Friday, March 22, 2019

Blu-ray debut for Desiree Akhavan's THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST

A movie that was well-received at its debut at last year's Sundance Film Fest and later in the year when its had its limited theatrical run, THE MIS-EDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, directed and co-written by Desiree Akhavan
(shown below), didn't set the box-office on fire nearly as much as those who championed the film would have liked.

Now that a special edition of the movie has appeared on Blu-ray, home viewers will have further opportunity to judge for themselves. Although The M of CP, as we'll call it, is all about the increasingly outlawed practice of GLBT "conversion therapy" (it takes place in 1993) and we've already seen two other films on this subject within past year (the excellent based-on-fact narrative movie, Boy Erased and the unusual documentary The Sunday Sessions), this one easily finds it own special niche.

For one thing the protagonist here is female rather than male, as in the other two films, and Ms Akhavan's style is lower-key, generally resisting melodrama very well -- even in the one toward-the-end scene in which this is very nearly unavoidable. The filmmaker draws fine performances from her entire cast, many of whom will seem brand new to the viewer's eye.

Though lead actress Chloë Grace Moretz (above) and three supporting players -- Jennifer Ehle,(below, right), John Gallagher Jr. (below, left) and Sasha Lane -- are well-known, most of the other faces are fresh and new enough to make the film seem as close to documentary in feel as to narrative.

Ms Moretz, in particular, is such a fine actress (even in claptrap like the recent Suspiria remake) that she makes every tiny gesture and small thoughtful moment something you never question. She is so adept here at keeping her thoughts and feelings close to the vest, even as you realize how difficult is the position in which she has been placed, that you will find it hard to take your eyes off her.

When at last Cameron is able to truly bond with a couple of her co-prisoners -- Ms Lane (center, above) and the excellent American Indian actor Forrest Goodluck (above, left) -- this quiet, increasingly deeply-felt relationship binds the movie. As usual with these "conversion therapy" stories, religion plays a huge and pretty terrifying role. And though The M of CP doesn't make any of its characters out-and-out villains, if you're anything like me, you'll want to shove a pocket version of the Holy Bible down the throat of most of these faith-based idiots.

From FilmRise and running 91 minutes, The Miseducation of Cameron Post hit the street last week on Blu-ray, complete with Bonus Features -- for purchase and/or rental. According to the distributor, it will soon be available on VOD, as well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

ROLL RED ROLL: Nancy Schwartzman's expansive documentary about rape culture at that Steubenville, Ohio, high school

The rape, back in 2012, of a teenage girl by a couple of guys from the Steubenville, Ohio, football team did not go unnoticed by our national press. I recall reading about it in The New York Times in the months afterward and being surprised (but not really) at the nastiness of both the thing itself, and of some of the reactions of the students and adults who were involved, even as bystanders, to this ugly event.

Even if you remember a lot about this, too, TrustMovies suspects you will still be surprised and quite interested in the information garnered by filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman and how she has delivered it for further exploration in her new documentary, ROLL RED ROLL. The movie is quietly involving and finally as depressing as it is devastating.

Ms Schwartzman, pictured at left, has a low-key but penetrating style; this is nothing like so many of the obvious, repetitive and cliche-ridden weekly television programs that deal with "true crime."

Instead, the filmmaker has unearthed enough behind-the-scenes information and subsidiary characters, one of which -- a female crime blogger named Alexandria Goddard (shown below) -- seems as close to the heroine of the documentary as you'll find. Ms Goddard, when she first heard of this incident, did her own digging, and her blog posts made much of the town of Steubenville angry as hell. For very good -- if very guilty -- reason: As in so much of American, today, just as at the time of this event, boys, machismo, and football trample just about everything in their path. Especially girls and even a remote sense of justice.

One of the most interesting things about the documentary is the manner in which it demonstrates both the horror and the help produced by social media. What we see of these footballers' texts speaks volumes about male entitlement and the place of the female in American society. And the collusion between everyone from parents and students to school administrators and teachers to protect the guilty and tarnish the victim is appalling, disgusting. What is uncovered here goes both farther back and farther ahead than this single rape incident.

Schwartzman also reconstructs the night of the crime, the where and the when, along with the police investigation, then puts it all together so that we easily follow things. By the time Anonymous becomes involved, further goosing justice into a "woke" state, you'll be holding your breath yet again. Schwartzman and her crew have done a major service in helping to upend the ongoing rape culture so prevalent in our own and much of western (hell, eastern, too) society, personified perhaps most clearly and wretchedly by the current President of the United States.

A Together Films release running a lean 80 minutes, Roll Red Roll opens in its theatrical premiere this Friday, March 21, at Film Forum, New York City. Other playdates? I don't find any currently listed on either the distributor's or the film's web site. But if you are not currently in the NYC area, the documentary will air later this spring as part of the popular PBS series, POV. Check your local PBS station for more details.

Monday, March 18, 2019

A slasher art-film? Tamae Garateguy's bizarre SHE WOLF attempts this offbeat melding

What to make of SHE WOLF? This 2013 movie from Argentina is finally being released (on DVD and digital) this week via Omnibus Entertainment, the genre arm of Film Movement, so fans of would-be horror/slasher movies and/or very oddball art films will have the chance to view it and weigh in.

As directed by Tamae Garateguy (shown below), with a screenplay by Diego Fleischer
(from a story by Ms Garateguy) and shot in appealing black-and-white by cinematographer Pigu Gómez, She Wolf is a very uneasy mixture of the arty and the sleazy, with plenty of voracious sex, enough slashing to make blood-and-guts fans relatively happy, and just enough of a germ of a genuinely interesting idea to keep art-film aficionados on their toes.

Ms Garateguy's most interesting touch is to have three very different appearing actresses essay the leading role of the "she wolf," a woman who, from the first scene onwards, seems to enjoy killing men, particularly the kind who like to abuse women.

Fair enough (well, sort of) for these me2 times, I suppose, and the three actresses who play the leading lady are talented and attractive. Initially, it will seem as though there are three different characters here, but no, eventually you'll realize that they are differing aspects of the same woman. The first we see is played by Mónica Lairana, above, who appears to be the victim in a bondage sexual encounter. But not for long.

Then we get the blond version (above and below), played by Luján Ariza, and finally what is called in the end credits, the "young" version, the pretty and innocent-looking Guadalupe Docampo. The male roles are mostly throw-away, during which we see just enough to know that these guys like to hit on women and parade their macho credentials -- with two exceptions.

The first of these is a guy (Egardo Castro, below) who has "come on" to our mujer lobo on one of her subway rides (her favored pick-up spot) and annoyingly interrupted her flirting with another man. "He'll get his," we think, but back in his apartment he pulls a gun on our gal and she barely gets away. Turns out, he's a cop, to boot (making a point, I suppose, about Argentina's law enforcement and the kind of police/military control that goes back decades and decades in the history of this South American country).

The second, more-nuanced male character is the young man who helps our "heroine" escape from her gun-toting captor. As nicely played with charm and sex appeal by Nicolás Gold (aka Goldschmidt), this fellow gets a whole lot more than he bargained for -- especially when he enjoys a sexual rondelay with all three of these women at once. (Most often we see them only individually, but here, as below, they seem to appear in the flesh together.)

What does all this mean? Aside from the usual pro-feminist slant, along with perhaps a look at the appeal and danger of sex and men, it is difficult to say. At 92 minutes, the movie still outlasts its welcome by a few, at least. So sit back, enjoy the black-and-white cinematography, the decent performances, the usual genre tropes, and then try putting it all together into some meaningful whole. I wish you better luck than I had.

From Film Movement/Omnibus Entertainment, She Wolf hits DVD and digital tomorrow, Tuesday, March 19 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Our March Sunday Corner With Lee Liberman MAXIMILIAN AND MARIE DE BOURGOGNE: A Game of Power and Love -- Medieval thrones on STARZ

Polheim the wise: 
“The Lord loves the simple-minded — 
that’s why there are so many.” 

The slice of European history revealed in this six-episode series feels distant, our being exposed most to British crowns and wars. Thriller and romance, the story of Maximilian and Marie takes us behind the European curtain to Austria, France, and its rich French relative, the Duchy of Burgundy, during the late Middle Ages. It’s a glimpse in the dark as the sun is about to rise on the Renaissance (spurred by printing press output -- the first “new media” in the west).

The action in those parts was just as dicey as Henry’s chewing up wives across the channel. Produced by German and Austrian networks jointly, the series was written by Martin Ambrosch and directed by Andreas Prochaska; it is handsomely crafted in dark medieval hues with Romeo-and-Juliet star-crossings and relationships that feel surprisingly intimate. (Below: director Andreas Prochaska, shown right, and Jannis Niewöhner as Maximilian.)

Maximilian (1459-1519), later called “the last knight” of the medieval era, is at 18 the brash son of Hapsburg Emperor, King Frederick III of Austria, seat of the region called the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ (which Voltaire wrote was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire). Maximilian is disgusted at his father’s passivity in dealing with enemies; he whiles away his nights with Rosina, his sister’s lady-in-waiting, and hunts by day with Polheim, his friend and chamberlain (the only one who will tell him the truth). This is Maximilian’s coming-of-age story.

Emperor Frederick (above) solves politics and foreign aggression not on his horse but in his throne room orchestrating marriages — he has lined up the 40-year-old Hungarian King (his enemy), to marry his 12-year-old daughter and orders his son, Maximilian, to marry the rich Marie of Burgundy. Marie’s father, Charles the Bold, has enlarged Burgundian territory and wealth through acquisition; it is flourishing — a center of cloth, commerce, and sophistication. Marie is ill-disposed to an Austrian match (They stink and eat raw meat, everyone says….) until her father is felled in battle. His death suddenly exposes her to a French law that subjects Burgundy to French rule if no male body sits on the throne. The French king, Louis XI, is pressing his advantage. With promises and bribes, he makes allies of merchants of Ghent* (Belgium), her capitol, who abusively force Marie to agree to marrying Louis’s under-age son, Charles. Below l, young Charles, with famous French actor, Jean-Hugues Anglade, as King Louis (out of focus).

The sly but aging Louis, in between having crippling strokes, is now using guns-for-hire and his own assassins to get rid of Maximilian, clearing the path to control Burgundy (below, Maximilian evading assassins).

Aggressive machinations play out separately against Maximilian and Marie until they meet in episode 4, (and after). In the meantime they each have begun to internalize the urgency of an alliance — a marriage would be the least disagreeable means-to-ends. He needs her wealth to quash his father’s enemies and she needs him to prevent Burgundy’s absorption by France.

Marie has sent Johanna, her lady-in-waiting, to the Austrian court where Johanna puts Maximilian to the sniff test (does he bathe), is he uncouth, is he literate. Determined now to thwart the French, Maximilian comes up with a scheme to rush the marriage from his sickbed — he is recovering from the plague. He and Polheim barely beat King Louis’s henchmen to Burgundy.

For a subplot, Polheim and Johanna fall in star-crossed love, she already having been married at 14 to a gross old man. (The doomed couple below.)

The action does not supplant lovely bits of intimate conversation — the glue that distinguishes this story from the usual. Maximilian and Marie, for instance, are ruled by their heads in landing themselves in the marriage bed, but they are royal, and negotiating sex with a spouse who is a total stranger has its awkwardness. We listen in.

Niewöhner (a young Brad Pitt type) is Maximilian; the accomplished French actress, Christa Théret, is Marie. Théret is familiar as the cherubic, peaches-and-cream model/muse of painter, Renoir, in the beautiful French biopic Renoir (on Amazon Prime). She is too thin here as Marie and dressed unflatteringly, but luminous as the young duchess. The dialogue is filmed in the actors’ own languages, as in Marie speaks to Maximilian in French and he to her in German, though English subtitles blur this oddness. European viewers may be at ease in this multi-lingual world but we, at least, get the message about the varied ethnicity of the region compared to the homogeneity across the English channel. The graphic below shows the changing dimensions of the Holy Roman Empire from 962 — 1806.

The action shifts among the Austrian, French, and Burgundian courts but there’s an English tie here in the person of Margaret of York, widow and third wife of Marie’s father, Charles the Bold. She is sister to Britain’s Edward IV and Richard III, who (history records) befriends her step-daughter and remains a supportive counselor to the young Duchess. (Below, l, Johanna, Marie, and Margaret of York.)

Note that in ‘The White Princess’ series on STARZ,** Margaret of York is a manipulative power behind the throne at the Burgundian court. Whatever the veracity of either version, this German production is more fun than the English soap.

In any event, the marriage between Maximilian and Marie was short but a genuine love match (archive depiction above). Maximilian married twice after her death, also for political alliance, but we are told he was loveless in later life. He was at war most of it, famous for jousting and influencing armor design.

This ‘last knight’ was also an avid patron of the sciences and arts — he was a bridge from the medieval to the modern world, reveling in past glory, making use of Renaissance munificence. But it was through his children with Marie that Hapsburg influence continued and would survive as the Austria-Hungary Empire until 1918. Queen Elizabeth II is among Maximilian’s descendants. But never mind Hapsburg politics and shifting borders, this romance is an entertaining appetizer to the blockbuster of all games of thrones due to resume in April on HBO.

*Note: A New York Times illustrated travel piece on Ghent, Belgium (3/3/19), looks just like the 15th century version See article here.

**Note on STARZ: Former CEO Chris Albrecht (originator of much of HBO’s early successes and STARZ’s current content) has departed. Speculation is that new owner, Lionsgate, may replace some STARZ content by summer. Now would be the time to catch up.

The above post was written by our 
monthly Sunday correspondent, Lee Liberman

Saturday, March 16, 2019

All about service dogs and the folk they serve: Heddy Honigmann's lovely doc, BUDDY, opens

Hot on the heels of another fine, festival-favorite doggie documentary, Los Reyes, comes an equally good doc concerning service dogs (real ones, not these ubiquitous "emotional support" animals) and the disabled humans they serve -- in so many ways.

Written and directed by Peruvian-born, internationally-known documentarian Heddy Honigmann (who made that great doc Forever, about the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris), BUDDY takes us into the lives of six amazing service dogs and the equally interesting folk they assist.

Honigmann, shown at right, bounces back and forth between the six dogs/owners, and eventually we get quite a rich picture of these people, their animals, and the situation in which each of them finds him or herself. The subjects she chooses to question the humans about often provide entryway into more than that initial subject, and clearly her manner with humans and animals puts both at ease. There is never any sense here of the filmmaker prying or poking where she is unwelcome. And this serves to make the viewer comfortable and welcome, as well.

One man is an increasingly disabled veteran (above) with PTSD and a dog named Mister; another is a woman in a wheelchair who, with the help of her dog, manages to work and live and even produce ("He's my freedom!" she notes of her dog, Kaiko).

There's a young boy (below) who's somewhere on the autism spectrum, who, among other gifts, gets the necessary calming support from his dog, while a blind woman on her 80s, who seems perhaps the most physically active of all of these people, still runs like a teenager -- with the help of her dog, of course.

If you're anything like TrustMovies, you'll have long been impressed with what these service animals can accomplish. Still, by the time you watch as one dog actually turns his mistress over in her bed, pushes a hypodermic syringe into her body, takes off her socks and pulls up her blanket, you may wonder if you're suddenly in science-fiction land.

Yet unlike robots, these are animals you can also cuddle and love and who respond to that love. Aside from the real and very important work these dogs do, their emotional bond with their owners seems equally so. When one of the dogs suddenly dies, this'll hit you something fierce. Until you see and then further imagine what it has done to the dog's owner.

A shoo-in for any animal lover, Buddy -- in Dutch with English subtitles and running 87 minutes -- should also appeal greatly to those who work with or are interested in the lives of the disabled. Further good news: Grasshopper Film has just picked up distribution rights to Buddy. So, after its  two-week U.S. theatrical debut this coming Wednesday, March 20, at Film Forum (which has previously hosted five other of Honigmann's documentaries), it should play elsewhere around the country. This is a movie that ought to hit all the big cities and eventually stream everywhere else. Click here and then scroll down to click on Where to Watch to view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Note: The above "doggie bone," specially made for Film Forum, will be on sale at the concession during the two-week presentation of Buddy.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

KNIFE + HEART: a new knock-your-socks-off visual treat from Yann Gonzalez

If the very first shot of an electric fan and a woman's fingernails doesn't grab you, I'd suggest maybe Yann Gonzalez's new movie KNIFE + HEART (Un couteau dans le coeur) is not for you.

On the basis, however, of his new film, together with Gonzalez's initial full-lengther, You and the Night, this guy (pictured below) is TrustMovies' kind of filmmaker -- possessing a mise en scène to die for.

And in this movie, several characters literally do.

Here we are in Paris, back in 1979, surrounded by gay porn, drugs, disco, a serial killer, sex and violence, lost lesbian love, and of course some eye-popping cinematography, costumes and production design. There is plenty of wit and humor, too, especially one particular scene in the movie-within-the-movie in which a pair of detectives question their suspect to very naughty, hilarious results.

Hell, even the horror-murder sequences go so far over the top as to tickle your funny bone, even as you wince. Witness here the blow-job from hell.

Oh, but don't expect anything hardcore. Even though Knife + Heart concerns a woman porn producer/director (the gap-toothed and still gorgeous Vanessa Paradis, above) who insists not only on full-bodied erections but eyes inflamed with passion in place of the usual zonked-pout gaze of a drugged-up actor, the dicks we occasionally catch glimpses of are soft as baby mice.

No matter. There's still that fabulous mise en scène. The performances are mostly enchanting, too: oddball, sweet and even rather "real." One of my favorites is that of the "fluffer" (played by Pierre Pirol) who so thoroughly enjoys his job. Ms Paradis carries the emotional eight of the movie, together with Kate Moran (above, right), who plays her "ex." The standout performance is given by Nicolas Maury (below, of Call My Agent), who imbues his drama-queen character, Archibald Langevin (Paradis' assistant and best pal), with enough wit and wonder to win you over despite the ridiculousness of so much of what he does and says.

The lesser characters are given their due, too, and each plays his part with so much charm and joie de vivre that you won't want to see them meet their fate. The movie' last half grows even more interesting as everything from a rare, blind bird and a mutant genetic disorder to a magical forest, a cemetary, a missing child and some strange black-and-white flashbacks featuring a terrible fire join forces to bring together a plot whose purpose is actually to tweak the genre while entertaining you, rather than asking you to solve some rational mystery.

The lengthy end credits sequence is just lovely: sexual, passionate, absolutely beautiful and shot through with a love of cinema, as well as GBLT concerns. And while the film occasionally makes a point regarding something social or political, it never hammers anything home. Bruce LaBruce could learn a thing or two here.

From Altered Innocence and running 103 minutes, Knife + Heart opens tomorrow, Friday, March 15, in New York City (at the Roxy Cinema, Tribeca, and the Alamo Drafthouse, Brooklyn) and on Friday, March 22 in Los Angeles (at the the Landmark NuArt). Director Yann Gonzales will be doing Q&A's at theaters in both cities. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Death, decay and dysfunction in Shawn Snyder's dark buddy movie, TO DUST

Decomposition is paramount in the new and very dank/oddball growth-through-friendship movie, TO DUST, co-written (with Jason Begue) and directed by first-time full-length filmmaker Shawn Snyder (shown below).

In it, a cantor from an Orthodox Jewish community in upstate New York who has just lost his wife to cancer, finds himself coming apart at the seams, prone to nightmares involving death and decay, and unable to function as father to his two sons.

Because this religious community has, as is typical, cut itself off from as much as possible of the remaining (and what some might call "normal") world, our cantor cannot find proper help from his own highly traditional and strictured community and so must go elsewhere.

This is not so easy, thanks to the many rules and regulations involved in Orthodox living. Simply speaking to a woman in an office outside the community, for instance, in a no-no. So the cantor, Shmuel (played by Géza Röhrig, at right on poster, top, and below, whom you'll remember from his commanding performance in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar-winner, Son of Saul), rather like a bull in a china shop, barges his way into the classroom and the life of a local community-college science teacher named Albert (Matthew Broderick, at left on poster, top, and below), whom he then forces to explain to him, in minute detail, how a corpse decays.

If this sounds like one of the least believable meet-cutes in the history of cinema, well, it is. But is is also just bizarre and bleak enough to maintain one's initial interest. And if these two characters are barely developed -- Shmuel has but a single characteristic, grief; while Albert seems a lonely outsider who, in the comfort of his home, wears a woman's housedress -- both Broderick and Röhrig are consummate professionals who bring every bit of their talent to the proceedings and manage, at least while we're watching them, to create life and truth here.

The movie's insistence on exploring decay and decomposition -- initially via pigs and finally at a human corpse farm outside Knoxville, Tennessee -- may turn off more than a few viewers. Those who stick with the film will get the expected feel-good resolution  that, even though it arrives via means as bleak as all else here, seems no more believable that the movie's meet-cute beginning. And the relationship between the two men is so unbelievable that it must be taken -- whole-hog, so to speak -- on faith. Thank god for Broderick and Hashem for Röhrig, as these two guys do all they can to make the trip witty and enjoyable.

The supporting cast has little to do but certainly does it well enough, while the technical aspects of the movie, while seldom belying the small budget, are handled professionally. And if you are one of those viewers (unlike me) who disdains profanity, here's the film for you: In the disc on which I viewed To Dust, all of the curse words on the soundtrack had been bleeped out!

From Good Deed Entertainment and running 91 minutes (in the version I saw, at least; the IMDB has the film clocking in at 105 minutes), To Dust opens here in South Florida this Friday, March 15, in the Miami area at the AMC Aventura 24 and AMC Sunset Place, in Fort Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway, in Boca Raton at the Regal Shadowood and Living Room Theaters, in Palm Beach Gardens at Cobb's Downtown 16; in Tamarac at The Last Picture Show, and at the Movies of Delray and the Movies of Lake Worth.