Friday, September 30, 2016

God vs humanity--round 2,439--in Larry Kent's unnerving slash-n-shock SHE WHO MUST BURN

Opening simultaneously with the beginning of Yom Kippur, this new fundamentalist-Christians-against-the-humanists movie by South-African-born Canadian filmmaker Larry Kent (below) is super-unsettling in so many ways. It refuses to soften the kind of punches pulled by most other movies in this genre (it pretty much creates its own sub-genre by its finale), while managing to combine a treatise on the ever-present subject of right-to-life vs right-to-choice with some good, old-fashioned tropes mostly found in those horror/ slasher/thriller films.

SHE WHO MUST BURN takes place in a community that may seem just a little too god-fearing for some tastes, with the local (and only, it seems) church run by a crazy zealot with even crazier parishioners who do, well, the darndest things.

The film begins with the murder, very well filmed, of a doctor in the local women's clinic, for which the murderer is immediately jailed. Then we cut to an early morning love scene interrupted by some unpleasant protesters. Soon we witness a still-born birth by a woman, with her husband in tow, who have already been told by their doctor that the fetus will not survive. (They choose to have it anyway, 'cause it's, ummm, god's will.)

Oh -- but there are problems with the environment here, too, due to hazards the local mining company is creating (fracking, perhaps?), so lots of the populace are growing sick and dying. But so stuck in their god-knows-it-all routine, served up by the wacky minister, that most of the community is willing to go farther and farther afield to punish those they consider to be the sinful.

How far? You will see. Among the good guys are the local sheriff's deputy (Andrew Moxham, above) and his girl friend (Sarah Smyth, below) -- who worked in that clinic, which has now been shut down, so she's helping out the needy from her and her boyfriend's home.

In the press release for this film, Mr. Kent is called a "cult" filmmaker, though TrustMovies has not managed to see or even hear of any of his work until now. Still, She Who Must Burn is in some ways a surprisingly impressive film. The look and tone of foreboding is caught and held very well throughout, and while the performances are just fine individually, the actors also appear to form a kind of ensemble in which each is in sync with the others. You can image these characters all living in the same community, one that has become more and more fractured over time.

The subject matter, too, is handled well. It is taken as a given that, where the subjects of god, religion, patriarchy and women's "rights" (including especially abortion) are concerned, there can be no middle ground. As directed and co-writer (with Shane Twerdun, above, who also plays the very righteous and nasty local minister), Mr. Kent lays all this out quite strongly and effectively. But it is in some of its details that the movie begin to come apart.

The murderer of that abortion doctor (played by James Wilson, below) is brought to heel quickly, presumably by the town's sheriff (Jim Francis, above). Yet later, when another woman is killed, with her daughter as witness, that same sheriff seems to want to cool his heels. And when the beleaguered threesome -- daughter, deputy and his girlfriend -- need desperately to escape but the fundamentalist crowd attempts to stop them, would they, instead of driving the hell away, simply get out of the car to present themselves as compliant victims? Perhaps chase and/or action scenes, along with a little simple logic, are not in Mr. Kent's repertoire.

Still, there is enough genuine horror here -- the idea and presentation of fundamentalists in total control and gone nutcracker wild should throw the fear of the lord (or of something more rational) into sane audiences everywhere -- to turn She Who Must Burn into a possible current cult hit for this filmmaker. (That's Missy Cross, below, center, who's particularly nutty/scary as one in the good minister's family.)

One big question, however: Why -- unless he wants to give a "balanced, non-partisan" view -- does Kent decide to bring an act of god into the picture to "muddy" up the proceedings at the finale? And, as ever, why does God, since he's so omniscient, wait until the bad guys have done their worst before showering his wrath upon them. Oh, well: Ours is not to question the big sky in the sky. Ours is simply... to get the hell out. Fast.

The movie, from White Buffalo Films via Midnight Releasing, makes its debut on Tuesday. October 11, on Cable VOD, Digital HD and DVD. Look for it on Dish Network, Cox, Charter, Verizon Fios, DirecTV, iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, XBox and elsewhere. The DVD itself can be purchased exclusively via Amazon. Rental? Well, you can add it to your Netflix quene now, but the company claims that the film's availability date is still "unknown."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

THE BUREAU: Smart 'n classy French TV series from Eric Rochant gets exclusive U.S. run via the SundanceNow Doc Club

For those may have found the French TV series Spiral a little too over-the-top regarding sex, violence and very dark doings, here comes a new French television show that has already won awards and popularity: THE BUREAU (Le Bureau des Légendes), which will have its American premiere this coming Monday, October 3, streaming via the SundanceNow Doc Club, that purveyor of first-class documentaries and -- very occasionally -- some interesting narrative ventures, as well.

Created by Eric Rochant, shown at right, who wrote three of the (20 thus far, though only the first ten are being shown now) episodes and directed eleven of them, the series details the workings of a supposed top-level French intelligence agency and several of its employees (or shall we call them "spies"), both high level and low. Featured most prominently is Guillaume, aka Malotru (Mathieu Kassovitz, below, who bears a rather obvious resemblance to M. Rochant), who is just now returning to France after a very long posting in the Middle East.

As usual in the spy game, all old ties must be severed thoroughly and completely. This proves a bit more difficult regarding the affair our boy has with his mistress, Nadia (Zineb Triki, below). We also quickly learn some things regarding Guillaume's "professional" life, and about his French family, especially his adolescent daughter of whom he is quite fond.

There is always some glamour attached to things mysterious, and so it is here. Yet what we observe in The Bureau seems less glamorous and much more prosaic and detailed than what we see in so many of our American versions of the same genre.

Those details -- what is stored in the lockers at "work," for instance -- even if they are not true (and how would I know?), prove fascinating and in any case seem real enough to pass muster. Style-wise and visually, the series appears almost documentary direct. It moves along quickly enough, always keeping us on our toes, but it is never super slick and/or Greengrass showy.

Trust and betrayal are generic/epidemic to/in spy stories, and so it is here. Yet The Bureau has been able to add a few new wrinkles to the meaning of betrayal. As it moves along, the series grows ever mores dense, with subplots involving the training of a new recruit (Sara Giraudeau, above), as well as whether an old one may have sold out his employers, as well as his co-workers. The latter involves the use of a most interesting behavioral psychologist (played by the excellent Léa Drucker, below)

The theme of trust broken keeps raising its head, making certain we understand how difficult it is to ever really know anyone. Only three episodes were provided us critics to preview. But these were enough to quickly corral TrustMovies. If all ten had been provided, he'd have probably binge-watched the lot.

Look for the debut of The Bureau this coming Monday, October 3. via the SundanceNow Doc Club, which you can learn all about -- and maybe join -- by clicking the previous link. (Above is that splendid actor Jean-Pierre Darroussin, as special here -- playing the head of the bureau -- as he always is.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Scandinavian soap suds, served up in style: Hannes Holm's funny/sad A MAN CALLED OVE

A mainstream/art-house crowd-pleaser nonpareil, A MAN CALLED OVE, adapted (from the international best-seller by Fredrik Backman) and directed by Hannes Holm (shown below), is certainly this year's guilty pleasure. And guilt will be a by-product of viewing. Not having read the book, I can't say whether or not it is as manipulative as is this movie -- which, yes, left me in tears, even as I kicked myself in the ass for being such a patsy. The film withholds important information about its protagonist and his deceased wife for what seems like eons, and although it initially presents its hero as the world's worst curmudgeon, it takes far too little time before he is revealed as -- no? yes! -- an adorable old teddy bear, after all.

So far, so typical. But the story here is extremely incident-prone and consequently pretty interesting, while the performances from the four leads are terrific, going a very long way towards pulling us in and refusing to release us until we've experienced every last giggle, snort and tear. And oh, boy -- do we ever.

The quartet of actors who do so much toward making the movie special is led by star, Rolf Lassgård (above, and so good as TV's original Wallander). This actor nails every last moment and emotion quite beautifully. He's a consistent pleasure to watch in action.

As his younger self, Filip Berg (above) is near-perfect as the socially inept earlier version who has lost both his mother, as a child, and his father, later, to untimely deaths.

Ida Engvoll (above) is the pert and precious wife of Ove, and she makes the most of her many flashback scenes.

But it is Iranian actress Bahar Pars (above) who completes the picture from so many angles, as Ove's new Persian neighbor who befriends him and, despite his several protestations, changes his life in precise and enjoyable increments. Two subplots (about rescuing first a suddenly homeless gay young man, and then a paralyzed neighbor about to be placed in a rest home) are handled far too quickly and easily to be believed.

Things move along, flashing back and forth in time, as expected, until the moving (and also expected) finale and denouement, handled with the same straight-ahead style and suds as the rest of the film. Those who've already read that novel will flock to the film, probably bringing along a few friends and/or spouses who can handle English subtitles, and who will no doubt leave the theater surprisingly satisfied and murmuring, "Hey, this was good!"

From Music Box Films, in Swedish with English subtitles, and running 116 minutes, the movie opens simultaneously this Friday, September 30, in New York City (at the Angelika Film Center and the Paris Theatre), Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal), Minneapolis, Seattle and at several theaters in the greater Chicago area. Over the weeks to come it will open throughout the rest of the country. Here in Florida, you can catch it, come October 21, in Sarasota (at the Burns Court), and on October 28 in the Miami area at the Tower Theater and the AMC Sunset Place; in Fort Lauderdale at the Gateway Theatre and the AMC Aventura; in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theater; and at The Movies of Delray and The Movies of Lake Worth. To see all currently scheduled playdates, with theaters and cities listed, click here -- and then scroll midway down the screen to click on THEATERS in the task bar.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Elite Zexer's Sundance winner and Ophir-nominated SAND STORM opens at Film Forum

An Israeli film that's all about Bedouins, their traditions and halting attempts at some kind of modernity, SAND STORM is original, exotic, fiery and humane -- often simultaneously. What we see happening has the air of something centuries old, even if the plot pivots on how a daughter's cell phone is coincidentally answered by her mother. Taking place mostly in the home of a family in a tribal village in Israel's Negev desert, the film centers on that mother and daughter, both of whom are chaffing at the bit of Bedouin patriarchy.

Part of the movie's surprise and fascination comes from the fact that it seems very different from so much else we've seen come out of Israel -- narrative- or documentary-wise. As written and directed by a filmmaker new to me, Elite Zexer, shown at left, it immediately tosses us in media res and then let us fend for ourselves in figuring out what is happening and why. We do, and pretty quickly, although I suspect folk who live in this part of the world may have a stronger connection to the traditions and mores of the characters we see.

The mother of the family (Ruba Blal, above) is having to prepare, most unhappily, for her husband's wedding to a new wife, while her daughter (Lamis Ammar, below, right), we soon learn, is carrying on a forbidden romance with one of her university peers (Jalal Masarwa, below, left).

Dad (Haitham Omari, below, right) is a handsome but ineffectual man, who, as his wife and daughter both point out, is constantly explaining his actions by saying that these are things he "has to do." Everybody here -- women and men alike -- appear to be abused by their own traditions and the patriarchy, though the women, as ever, have it worst. We get the sense that education is the force that is helping to unite Bedouins, and yet this unity, which has brought together the daughter and her boyfriend, is also what is creating out-of-tribe relationships -- a no-no in this culture.

Love vs arranged marriage, family ties vs tribal ties, banishment and sacrifice -- all of this pits mother against daughter against father, with escalation heaped upon escalation. When, toward the finale, one character tells another, "There's nothing for you here," we realize that this judgment could apply to literally everyone on view.

Sand Storm could be an unrelentingly sad and difficult movie, but Ms Zexer fills it with such marvelous actors and has given them a screenplay that goes just far enough to fill the audience's understanding without over-explaining anything. The film's final scene, in fact, is completely silent. But it is hugely meaningful, presaging unfortunately what may come for the next generation.

In what may be be the movie's most telling moment, dad's plump and pretty new bride, above and below, implies to the daughter that her own situation as the newbie here is nothing to be pleased about. We never learn the details, but it becomes suddenly clear that there is probably "nothing for her here," either.

This "I have to" attitude, expressed by dad but also by so many other characters in their own way, is what allows -- and disallows -- so much that has and will continue to happen.  The movie is certainly feminist and anti-patriarchy, but it lets us see how these traditions -- large and small -- suppress everyone on view. At the wedding ceremony, for instance, certain women (I am guessing they are the former and now-tossed-away wives) must wear fake mustaches. Gheesh.

It is no surprise that this film won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Fest, and that it was also nominated for twelve -- count 'em -- Ophirs (the Israel's equivalent to our "Oscar"). Because it won six of those, including Best Director and Best Film, Sand Storm becomes automatically designated as Israel’s official submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. It is a winner in every way, and we shall look forward to whatever Ms Zexer tackles next.

Meanwhile, Sand Storm, from Kino Lorber, in Arabic with English subtitles and running just 88 minutes, has its U.S. theatrical premiere tomorrow, Wednesday, September 28, in New York City at Film Forum, where it will have a two-week run. The film opens in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal on October 7. Elsewhere? Perhaps--once word-of-mouth generates.

Monday, September 26, 2016

On Blu-ray -- two small, polished gems from Douglas Sirk: A SCANDAL IN PARIS and LURED

TrustMovies didn't pay much attention to directors when he was in high school, but Written on the Wind, along with Vertigo, were two of his favorite films during those late adolescent years. Only after did he connect the name of the former's director, Douglas Sirk (1897-1987), with some other films he treasured (Imitation of Life and Sleep, My Love, for instance). Nowadays the name of Sirk (thanks in large part to the homage work of another fine filmmaker, Todd Haynes), is greatly prized -- though the prizing arrived mostly post-mortem for this talented German-born director, shown below.

All of which brings us to the first-time-on-Blu-ray release this week, via Cohen Film Collection of two of Mr. Sirk's early Hollywood movies -- A SCANDAL IN PARIS and LURED -- both of which should burnish the man's reputation to an even brighter sheen. Though Sirk worked in various genres -- from westerns to mysteries to rom-coms to mostly melodramas (I'm not sure he ever made a film that would qualify as actual drama) -- I would call him most gifted in melodrama. Have there been many better examples of this genre than Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows?

What Sirk brought to so many of his films, in addition to those heightened emotions, was elegance, atmosphere and just plain graceful movie-making. He also had a way of slyly bringing to our attention, within that melodrama, how somehow "off-track" were so many of our standard ideas of morality and economic class. It's always a pleasure to sink back in your seat, and take in what this director offers. A Scandal in Paris brings all of this and more to the fore. Based on the memoirs of real-life Parisian thief-turned-Chief-of-Police, the film stars that perfectly-cast, super-debonair and rakish George Sanders (above, left, with a delightful Akim Tamiroff, and below), who brings his considerable "all" to the role.

In one marvelous little scene early on, Sanders is used by an artist to model for Saint George (above), the irony being of course that few actors ever looked (or acted) less saintly than Sanders. Saint George proves a pivotal plot point in the movie (along with several others), as our anti-hero moves from rakish thief to something much more in line with that Saint (and with Hollywood morals of the day).

In the superlative cast of fine character actors and some very oddball faces, are the likes of Gene Lockhart (below) and a rarely-used-to her-fullest-ability Carole Landis (at left), a performer who becomes one of Sanders' early-then-problematic conquests. (Her song here is a silly, "fiery" charmer.) The screenplay is elegant and witty, making use of everything from stolen jewels to a pet monkey, while providing a number of smart, succulent lines (of which Sanders makes hay).

As the girl who proves to be our "hero's" true love, Signe Hasso (below, right) delivers both the necessary beauty along with subtlety and class.

Surprisingly, for a movie that's now 70 years old, there are almost no longueurs to be seen or felt, so incident-prone is the film that it scoots right along its 99-minute route.

Though this was but Sirk's third Hollywood film, his gift for melodrama, as well as for turning bourgeois morality on its ear, can already be seen surfacing in the Lockhart's final scene -- which against all odds begins to move you rather mightily so that you want to shout "unfair." All in all this little gem is such a surprising delight that Sirk fans should not miss it, while newcomers, after watching, may find themselves in the fold. (Cohen's Blu-ray transfer of both these films is top-notch, too.)


Lured is one of several good mysteries Mr. Sirk offered up over his 45-year directorial career. Again, as in Scandal, there is plenty of elegance, atmosphere and charm here, as well as another wittier and more-interesting-than-we'd-expect screenplay that tells the tale of a serial killer targeting young woman via personal ads in the newspaper.

London-set but Hollywood-made, the movie stars a more-young-and-luscious than we may remember Lucille Ball (above and below) playing an American actress stranded in London when her show abruptly closes who must now do nightly taxi-dancing to pay the bills. When her friend becomes the murderer's next victim, she goes to the police and... we're off to the races.

In the male lead is Mr. Sanders again, in yet another of his signature roles -- the roué who's not so caddish, after all -- and he's perfectly fine, as usual. In the excellent supporting cast are the likes of Charles Coburn as Scotland Yard's top man, Cedric Hardwick as Sanders' friend and business partner, and Alan Mowbray as a naughty butler. All three are standouts. Socio- and psychologically, the film also shows us a character of veiled homosexuality whose lack of opportunity to engage or find an outlet for his caring and love leads to feelings and events that are very unhealthy indeed.

If you'll be able to spot the murderer fairly early on, the film offers plenty more reasons to see it, especially to witness what Ms Ball -- sassy and smart as anything -- could do before she became that much-loved Lucy. Oh, yes -- and there's one more famous actor who's a treat to watch here, too: a certain Boris Karloff (below, right) playing a sad and maddened artist who is one of the suspects in the case. His scene, I suppose, could be cut out without doing the film much damage, but what a pleasure it is to see him in all his glory once again.

Lured runs a slightly lengthy 103 minutes (it doesn't quite bounce along like Scandal) but it is definitely worth a watch for Sirk, Ball and mystery aficionados alike.

Both films, together in a single package, each on a separate disc with audio commentary included, hit the street this coming Tuesday, September 27 from Cohen Film Collection -- for purchase and (one hopes) rental.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Big Business Back When: Rod Serling and Fielder Cook's PATTERNS comes to Blu-ray

While screen- and television-writer Rod Serling, below, was best-known for creating and writing the TV series The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, his best work may very well have been the script he wrote for the 1955 "live" television special aired on the Kraft Television Theater and the following year was made into a motion picture (yes, they used to do that sort of thing), both of which were titled PATTERNS. The movie version -- which makes its Blu-ray debut this week -- is now 60 years old. It holds up astonishingly well.

Featuring not a trace of Serling's now hallmark creepy/other-worldly plots and tone, Patterns is a tale of big business and Capitalism in the middle of the last century, as it appears to move from something benign and reasonable into the beginnings of the kind of dog-eat-dog free-for-all exemplified by today's Big Pharma, Monsanto, and Donald Trump.

This is a myth, of course. Big business and Capitalism have always been dog-eat-dog. It just depended on who was running the particular show. In this tale, the man who owns and runs the company, Mr. Ramsey (played by Everett Sloane, shown standing at left, below, and at left again, three photos down), is nothing like the kindlier, gentler man who was his father, a fellow who knew and cared about his employees.

Ramsey fils is cut-throat and he expects his underlings to be so, too -- including his newest hire, Staples (no relation to the current office behemoth), played by Van Heflin., below, left.

The pivotal character here, however, is an older man, Briggs (the superb Ed Begley, above, right: Watch him in the scene in which he crushes the eggshell), a man left over from the father's regime, who tries to keep the company on its former course. Ramsey is determined to rid the firm of Briggs, while Staples attempts to prevent this.

The supporting distaff side is performed very well by Beatrice Straight (as Mrs.Staples, above, right) and Elizabeth Wilson, below, left, as Briggs' and then Staples' kindly secretary. Other familiar faces (Andrew Duggan, for one, shown left, two photos below) fill out the rest of the able cast. Serling's writing is first-rate -- smart, real and avoiding the melodramatic, even when voices are at their highest decibel level. When one character tells another by way of a compliment -- "You admit mistakes. You don't pass the buck" -- one can only marvel at how far down we've come that so many Americans now believe in a man like Mr. Trump who is unable to ever admit a mistake and always passes the buck. (Note his recent handling of his Obama "birther" nonsense: Refusing to admit he was wrong, he now blames it all on Hillary's 2012 campaign.)

Serling's writing, the direction by Fielder Cook and all the performances are simply terrific -- moment to moment gold from everyone on screen. The Blu-ray transfer here is also very good, the best I've seen so far from The Film Detective. The movie also reminds us -- unconsciously, of course -- of the place of women in our society back in the mid-20th Century. Even so, it also takes us back to a time when people -- employees -- still mattered. And when decent employment was available for so many. (Except, of course, people of color. We don't see a whole lot of them here.)

The movie's final scene is simply dynamite, as Ramsey and Staples face off. The outcome must have seemed amazing in its own era. In fact, it still is. If you've never seen Patterns, now's the time. And if you have, back in its day, you'll probably want to take a look again. From The Film Detective and running just 83 minutes, the Blu-ray arrives this coming Tuesday, September 27, for purchase, and I hope (somewhere, somehow), rental.