Monday, September 16, 2019

So evil/so transfixing: Matt Tyrnauer's absorbing doc, WHERE'S MY ROY COHN?

Sure, he was the guy you loved to hate. And you could so easily get away with it because Roy Cohn was one hateful son-of-a-bitch -- working for and/or representing some of the country's most disgusting people, from Joe McCarthy to John Gotti to Donald Trump (yes, Trump learned his sleaze not only from his dad but from his other mentor, Mr. Cohn).

The most amazing thing about Matt Tyrnauer's new documentary, WHERE'S MY ROY COHN?, is how the filmmaker has managed to show us Cohn in all his evil glory while simultaneously flabbergasting us with this man's singular abilities. It's like watching a cobra weave and sway in front of your hypnotized eyes, fascinating you, even as you finally succumb.

This encompassing movie by Mr. Tyrnauer (shown at left) -- who has also given us fine documentaries about Studio 54, Scotty BowersJane Jacobs and Valentino -- here combines America's history with that of Mr. Cohn's, in the process making us further aware of the ways in which power not only corrupts but congregates and so often wins the day. Even when Cohn and/or his employers lost, it is simply amazing to watch and marvel at how this piece of sleaze would rise from the ashes and reinvent himself (in something of the same old guise) again and again.

Especially unnerving is the section in which we see and learn how Cohn's playbook served as a tutor to the liar, racist and cheat (above, right) who is now the President of the United States.

The movie moves back and forth in time, but thanks to Tyrnauer's skill (along with that of his editors, Andrea Lewis and Tom Maroney), we're kept nicely in place.

We learn about Cohn's family history (I believe that's his mother at left, above), which is interesting and, of course, germane. And while it goes some distance in explaining his character, nothing quite accounts for the monster the man became.

A sometimes flamboyantly gay fellow who was not merely closeted but rather seemed to seal himself behind a brick wall, his behavior and comments -- regarding the fact that, could he possibly be gay? -- are so bizarre and head-spinning that you'll wonder how he managed all this in his own sick mind. The documentary may bring some viewers to recall how beautifully Tony Kushner created and captured Cohn in his play, Angels in America. (That's Cohen's first major amour, below, right.)

The more you hear and see, the crazier Cohn seems -- yet the more successful he becomes. Until he isn't. At which point his supposed friends, clients and contacts desert him, Barbara Walters included. (TrustMovies dearly hopes that this lifetime shill for the wealthy and connected, whose obituary ought to be coming up soon, gets the kind of write-up she so richly deserves.)

It's all here and bigger than life (than the lives most of us plebes lead, at least). What Mr. Tyrnauer has given us should stand the test of time as a welcome and necessary reminder of what one of the most famous sycophant power brokers and his shit-ass clients gave to these United States.

From Sony Pictures Classics and running 97 minutes, Where's My Roy Cohn? opens this Friday, September 20, in New York City at Film Forum and in West Los Angeles at The Landmark, after which it will expand its run to cities across the country.

Dead redheads -- children, yet -- in Aldo Lado's so-so giallo set in Venice, WHO SAW HER DIE?

Arrow Video is slowly becoming (maybe by now already has become) the go-to company for the particular mystery subgenre of giallo, that Italian-bred forerunner of today's slasher movie. Is this a good thing?

For giallo fans, it most definitely is. For the rest of us, depending on the particular movie, it can be very good (Deep Red), pretty bad (The Bloodstained Butterfly), or simply so-so, as with today's offering), WHO SAW HER DIE?

Released in 1972 and directed and co-written Aldo Lado (shown at right), the movie has to do with a not-quite-serial-killer (he has only "offed" two victims) of redheaded little girls, one of whose dad (George Lazenby, below, center, in another of this would-be actor's tiresome performances), due to the usual incompetence of the Italian police, goes mildly ballistic while searching for his daughter's killer.

Unlike a better 1972 giallo about child murders -- Don't Torture a Duckling -- this one is not nearly as dark and is barely skin deep on any level. Characterization runs the gamut from A to B (if that), as most characters are given but a single trait to play, and some are not even that lucky.

The dead daughter's mom, played by the gorgeous Anita Strindberg (below, shedding a glycerin tear) seems barely there, though she remains strikingly beautiful no matter what the occasion.

In the Bonus Materials (plenty of them, as is usually the case with Arrow Video), critic and giallo-lover Michael Mackenzie assures us that the plotting plays scrupulously fair with the viewer, so that the identity of the killer, when revealed, makes perfect sense. Maybe, but so what? When every character, scene and incident seems so "out of left field,"nothing finally matters much.

The police investigation, such as it is, seems fairly ridiculous, while that of our "hero" dad is heavy with coincidence, if not outright nonsense. And, as is necessary in these gialli, the victims do keep piling up -- in this case not more of the child killings but instead violence committed to keep the identity of the killer under wraps.

All of which makes for those "murder" set pieces for which gialli are famous. The best of these takes place in a crowded movie theater (above), while another is set in a very bright, pretty, bird-filled room (below).

For us folk who've seen enough of this type of film to second-guess the entire mess, the identity of the killer will be obvious -- not so much from those would-be "fair play" plot points as from your finally having to ask yourself with a shrug, "Well, who the hell else could it be?"

So why bother with Who Saw Her Die? As usual with Arrow Video, however good or bad the movie, the Blu-ray transfer is usually magnificent. And so it is here. The film takes place in Venice, Italy, and the exteriors are breathtaking. Venice has rarely looked so good. Even though it was shot back in 1972, watching the movie now should only increase the city's tourism. (That's the thing about Europe as opposed to America: Landmark destinations tend not to change that much over time -- Venice in particular.)

Distributed in the USA by MVD Visual/MVD Entertainment Group, Who Saw Her Die -- running 94 minutes, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and in both an English-dubbed and an Italian language version with English subtitles -- hits the street on Blu-ray tomorrow, Tuesday, September 17 -- for purchase (and I hope for rental, too).  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Investigating ambient sounds while creating some ravishing visuals: Michael Tyburski and Ben Nabors' THE SOUND OF SILENCE

I think a warning is in order here: If you insist on your movies being tidy and never open-ended, then perhaps move on to your next film of interest. THE SOUND OF SILENCE, a new American independent from co-writer (with Ben Nabors) and director Michael Tyburski is so small, quiet (even in its loud-sound moments) and unassuming that many folk will probably pass it right by. For those of us, however, who want something different that can engage our minds -- and even, dare I say it, our souls -- this oddball little movie is quite something else.

Misters Tyburski (shown at right) and Nabors have contrived a tale of a fellow named Peter (played by the inestimable Peter Sarsgaard, on poster above and in the final two photos, below) who is enamored of sounds -- together with the ways in which they form patterns that help contain and/or control our lives. He makes his living helping folk in need. In fact, he is, as his invoice puts it, a "house tuner" who discovers what, in various apartments and homes, is amiss and depriving his clients of sleep, energy, or general well-being.

Peter has been so successful, in fact, that no less than The New Yorker has profiled the guy. Yet regarding his latest client, Ellen Chasen (Rashida Jones, two photos down, giving another of her lovely, understated performances), something has gone amiss, and Peter seems unable to help her much.

Along with all this comes our protagonist's own need for some kind of acceptance from his peers and the scientific community; instead, it is only the marketing community that seems keen on using him and his work.

As Peter negotiates everything from a very personal kind of industrial espionage to his relationship with Ellen, the movie moves slowly yet entrancingly along, as viewers become immersed in this fellow's world of sound -- and the filmmaker's world of visuals which, it seems to TrustMovies, echoes in its own way that special sound experience.

Tyburski and his cinematographer (Eric Lin) show us a universe of patterns of every sort, in the design of both architecture and nature, and these take us with Peter on his journey, while consistently giving us something unusual, beautiful and a just a bit confounding to view as we listen.

Fuss has been made about the film's refusal to guide us definitely toward an understanding of things -- of whether Peter is brilliant or simply befuddled, whether his ideas are right or wrong, whether he and Ellen will get together, whether his scientific peers are on base or off, whether or not that marketing concern has ripped him off. So what?

If everything's up in the air, still, it surely does sound good -- and look even better. The fine supporting cast includes the likes of Austin Pendleton and Tony Revolori, both of whom add their own special, on-the-nose talents to this unusual mix.

From IFC Films and running just 87 minutes, the movie opened this past Friday, September 13, in New York City at the IFC Center and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. Simultaneously it will be available nationwide via VOD.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Looking for a genuinely different zombie film? Try Shinichiro Ueda's ONE CUT OF THE DEAD

Yeah, yeah: You keep hearing about "really different zombie films," particularly zombie comedies -- of which we've already seen plenty, from Shaun of the Dead through Stalled and way beyond (in fact, Jim Jarmusch's try at this subgenre arrives on DVD/VOD this very week). And while it's true that the new film under consideration here -- ONE CUT OF THE DEAD -- is indeed a zombie comedy, it is so different in so many ways from the usual pack that TrustMovies believes it merits the attention of film buffs and maybe even that of zombie-movie lovers.

As you may know if you follow this blog, I am no fan of zombies -- the most boring "monsters" movie-land has so far created. In the old days they looked a little spooky and walked so slowly you could tiptoe away from them with no problem whatsoever. These days they either move slowly (as in the grand-daddy of the modern zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead) or fast, and they, yes, "feast on the flesh of the living." Big deal. Werewolves can change their whole appearance while scaring us silly, and vampires make a great metaphor for forbidden sex. But zombies? Real Johnny-One-Notes, they bore us to distraction.

All of the which makes this 2017 film -- written, directed and edited by Shinichiro Ueda (shown two photos above) a nice, if rather long gestating, surprise. And so I must beg you, should you take a chance on this movie, please last out through the longueurs of the first third, which will seem like a rather standard, if silly zombie film, and through the second section, which more or less explains how that first section will soon come into being, and to hold out until the final third -- which is truly unusual: genuinely funny, sweet and charming as all hell. (My spouse gave up midway through the movie, and so missed what I now know he would, given his taste and humor, have really loved.)

More than this, plot-wise, I ought not say. Spoilers, you know. But the more we learn about the characters in the movie-within-the-movie, and about the actors who play them and about all the folk laboring behind the scenes, One Cut of the Dead just grows better and better.

The whole cast is delightful -- by the finale appearing, oh, so different from what you initially perceived -- and Mr. Ueda is to be congratulated on his moxie for coming up with an idea this bizarre and then bringing it to decent fruition. Given what that idea is, I don't really see how he could have avoided those aforementioned longueurs. And his final section proves so much fun that I think you'll easily forgive him. I sure did.

Released via Shudder, in association with Variance Films, One Cut of the Dead -- running 96 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles -- opens in New York City (at IFC Center) and Los Angeles (at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown) today, Friday, September 13, after which it will play at over 60 one-night screenings across the US and Canada, slated for Tuesday, September 17 (click here to see all currently scheduled screenings), with additional ones to follow and more being added daily. Eventually, I would imagine, you'll be able to see the film on the Shudder streaming service.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow's ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE offers some hot animation inspired by the cold war

Just the other day TrustMovies was wondering how many of us are all that familiar with British history, let alone with that of our own USA. And now here we are getting a good chunk of the history of the African country of Angola, which was, until winning its independence from Portugal in 1975, one of the many "colonized" African countries. That independence led to a decades-long struggle between the ruling party, the MPLA (supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba) and an insurgent group (UNITA) supported by the United States and South Africa. Yes, that ever-famous/infamous Cold War was full-swing in Angola, just as it was in so many other places around the globe.

The new combination-animated/live-action movie, ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE, is based upon the eponymously titled book by Ryszard Kapuściński, a noted Polish journalist/ photographer/poet/author.

If the story of a hugely difficult independence, mass killings and yet another nasty product of that seemingly endless (and maybe starting up all over again) cold war would seem to be an odd choice for animation, think again.

The film's directors (and co-writers), Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow (pictured at left, with de la Fuente on the right), do full justice to Kapuściński's penchant for poetry and reportage.

The animation (above and below) is by turns beautiful, poetic, impressionistic and horrific -- as befits the story here told. Further, the animation and story are very well complemented by the use of live-action documentary footage in which a few of the true-life characters we meet are shown to us now, some forty years on, in old age.

The back and forth between animation and live-action is never jarring however; instead, it flows as easily as do the assorted moods, images and characters woven through the story. We meet everyone from our protagonist's fellow reporters and a gorgeous female rebel-in-chief (below)

to the famous hero-of-the-revolution, Farrusco (below), who oddly proves the film's most surprising and poignant creation, and some of the students Kapuściński teaches back home in Poland,

one of whom (below) poses a question to his instructor that lingers for good reason. The film is full of ideas, as well as visual appeal.

Given all we now know about our own country's involvement in the overthrow of numerous democratically elected foreign governments, as well as its happily propping up just about any bloody dictatorship, so long as that dictator says he's anti-Communist, what we see here will seem pretty much par for the course. (Except, of course, for the people of the foreign country in question.)

While the use of live-action in tandem with animation proves consistently compelling, Another Day of Life reaches its zenith at the end, as the credits roll and we learn more about Kapuściński, his life and work. The film is, deservedly, a paean meant to honor this man. It thoroughly does.

GKIDS will release the movie -- a Poland/Spain/Germany/Belgium/ Hungary/France co-production running 85 minutes, in English, Portuguese, Polish and Spanish (with English subtitles as needed) -- this Friday, September 13, in New York City (at the IFC Center) and Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Glendale).

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Government accountability, front and center, in Gavin Hood's exemplary OFFICIAL SECRETS

Anyone interested in recent history -- including how and why certain western powers got into an unjust, stupid and worthless (except to those corporate and individual folk who continue to profit from it) war that is still going on -- will not want to miss OFFICIAL SECRETS, the film co-written and directed by Gavin Hood that tells the based-on-life story of British intelligence agency whistleblower, Katharine Gun, who leaked information about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In the film, we see our own President George W. Bush and Colin Powell, as well as Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, blatantly lying on to the television cameras (Powell has since apologized for this; so far as I know, Bush and Blair never have) in the run-up to the vile Iraq War. What filmmaker Hood (pictured at right), his co-writers and his very starry British cast have done remarkably well, is to bring to immediate and visceral life how word of these sleazy goings-on, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, managed to leak out to the world -- despite the leak's doing, finally, not one lick of good in halting the war.

Still, as the Brit journalist (played so well by Matt Smith, above and below) points out late in the proceedings, the British government that did this, and the British press that mostly managed to cover it up, rather than actually cover it, must answer for their behavior. As should the American press, along with the corrupt and criminal past administration most responsible for the atrocity.

Yet no one has ever taken responsibility for any of this. The cowardly Obama administration did nothing to bring the criminals to any kind of remote justice (or even admission of responsibility), and then allowed Wall Street and the Banks to profit from their misdeeds involving mortgages, bubbles and world-wide meltdowns. Anyone naive enough to wonder how Donald Trump arrived at his present position need only consider this: When government responsibility is shirked over and over again, a nation ends up with someone in charge who actually revels in irresponsbility. (Italy and Berlusconi provide an even earlier example.)

The movie's greatest strength lies in its wonderful detailing of everything we see and hear -- from how the leaked information slowly makes its way public, to how the press works (or sometimes doesn't) to Mrs. Gun (achingly, vitally portrayed by Keira Knightley, above) and her life at work and at home with her immigrant Muslim husband (Adam Bakri, below), who is used by her government in a particularly nasty manner.

In these wonderfully real and specific details -- as well as in dialog that, while always believable, does a bang-up job of bringing the details and plot strands together -- Mr. Hood and his crew find the way to offer up a hugely important slice of recent history. If you don't follow British history as closely as you do American (if anyone still does much of either), Gun's story will not be so familiar, and its outcome (particularly the "why" of that outcome) will surprise you.

Along the way, you'll be treated to some of the UK's finest performers, from Ralph Fiennes (above, bewigged, front and center), Jeremy Northam (as Fiennes' friend/foe), Matthew Goode (below) and Rhys Ifans, among a bunch of others. All do a first-rate job. TrustMovies suspects many of these fine actors came aboard this project for reasons as much to do with its importance as with their own egos and/or paychecks.

As good as is the supporting cast, it's Ms Knightley who gives the film its heart, mind and strength. Her performance is so impressive that, however you may feel about this ongoing war and the venal politicians who enabled it, it will be difficult not to understand why this woman acted as she did.

From IFC Films and running a just-about-perfect 111 minutes, Official Secrets, named for the (in)famous "Official Secrets Act" -- used by the British government (as so many countries use similar "laws") to silence its citizens in the name of national security -- after opening on the coasts, hits South Florida this Friday, September 13. Look for it at the AMC Aventura 24 and Sunset Place 24 and the CMX Brickell City Center, and Cobb's Downtown at the Gardens 16