an enjoyment of fun and games, all of which is put to use here. He begins his film with the ever-involving what's-going-on-here? scenario and then allows us to find out -- but only partially. The movie keeps unfolding its secrets slowly and quietly.

As its star, the filmmaker has chosen Abigail Breslin (below), a smart young actress who seems willing to try various genres and roles within them, usually to good effect. Here she brings that intelligence coupled with typical teen-age annoyance (at parents and younger sibling) to the table and plays it for both humor and, later, drama and scares.

As her adversary, the well-worn Stephen McHattie (below, from the succulent Pontypool) is also a fine choice -- even scarier here than he usually is. The pair become a good example of well-matched antagonists of the horror genre.

While all of this proves interesting enough as it unfolds, there do seem to be some rough edges in terms of what, why and how. Natali elides these as best he can, so that we move along, questioning only lightly and momentarily until the next surprise/thrill occurs.

Basically the plot has us stuck in a house -- yes, it's dark and foggy outside, but relatively warm and friendly inside -- as we slowly come up against present, past and further past, as our heroine tries to prevent a serial killer from striking again. That's about as much as you need to know. So sit back, relax and enjoy Mr. Natali's nice visuals and the good job his cast does with the all-over-the-place plot.

Haunter, from IFC Midnight and running just a tad long at 97 minutes, streams now on Netflix, and also on Amazon Instant Video and elsewhere -- and can also be seen via DVD.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Here's a new male sex symbol: John Turturro & Woody Allen star in Turturro's FADING GIGOLO

Who'd have thought it? John Turturro as the sexiest guy currently on theater screens (well, starting this Friday, at least). It's true. In the new movie FADING GIGOLO, the actor/director plays a part-time florist named Fioravante, whose friend and mentor, Murray (Woody Allen), begins pimping him out as a by-the-hour lover to wealthy women in need. If this sounds a little skeevy and untoward, it turns out not to be -- for a couple of good reasons. Number one is Mr. Turturro himself, who brings such warmth, kindness, honesty and -- yes -- quiet, non-pushy sex appeal to the table (and bed) that he wins you over rather spectacularly. Number two: the prostitute here is an adult male, strong but never threatening, which removes from the equation the usual fear for the welfare of the female hooker, should she encounter a dangerous john.

Oh, and did I mention that the movie is a comedy? It's often a pretty funny one, too, what with Mr. Allen playing himself (while simultaneously giving you the opportunity to see him as the little sleaze you may imagine him to be) and delivering a number of his usual funny one-liners. As writer/director, Turturro (shown above) outdoes much of Allen's work hands down. He's more interested in visuals and composition than Woody ever was (though his cameramen sometimes were).

As a writer -- are all those lines out of Allen's mouth Turturro's creations? -- the filmmaker offers up a story that explores current and important themes: the continuing disappearance of jobs and how regular folk might earn a living off something besides health care, part-time labor and those mostly non-existent corporate profits and other investments that seem to accrue only to the 99 per cent.

When Murray's dermatologist (Sharon Stone, above) remarks casually that one of her friends (Sophia Vergara, shown at bottom) and she would like a threesome, if only they knew a willing guy, Murray goes into action and up comes Fioravante, eventually servicing these gals like a pro -- only better. Ms Stone is back to looking like the glamour gal we remember, rather than the very interesting character roles she's been doing of late (Lovelace, Alpha Dog), while Ms Vergara does her usual vah-vah-voom with expected relish.

The real female surprise of the movie is Vanessa Paradis, at right, who seems to consistently surprise with each new role (compare her work in this film with that of Café de Flore and Heartbreaker). Here she plays Avigal -- a Hasidic widow, depressed and ripe for release -- and she brings to the movie its strongest performance and a character worth knowing. The role also allows us to meet her unasked-for protector, a local cop in the Brooklyn Hasidic neighborhood, played well, as always, by Liev Schreiber (below, right, manhandling Mr. Allen), who brings his own brand of pushy strength to the proceedings, nicely counteracting Turturro's quieter model.

Sure, the movie's not great (it's somehow too thin for that) and yet, scene for scene, there's not a ringer in the bunch. Performances are too on-target not to keep us glued, while the writing is generally clever enough to have our ears alert and the direction visually interesting so that our eyes don't tire.

It is particularly good to see Mr. Allen in someone else's movie once again (this doesn't happen often), and it's always good to see Turturro in just about anything (he's appearing again soon in a supporting role in the dark comedy/drama, God's Pocket -- more of which in the days to come). The accompanying music is well-chosen and delivered, and technically everything is up to snuff.

Fading Gigolo, from Millennium Entertainment, opens this Friday, April 18, in New York City at the City Cinema 1,2,3; at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika Film Center.  In the Los Angeles area, the film will show at The Landmark and Pacific's ArcLight Hollywood.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stream the original RAKE with Richard Roxburgh to appreciate what tip-top television can achieve

As good as some of our cable television series are, it takes watching a season of the best of interna-tional TV -- Borgen from Denmark, Spiral from France, and now RAKE from Australia -- to fully understand and appreciate of what the medium is actually capable. If this title sounds familiar, it's because Rake was recently re-done for American TV, starring that excellent actor Greg Kinnear. I haven't watched the American version yet because I can't stand sitting through commercials (and even hate having to fast-forward via DVR). So I shall wait until it, too, streams commercial-free via an affordable service such as Netflix -- where you can now see the original version -- before I attempt critical comparison.

As good as Mr. Kinnear has been in just about every role in which I've seen him, it's hard to believe he could outdo one of Australia's best actors, Richard Roxburgh (above, with Adrienne Pickering, and on poster, top), in this intriguing and memorable role. I've been a fan of Roxburgh's since the delightful and underseen Children of the Revolution from 1996, but this is clearly the role he's been waiting for and he knocks it, in episode after episode, to kingdom come.

What makes Rake so important and necessary is that it deals with justice, morality and hypocrisy in a manner that, up till now, nothing else has come close to. Roxburgh plays Cleaver Greene, a barrister always in debt and often about to be disbarred. He gambles, he womanizes (including the wife of his best friend, above, played by Danielle Cormack), he defends clients who appear nearly indefensible -- and yet he's the very legitimate hero of this topsy-turvy series because he is not a hypocrite. He does the wrong thing when it's less important but the right thing when it counts.

The series is written exceedingly well. Almost every episode deals with a different kind of criminal case -- from cannibalism to bigamy to terrorism and laws such as the Aussie version of our sleazy Patriot Act -- and the plots are chockablock with ideas that will quickly knock you on your ass and then make you work your way back to a standing position. (That's Robyn Malcolm, above, who plays the randy woman to whom Cleaver owes both a lot of money and a lot of screwing.)

The series is also hugely funny, often laugh-out-loud so. And it is full of oddball characters whom you'll grow to love as much as you did those on The Mary Tyler Moore Show -- even if these people are a lot more into letting it all hang out. They are all dealing with the problems that face us in these current times -- monetary to political -- as well as those that have dogged us since man and womankind first appeared: infidelity, parenting, owning up to it all. (Above, left, is the commendable Russell Dykstra, who plays Cleaver's semi-partner and best friend, Barney.)

As a terrific bonus, almost all the episodes offer a "guest star" who is one of Australian and/orNew Zealand movie royalty: Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Martin Henderson, Noah Taylor, Toni Collette (shown at left), Rachel Griffiths, and on and on.  Sam Neill, bless his heart, gets an episode that, along with his amazing work in the must-view Dean Spanley, should see him become the go-to actor for anything dog-related.

Each episode, running around 55 minutes, is generally self-contained, but the characters spill over into the entire two seasons that are so far avail-able via Netflix. I hope there will be more. And if the first season is super-ior to the second, there are certain episodes in the latter than are as good as anything you'll find on TV. In fact, Season 2, Episode 2, R v. Fenton (shown below), which tackles, among other things, "Newspeak," is beyond brilliant. (That's Keegan Joyce, above, who plays Cleaver's son, Fuzz.)

I cannot recommend this series highly enough. And you can see it now via Netflix streaming (it's not available on Amazon). Why wait?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Phallophilia on-screen again in Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math's documentary, THE FINAL MEMBER

Making a just-about perfect double bill with Unhung Hero, the new documentary THE FINAL MEMBER breaks further ground concerning the male-of-the-species' penis obsession. The three men we meet here seem obsessed something fierce with the male member -- an activity I admit that I myself have been rather interested in down the decades, as are, I suspect, many gay and bi-sexual men. But whatever interest we may have with cocks and balls surely pales next to that of these three guys.

The two filmmakers who directed the doc -- Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math (shown above, with Mr. Math on the left) -- are Canadians who, when they first heard about and then followed up on this story of the world's first penis museum, found in Iceland, actually relocated to that tiny country in order to facilitate their film-making. It's a bit difficult to imagine that they ended up with what they expected from their endeavors, going in. But who knows? Perhaps they were aware from the upshot how obsessed all the parties actually were.

Those parties would include the man, Sigurður Hjartarson (above), who put together the penile venue -- the Icelandic Phallological Museum, the world's only one devoted exclusively to the penis -- that holds a sample member from so many of the world's mammal species and displays them all. All, that is, except for the penis of one of us homo sapiens. To that end, the museum's founder, now in his 70s, is literally beating the bushes to find a possible donor for the cause.

Which brings us to the other two obsessive gentlemen: Páll Arason (above), an ex-adventurer/cocksman said to have had his way with more Icelandic (and maybe other nationalities) women than any other Icelandic man. Arason has agreed to donate his member to the museum upon his death. Except that, even in the best of days, his penis measured but five inches. Now that he is in his dotage, it is shrinking (as all of ours seem to, eventually), and so may not measure up to standard.

The movie takes a funny side trip here into penis-size folklore, and we hear the tale of a woman who insisted that Iceland come up with a minimum acceptable penis size because, as you can see from the drawing above, her hubby simply did not measure up.

Then our curator hears from a man in America, Tom Mitchell, who is also interested in donating his penis to the museum. It's a big one: seven inches and very thick. Tom calls his cock Elmo, and it is clearly his most prized possession. So prized that he begins setting rules and gilding the lily, as it were. (Ever seen a cock with a red, white and blue tattoo on its head? You will.)

All this is, on one level, crazy as hell. But as these are human beings, their desires and craziness are funny and sad and faintly ridiculous. Even though someone in this movie (Hjartarson maybe?) early on notes that, regarding the penis, "Anything that mustn't be talked about must be talked about." Fair enough, but obsession or no, one can't help but ask, Is this the measure of a man?  For Arason and especially for Mitchell, I guess the answer is yes.

Does Hjartarson get his final member? Surprise ensues and the suspense builds, and eventually we learn the outcome. Meanwhile, don't miss the comic-book adventures of Elmo, shown during the end credits. These are a hoot, and for the most part, so is this movie.

From Drafthouse Films and running a thankfully short 72 minutes, The Final Member opens around the country this Friday, April 18 -- in Austin, Dallas, Houston, New York, Phoenix, Seattle and Yonkers, with more cities to follow in the weeks to come. To see all currently scheduled playdates, click here and scroll down.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Money, honey! There's some smart, fast, inspired horror in Daniel Stamm's wicked little 13 SINS

What fun is this! Fun, at least,  for horror aficionados who are growing increasingly tired of the typical and predictable stuff this genre keeps tossing at us. (Really: Enough of the "paranormal" crap.) 13 SINS, the new film co-written (with David Birke) and directed by Daniel Stamm (below, of The Last Exorcism) has a set-up and follow-through that's a notch or ten above the usual shlock. The movie grabs you from scene one -- which seems to have little to do with what follows, but of course absolutely does -- and never lets go.

Our hero, a would-be salesman named Elliot (the very empathetic Mark Webber), shown below -- about to be married and suddenly unemployed (because he doesn't have the "killer instinct" he needs order to sell folk insurance policies that they don't need) -- is very much the sweet, kind, little-bit nerdy fellow audiences will bond with immediately. Elliot is saddled with a somewhat nasty father who is failing, healthwise, and a younger brother who is mentally challenged and may soon be placed in a state-run home. Money is, as ever these days, greatly needed but instead seems to be quickly disappearing from Elliot's life -- when a surprise phone call comes in on our hero's cell.

This phone call turns the next couple of days of Elliot's life into sheer hell (or maybe it all happens within 24 hours: this movie moves fast), as our boy is promised some amazing money if he will just complete 13 tasks, beginning with "Kill that fly that's buzzing around inside your car." He does, and when he checks his bank balance, there's an additional thousand dollars at the ready.

Of course these "tasks" grow more difficult, spiraling out into the greater world in bizarre ways, and involving everything from a cute little girl (above) to a nativity creche and a corpse with a cup of coffee. Who are the people arranging this crazy scheme? 13 Sins plays it very close to the vest regarding the powers that are behind this game, but as my spouse pointed out early on, "This makes a good metaphor for capitalism."

If that doesn't ruin the film and its fun for a Republican audience, I'll just add that the movie does get plenty gory as it goes along, especially so when it brings together our hero with a fellow (Donny Boaz, above) who used to bully him in high school.

The game itself grows much more complicated, as does our understanding of exactly who is playing it. Family matters come to the fore with Dad (Tom Bower, above) and brother (Devon Graye, below), and by the finale, you may have to remind yourself to take a breath.

My hat is off to filmmaker Stamm, who does a sterling job of bringing it all together in the space of just 88 minutes, using the growing gravitas of Ron Perlman (below, left) in the role of the local cop and the ever-weighty Pruitt Taylor Vince (below, right), as a fellow who is building a file on these "gamesters."

Finally, the schemers even involve our boy's lovely fiancé (Rutina Wesley, below), who brings a smart, no-nonsense approach to her performance -- which carries over quite wonderfully to the film itself.

With so many movies in this genre, you're annoyed not to have certain things explained more fully and believably. I don't think that will present itself here; even if it does, you'll hardly have time to acknowledge it.

13 Sins, from Radius/TWC, arrives in theaters this Friday, April 18, and it's already playing via VOD. Click here to learn at which theaters you can see it. Just enter you zip code and then click on TICKETS AND SHOWTIMES, or click on the WATCH button under ON-DEMAND to learn where you can find the movie via VOD.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Series streaming: BATES MOTEL's addictive enough to induce a good, if guilty, binge....

Adult fans of Vera Farmiga and Nestor Carbonell and younger fans of Freddie Highmore and Max Thieriot have no doubt already checked in to the BATES MOTEL. Ms Farmiga, in fact, is so good in this surprisingly deft cable TV series -- just now beginning its second season on A&E (the first season is streamable via Netflix) -- that she gives the series the kind of class that no other actress I can quickly think of could begin to bring to the table. Farmiga, above and below, does this effortlessly, via her usual manner of being absolutely in the moment, no matter how bizarre some moments turn out to be.

In Bates Motel -- a kind of modern-day/present-tense prequel to the Norman Bates (and his mom) that moviegoers first met in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho -- the "moments" (well, actually, the entire series) get so crazy that they leave any soap opera you've witnessed dead in the dust. (This must be the reason why soap operas as we've known them have all but died: Cable TV has cribbed their sex, sin, love, death and general nuttiness then goosed it all to the nth degree, while giving it glossy writing, acting and production values and -- most important -- smart, often-ground-breaking story lines that keep us glued.)

Ms Farmiga grounds this series, and what a pleasure it is to watch her go through her paces. The actress can, and often does, turn on a dime while keeping things believable. Mr. Highmore, above, lends the show youthful energy, sweetness and (on occasion) shock. Younger viewers who may not be familiar with Psycho need not worry: There's no necessity to have viewed the source. Older folk who have, however, will enjoy how Bates Motel uses the things we remember so well -- the motel room, the large stairway inside the house and a certain upstairs bedroom -- to jog our memory on one hand, while giving these objects a new and different look and purpose.

The series begins following the death of Norman's dad/mom's husband, as the mother and son move to a beautiful seaside town in what looks like northern California. The town turns out to be a bright and perky cess pool, as we learn once the episodes begin to mount up. The police prove more hindrance than help (that's Mr. Carbonell, as the sheriff, below, and Mike Vogel, above, as his deputy), while Norman doesn't fit in well at school -- though he does manage to catch the eye of two pretty students, as well as one hungry teacher.

Quite soon into the picture comes Norman's half-brother and Norma's (yes, that's mom's name) other son, played quite well by Mr. Thieriot (below, with Farmiga), who adds a little sexy sass and a new plot line or two to the mix -- as does the hotel's previous owner, who doesn't much take to this family twosome who now owns his old stomping grounds.

Best not to question a few of the series' odder events and looser ends. These are good for surprise, shock and some suspense, even if they defy reason now and again. As much as we come to like Norman and his mom (and we do), it is also clear that there is something deeply wrong here. By the final episode, the Norman we thought we knew and the Norman we see now, are beginning to merge.

Season One of Bates Motel, with ten approximately-42-minute episodes, can be seen on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and probably elsewhere. We'll hope that Season Two, now playing on cable TV, complete with annoying commercials, ends up here, too, commercial-free.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Streaming: Christian Charles' LOVE SICK LOVE proves more fun than you may have heard

TrustMovies is calling attention to this little movie not because it's so good (or so bad) but mostly because the few reviews (click and scroll down) it received were so undeservedly negative. No great shakes, LOVE SICK LOVE still manages to tread an unusual path between dark comedy and something akin to terror/horror, while remaining on its feet, if not its toes. Well acted and directed and competently written, the movie has a professional sheen and is never hard to watch. In fact, it'll keep you guessing about which direction it will finally choose to take.

Written by Ryan Oxford and directed by Christian Charles (shown at right), the movie offers us both an anti-hero and anti-heroine at odds with each other. Neither is very likeable in ways that bring to the fore dating and mating habits of today's men and women. Yes, the guy wants to constantly play around and never commit, while the gal just want that commit-ment, come hell or high water. To that end, she has devised a plan, little of which will be given away here. When that plan goes into action (it involves not just our young woman but some other relatives too), things get crazier and more fun.

In the starring roles are two good performers who give it their best shot (Matthew Settle, above right, as the guy, Katia Winter, above, left, as the girl) while staying true to their characters, who are simply not very nice. This is a tricky thing to pull off -- two main characters for whom we don't finally give a shit -- and it means that what goes on around them (events, plotting) has to make up for this and keep us interested. For the most part, Misters Oxford and Charles pull it off.

They introduce a nifty supporting cast made up of the always good Charlotte Rae and M. Emmet Walsh (shown above), a couple of cute/appalling kids, and Jim Gaffigan (below) as Mr. Settle's co-worker.

How the movie makes use of a number of our most noted holidays (one of which is shown below) adds some extra fun and games in the ongoing war between men and women that the filmmakers here raise another notch.

I may be reacting as much to the bad press this movie received as to its innate qualities. But I did enjoy all 82 minutes of the film and am glad I took a chance and streamed it off Netflix. You can also see it via Amazon Instant Video and perhaps elsewhere, too.