Saturday, May 8, 2021

Home video debut for two mid-20th-Century British mysteries: CAST A DARK SHADOW and WANTED FOR MURDER

This pair of  certainly-not-classic but quite-presentable-anyway murder mysteries from England (both on the same disc) comprise a nice evening-or-two's enjoyment for buffs of British film. 

Surprisingly enough, it's the lesser-known and less-credentialed of the two that makes for the more pleasant viewing.

 (from 1955) boasts the talents of actors Dirk Bogarde, Margaret Lockwood, Kay Walsh and Mona Washbourne plus the directorial skills of Lewis Gilbert, in which Bogarde (above and on box art, top) plays another in his "handsome rotter" repertoire (was he unknowingly auditioning here for The Servant?), at which the actor was just about unparalleled. Even as you know every word out of his mouth is fraudulent, you also easily believe that the older women he's seducing (in one way or another) and then "demising" are at least hopeful, if not completely convinced, of his honesty and worth.

Until, that is, he connects with the crafty, no-nonsense, I'll-take-what-I-can-get character played by Ms Walsh (above), who proves the film's highlight. This is one memorable performance. The elderly and always delightful Ms Washbourne portrays an early victim of our boy, while Ms Lockwood (below), is also spot-on as an attractive late-comer to the mix.

The movie is nicely acted, written and directed, but at this point in time, not at all surprising. You can predict just about everything that will happen, if not immediately then plenty ahead of the folk to whom it will occur. Still, there remains little as appealing and appalling as Mr. Bogarde at his usual naughty best.


The lovely surprise of this duo, however, is the movie with the moniker that could hardly be more generic: WANTED FOR MURDER. Yet this one is a small gem of its time period: a genre-mashing mystery with sweet romance and a little comedy -- and simply full of the social mores and cultural artifacts of its day. There's little mystery (not for long, at least) regarding who it is who's wanted for those murders. That would be the film's star, Eric Portman, who excelled at portraying strong, often nefarious characters, here playing a successful, well-to-do fellow whose problems stem from "father issues," about which we learn more as the film proceeds.

The romance and comedy come via an in-danger young woman (the lovely Dulcie Gray, above right), whom the Portman character is "dating," and the young man (Derek Farr, above center) she meets and is smitten by, and by the always on-his-marks Stanley Holloway (above left), as a not-quite-brilliant police officer. The manner in which this romance develops is so charming, witty and "unpushed" that it should make you long for the "old days" when at least a few films knew how to create and then make the most of their endearing characters. (The best recent example of this can be found in the film Spontaneous; check it out via Prime Video or Hulu.)

The murder-mystery portion of the film work surprisingly well, too, for we end up feeling, as we should, real empathy for the victims, and even, finally, some understanding of the villain himself, whom Portman brings to life chillingly and sadly. Based on a stage play and very nicely filmed indeed by journeyman movie-and-television director Lawrence Huntington, Wanted for Murder proved special enough to fully make up for some of the dreck TrustMovies has had to sit through over the past months.

From the Cohen Film Collection's Classic of British Cinema, (distributed via Kino Lorber) these two features on a single disc arrived on Blu-ray (in a nice 2K restoration) and DVD a month or so back and are available now for purchase (and I hope rental, too). Click here for more information.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Sergei Loznitsa's death-of-Stalin documentary, STATE FUNERAL, opens at Film Forum

Of most interest, TrustMovies suspects, to big-time history buffs and Russophiles, STATE FUNERAL -- the 2019 documentary directed by Sergei Loznitsa (shown below, of My Joy) -- is two-and-one-quarter hours of black-and-white and color footage originally shot by the Soviets of the several-days-long funeral of USSR dictator Joseph Stalin

There he is, "Uncle Joe," laid out in state complete with signature mustache. What a record-breaking, mass-murderer kind of guy!

I always forget which of these -- Hitler, Mao or Stalin, with Pol Pot closing in the outside -- holds the absolute record of most-innocent-citizens-killed. 

So here we are, watching as the hordes of "workers" (as well as the occasional head of state) from so many of those republics across the USSR (and next-door-neighbor Finland, too), pay their respects, seemingly utterly saddened by the news of their hero's death. 

As we hear on the soundtrack the official version of how and why Stalin died, my mind wandered back to the wonderful Armando Iannucci comedy The Death of Stalin, and then to imagining how the many fans of our own would-be dictator Donald Trump will react (someday soon, I hope) to the news of that guy's death. How much has changed during the succeeding nearly 70 years, and yet how little -- particularly in terms of official "news" in Russia or elsewhere -- actually has. The only difference comes via the transmission of news. Hello, internet! 

But back to the "spectacle," if you can even quite call it that. The publicity release refers to the film as "hypnotic," but I would only agree because the incredible repetition in the film is likely to put you to sleep. While there is identification of place, there is none of person (I thought I caught of a glimpse of Mao for a couple of seconds, and I know I saw Khrushchev early on) until toward the end we are told we're about to hear a speech by first Malenkov, then Beria, then Molotov. 

Yet any spoken words are, of course, utter nonsense. If you replaced all the references to the triumph of Communism here with that of Capitalism (or merely the word "business") you might be listening to any western politician anywhere else. 

Much has been made of how this documentary shows us "authoritarianism" and "the cult of personality" at work via the brainwashed masses turning out to mourn. Come on. This happens because the documentary bangs us atop the head for over two hours to make the same point, and this happens in all countries under dictatorship (and not a few supposedly "democratic" ones, too). Russia was simply the best at this. Still is, I'd wager -- though China's a close second (and it has done a lot better at goosing its populace into a healthier condition). 

You may smile at some of the schlock poetry recited here, as you note the many artists at work trying to capture Uncle Joe at rest. And you may begin to notice that, while a lot of the women are indeed crying, the men -- a much sterner gender -- often seem annoyed or maybe a little befuddled. 

And the music! Of course it's funereal. But then, that was our Joe: Always ready with a purge, until it was time for a dirge. From MUBI, running 135 minutes and in Russian with English subtitles, State Funeral opens tomorrow, Friday, May 7, in New York City at Film Forum  (Click the preceding link for more information.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Justin Price's mediocre genre-masher, WRONG PLACE WRONG TIME, hits home video

Well, it's not completely awful. You've seen plenty worse. 

And if that's damning with (not even) faint praise, so be it: WRONG PLACE WRONG TIME takes one oft-tried genre (the big-time heist) then couples it to another (the supernatural) with results that are consistently done in via mediocre dialog and performances that are made up of "attitude" rather than the "specifics" required by genuine acting. 

As written and directed by a fellow named Justin Price (shown at right; he is also the co-producer and cinematographer), the movie starts out with a bang (quite a few bangs, actually) as a bloody, never-before-managed theft of some major information occurs and is then interrupted by a major, terribly silly and sentimental moment between one of the killers and a little boy.

Our anti-heroes flee and finally take refuge in an off-the-beaten-track house that is full of nasty surprises, which will come as a surprise only to those who've not seen several of this type of genre mashing previously.

The near-constant, would-be suspenseful music does not help things much, nor does the fact that these supposedly super-smart, top-of-the-line criminals keep behaving so stupidly. (When one of their group suddenly disappears, this fact is mentioned yet nobody bothers to go look for the poor girl.)

The film vamps its way along, with us viewers far ahead of those poor, on-screen schmucks, while the dialog, which begins as merely mediocre, soon falls a bit below that. My favorite line is "Solomon, hey -- what's happening?" spoken to poor Solomon, as he is clearly in horrible pain and probably dying.

Finally all that is left is a lot of blood-letting and low-cost special effects. On the plus side is a real beast of a villain, played effectively, with pretty good prosthetics,  by -- yes! -- Mr. Price himself. But the finale goes on and on and on until you're ready to grab the one remaining gun on view, stick it in your mouth, and pull the trigger.  However, if you're into watching a person's intestines being pulled out of their body as they die, then this may be the movie for you.

From Uncork'd Entertainment and running 85 minutes, Wrong Place Wrong Time hit home video via On-Demand and DVD yesterday, May 4 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Home video debut for Philippe Garrel's leisurely, laughable THE SALT OF TEARS

The relationship that a callow, manipulative young man named Luc develops with three different young women provides most of the content for THE SALT OF TEARS, the latest film from Philippe Garrel (shown below), a French filmmaker whose sensibility seems forever stuck back in the 1960s even when, as here, he's desperately trying to come to terms with life and love in the 21st Century. 

Motherless for most of his life, Luc does have a bond with his father (he's followed Dad's line of work), but seems to gravitate toward clingy, uncertain young women.

A fairly prolific filmmaker, M. Garrel already has 37 directorial credits and 32 for writing. For my taste, his movies have always remained in the (at best) "iffy" category. This one doesn't begin to achieve even that level.

Here, he relies on narration to fill in too many of the blanks --  from history and character to what his hero, Luc, is thinking and feeling. 

Garrel tells instead of shows -- except when he does both, in far too tiresome a fashion. Further, that narration too often comes through as both pretentious and empty.

Luc is played by the handsome newcomer Logann Antuofermo (above, left), whom we'll probably see again under better circumstances, while two of the three women are portrayed by Louise Chevillotte (above, right), whose needy, clingy character seems clearly responsible for Luc's learning how to "finger" so very well, and

Oulaya Amamra
(above, right), who plays the young woman Luc accosts at a bus stop, finagling his way into her affection (and perhaps into her womb: Our boy proves very fertile). These two characters seem like hold-overs from another age, and even the faintest feminist is likely to cringe while watching them. ("You're the one who matters, Luc!" implores one of these, when it is already too clear that he neither does nor should.)

The third woman, Betsy, however, is quite another matter: self-supporting and self-sufficient, too. At least until we discover she needs to be fucking two men -- one by day, the other by night -- in order to be really satisfied. As played by Souheila Yacoub (above, right), Betsy helps brings the movie to some life during its final third.

Far too leisurely paced and predictable, The Salt of Tears is probably most embarrassing when it asks us to feel so sorry for poor Luc because he can't afford to eat lunch out with his classmates. And that narration grows ever more self-serving, pompous and finally very nearly as stupid as seems our asinine hero -- whose thought and action (via that narration, of course) regarding his father at film's end may very likely draw your biggest guffaw. (That's André Wilms, above, as Luc's dad.) 

There is an excellent dance scene at a club, due to its being shot at enough distance to allow us to see and enjoy the choreography, while the focus is on the faces as well as the bodies of the participants. The cinematography (by Renato Berta, of Fairytale) is also very fine. Otherwise, The Salt of Tears is mostly flatfooted nonsense.

From Distrib Films US (distributed here in the U.S. via Icarus Home Video) and running 101 minutes, the movie hit home video on DVD at the end of last month and is available now. Click here and/or here for more information.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Peccadillo Pictures' latest compilation of gay shorts, BOYS ON FILM 21: BEAUTIFUL SECRET

After giving quite a batch of review time to NQV Media and its selections of short gay-themed movies, it seemed only fair that TrustMovies looked elsewhere into the GLBT distribution field. Sure enough, up popped a company called Peccadillo Pictures and its most recent grouping of international gay short films entitled BOYS ON FILM 21: BEAUTIFUL SECRET. This lengthy moniker suggests that there may have been even earlier renditions of Boys on Film, and yes: 20 of these actually pre-date the current release, beginning back in 2009.

The current films arrive from a half dozen countries, though the majority come via Great Britain (English language subtitles are provided as needed) and run the gamut -- not just of countries but of themes, genres and emotions -- and while the quality may vary a bit, it never dips below the acceptable level and is in general very good.

Beautiful Secret
leads off with the utterly winning MEMOIRS OF A GEEZA (UK), in which director Theo James Krekis, in just four minutes flat (including credits) gives us the verbal and visual history of a young gay man at a fabulous, furious speed. "Perception's a funny thing, ain't it?" will take on wonderful new meaning by the end of this little delight.

(UK, 30 mins) is set in the Berlin of 1933, as Hitler youth, along with Hitler elders, threaten a gay cabaret and its aging songstress owner in a kind of "last dance" before the shit hits the fan. Directed by Joe Morris, the film may seem somewhat been there/done that for those of us in the older generation. Still, it's nicely filmed written and acted by a game cast. 

From Canada comes, MY DAD WORKS THE NIGHT SHIFT, a 14-minutes movie directed by  Zachary Ayotte.  A coming-out tale complete with swimming pool, locker room and a not-quite pick-up, this one features the rather memorable line, "Hey, Dad -- how long is seven inches?" It also offers a nicely surprising finish. 

I suspect Jean Genet would have creamed his shorts, had he been able to view L'HOMME JETÉE (Switzerland, 21 mins), directed by Loïc Hobi. Here we have sailors, sex, gay guys, abusive fighting and lots of longing, as Theo, our hero, gloms onto Giuseppe and hopes to follow him out to sea. Easier said than done -- but full of  the requisite angst and taboo. 

Angst is also front and center in MY SWEET PRINCE (UK, 12 mins), as director Jason Bradbury has his hot-looking young hero fret no end about his would-be love (who may have no idea that he's the object of such lust). Set on the Isle of Wight near the turn of this new century, video comes up against fiction in ways not always that deciperhable for this viewer, at least. 

In DUNGAREES (UK, 5 mins), director Abel Rubinstein gves us a very short film that deals with two boys, a dildo, and acceptance of gay identity. 

The lightest and closest to maybe conventional comedy comes with director Sam Peter Jackson's charming coming-out-abroad-themed CLOTHES & BLOW (a US/UK co-production, 23 mins), in which a young American man making his living doing voice-overs in London gets a surprise visit from both his mom and his sister. Among the many wittty gems here, perhaps the funniest involves the particular DVDs our hero's sex partner must play to help mask the sound of his very loud lovemaking. 

Romania proves the surprising source of one of the best of this lot, A NORMAL GUY (14 mins), in which director George Dogaru tells the tale of a cute gay guy who lives with his straight brother and bro's girlfriend, and the night he gets particularly lucky bringing home a very hot number from a local club. This one also boasts the most original full-frontal nude scene you'll have seen. Fun -- and then some.

(Australia, 9 mins) concludes the compilation, as directors Pierce Hadjincola & Sinclar Suhood give us a closeted teen whose mother is not as welcoming as he or we might like. Overall, there's enough variety and talent here to make this anthology worth a viewing (or, in the case of some of these shorts, maybe two).

From Peccadillo Pictures and, in its entirety, running two hours and 14 minutes, Boys on Film 21: Beautiful Secret is available now here in the USA via digital streaming on Amazon. Click here for further information.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Black and white disparity--again and forever it seems--in Chris Haley and Brad J. Bennett's short doc, UNMARKED

Here's a subject linked to systemic racism, like so many others coming to the fore of late, that my readers may not even have considered -- unless you happen to be Black, especially from the South but also, unfortunately, from the supposedly woke-earlier-North of these United States. That subject would be burial, and the treatment of that burial as something worth honoring and remembering. 

As the new documentary UNMARKED shows us, there are hundreds of slave cemeteries -- until now allowed  to disappear or slip into total disrepair -- seemingly unknown yet almost in plain view that dot our southern states, particularly in the area of Virginia, where this documentary takes place.

As directed by Chris Haley (shown at right) and Brad J. Bennett (below), the documentary is actually a short film which started out, according to its IMDB page, as only 27 minutes in length, now grown to 40 minutes. And yet, the subject itself calls for full-length treatment.

Perhaps because the venue is confined (probably by both the budget the location of the filmmakers to the state of Virginia), the ability to reach out nationwide was limited. And so we remain in and around that state, as these new/old graveyards are rediscovered and 

reinvigorated from the confines of the natural world that has grown around them and covered them.

Catch as catch can, we meet some of the folk who are helping unearth and then maintain these graveyards, and we watch them work and see how they manage all this. 

It's interesting, important, and -- when at one point we view the pristine and beautifully-tended Confederate cemetery in the area of Richmond, VA -- fucking enraging to compare this to the separate-but-unequal "disappeared" cemetery of the slaves.

Most of the documentary will not and is not meant to be enraging because it is clear that the folk working to regain these burial grounds and turn them into something that honors, records and remembers the dead want to do this as peaceably as possible.

This means using the help of mostly volunteers but also politicians and local institutions -- educational and otherwise -- in ways that might finally bring us together, at least somewhat.

So we watch as these volunteers, using only their bare hands against the under- and over-growth, discover more tombstones in more locations. One woman speaks movingly of finally traveling the road from shame to pride regarding the history of slavery, while another remarks on how important it is to possess "authentic history," rather than merely history (or the kind of revisionist history that would have us believe that so many of the slaves were such happy people, really.). 

If the doc jumps around into subjects barely covered, and even includes an apocryphal-sounding tale of a sad "Cinderella" love story, its heart is clearly in the right place. Let's hope that a full-length documentary may someday arrive covering more of the totality and history of these unmarked graves. Meanwhile, this short film will fill you in as a decent introduction.

From First Run Features and lasting but 40 minutes, Unmarked arrived on DVD and digital streaming this past Tuesday, April 27 -- for purchase and/or rental. Click here for further information.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Roy Andersson is back -- and treading water -- with ABOUT ENDLESSNESS

They're all here, once again, those special pleasures of viewing a film by Swedish master Roy Andersson: the stationary camera, perfect compositions, elegance, ugliness, humor (dry, dark), and above all quietude -- even amidst what would normally be considered a terribly trying time (a modern-day Christ being persecuted as he carries his cross uphill in one of those uber-sanitary Scandinavian towns). 

Beginning with a Chagall-like image (above) of a man and woman floating in the sky, Andersson's newest, ABOUT ENDLESSNESS, is only his fourth full-length film in 20 years. None of these are what you'd call lengthy (maybe 95 or 100 minutes), and his new one lasts but 78. 

Yet for TrustMovies, this one seems the longest, thanks to a certain repetition and sameness that have clearly set in to the filmmaker's work (Mr. Andersson is shown at right). Not that his situations are the same (though they are often pretty similar), but his themes -- from religion, war, commerce, communication (or the lack of it), and a populace that is at best utterly brainwashed -- remain front and center, with little new to be said about any of these. 

What the filmmaker has done, I think, is to pare down each of his segments more and more to what is currently coming very close to the bone. (Andersson has always been a minimalist; he's simply more so now.)

He's right, of course, in that society is certainly not changing (except for the worse), but then neither is his own vision. And since there are usually a few years inserted between his last and the debut of his latest, we're more primed for yet another chapter of Andersson-ville.

And so as About Endlessness was unspooling, I found myself, as ever, engaged with the simultaneous beauty/ugliness of it all. At the same time, my mind wandered back to his first (and still best) full-length film, Songs From the Second Floor, and how much more deeply, movingly, often shockingly, these same themes were rendered.

Well, society certainly ain't changing ('cept for the worse), so can you blame a filmmaker for staying his course? (Even treading water, Roy Andersson puts most other movie-makers to shame in so many ways.) And if we perceive an awful lot of state-sanctioned, by-rote behavior here, I can also tell you that the likes of Adolf Hitler makes an appearance, as well.

The refrain, "I saw a man..." (or sometimes a woman) occurs often here, as do forms of love and even thermodynamics. And if I can detect any really special loathing of Andersson's, it just might be toward psychotherapy and its practitioners (maybe even toward the entire medical profession). 

I might suggest that it's time for Andersson to move on, but as the world appears to be arriving at its  end, in its own not-so-good time, perhaps it is this filmmaker who is the best choice to help us properly embrace it all.

From Magnolia Pictures, in Swedish with English subtitles (damn few, actually; fast, snappy dialog is not Mr. Andersson's thing) and running 78 minutes, About Endlessness opens theatrically this Friday, April 30 in limited release. (It will not be challenging Godzilla and King Kong for the box-office crown.) Click here for more information on the film and its theatrical and/or digital-viewing venues.