Monday, June 18, 2018

Mackenzie Davis shines in Christian Papierniak's offbeat knockout of a film

It should be clear by now to anyone who has seen her performance in either Tully or IZZY GETS THE FUCK ACROSS TOWN that the young actress Mackenzie Davis is quite a find. What she needs (as do so many actors), however, is a role strong enough to allow her talent and range to be properly displayed. TrustMovies must admit that, though he 'd seen Ms Davis in a number of earlier films, she'd never really stood out in his memory. Well, she's on his radar now.

Writer/director Christian Papierniak 
(shown at left), whose first full-length film this is, has given the actress a no-holds-barred role that she embraces with just about every ounce of energy and versatility that I have seen displayed in quite awhile. By turns angry, kind, caring and crazy, Ms Davis is so focused and frenetic that, were she not so believable and oddly endearing, she would tire you out within moments. But she doesn't. Nor does this strange film. Oh, it'll have you holding on for dear life at times. But pay proper attention -- the seeds that later bloom are all planted early on -- and I think you'll be very glad you went along for the ride.

Davis, above, plays the title role of Izzy, a young woman whose reputation seems to precede her at all times. At film's start she learns a bit of information about her ex-boyfriend and best girlfriend, and so must somehow -- in Los Angeles, with no car or money at hand -- get far across town to a necessary destination.

From the film's opening -- a nice dream sequence featuring Davis and Dolly Wells, above, right, in which some of those seeds first appear ("It's about a boy? It's always about a boy.") straight through to its low-key but very "earned" conclusion, the movie -- despite all its bizarre riffs and delightful detours -- knows where it's going and why.

Davis' talent and energy holds the film together without a single hitch, but it is also the lovely, surprising, and equally oddball turns from the ensemble supporting-cast that makes it such wonderful, additional fun. Players include the likes of Lakeith Stanfield (above, left) and Alia Shawkat (below, left), both of whom are as fine as always, with Ms Shawkat managing a fine philosophical scene that detonates just about perfectly.

Haley Joel Osment (below, right) and Ms Davis do wonders with another scene that's as sweet and finally funny as you could want, while Carrie Coon (further below), as Davis' sister, brings a fine ferocity, as well as a great singing voice to the proceedings.

The movie is full of fun, surprise and idiosyncrasy as it builds toward its real theme: modern love/relationships and the necessaity of growing up to accept what, yes, we already know and understand but maybe do not want to admit.

It's clear from the outset that Izzy knows exactly who and what her would-be boyfriend (played with just the right amount of sex appeal and emptiness by Alex Russell, below) really is. But it takes some maturation (and repetition) on her part to own up to this.

Annie Potts gets a lovely scene midway along that adds to the both the sweetness and the depth of the film, and for those of us who know L.A. and its environs, Izzy's journey will take on added familiarity and zest.

Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town is definitely a one-of-a-kind movie, but for those of you who appreciate something different, alive and hugely kicking, this one's a must-see. From Shout! Studios  and running 86 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, June 22, in New York City at the Village East Cinema and in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica Film Center and the Playhouse 7.                                   

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The difficulty of making that doctor's appt -- Jon Weinberg/Kris Elgstrand's FUNERAL DAY

An oddball and dark (but not black) comedy about a neurotic, narcissistic hypochondriac named Scott who seems bent on missing the funeral of one of his best friends (who has died from cancer) because poor Scott has just found what appears to be a lump on one of his testicles, as well as maybe a melanoma on his shoulder, FUNERAL DAY results in quite a few good laughs. As directed by and starring Jon Weinberg (shown at left, center, and below), this enjoyable little romp is a kind of road trip around Los Angeles as our nut-case hero fends off old friends trying to get him to that funeral and instead makes some new ones who have some very interesting ideas and suggestions for him.

Mr. Weinberg manages to direct competently enough and to perform the leading role in such as way that he makes Scott somehow bearable, as well as funny, so that his journey -- mostly on foot and running around town since has does not have a car--  pulls us into the film and keeps us pretty much glued.

The movie's fine ensemble cast adds a lot to the fun, as well, with Tyler Labine (above, left), as the friend who has the perfect solution to our hero's nut problem, and Dominic Rains (below, right), as another would-be friend who is more than ready to involve his pal in a less-than-upfront real estate transaction.

The screenplay, by Kris Elgstrand, races along nicely and also features some racy, funny dialog and situations -- the most bizarre of which involves a couple of doctors Scott meets in the park (Kristin Carey (below, center) and Jed Rees (below, left, and at bottom) who simply can't wait to take our hero home and "milk" his prostate. Ah, the meeting of modern medicine and modern romance!

As it rambles humorously along, the movie also sends up everything from materialism to creativity, friendship and much else. By the time Scott visits a sexy waitress (Sarah Adina) sporting a very nice tattoo, and then tries to break into a local hospice, you'll either be having a fine old time (as was I) or maybe have given up on this oddball movie.

I'd say stick with it and have yourself some good laughs and silly fun, even as you're treated to a raft of nice performances -- including those of Suzy Nakamura (above) and Tygh Runyan -- as little Scott is eventually made to realize that, yes, he really should grow up a bit and schedule that necessary MD appointment.

From Random Media and running a zippy 79 minutes, the movie hit DVD, digital and VOD last week -- for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

DVD/digital debut for Philippe Van Leeuw's family-under-siege drama, IN SYRIA

We hear about Syria almost daily: the bombings, the gassings, the snipers, the deaths, the destruction, the emigration (not to mention the problems Syrians have as immigrants to new countries). So the arrival of a narrative film about a Syrian family and their neighbors in crisis mode as they endure bombings that grow ever closer, sniper fire, lack of water and much else is... well, "welcome" may not be quite the right word, but IN SYRIA, written and directed by Phillipe Van Leeuw, is certainly a worthwhile addition to cinema about the middle east today.

Whoops.... TrustMovies has just managed to somehow delete his entire post, other than the initial paragraph above, just as he was about to publish it. Technology. Fuck! And he simply does not have the time or energy to reconstruct it all over again, with the photos and editorial content. So he will simply say that this very well-written, -directed and -acted movie will give you a believable and gripping account of a family and their friends and neighbors under siege and trying to survive.

Considering the subject matter, the film is relatively low on heavy-duty violence -- a sniper incident early on and then later a nasty, graphic rape --  but the threat of violence is ever-present, and the cast members, led by Israeli actress Hiam Abbass (above and below) as the mother-in-charge, deliver first-rate performances throughout. If you want to experience Syria, second-hand at least, the movie is definitely worth seeing.

From Film Movement, in Arabic with English subtitles and running a relatively swift 87 minutes, In Syria arrives on DVD and digital this coming Tuesday, June 19 -- for purchase and/or rental. As usual with Film Movement titles, the disc includes a short film, as well: this one written and directed by In Syria star Ms Abbass back in 2000. Titled Le Pain (The Bread), it takes place in a French provincial town and involves a family of newcomers, lunch, and the need to go out to buy some bread. It's nicely done and worth seeing, too. Though the combination of the short and the film itself adds up to an awfully bleak watch. Gird up your loins.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The printing press lives again in Erin Beckloff/ Andrew P. Quinn's charming, thoughtful and informative documentary, PRESSING ON: THE LETTERPRESS FILM

"Why hasn't letterpress died? It's a good question, but I don't have an answer for it," notes one interviewee early on a propos the subject of the new documentary, PRESSING ON: THE LETTERPRESS FILMThe form of printing from the time of Gutenberg through the 20th century -- until offset printing mostly took its place (only to find itself being replaced in the 21st century via the computer and the internet) -- letterpress was and is something special.

TrustMovies' interest in this form of printing began early in his career, when he worked during the late 1960s for Prentice-Hall Publishing in New Jersey, where he wrote and designed advertising brochures and interacted with printers as the brochures came to completion.

Even then, letterpress was on the wane, yet it was always something of a surprise and a joy to be able to feel that extra dimension of raised ink on paper rather than only being able to see it, as with offset printing, where the ink is absorbed into the paper. Now, I fully understand if most laymen who have had no experience in or connection with the printing industry might imagine that they would not be interested in this new documentary.

Well, wait a minute. As directed, written and co-produced by Erin Beckloff and Andrew P. Quinn, shown above with Ms Beckloff on the right, the documentary is absolutely interesting enough -- from angles historical, artistic and human -- to fully engage, amuse and move any intelligent fan of documentary films. You may come into the movie wondering why, but you'll leave it with renewed appreciation for printing art and the folk who make it.

The movie begins with a little nostalgia and history before introducing us to a raft of intelligent, well-spoken, often funny and always cogent interviewees who, together, give us quite an education on the printing process(es). Chief among these is a wonderful fellow named Dave Churchman (above), whose words are well worth hearing and mulling over. (If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Churchman has also, during the course of his life, collected over 2,000 complete metal typefaces.)

By the time we've met and spent some time with the adorable Iowa couple who collects printing presses (above), the Illinois retiree who opened up a Museum of Printing, and a number of other fascinating and fun folk, we're more than hooked. Watching that Iowa couple move a mammoth printing press out of a basement with the help of a tow truck and driver provides more suspense than a number of would-be thrillers I've seen.

Beautifully photographed -- crisp, clean, colorful and composed -- by Joseph Vella, above -- the documentary is a consistent pleasure to view. And when, some time along the way, one of our interviewees suddenly dies, and we see and hear from his son, below, the scene is particularly  moving. We feel the loss.

As we watch Hatch Show prints come off a letterpress, below, and see its owner 's enthusiasm, it's easy to feel just as enthused, for we realize that these people are often printers, artists and designers. Whatever you call them, what they produce is worthwhile. As one of them tells us, "It's history!" Says another, "I'll keep printing until the hearse shows up." From the cinematography to the music to the ideas to the talk, this is one classy, informative documentary.

From Bayonet Media and running 101 minutes, Pressing On: The Letterpress Film hits VOD and DVD this coming Tuesday, June 19 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Netflix streaming "must" -- the Fanny Herrero and Cedric Klapisch series, CALL MY AGENT

What a brilliant idea coupled to just-about-perfect follow-through is the delightful French cable series, CALL MY AGENT (Dix pour cent), available now on Netflix streaming. The idea is so good, in fact, and so original -- I don't recall its ever being done anywhere before -- that one wonders why Hollywood hasn't immediately co-opted it. The series tells the story of a somewhat large and successful agency for French film stars and the staff who work there.
While we get to know that staff and their lives, each episode actually revolves around a different French movie star, playing him- or herself, struggling with a particular problem -- from aging and the need for a little Botox to love and fidelity, child care, dementia, and just about any/everything else you might imagine.

The brainchild of writer Fanny Herrero, shown at left, with some help from director/producer Cédric Klapisch (he directed two of the initial episodes and helped produce a half dozen of them), the series is one of the most consistently entertaining, enthralling, funny, sweet and all-round-delightful shows TrustMovies has lately encountered. It's up there with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Imposters (season one, anyway; I have not yet seen season two).

Why Hollywood hasn't done this probably involves how huge, often ugly, heartless and far too humorless La La Land actually is. The French film industry, at least according to a number of its actors whom I've interviewed over the years, is just small and cozy enough -- like maybe a great big family, with all the warmth, anger, differences and ups-and-downs most families encounter -- to make a series like this one actually kind of plausible.

When I first began watching the series, while I loved each episode and every sparking moment, I also wondered how folk not as familiar as I with French films and their stable of actors might react to it. For many Americans, even those who occasionally attend foreign films, their knowledge of French movie stars may begin and end with Isabelle Adjani or Juliette Binoche (and, yes, both these stars get an episode here). So far, however all those people to whom I've recommended Call My Agent have fallen in love with it, too.

Ms Herrero has managed to create, via her agents and their helpers (shown on poster, top, and in the photos above), a group of people with whom we fall in love and are happy to stick with through thick and thin.

Ms Binoche, above, gets to end the second season with an episode that finds our agents at the Cannes Film Festival, and it shows off this actress' ability for goofy humor in a manner than Bruno Dumont could learn from.

Along the way we see actors such as Virginie Efira and Ramzy Bedia (above), the great François Berléand (below, playing Don Juan opposite a large, plastic yellow duck),

and the versatile Audrey Fleurot (of Spiral and the new Netflix series, Safe) as a recent mother who, below right, must learn to pole dance for her next role.

Each of the problems that confront these actors is so well-chosen and different, one from the next, that interest and enjoyment never flag. Further, each famous actor gives herself/himself over so completely to whatever is at hand that your respect and admiration for these "stars" should only increase.

That's Line Renaud and Françoise Fabian (left to right, above) as feuding old acquaintances, and Cécile de France (below, center) as the actress facing the perennial face-lift challenge.

And yet, with all this star power, what really makes the series zing and swing is the fabulous cast assembled to play the agenting staff. Every one of these actors deserves stardom (and may have it soon), so very well-chosen and talented is each. It is their characters and their stories that finally make this series as charming and addicting as it is. Miss this one at your own peril.

Call My Agent can be seen now on Netflix, in its first two seasons. We fans are now eagerly awaiting season three.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Fellipe Barbosa's hybrid docu-drama GABRIEL AND THE MOUNTAIN opens in NY and L.A.

Not quite like any movie I've seen previously and yet not so different in content and style as to seem at all "strange," GABRIEL AND THE MOUNTAIN is a kind of memorial to Gabriel Buchmann, a long-time friend of the filmmaker -- Fellipe Barbosa --  as well as an exploration of the last period of Gabriel's too-short life and a possible, though not-particularly-tidy explanation of his untimely death.

To his great credit, Barbosa decided to make his movie as narrative film, rather than a documentary, casting actors both professional and not and then mixing them so well, while using a story format that appears to follow real life closely enough, that a kind of vérité is quickly achieved.

The filmmaker, shown at right, seems clearly "invested" in this movie-- not just financially and artistically but emotionally, too.

And yet, instead of allowing himself to be either overly constrained or, conversely, undisciplined by his closeness to the material, Barbosa has used his understanding of what docu-drama can achieve to produce something nearly sui generis and very much worth experiencing.

His movie is too long -- it could have lost 15 to 20 minutes and been much stronger -- but it is still, despite this, memorable. Once seen, neither it nor its main character, Gabriel, will easily be forgotten.

As played by the remarkable young actor, João Pedro Zappa (shown above), Gabriel is at once full of life, energy, wit, smarts and attitude -- occasionally, so much of the latter that he begins to annoy. Yet he's kind and caring and always bounces back into your (and his girlfriend's) good graces.

Initially we see Gabriel with the various folk he's encountered along the way on his African adventure. He's come there as a kind of educational project to study poverty from the viewpoint of the people who are living through it and who, not coincidentally, seem to have embraced Gabriel fully and lovingly. In documentary style, each of these people tell us a bit about their own encounter with the young man. One of the side attractions of the film is that it makes the countries of African that we visit seem like the kindest and most welcoming places on earth.

Once Gabriel's girlfriend (played equally well by Caroline Abras, above and at bottom) joins him midway along, the movie becomes a kind of love duet that's also full of spice and ginger, politics and economics, and some quarreling, too, in which we view a bit of Gabriel's not-so-nice side -- which makes his character register all the more strongly and fully.

Gabriel is so full of life, in fact, that this gives the movie an odd and moving melancholy, since we have seen from its onset that he is now dead. And yet he lives. Boy, does he live! Along the way we visit the Masai people, see Mount Kilimanjaro, spend some time at the sea and finally return to Mount Mulanje in Malawi, Gabriel's final destination.

As the movie grows longer, it loses some stream because during the final 30-40 minutes we learn little more about Gabriel's character, even though the film itself continues and becomes somewhat repetitive. (The heavily accented English of the Africans is also sometimes difficult to decipher; English subtitles would have helped.) Still, the need to learn what happened to this young man, and why, is strong. The result -- in which we somewhat know and yet don't fully know -- is very well-handled by the filmmaker.

From Strand Releasing and running two hours and eleven minutes, Gabriel and the Mountain opens this Friday, June 15, in New York City (at the Quad Cinema) and Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal). In the coming weeks the movie will expand to at least another half dozen cities across the country. Here in South Florida it opens, Friday, July 13, at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Click here, and then click Screenings on the task bar midway down, to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.