Sunday, July 31, 2016

Joe Begos (Almost Human) is back with a funnier/tighter/smarter/bloodier MIND'S EYE

Oh, yeah -- and it's a lot campier, too. TrustMovies was not much a fan of Joe Begos' earlier work, Almost Human, released in winter 2014 and dealing with an extraterrestrial kidnapping/returning that leads to a near-continuous slasher-movie massacre, so he is happy to report that he enjoyed Begos' latest film a lot more. THE MIND'S EYE involves telekinesis, which appears to be a subject that this writer/director (shown below) can have some fun with, while being a bit more creative and still get to those juicy/bloody/gory parts he clearly loves so much.

Our hero (this time, as last) is played by Graham Skipper (shown below, right), an actor of somewhat protuberant eyes, who pops them and bugs them almost consistently throughout the film. He undoubtedly was asked to do so by his director, as was his leading lady, Lauren Ashley Carter (below, left) because this eye-bugging is how all the telekinesis takes place. Time and again throughout the film, actors bug their eyes and pop their neck veins as their characters attempt to levitate and/or move everything from guns and furniture to hypodermic needles and a very nasty ax.

Trust me: you will not have seen so much eye-rolling and -popping since the last time you watched a silent movie -- and I think you'll agree that, even then, The Mind's Eye beats out those "silents" by a mile. And because it turns out that just about every character in the film is capable of this telekinesis, there is an awful lot of eye-popping going on.

Our hero (above), however, turns out to be almost the best of the bunch (think of him as a kind of hairy Carrie), although his girlfriend (below) nearly matches him by exploding a bad guy's head. Of course, all this take so much pain and intensity that you can expect to see lots of blood oozing from the telekinetics' various orifices.

Mr. Begos has managed to provide a more interesting screenplay, plot and even better dialog this time around, and so ropes us into his tale of a supposedly government-sponsored "home" for telekinetics run by a power-hungry nut case (John Speredakos, below) who goes from a cajoling nice-guy to a Freddy Krueger-style villain in no time flat. Also in the cast is the always-game Larry Fessenden, playing our hero's helpful police-officer father.

As the eyes pop and the blood flows, so, too, do the laughs grow louder and more frequent. I would like to think that this was part of Mr Begos' initial plan, and that he does not take himself or his movie all that seriously. The Mind's Eye is finally good, silly, noisy, campy fun. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

From RLJ Entertainment and running a blessedly short 87 minutes, the movie opens this coming Friday, August 5, simultaneously in theaters (a very limited release, I would assume), on iTunes and via VOD -- with a Blu-ray disc release scheduled for Tuesday, October 4, 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Clay Tweel's GLEASON charts footballer Steve Gleason's rise to fatherhood and fall from ALS

TrustMovies, who does not follow sports, knew little-to-nothing about Steve Gleason, the ex-football star and now victim of ALS whose main goals in life over the past decade or so have been becoming the best father he can to his son (born soon after his initial ALS diagnosis) and calling the world's attention to this horribly debilitating and eventually fatal disease. From the new and eponymously titled documentary, GLEASON, it would seem he has succeeded at both -- at the former about as well as any dad with this disease could possibly do it, the latter surprisingly well -- as the much lauded and much criticized 2015 dump-a-bucket-of-ice-water-over-your-head fund-raising campaign certainly proved, in both capturing attention to ALS and fund-raising for it.

We see only a very little here about Steve Gleason's days as a great football player (shown at right: college ball at Washington State in Pullman and then professionally for the New Orleans Saints). But the movie does seem to make clear that this fellow was a greatly skilled, dynamic and very well-liked team player. And what we see and hear of him post-ALS-diagnosis bears all this out. Most of the film details the time from his diagnosis until very nearly now, as we watch his decline at the same time as he and his wife, Michel Varisco, do their best, first to prepare for the birth of their child, and then to raise the boy at the same time as Michelle and others must care for the declining Steve.

This is very difficult stuff to watch, and the movie certainly doesn't sugar-coat anything -- from Steve's difficulties coping with the disease to Michelle's and others' in cleaning up his sudden bowel movements. From early on (and very fortunately so far as the documentary is concerned) Gleason liked to videotape himself and his family, and this only grew stronger and more necessary once the diagnosis arrived. So the film's director Clay Tweel (shown at right, who earlier gave us a dear little doc about up-and-coming magicians called Make Believe) has a treasure trove of video already prepared and which he uses quite well, along with his own footage, to bring this inspirational, if horrifying, story to life.

We learn of Steve's relationship with his parents (who argued, fought and then divorced). His dad has since embraced some kind of fundamentalist, faith-healing religion, which he pushes his son to embrace, too. This makes for difficulties that are later smoothed over -- but then perhaps only incompletely. We meet Michel's dad, as well, who toward the end of the film, tells us something sad but compelling about what we've just witnessed: Michel and Steve, he explains, used to have "the ability to tell each other anything and everything. That has been lost in this process." We can certainly understand how and why this would happen, given all that we see here.

Back in 2013, there was a ground-breaking and better British documentary about a young man trying to cope -- along with his wife and newborn child -- with ALS. Titled I Am Breathing, it detailed the struggle, the strength and the loss in only 73 minutes (Gleason lasts around 40 minutes longer) and was even more artful and thoughtful, to boot. But it did not have an ex-sports star at its center, so almost nobody went to see it. A shame. But that's our civilization. And at least Steve Gleason's fame has helped draw more attention to an ugly, debilitating disease.

Overall, Gleason, though moving and compassionate, proves mostly an endurance test. But it is one that will make you realize that if Steve and Michel can go through years and years of this hell-on-earth, the least we viewers can do is spend  two hours of our own, so-much-easier life, watching him and his family trying to cope.

From Amazon Studios via Open Road Films and running a very long 112 minutes, Gleason opened theatrically yesterday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New Orleans, and will hit theaters across the country in the weeks to come. You can click here to view all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fashion, Hollywood and Homosexuality in Gillian Armstong's WOMEN HE'S UNDRESSED

If the name Orry-Kelly means nothing to you, you're either young, straight, or simply uninterested in the heyday of Hollywood and its famous fashion designers. TrustMovies has never been all that interested in fashion (he often quite literally loathes it), but he is bi- and has had a hard-on for Hollywood since around the age of two (when he ran away from home and off to a "picture show," as he then called the movies). Although he didn't realize it until he saw the film under consideration here, he's also been a huge fan of Orry-Kelly's work. Those memorable gowns from Les Girls, above, are in fact long-time favorites of his (the movie may be second-rate, but its fashions are absolutely first-).

The new documentary about Orry-Kelly, WOMEN HE'S UNDRESSED has been directed by Gillian Armstrong (shown above, at right, with multi-Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin) and written by Katherine Thomson, both of them Australian, as was Orry-Kelly himself (who, for purposes of space and repetition, will henceforth be referred to as O-K). What these two have given us is really a kind of celebration of O-K: his life, work, sexuality and in particular his ability to live a relatively uncloseted life in tinseltown long before many other gay men cared to and/or were able to do anything like this.

Incredible as it seems, O-K costumed some 301 movies between the years of 1930 and 1963. And many of these were amazing, pivotal works whose costumes were vital to the films, and, as one of the many fascinating interviewees points out, they look as good, and almost as "modern," today as they did back then. O-K clothed some of Hollywood biggest stars -- from Bette Davis and Rosalind Russell to Marilyn Monroe and Shirley MacLaine -- and most of them loved him and his work. One of the joys of this lovely documentary is how well it makes us understand what and how the designer was doing, why it was important and especially why it worked so well. You'll come away from the movie with a new (maybe renewed) sense of the importance of fashion to films.

The movie also captures this Hollywood era in spades, with particular emphasis on what it was like to be gay in Hollywood from the 30s into the 50s and early 60s (O-K died in 1964). We get a good sense of the man's history, and the filmmakers choose to do this via some charming and intelligent re-enactments using actors in the roles of O-K (a sly, sweet job by Darren Gilshenan, above, as the adult O-K, and Louis Alexander, below, as the younger version),  his mother (Deborah Kennedy), and even briefly his first and perhaps greatest love, a fellow named Archie Leach (known to you all as Cary Grant and played in this film by Nathaniel Middleton).

Based in good part on O-K's unpublished memoirs -- which, according to Wikipedia, were discovered in the care of a relative after the man's death -- the film does full justice to the designer's humor, panache, style and wit, regarding both his work and his attitudes. I suspect he would be pretty damned pleased with this funny and charming documentary -- in which some very good and still-living costume designers, along with actors like Jane Fonda, who worked with the man a few times in her early career, talk about him fondly and with great appreciation.

Ms Armstrong, whom many of you still remember for My Brilliant Career) does a fine job of keeping all this moving and snappy so that interest does not lag for a moment. And her interweaving of the reenactments with historical footage and scenes from various film makes her documentary non-stop eye-opening and appealing.

The movie is a fine appreciation of a man and his time in a town that was anything but welcoming of his kind -- and yet in which he managed to make a place and a name for himself. This is a wonderful story, and -- despite a couple of odd fact mistakes -- I am so glad we are now able to see it. (That's a photo of the real Orry-Kelly, at left.)

From Wolf Releasing and running 99 minutes, Women He's Undressed opens tomorrow, Friday, July 29, in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema for a week's run, after which it hits home video on Tuesday, August 9 -- for purchase or rental.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Joost & Schulman's NERVE has some verve -- along with a whole lot of nonsense

Alternately ugly and silly, suspenseful and ridiculous, the new would-be thriller NERVE -- from that Catfish duo, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman -- proves a trying time at the movies. For all its timeliness (giving us an online game more popular than this new Pokemon nonsense), the film keeps asking you to suspend your disbelief over and over until you're ready to scream, "Fuck it!" and take that disbelief behind the barn to permanently put it out of its misery. Younger audiences may be able to manage this. We older folk will want to call it a day well before this 96-minute movie does the same.

Part of the problem here is the so-so screenplay by Jessica Sharzer (from a novel by Jeanne Ryan) in which, necessarily I suppose, the "game" at the center of the film overrides all else. The filmmakers, shown above, with Mr. Joost on the left (photo is by Jimi Celeste, courtesy of Getty Images) are at this point -- after Catfish and some of the Paranormal Activity drivel -- well-versed in hand-held, by-the-bootstraps filmmaking, and they do a good job or putting us in the role of voyeurs in the online game in which you are either a watcher or a player (you pay money to be the former, and perhaps considerably more than that if you choose to be the latter).

The game is basically one of those Do-you-dare-attempt-what-we-tell-you? deals, in which the stakes grow higher and higher, after which most of us would simply say, "Oh, please!" and move on to something else. But this is "the movies" and so instead our heroine (an ever-game Emma Roberts, above) and maybe hero (the slightly-sleazier-than-his-older-brotherDave Franco, below) do the dares and take us along with them.

Some of the dares have built-in suspense aplenty (driving a motorcycle at 60 mph while blindfolded) and the directors milk these for what they're worth. Others (hanging from skyscraper construction beams or waking across a horizontal ladder placed between buildings) seem awfully tired. And some (trying on pricey clothes at a posh department store, and then...) are rather fun.

Much worse is the movie's lame try at characterization. Ms Roberts hasn't much, except to be the usual ugly duckling/hang-backer who suddenly develops into a feisty swan. But Ms Roberts is always pretty and real, with charm aplenty, all of which she must rely on bigtime here. Mr. Franco is relegated to the role of is-he-or-isn't-he a cad and so must rely on his very sexy body to do the heavy-lifting.

Worst of all are the subsidiary characters who either fade into the wallpaper (Miles Heizer, above, right, as the lovestruck best male friend) or change character completely and unbelievably (Emily Meade as the best female friend and Colson Baker/aka Machine Gun Kelly as the top competitor in the game). Themes of ambition, fame, and the meaning of friendship rear their somewhat tired heads, too, and all are given as shallow a treatment as you might imagine.

The movie takes place in New York City and its boroughs (mostly Staten Island), yet the penultimate scene, set in what looks something like the Roman Coliseum by night, seems to be housing maybe twice the population of Rome. (How did these thousands upon thousands of kids get here without attracting a little police attention or supervision?)

Nerve, which becomes uglier and uglier as it goes along, finally offers too little of what its title promises. Think of it as Saw for the PG set. It would like to be a warning call regarding the morality of online game playing, but in its rush to finally make everything all right, not only does it not have the courage of its convictions, it turns out to have lacked any convictions in the first place. But, yes, it is -- off and on -- bad, silly fun.

From Lionsgate and set to entice the marginally-intelligent teen crowd, the movie opens today all over the place. Click here, and you'll be greeted with a venue (or ten) near you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Woody's back -- with the impeccably cast, acted and photographed CAFE SOCIETY

Woody Allen's final-period movies (I am guessing here, of course, but really: He'll reach 81 this December, so how much longer can the guy go on?) continue to grow more assured, pleasurable and (TrustMovies thinks so, anyway) mature. Mr. Allen, below, has finally grown up in ways, movie-wise and maybe otherwise, that he hadn't achieved till now. Less interested in being profound or super witty/nerdy/brilliant, he's finally willing to let his characters behave and learn and grow, rather than merely being mouthpieces (often very clever or crazy ones) for his own neuroses.

This has lent a distinctive autumnal feeling to all his recent work -- whether it's an odd murder mystery like Irrational Man (a better film than was generally acknowledged), a surprisingly sweet love story complete with maybe-the-other-worldly such as Magic in the Moonlight, and now something like his latest, an alternately dark and endearing coming-of-age tale called CAFE SOCIETY. Allen (along with ace casting director Juliet Taylor) has long had a knack for fitting the actor to the role. He fills his movies with fine actors, lets them do their thing, and so -- even with
sometimes middling screenplays -- the movies come together surprisingly well. This casting-coup works as well in his latest film as it ever has. I'd say every role is filled just about perfectly (we'll get to the details in a bit), but there's something more here, too. For the first time Allen is working with the great Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (shown at right), and the result is -- whew! -- something wonderful. Because the film takes place in 1930s New York and Los Angeles, we get the bonus of nostalgia, of course, and handled, as it is, with Storaro's mastery of light and composition, everything from the interiors to exteriors, faces to fabrics glow and resonate. Yes, we're mostly with the wealthy upper-crust, but watch how this master handles the scenes involving the lower-middle class New York family at the center of the film. These scenes resonate cinematically in their own dark, quiet manner.

The story -- of a young man named Bobby (a just-about-perfect Jesse Eisenberg, above, left) who must break away from his family for awhile and so ventures out to Hollywood, where his uncle (the ever more versatile Steve Carell, below) is a big-time agent, then falls in love with the uncle's secretary (Kristen Stewart, above, right, adding another smart feather to an already full cap) -- is serviceable and malleable. And, my, how these actors bring it to splendid life.

Speaking of versatility, there's Corey Stoll (below, whom I didn't even recognize in his role of Eisenberg's older brother, Ben, until the end
credits rolled). I find it amazing how Allen gloms on to new and special talent, always making such good use of it. This is as true with his use of Stoll as it is the way he uses Blake Lively (below, center) in the role of  Bobby's other love interest. Ms Lively brings genuine caring and concern to a part that could easily seem little more than secondary. Ditto Jeannie Berlin, who plays the brothers' mama, Rose, with enough depth and passion to help disguise and rise above a screenplay that is, at best, serviceable and often flits a little too close to cliché.

Good work also comes from the likes of Anna CampParker Posey and Ken Stott. By the finale, we've come, along with Eisenberg's Bobby, through enough incident and revelation to reach a level of maturity that allows us to look back in some sadness, yes, but also with the wisdom to appreciate what we have, as well as better understand what we've lost.

Cafe Society -- from Amazon Studios by way of Lionsgate, and running 96 minutes -- after opening in New York and Los Angeles, hits much of the rest of the country this Friday, July 29. Here in South Florida, it plays the O Cinema Miami Beach, the AMC Sunset Place 24, Coral Gables Art Cinema, Muvico Broward 18 in Pompano Beach, and the Movies of Delray in Delray Beach. To view playdates, cities and theaters elsewhere around the country, simply click here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Beauty in desolation: Nikolaus Geyrhalter's exquisite photographic study, HOMO SAPIENS

Our species appears nowhere in Nikolaus Geyrhalter's brilliant and breathtakingly beautiful, if ironically titled documentary, HOMO SAPIENS, yet our mark is all over the place. In this, the latest film from Herr Geyrhalter, who has already given us a couple of whoppingly good docs -- Our Daily Bread and Abenland -- the Austrian filmmaker who conceived, directed and shot this stunning piece of work (with the prodigious help of Simon Graf in scouting the amazing locations used here) has compiled a series of what could almost be -- were it not for the occasional wind, waves and birds -- still-life photography of empty, desolate but stunning exteriors, interiors and sometimes a combo of the two in which nature seems to be re-enforcing her domain on ours.

The filmmaker, pictured at right, lets his camera remain stationary as it gazes at scene after scene, location after location, for anywhere from 15 to 30-or-more seconds. This gives the viewer ample time to take it all in. And how very much there is to take. Geyrhalter is an artist. His compositions are wonderful: rich and detailed, forcing us to observe closely, think about what we're seeing, then make all kinds of connections.
We go from a gorgeous, decrepit amphitheatre to a deserted (for quite some length of time, it seems) railway station and shopping mall (in Japan, perhaps? The writing we see would indicate somewhere Asian) to an auditorium or two, hospitals, even a roller coaster seemingly positioned in the sea. The locations are bizarre and amazing, and the cinematography is, too. Yet it is not simply beautiful (that might very well be enough), it is also about as artful and thoughtful as photography can get.

There is no dialog here, no sound save the ambient ones: wind, gulls cawing, pigeons cooing, Music? You know, I cannot now remember. The movie was that hypnotic. But yet I never felt sleepy in the least. I would imagine that photography buffs will make a bee line for the documentary, which opens this week in New York City at Anthology Film Archives.

Although there is great beauty here (and Geyrhalter seems incapable of not zeroing in on it with simplicity, always capturing the right composition, angle and even color (or lack of it). He finds his beauty in desolation, and this is the way in which he gets us to considering what homo sapiens have to do with all this. How did the hospital room (above) come into such disrepair, for example? Was that empty shopping mall too near Fukushima? (One of these malls may be closer to the USA, as it bears the name Woodville.)

A house of religion is just as likely to have emptied out as has the mall. Or a prison. Or an office, below, full of aged computers. For me the most beautiful shots of all seems to have been taken in an empty planetarium. Even a greenhouse has gone to seed. The movie offers its own special pacing and an odd kind of momentum. There's dark humor, too: in the loudspeakers atop poles wrapped in vines (or in the winter, snow). Interestingly, the shots taken in the desert seem not as memorable as the others (the desert is already desolate, right?). Ditto the wintertime scenes, where snow can more easily mask the desolation.

And then we've come full circle, back to that original amphitheater. What a journey! Perhaps I missed them, but I tried to check the credits for a listing of locations where the movie was filmed. I am pretty sure Japan, Germany (or Austria) and the USA are among them -- and maybe other countries, too. Whatever, Herr Geyrhalter has graced us with one wonderful documentary that photo buffs will eventually want to own on disc. Unless some enterprising publisher thinks to put out the coffee-table book version.

From KimStim and running 94 minutes (TrustMovies could have watched another hour of it, at least), Homo Sapiens opens this Friday, July 29, at Anthology Film Archives in New York City for a week's run. Elsewhere? There's is nothing as yet on the KimStim site to indicate further showings. But I would hope an eventual DVD or Blu-ray is in the offing.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Straight-to-home-video: Eric Barbier's heist thriller and love story, THE LAST DIAMOND

One of the more inventive and complicated heists the movies have attempted in quite some time, that of the fabled and (so far as I know) completely fictional Florentin diamond -- a huge and super-valuable stone said to be cursed -- is the plot point around which pivots just about everything in THE LAST DIAMOND, a pretty good French thriller-cum-love-story that ought to have been a lot better. The heist itself, as well as the build-up to it, are very well done: smart and tricky but allowing us to remain just ahead of things by a whisker.

Unfortunately, that heist occurs a little beyond the one-hour point -- with another 40 minutes or so to go. It's as though we've started back at square one. This is an unfortunate construction for a movie that needs to sustain its momentum but goes noticeably slack instead.
We stick with it because it has held us well enough for that hour, and so we hope against hope that it will bounce back. Its director and co-writer, Eric Barbier (at left: this is the first of his four films since 1991 to receive any kind of release here in the USA) handles his plotting, pacing and action scenes well enough, and he's cast his film well, too -- with Yvan Attal and Bérénice Bejo (both shown below) in the leading roles.

The beautiful Ms Bejo (above, left, and below, right) has graced a number of good movies at this point (though I think my favorite of hers is the one in Populaire, in which she plays so beautifully an intelligent French housewife of the 1950s), while M. Attal (above, right, and below, left) seem best at playing those rough-veneer/soft-beneath no-nonsense guys, just as he does in this film.

The movie is packed (a bit too-packed) with incidental characters, many of whom are important to the plot and the heist and some of whom get a bit lost in the proceeding shuffle. The film also begins as a relatively light-hearted romp -- until a murder (unplanned but seemingly necessary) occurs, followed some time after by an all-out massacre. This darkens The Last Diamond a bit more heavily than it can pleasingly bear.

Yet it's certainly fun to watch the plot points unfurl -- including disguise (above), love, and betrayal -- and performances down the line are on the mark. Some viewers have complained about the lack of chemistry between Attal and Bejo. Hmmmph! There's a lot more chemistry here than in just about any movie starring Tom Cruise and whichever of his co-stars those complainers might care to name.

Meanwhile, you can view The Last Diamond -- from Cohen Media Group and running 108 minutes -- as it makes its home video debut on DVD this Tuesday, July 26 -- for purchase or rental.