Monday, October 31, 2011

In Angelina Maccarone’s THE LOOK, Charlotte Rampling gives it -- and gets it

How unusual is the new documentary THE LOOK by Angelina Maccarone, which tracks some time in the current life of one of our favorite actresses, the riveting, beautiful and – as it turns out – highly intelligent Charlotte Rampling. The filmmaker simply points her camera at and her sound mic on this art-film icon, following her around various cities (New York, Paris, London) and letting her talk about, well, nearly everything you might want to ask or hear.

These subjects include exposure, age, beauty, resonance, taboo, desire, demons, death and love (that pretty much covers it, no?) and while TrustMovies found that certain portions might fit a bit better under one or another of the subject headings than the one chosen by Ms Maccarone (shown at right), this is of little importance because there’s really nothing Ms Rampling (shown below and further below) has to say that isn’t worth hearing, and sometimes quite worth some pondering, as well.

The film's full title is Charlotte Rampling -- The Look:  a self-portrait through others, and so along the way we meet some other intelligent people. Rampling seems to surround herself with these, including her son (shown with her, below, as gorgeous as she is and a budding theater director); a photographer or two who’ve know her for quite a spell (the actress, with 97 appearances under very small size belt, has been working consistently for nearly half a century); novelist and filmmaker Paul Auster (shown with her, two photos down); and a few more.

Because she’s been around for so long and worked so consistently in the kind of challenging movies that attract art-film audiences and keep them returning for more, Ms Rampling would seem to be an ideal choice for this kind of probing documentary. She does not disappoint. And with footage from a number of her films cut into the interview portions – including The Damned, Georgy Girl, The Night Porter, Heading South, Under the Sand, The Verdict and Max mon amour – we also see her then and now, and hear her thoughts about the films (and sometimes their directors and/or why she chose to perform in them).

From the beginning, when she and her photographer friend talk about performing, photography, wrinkles, plastic surgery (and her lack of it -- or much of it, anyway), and we see this then-young woman in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, we’re hooked but good. Spoilers here would include Ms Rampling’s interesting musings, so I’ll just say that the lady comes off as incisive, smart, genuine, decent and realistic. I wish I knew her, but should I ever run into her during her wanderings around her favorite cities, I think I’ll smile and just say “thank you” as I pass, rather than intrude on her privacy.

The Look (perfect title for a film about Rampling), from Kino Lorber and running 98 minutes, makes its official New York debut at DOC NYC this Thursday, November 3, then opens theatrically Friday, November 4 at the Cinema Village and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. Click here to learn playdates in other cities/theaters.

YOUNG GOETHE IN LOVE: doing "then" as "now" -- and almost getting away with it

Last year Philipp Stölzl's North Face surprised art-house America with a riveting mountain-climbing movie that also gave us some interesting behind-the-scenes history of pre-WWII Nazi Germany. This year the filmmaker is back with a less success-ful, though relatively entertaining and pretty-to-look-at endeavor called -- in its American retitling -- YOUNG GOETHE IN LOVE, based on the early adulthood of 18th Century German literary icon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Financed (at least in part) and distributed in its home country by Warner Bros, Germany, the film is European mainstream with a capital "M." Conflating the look of time past with the behavior of time present, the movie seems dead bent on making the iconic figure a romantic hero for high-schoolers and college kids everywhere. (When our hero is denied a degree, he writes Kiss My Ass in the snow for all the faculty to see.)

The film's actual German title, in fact, is Goethe! (that exclamation point is not mine.) Can you imagine the Russians putting out a movie called Nabokov!? Or the French a film named Rousseau!? I actually could imagine a British musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber called Willie! (about that famous writer explored most recently in the new movie Anonymous). Or even an American musical, probably devised by gays, called Tennessee! But I digress. And the reason for that digression is that, as director and co-writer (with Christoph Müller and Alexander Dydyna) Herr Stölzl, shown above, has given us such a patently paint-by-numbers version of this chunk of the writer's life that, in any particular scene, you could easily imagine the characters bursting into song -- initially joyful, later rather sad. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that, as I write this, a score is even now being composed.

So then, let's not look to Young Goethe in Love for a history lesson. The rejiggered title is actually a pretty smart one, as it will put literarily-inclined audiences in mind of Goethe's initial breakthrough novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. And what the audiences will get when they plunk down their tushies in their local arthouse seats is a very pretty movie that certainly looks (above and below) 18th Century.

The film move along at a relatively sprightly pace, introducing us to young Goethe, his father, friends, co-workers and first love.

The cast, too, is well-chosen and on the mark. As Goethe, Alexander Fehling (above) exhibits the proper joie de vivre, sorrow, and impetuousness of youth,

while Miriam Stein, as his enamorata Lotte (above) has looks, spirit and intelligence aplenty.

As Goethe's best friend, who falls for an older, married woman, and in his sad way inspires the conclusion of his friend's first artistic success, Volker Bruch (above) is impassioned, silly and sad in equal measure.

Best of all is Moritz Bleibtreu (above), the wonderfully versatile actor who can play a terrorist (The Baader Meinhof Complex) Woody Harrelson's lover (The Walker), a charming scoundrel (last year's Soul Kitchen) or an absolute hero (romantic, as In July or dramatic, as with The Experiment) with equal aplomb. Here Bleibtreu plays Goethe's strait-laced, tongue-tied boss, as well as his unknown romantic rival, and he's terrific, as usual -- the only actor of the above four who manages to seem properly "period."

The celebrity-sotted finale, again turning the past into the present, provides the perfect ending to a pleasantly run-of-the-mill historical rom-com/dram-com. Music Box Films is releasing this one, which opens this Friday, November 4, in New York City at the Sunshine Cinema and The Paris, and in the L.A, area at the Encino Town Center 5, The Landmark, the Pasadena Playhouse 7 and the Santa Ana South Coast Village.  More playdates around the country will follow. Click here to take a gander at them all.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

In Andrea Blaugrund Nevins' THE OTHER F WORD, punk rockers turn dads. Oh, my.

The idea of punk rockers, those anti-authoritarian, obscenity-screaming fellows from -- when was it? the 80s? -- becoming not just fuckers but fathers (THE OTHER F WORD that also serves as the title of Andrea Blaugrund Nevins' new documentary) probably seemed nearly foolproof as a jumping off point for a film that wants to explore two very different states of being that must now somehow work together. Wow: just imagine! Punk rockers as fathers. What would that be like? It's a cute idea, worth a chuckle and a moment's pause. But a 98-minute movie? Yes and no.

Ms Nevins (pictured at left) seems amazed, again and again, by the whole idea. Well, she's young, so why not? TrustMovies, being old (and already a father by the time the punk scene hit New York) was not surprised by much of anything he saw in the movie -- funny, charming and moving as some of it is. Nor, he suspects, will any parent be surprised by the fact that fatherhood (and, hey, motherhood, too) changes your life more than any other single thing that happens (except death, of course). This is true for everyone from architects to zoologists and includes punks, heavy metalists, alternative rockers and the crooners like Como and Crosby from decades past. If parenthood does not change your life, reordering certain priorities rather drastically, then something's wrong and you probably oughtn't to have become a dad or mom in the first place.

So despite the jiggering of punk and parenting, a lot of viewers will, after a time, be asking, "Yes?  And...?"  And while Ms Nevins' decision to use tons of stylistic touches does make the movie look slicker, these add little to its depth -- which rises and falls on the many interviews (maybe too many) with various rockers that the film includes. The longest and most in-depth of these involves Jim Lindberg (above), lead singer of the skate punk band (I'd never heard that term before) Pennywise, whose book about being a punk rock dad brought the idea for the documentary to original life.

We see and hear from a number of other punks, too: Michael John Burkett (aka Fat Mike, shown above with his daughter, of NOFX), Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 (shown with his son, two photos below), Lars Fredriksen (of Rancid, shown from waist down with his son, in the photo at bottom), Ron Reyes (of Black Flag), and Flea (of the Red Hot Chile Peppersshown below, with his daughter), among a cast that includes some 27 musicians.

Some of what we hear is quite interesting, some of it, not so much because it's a little too expected. Fortunately, Ms Nevins turns her attention from parenting to how these bands still eke out a living -- in the age of the internet when content is more and more expected to come free. Notes one interviewee: "Our fans think nothing of paying $3.95 at Starbucks or paying big money for a pair of Nikes -- but they go crazy and call us sellouts of we make a commercial for Nike or charge 99 cents to download a song!"

About as crazy as these guys currently get can be seen as Josh Freese tosses a dirty diaper back and forth with his son in the backyard. So many of these musicians had either abusive or missing-entirely parents that it seems a wonder that more of them did not turn out like that. Instead, they seem remarkably good role models. (Or at least they've managed to keep their worst habits off-screen.)

The Other F Word would seem a shoo-in for new or prospective parents and especially for fans of punk rock. While Nevins' stylistic tics do get trying, there's enough in the film to hold your attention -- unless, of course, you have zero interest in either parenting or punk. The movie opens this Wednesday, November 2, in New York at Film Forum and on Friday, November 4, in Los Angeles at the NuArt. A dozen other cities are scheduled to open the documentary in the weeks to come. Click here to see them all, with theaters and playdates listed.

Alda/Brooke's OUT LATE tracks elderly GLBTs coming to terms with coming out

There are many different subjects that could be addressed in a documentary about gay and lesbian senior citizens, but one that you might not immediately expect nor think about is the fact that many of these  people have come "out" quite late in life -- due mainly to the restrictions placed on homosexual identity back in the 40s, 50s and 60s, when they were young and/or coming of age. Youth these days cannot begin to under-stand the no-no nature of admitting to your homosexuality back then. Your family could have you placed in a hospital and given electroshock treatments.  Not that this is any better than meeting the end accorded, say, to Matthew Shephard -- but that, thankfully, is a relative anomaly these days. Hospitalization, immediate firing from your job, even jail could await you a half century or more ago.

In their 62-minute movie OUT LATE (cute play on words, that title!) first-time film-makers Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke (you can find out more about them by clicking here, then clicking on "About the Film" and then on About the Filmmakers) point their camera and microphone at five senior GLBTs -- the youngest of whom, Cathy Jambrosic (from Kansas, shown above, right, with her partner) came out age 57; the oldest, Elaine Weber (shown below) managed it at age 79! Cathy's story proves the most interesting because it probes her relationship with her neigh-bors, a straight-laced Christian couple who prove good friends nonetheless, especially when the state of Kansas passes its law that restricts marriage to a man and a woman. The conversation and self-analysis that goes on with these friends -- involving reli-gion and morality -- is quite interesting, and even rather inspiring.

Old Elaine, on the other hand, after as good a marriage as would seem possible for a lesbian to have with a straight man, is finding it difficult and tricky to land a partner at her advanced age. Feisty and with a fine sense of humor, she's still looking, but the pickings seem thin (most of the possibilities have already died off), and while a number of people are happy to be a "friend," nobody yet has come forth as a possible lover.

The male realm is represented by a quite nice Canadian fellow named Walter, shown at right, who, with his partner Bill, takes us through the "good old days" and into our present decade. The pair comes out to their church, and the experience is salutary; while a few parishioners balk, most are OK with it.

The oldest man, Ken, was married to a woman for decades, and had a good marriage. Even the sex was enjoyable, he explains, though he never felt truly comfortable with a woman's body -- even though he had practically no experience with a man's. As part of his new education, Ken goes through The Body Electric's sexual experience, of which his "spiritual guide" tells us that he still recalls how very large was Ken's member.

Donald, now going under the name of LeAnna, is the one transgen-dered in the group, making his change at age 60. His reminiscence of his time in the military -- and of keeping nylons hidden in is his regular stockings in order to have something feminine nearby -- is both funny and sad. Those were the days!

The movie, at its hour-length, never outstays it welcome. If it takes awhile to get going (the scenes of seniors dancing in a disco seem to go on too long and show up once too often), Out Late find its focus and scores its points once we get to know the five participants and some of their significant-others. Made in 2008, it is finally available on DVD, via First Run Features, for rental (at least you can SAVE it to your Netflix queue) or for purchase.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sean Baker's far too undersung/underseen PRINCE OF BROADWAY comes to DVD

A few years ago Sean Baker made a movie -- Take Out -- that opened up to viewers the world of Chinese illegals working in New York City in the restaurant trade. Now Baker's back with a new film that does something similar for an African emigre who is not only illegal in America but who works in a trade -- the grey market for fashion knock-offs -- that is as illegal as he is. And once again, Mr Baker envelopes us in the lives of characters who seem very real and quite worth our time. And he does this -- glory, glory -- with remarkably few clichés and via camerawork and editing (both done by the filmmaker himself) that are hands-on, up-close, and wonderfully intimate and immediate.

Baker, shown at left, also provides what is one of the best child performances I've ever seen, by a little kid (Aiden Noesi, shown above and below), who surely can't have been more than one or two years old when the film was shot. He shares the role of title character, along with his "maybe" dad, and they're both, in their way, "Princes" of Broadway -- that Manhattan boulevard, around the neighborhood of 27th and 28th Streets, in which the older Prince (played by newcomer Prince Adu, at right, below) plies his trade. The little Prince, sheer delight to view, is a scene-stealer whom Baker has managed to capture without the kid ever seeming to know that the camera exists.

While making use of the filmmaker's documentary-based style, Prince of Broadway offers more of a typical "story" than did Take Out -- three of 'em, actually. The primary one deals with the two princes and how one suddenly comes into the other's life and changes it drastically, as babies will do. The second involves Prince père's boss in the fake-fashion world, an Armenian named Levon (played by Karren Karagulian, below), a surprisingly decent guy with family problems of his own.

The third tale, least important but still catalytic, involves an ex-girlfriend of Prince and her new guy. How these three weave in and out, along with the presence of our hero's current lady -- who proves remarkably warm and helpful, -- considering the state, in one of the film's funniest, grossest scenes, of her boy-friend's bedroom wall.

As well-done, as downright enjoyable as the film is, there is also the sense that we're seeing a bit too much of the "good" side of things. Child-rearing, even under the best of circumstances, is difficult, problematic and sometimes very hard to handle. We get little of that here.

The difficult scenes are so short that they seem to pass more quickly and easily than real-life would allow, and the three main characters -- Prince, his current girlfriend, and Levon -- are shown as a just a shade too good-to-be-true. This hardly halts our enjoyment of the film or of Baker's great skill in capturing the moment, but it does leave us with the sense of a happy ending a little too easily obtained.

Still, the performances are spectacularly good in terms of moment-to-moment reality. According to the end credits, the cast  improvised from the filmmaker's original scenario -- and they did a fine job of it.

Prince of Broadway, released via Flatiron Film Company - New Video Group, made its DVD debut last week and is available now for rental, purchase or download.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Srdjan Spasojevic's A SERBIAN FILM hits DVD and Blu-ray; Netflix decides to pass

Anyone who believes in the concept of karma might easily see A SERBIAN FILM as payback to (and from) the country who gave us the ugly, elongated and unnecessary Serbo-Croatian war of the 1990s. Film-wise (and culture-wise), is this how Serbia wants to be remembered? OK, you got it! Ah, but this might be the simplistic view. Let's instead look for another way to think about this film. You've heard, I imagine, that porn stars are severely taken-advantage-of in terms of career, money earned and status conferred. So think of this movie, written and directed by Srdjan Spasojevic (his first), as a remarkably bracing workout of the idea that porn stars get hopelessly fucked -- literally and metaphorically.

You could also take the film as a severe indictment of Serbia -- familial, political, economic, sexual and cultural.  Or as a fabulous excuse to maximize sex, violence, blood and gore. (To the credit of Mr. Spasojevic -- pictured at right -- there is not a single explosion, car chase or crash to be seen.) So what is A Serbian Film? It's all of the above, the result of which is in no manner the least bit edifying.

This is not to say that the movie is empty of anything good. The lead perfor-mance, in fact, is quite good. It comes from Srdjan Todorovic, in action below, playing the country's leading male porn star, reminiscent of our own John Holmes: a quite unprepossessing type -- until he takes off his pants. Mr. Todorovic proves just fine in that department, too -- at half mast, at least: I suspect the erections that we see are prosthetically enhanced (Mr. Holmes' were the real thing).

The photography, too, is fine (it's just the subject matter that's a downer.) Further, the Blu-ray transfer I watched was absolutely first-rate in terms of sharpness, color, and all the rest. The filmmaker knows his way around believable dialog and his pacing, framing, and clever use of fantasy vs reality all work well. (The cinematography is by Nemanja Jovanov and the editing by newcomer Darko Simic.)

The tale, such as it is, concerns the famous and now retired porn star being called back into action to make some sort of "art/porno" movie for an amount of money so vast that we never actually hear it spoken (he whispers it into the ear of his wife -- who immediately gives him the go-ahead). His producer/director, played with maniacal glee and a bit of smarts by Sergej Trifunovic (above) is soon revealed as a nutcase extraordinaire, and yet our hero never asks for any of that cash upfront. Silly boy. As it flows along and corrodes, the film becomes a kind of mystery as to what happened and why. All will be revealed, and will be every bit as awful as you could have imagined.

The first sex scene actually serves up a smattering of The Parallax View, and the first half of the movie -- which is being marketed, with the help of most critics, as something ground-breakingly over-the-top -- seems, well, not so horrible, after all. Then things get worse. And by worse, I mean that it appears that our filmmaker and his friends sat around in bull sessions, thinking up the very worst things imaginable that could happen to a family man/porn star -- and then wrote them and filmed them.

Consequently, any legitimate, resonant subjects buried within A Serbian Film are finally no more than an excuse for upping the ante on the usual blood, violence, sex and gore plus incest, necrophilia, pedophilia and (so far as I know) the brand new entrant in the envelope-pushing sweepstakes, "newborn porn." Is all this degrading? Yessiree -- to its creators and to us viewers. And certainly to Sony, which company I hope did not pay for the very obvious product placement that comes midway into things.

The movie is finally about as ugly, nasty and cynical as seems humanly possible to grind into 102 minutes (the DVD and Blu-ray offer a lengthier cut that was shown in Britain ). And if this sounds like a recommendation, be my guest.

From Invincible Pictures, the DVD/Blu-ray hit streets this past Tuesday, October 25. With Netflix -- who initially offered the film in its Saved section of your queue -- suddenly deciding not to carry the film, I am uncertain where it can be rented. But I understand that a streaming option is also now available from

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jonathan Lee's PAUL GOODMAN CHANGED MY LIFE offers plenty of food for thought

Paul Goodman didn't change my life. Unfor-tunately. But I wish he had. Born 30 years before me (in 1911), he published his famous work, Growing Up Absurd, around the time I was attending a Christian Science school (Principia College), a place at which a fellow like Goodman -- proudly bisexual and "out" (before the use of that word had even come into being!) -- would not have found favor. Once I abandoned that foolish religion and began to grow up (absurd or not), I did learn something of Goodman and read an occasional essay.

Now, seeing the fine documentary that first-time filmmaker Jonathan Lee (shown at right) has assembled, I realize how ahead-of-his-time the man was, and how -- as a married bisexual with children who fairly constantly gave in to his homosexual impulses -- his life and mine were relatively similar (in that regard, at least). Had I but known a more about this man and his astounding capacity for understanding and writing about so many things (education, urban planning, civil and sexual rights) in so many forms (poetry, novels, essays and ground-breaking non-fiction books), he would have, should have, been my hero.

Lee's film makes you understand the importance of Goodman at the same time as you understand how difficult a guy he could be. And not just around his own family (that's his wife Sally, shown with him, below). We hear from everyone from Judith Malina (of The Living Theater: Goodman is seen chatting with some of its actors in the penultimate photo, below) to the late Grace Paley (shown with Goodman at an anti-war rally in photo at bottom) and William Buckley, Ned Rorem, Deborah MeierNoam Chomsky and a lot more. By the film's conclusion, we see a fairly rounded view of its subject, and while we can appreciate him fully, we don't have the nagging sense (that arrives with some biographical documentaries) of watching an exercise in hagiography.

The only thing mis-sing is Goodman himself. We so wish we could hear from him about some of these sexual sub-jects. As outspoken as he was in his day, the rest of polite society was not, and so the very ques-tions we'd ask him now (and he'd certainly answer), were never brought up then. What a shame that we were unable to make near-ly full use of the man as we might have. He was, as one inter-viewee labels it, "inconvenient."

I think it may have been Ms Meier who also points out how women simply do not seem to exist in the world of Growing Up Absurd -- even though he was married to one (and then another), and had sired a daughter with whom he was close, to boot.  From what we learn here of his politics, one imagines that he would heartily approve of the current Occupy Wall Street movement. Of his sexuality, as one friend recalls, "He made passes at everybody: at men, women, at their mothers!"

Lee's film is not at all linear; it jumps all over the place yet is never hard to follow nor for a moment uninteresting. For the section on Goodman's contribution to Gestalt therapy alone, it proves fascinating. Oddly, the most moving section comes at the finale when one interviewee, a man who only knew Goodman through his many and varied literary works, talks about how much he would have loved to have met him -- and how he has indeed changed this fellow's life. I think many of us feel that way. We've missed something. Perhaps Lee's movie will herald a renaissance for Goodman's works, most of which have gone out of print.

Paul Goodman Changed My Life, from Zeitgeist Films, is screening now through November 1 in New York City at Film Forum. Click here for FF screening times and then here to see where else across the country the film will be playing. A DVD will no doubt be available eventually, but as this is a Zeitgeist release, the wait may be rather lengthy, so grab this film however and wherever you can.