Tuesday, May 31, 2016

THE WAILING: Na Hong-jin's new everything-but-the-kitchen-sink thriller opens in theaters

What the hell has happened to that very good South Korean movie-maker, Na Hong-jin, between the time of his earlier films -- The Chaser (from 2008, a mostly first-class, if very dark and ugly thrill ride about kidnapping and murder) and The Yellow Sea (from 2010, an even darker but much quieter and more subtle exploration of the entwining of love, need and evil) -- and his latest effort, THE WAILING (Goksung)? I ask because Na's new film is the biggest embarrassment to South Korean cinema I've encountered since I first caught wind of that country's enormous moviemaking prowess around the turn of this past century. Since then, TrustMovies has watched most everything Korean he could find and had time for (including even the recent itty-bitty cable series, DramaWorld).

Even this film's title seems faintly ridiculous, as that wailing can only refer to what will most likely be the audience reaction: "When will this (spectacularly filmed) piece of shit finally end?!" Conflating -- just about as stupidly as possible -- everything from demons and ghosts to a stranger in town, serial murder, a daughter in danger, Christian parable, and so-help-me-god zombies, Mr. Na (shown at left), as both writer and director, seems suddenly taken with the toss-in-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink school of horror filmmaking. Yet there's not an original moment in the entire film.

Perhaps the supernatural thriller is not the proper genre for Na to tackle, as the result is very nearly the polar opposite to what his countryman, Bong Joon-ho, achieved with his own first-class try at a sci-fi thriller, 2014's Snowpiercer.

The biggest difference between the two films is that, in Bong's, we learn enough about almost all the characters to come to care about them; with Na's we learn so little that we can't begin to give a shit what happens to anyone (except maybe one little girl. Barely). The tale Na tells goes on for over two-and-one-half hours, and involves a small country town in which entire families are being murdered -- and by one of their own. What's going on?

The hero is played by that portly Korean "everyman" Kwak Do-won, above, right, and below, who proves as good as he's able to be as the not-terribly-bright policeman whose little daughter (below) comes under the spell of the principal bad guy. Of course, our burly cop is determined to get to the bottom of things -- which will take endless time for him (and endless patience on the part of us viewers).

The most time is spent with a local exorcist, Korean variety (below), who is soon dancing up a storm (the choreography is pretty good here!) trying to get rid of that naughty evil spirit. Toward the finale, he (and we) discover he's been barking up the wrong tree. Or maybe not. Reversals, then further reversals, do not in any way help the film's ridiculous plotting.

A big black dog (below) gets a good scene or two, and the movie is very well photographed (when have you seen a Korean film that was not?). But the South Korean penchant for length, coupled unfortunately to the obvious and repetitive, at last utterly sinks this barrage of blood, guts and heavy-duty disarray.

I can only hope that Mr. Na gets quickly back to what he's good at and leaves this kind of supernatural nonsense to those who know better how to handle it.

From Well Go USA Entertainment and running an unconscionable 156 minutes (yes!), The Wailing opens this Friday, June 3, in cities all across the country. In New York City, it is said to be playing the FSLC, the IFC Center and the AMC Empire 25; in Los Angeles, look for it at Laemmle's Monica Film Center and Playhouse 7 and at the AMC Atlantic Time Square. Here in South Florida? Nowhere at all. (Guess we don't have a large enough Korean population). Elsewhere in the USA? Absolutely. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates with cities and theaters.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Thom Andersen's THE THOUGHTS THAT ONCE WE HAD debuts at Anthology Film Archives

Noted documentarian Thom Andersen calls his new work, THE THOUGHTS THAT ONCE WE HAD, "a personal history of cinema." Boy, is it ever. It is also, as will come as no surprise to those who love Andersen's work -- his Los Angeles Plays Itself, which I just watched for the second time in preparation for covering his new film, still holds up as the best documentary I've ever seen about my own home town -- so full of ideas, connections and sheer love of cinema that it should prove irresistible to any cinephile. Another terrific film of his, Red Hollywood, along with the rest of his work, will be shown during an Andersen retrospective that opens this Friday, June 3, at Anthology Film Archives in New York City.

Andersen, shown above, is smart and fast, bouncing around from film to film, period to period, in somewhat chronological order. He credits as his major inspiration (and quotes freely from) a French philosopher named Gilles Deleuze, whose work I do not know. (After seeing and enjoying Andersen's film, in which Deleuze is heavily used, I should find out more about this fellow and his writing.)

What, for TrustMovies, makes the documentary most unusual is that so many of the film clips used are new to me. They're not at all what I'm used to seeing. And even when they are sometimes better known, the way Andersen presents and juxtaposes them makes for thought-provoking, troubling and intellectually stimulating viewing.

From the silents, with their reflective faces (above and below), through talkies and into color (and finally a whiff or two of the musical), the filmmaker whisks us along. Suddenly we're seeing the bombing of North Korea ("No repentance. Not even an acknowledgment"), along with Hiroshima and Vietnam. "Did we have it in for the yellow race?" Andersen wonders. "The past," he notes, "must be redeemed." As always with this filmmaker, the sense of justice deferred comes across mightily.

We see Hitler visiting a conquered Paris and Maurice Chevalier singing Sweeping the Clouds Away. If only. There's a comparison of Hank Ballard and Chubby Checker and their Twists, and then a good portion devoted to the various types of comedy -- from Harry Langdon to Laurel & Hardy and The Marx Brothers.

Ah -- then we view some crime, which is so often "delivered up as a gift." And horror. And an odd-but-endearing tribute to a little know (by me, anyway) actor named Timothy Carey. And Brando, of course. Do you know who was Ludwig Wittgenstein's favorite actress? (I'm not telling: You'll have to see this film to find out.) We do see those amazing clips of Jack Smith's favorite star, Maria Montez.

Andersen himself owns up to loving Debra Paget (above) best of all. So did I, actually, along with early Joan Collins. (I thought Ms Paget was so gorgeous and sexy that I've often wondered why I didn't turn out a bit straighter.)  I'd also never seen the clip he uses of Paget dancing in a costume that seems awfully racy for its time.

The Thoughts That Once We Had grows ever better, crazier and more rapturous as it goes along. That search for justice continues, too. I think we even view, toward the end, Austrian journalist/novelist Joseph Roth reading in German? (No, it's not: See the welcome comment below this post.) And Christina Rossetti gets one of the last words -- if not the last visual.  Just as with Los Angeles Plays Itself and my favorite DemyThe Young Girls of Rochefort, I'll want to see this film again in a few years. Probably every few years. What a movie documentarian Mr. Andersen is!

His newest work, along with a retrospective of his other films, opens this Friday, June 3 and runs through Sunday, June 12, in New York City at Anthology Film Archives. You can find the complete schedule by clicking here. Los Angeles Plays Itself, by the way, is also available for DVD rental at Netflix. For awhile you could even stream it, though that option is no longer currently open. Maybe it'll come back again at some point. Meanwhile, get to AFA for a very good time in an intelligent, thought-provoking movieland. 

OPEN ROADS: New Italian Cinema returns to NYC via the FSLC and Istituto Luce Cinecittà

Another June, another dose of fine Italian films -- via the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Istituto Luce Cinecittà's always wonderful and thankfully annual Open Roads series, which this year begins this coming Thursday, June 2, and continues through Wednesday, June 8. TrustMovies used to view every single one of the Open Roads selections, and he greatly misses this annual opportunity now that he lives in Florida.  But thanks to the good work of a certain excellent PR firm, he's been able to view a few of this year's films that, as usual, prove (mostly) a delight.

This year's roster -- you can view the entire selection by clicking here -- includes all kinds of genres, from arthouse and experimental to utterly mainstream (but intelligent, enjoyable examples of the latter), plus one tribute film, Ugly, Dirty, and Bad, a mid-period work from the lately departed and dearly missed Italian master, Ettore Scola. Of the three films I've so far seen, my favorite is the charming and often very funny comedy about faith and family, GOD WILLING, starring that just-keeps-getting-better actor Alessandro Gassman (on poster, right, and above left) along with another actor I've seen previously but never really appreciated until now, Marco Giallini (at left on the poster; above, right; and below, center).

In this smart mainstream tale, a famous-and-full-of-himself doctor and surgeon (played by Signore Giallini) who has raised his family as atheists gets an interesting comeuppance from those around him, including family, co-workers and especially a criminal-turned-priest (played to subtle and near-perverse perfection by Signore Gassman). The movie is, by turns, very funny, surprising, and finally even a bit profound. It manages to turn inside out the old saw about not being able to solve a person's problems in just 90 minutes (or in this particular case, only 82!). The movie will leave you with a tear in your eye, a smile on your face, and a rare feeling of, well, inclusion. And this, mind you, comes from an elderly and agnostic reprobate like yours truly, who calls God Willing a don't-miss in this year's Open Roads.

Also worth seeing is the new film, FIRST LIGHT (La prima luce) from Vincenzo Marra starring the popular, talented and very attractive actor Riccardo Scamarcio (on poster, left, and below, right), who has been seen in copious Italian films and at Open Roads for some years now. Here, Scamarcio plays Marco, an Italian lawyer married to a Spanish (or maybe South American) woman who has had a child by him. Now, with their relationship tanking, she wants to return home -- and bring their son with her, permanently.

As director and co-writer (with Angelo Carbone), Signore Marra has had the good sense not to make either parent a villain. Both he and she are flawed, difficult people, but both appear to love their child. "There's no future here," notes the mother (Daniela Ramirez, below right), and the line resonates -- not just about Italy but most of Europe (and, hey, the Western world) these days. Marra has also made very clear how difficult it is for a parent to fight against a spouse in a foreign country.

Slow-moving but done with a firm sense of reality, the movie picks up considerably once mom has absconded with child and dad travels to her country to try to find his son. Much more is suddenly at stake, and how things work out is handled with substance and enough unshowy style to make the film resonate.

When the name Daniele Luchetti is attached to a movie (he gave us the fine Ginger and Cinnamon and  My Brother Is an Only Child some years back), I expect something special. Unfortunately, that is not the case with his newest movie, a standard-issue bio-pic of our new Pope titled CALL ME FRANCESCO (Chiamatemi Francesco). Those interested in the current Pope but who have not bothered to learn much about him may appreciate this pretty much by-the-numbers look at his life (with particular attention paid to the military dictatorship in Argentina under which he served). Soon after the announcement was made concerning this Pope's appointment, questions were raised about his conduct during this horrendous period of Argentina's history. Try as it may, the biopic does not lay them to rest

The movie turns the man into a major hero of his time (he is well played as a younger man by Rodrigo de la Serna, above), and while I certainly cannot gainsay this theory, and I am impressed with how progressive this Pope does seem in comparison with all the Popes in my lifetime who've come before him (with the exception of John XXIII), I still expected a little more rigor and probing from the filmmaker, who no doubt was advised to give us a mainstream and laudatory movie. He has.

Doubt still lies at the heart of the dictatorship period when so many priests who were helping the downtrodden were tortured and killed, while those who helped the dictatorship managed to survive and prosper. The question of how our boy managed to last out so well appears to be via his gift for compromise, but this simply does not nearly explain things to my satisfaction. When the need arises during the darkest days to have a compatriot possibly disguise himself as Bergoglio (our priest's name pre-Popedom), that compatriot announces, "It's an honor to pass myself off as you!" Amen.

Another enjoyable, if more fictional venture (depending on just how fictional the above Pope movie actually is) into Italy today is THE COMPLEXITY OF HAPPINESS (La felicità è un sistema complesso), a film about everything from Socialism, Capitalism and Globalization to employment, family and responsibility. As co-written and directed by Gianni Zanasi, this is a tale of a "responsible" fellow (played by Italy's favorite "everyman," Valerio Mastandrea) who fixes things for the wealthy and corporate -- and must suddenly come to grips with a small family crisis in his own life that, of course, begins to change just about everything else.

Mastrandrea (above, right, and below, left ) is a superb actor, and his ability for subtlety and finesse is on fine display here. Co-starring with him is Israeli actress Hadas Yaron (above), who plays the young woman who helps precipitate that crisis, and she the intelligence and charm Ms Yaron exhibits makes a fine foil for Mastandrea's reticence and rigor. Also on hand is another staple of Open Roads, the portly delight, Giuseppe Battiston (at right, below), here playing a business friend of our hero whose grace and humor masks something sadder and darker.

The film is full of good dialog and some very smart lines, one of which "How come it's never anyone's fault?" might easily stand in as the mantra of almost any government in the western world. If the movie is better at diagnosing than correcting -- "You can't fight the economy," one character insists -- at least, by the finale, it does offer a bit of hope for change.

If you're looking or a good, extended love story (perhaps a little too extended), ALASKA, the new film from Claudio Cupellini, might fill the bill nicely. This tale of a young woman induced to attend a Parisian modeling audition and the ambitious-if-hot-tempered hotel employee she encounters begins like a house afire, as this pair meet and quickly bond -- only to have their not-quite-affair nipped in the bud by his sudden, violent actions.

Director and co-writer Cupellini takes us and his duo from Pairs to Milan, from prison to that modeling career and the hot-shit night club that bears the movie's name. (For some reason, Opens Roads has decided to retitle the film The Beginners, though Alaska's the more appropriate moniker.) It's a two-hour-plus journey, but it's also an interesting, surprising and sometimes moving one, as our hero/heroine couple, break off, reunite and move into different states of careers and couplings.

As played by the two attractive performers, Elio Germano (an Open Roads regular, shown just above) and French star Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (shown two photos above), the movie could hardly ask for two more sexy and compelling leads. Germano always seems to manage to look quite different from role to role, and he does this without make-up, simply by virtue of attitude, talent and maybe haircut, too. Ms Bergès-Frisbey, while not possessing quite the talent (yet) of Germano, keeps up her part of the bargain well enough. Also, her character has not been given the depth that Germano's receives, a typical result, I fear, of what often happens when a male writer/director tackles the female psyche.

This has been true of literally all five films I've covered at this year's Open Roads, And I'm sorry now that I did not opt instead to see the new film directed by Laura Morante.(above) or the one from Maria Sole Tognazzi (below). Well, next time.... Meanwhile, those of you in the tri-state area can view the work of both these female directors, along with the rest of the movies in this year's Opens Road. Don't miss out!

You can view the entire selection of Open Roads films 
by simply clicking here. and then clicking on 
the film or films of your choice.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Federico Fellini's CITY OF WOMEN makes its Blu-ray and DVDebut this coming week

CITY OF WOMEN (La città delle donne), from 1980, is among the final few full-length films from Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, pictured below, and although TrustMovies could have sworn he'd seen it around the time of its original release, it turns out he had not -- until now via the new Blu-ray and DVD which hit the street this coming Tuesday, May 31, courtesy of the Cohen Film Collection's Classics of Italian Cinema. This is a most welcome release, and not simply because it will add to the catalog of a filmmaking master. It is also one of Fellini's better works.

Yes, it is full of the filmmaker's signature content and characters: Here we have the leading man who's a sexist pig par excellence, surrounded by all kinds of women -- especially those on the corpulent side who possess a very large butt, which they know how to move. His leading man is again played by his actor of choice, Marcello Mastroianni, below, who was in his mid-50s at the time and still looking terrifically good of figure and face. On a trip by train to somewhere or other, our "hero" proves to be quite taken with the woman who sits across from him and whom he becomes intent on seducing.

If only. That would-be seduction leads Snàporaz (surely one of the least becoming names in the history of leading-man characters) into a kind of Grand Hotel in which a feminist convention is taking place.

As the only male to be found (other than the hotel's staff), Snàporaz is subjected to all kinds of contempt and humiliation -- much of it creepily enjoyable, particularly as it comes from a filmmaker whose own sexism was, well, rather heavy-duty.

Clearly Fellini was trying to come to terms with feminism, which had been on the rise for some time and was intent on displacing, or at least rejiggering, the current state of Italian patriarchy. While you have to give the guy credit for handing us a leading character whose male chauvinism borders on the hugely unappealing, Fellini was so besotted with his would-be alter ego, Mastroianni, along with his needs and desires, that the filmmaker's entire identification goes to and with the man.

The women here are all, with the exception of the elderly mother/grandmother figures, sex objects or scary bitches. The old Madonna/Whore syndrome is in full Italian flower. If this lends the film an uneasy duality, it also adds the kind of tension that only a secure and talented filmmaker would risk.

That risk pays off, as scene after scene pulls us in and leaves us amazed and amused. or shocked and thrillingly appalled. We go from spoofing the old Italian "white telephone" genre (below)

to the birthday party of a fellow who has supposedly conquered 10,00 females to finally a quest for the "ideal woman."

Yeah, right. Well, boys will be boys, and if their pursuits seem a tad trivial, they're also age-old and, for so many men, show little sign of abating.

And in the hands of a filmmaker as fanciful and imaginative as Signore Fellini, they are also eye-popping and thought-provoking.

If you've never seen a Fellini, City of Women is not a bad place to begin. If you've already seen this one, a revisit is probably in order. The Blu-ray transfer, while nothing special, is certainly adequate. In any case, the filmmaker's fecund imagination provides all the special effects and amazing visuals you could want.

Available via the Cohen Film Collection and running a lengthy but never boring 139 minutes, the film resurfaces this coming Tuesday, May 31 -- for purchase or rental.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Light, short, fun and an easy binge: Josh Billig and Chris Martin's cute little DRAMAWORLD

TrustMovies has never seen a South Korean TV show, but he is a big fan of that country's often excellent motion pictures, so he thought he'd take a look at a new series available on Netflix streaming called DRAMAWORLD. What a surprise! It's very charming and a little silly but so bubbly, inventive and good-natured that it's hard to resist.

A college-age girl -- Liv Hewson (above) -- who's addicted to a South Korean soap opera and not a little attracted to its leading man (as played by Sean Dulake, below, who can blame her?) gets magically pulled into the world of the series and becomes a "facilitator" to both the "drama" and its characters.

Each segment lasts anywhere between eleven and eighteen minutes, so you can see the whole ten-episode shmear in two easy sittings. The casting is swell, the plot ridiculous-but-enticing, and the whole idea and execution so charmingly managed that by the time it's over you may very well be as addicted as is our heroine.

Created by Josh Billig and Chris Martin and a co-financed by the U.S., South Korea and China, Dramaworld is one of those little cable/Internet oddities that just might catch on bigtime. A production of Viki, you can watch it there, or on Netflix.