Wednesday, August 30, 2017

VOD debut for Michael J. Saul's short film collection, THE DAYDREAMER'S NOTEBOOK

The name Michael J. Saul was new to me, or so I imagined, when I sat down to view THE DAYDREAMER'S NOTEBOOK, a collection of short films that span a time frame of 36 years of movie-making. Turns out, however, that TrustMovies has indeed reviewed a film by Mr. Saul: his 2015 low-key pot-boiler, The Surface. I didn't much like that film, so I'm pleased to report that viewing a larger chunk of Mr. Saul's work proved a more interesting venture.

This filmmaker, shown at right, seems a good deal better with short films, and perhaps, the shorter the better. If that sounds like a "dig," I don't mean it to be, for what we see here in short form often proves rather lovely, suggestive and elusive. In one of his shortest, Nightcrawler, Saul recalls via narration and visuals, preparation for a fishing trip with his dad, which he evidently hated. The movie shows us why. Two others, Idol and Boat 14, return us to the image of a young man who was perhaps muse to Ms. Saul, David Allan Payne (below), seen in several of the films in this Notebook.

Saul uses slo-mo often, and often beautifully, especially in Euphoria (below and further below), an ode to longing and incipient sexuality that features three beautiful teens engaged in sexual behavior and fantasy, all in glowing black-and-white cinematography that incorporates dance, movement and even some special effects.

The filmmaker's introduction to this collections provides a bit of his history, along with school report cards that feature teachers' comments. We get but a glimpse of who he is/was, as he explains how important daydreaming became to his creative process.

Much of what we see here -- Cons, Idol, Boat 14 -- is archival, and some of the film decay we view may put you (unintentionally) in mind of the work of Bill Morrison, though the two filmmakers have not much else in common, I should think.

The Daydreamer's Notebook, though not overtly homosexual (The Surface gives you plenty of this), is certainly homoerotic. Yet perhaps the best of these shorts is something called Subterranea (above and below), in which Saul combines glorious nature images with sci-fi tropes to form something quite lovely and original. This one doubles as a memorial video to the late Steven M. Miller, who was Saul's collaborator and composer for 30 years, and whose music fills most of this Notebook.

The longest of the films included here -- The Cipher and the Boar (below and at bottom)-- proves the least interesting, though the most time is spent on it and in it (we even get look at the making of this one, together with  a visit to the "premiere" it had back in 1981). Shot on 16-mm, the would-be thriller/horror short tracks two boys (one of them the young Mr. Payne) who stumble upon the house of a very nasty taxidermist.

A kind of dark fairy tale of the Gingerbread House/Hansel & Gretel variety, the movie, told without dialog, is full of fraught, would-be terrifying images that eventually grow repetitive and tiresome. We get what's happening, but it takes too long to arrive. This is also Saul's lengthiest and most "narrative" short in the bunch, so, given my reaction to this one, as well as to his recent narrative film The Surface, I'd call the briefer, elliptical and more experimental work his stronger suit.

Already available for viewing via Amazon Instant Video, the collection arrived on VOD yesterday, August 29, on TLA Video, and will make its debut on Dekkoo, the new all-gay streaming site, sometime this fall.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lower education unveiled in Jan Hřebejk/Petr Jarkovský's dark and delicious THE TEACHER

Another first-rate gem from the film-making team of director Jan Hřebejk and writer Petr Jarkovský, who have earlier given us Divided We Fall, Up and Down and Kawasaki's Rose, their newest venture -- THE TEACHER -- is also one of their best. Of course, we say this every time the pair makes a new movie. But, hey: It's true. I can't think of another film-making team that produces such consistently funny black comedies that are simultaneously ridden with examples of sad, weak and oh-so-real humanity. The combo is bracing, to say the least.

This Czech duo, pictured above with Mr. Jarkovský on the left, knows how to create situations so fraught with oddities and ironies that yet seem absolutely believable, and its combination of smart dialog, nimble direction and terrific performances results in movies that are both memorable and hugely entertaining.

So it is again with The Teacher, which tells the tale of a rather special teacher back in 1983, when Czechoslovakia was under the thumb of Communist Russia. One of the consistent surprises of this film-making team is how accessible, understandable and darkly funny it makes life under the Communist behemoth. I suppose that abusive power is pretty much the same all over the world; the degree to which is it used is what varies. Here in the USA we may just be seeing currently the fuller exposure of that particular iceberg.

Our teacher, played with a rich array of acting arsenal attributes by Zuzana Mauréry (above and below) has a fascinating and unfortunately all-too-easily-achieved way of working the system. TrustMovies will not go into details, for these are both original and too much fun to spoil your surprise.

Said to be based on a real situation that the writer and director make seem all the more so, The Teacher tackles the subject of fighting against injustice vs groveling to power, and the parents of the children of whom this teacher is in charge come down, as expected, on both sides of the issue and to varying degrees. What they say and how they say it in order to explain their position makes for much of the movie's exhilarating (if queasy-making) fun.

Bravery under Communism was hard to come by, and even when it reared its head, this might have been for as many wrong reasons as right. The filmmakers understand this, and they also know how to demonstrate it without finger-wagging or hammering it home. The situation, if it divides the parents (above), also brings together a set of students (below) who, under other circumstances, might have almost nothing in common. Here they bond -- in yet more irony!

Defection, education, submission and protest, the movie covers them all -- and more. By the time of its denouement, which takes Czechoslovakia to its post-Communist era, The Teacher unveils its final small-but-telling irony which is, like the film itself, a dark gem.

From Film Movement and running a just-right 103 minutes, the movie has its New York City premiere at Film Forum in New York City this coming Wednesday, August 30. Elsewhere? Well, it opens in Santa Fe at The Screen on Friday, September 8. Click here then scroll down to see futher upcoming playdates across the country.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Blu-ray/DVDebut for one of the year's best films: Katell Quillévéré's HEAL THE LIVING

Watching HEAL THE LIVING a second time proved to be an even more exceptional experience than seeing it initially, when the elements of mystery and surprise held sway. With an additional viewing, knowing what was coming seemed to make each moment and each of the many characters all the more precious and riveting. As directed and co-adapted (with Gilles Taurand) by Katell Quillévéré from the best-selling novel by Maylis De Kerangal, this is certainly among the best of year so far.

Ms. Quillévéré (at right), who appears for a thoughtful and interesting interview on the disc's bonus features, has done things here that I've not seen before, including a small visual prelude to the movie's chief "event" that is simply staggering in its combination of beauty, majesty and exquisite foreboding.

And yet her film is among the gentlest I have ever seen. It radiates with kindness and a view of the human condition that should come -- in this current age when the President of the United States has just "pardoned" a piece of walking/talking narcissistic trash like Joe Arpaio, who is in so many ways Trump's equal and a law-breaking "sheriff" who should have been imprisoned years ago -- as a most necessary antidote to the plague of hatred and stupidity with which so much of America seems now infected.

Its tale is one of the journey of a heart and all those affected by that journey. Part love story, part medical marvel, part parent-and-children saga, part grief-and-loss study, it blends all these into an original, moving whole.

You can read my earlier (and longer) review of this wonderful film (posted this past April) by clicking here. If you let it get by you at the time of its limited theatrical release, don't make that mistake again.

The Blu-ray (in a fine transfer befitting the film's sumptuous cinematography by Tom Harari) and DVD hit the street this coming Tuesday, August 29 -- for purchase and/or rental -- as part of Cohen Media Group's Contemporary Classics collection. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Gilles Deroo/Marianne Pistone's MOUTON serves up a small seaside community via an unusual cinéma vérité narrative

Odd does not begin to describe the 2013 French movie first seen in the USA via the New Directors/New Films series in 2014 but only just now appearing on DVD so that movie buffs across the USA can finally view it. MOUTON (whever I see that word, which is French for sheep, I automatically hear Julia Childs saying it aloud in my mind), written and directed by the filmmaking team of Gilles Deroo and Marianne Pistone, tells the tale of a quiet, strange but sweet 17-year-old young man, who has been given that titular nickname.

Or at least it does this for more than half of the film's 100-minute running time. At that point there occurs a momentous and very nearly unfathomable event, after which the film shifts to the lives of a few of the townspeople who know and/or work with Mouton. We don't see Mouton again, except in a photograph and finally via a letter written to him, which we hear in narration at the finale.

Yes, this is frustrating, to say the least. But oddly enough, it ends up working better than you might imagine. Still, I can't help wondering what the intention of the filmmakers (shown above, with Ms Pistone on the right) actually were.

Surely the pair wanted to give us a full-bodied character in Mouton. And they do, sort of. Though we only get glimpses of the other characters, even after the movie shifts over to them, I am guessing the duo is more interested in capturing the "community" here, a little seaside fishing town called Courseulles-sur-mer.

The filmmakers' style, I think, is something akin to cinéma vérité, which began as a kind of documentary form but soon made its way into narrative, as well. (These two types of cinema were never nearly as "distinct" as we might like to think. Witness the ever-growing list of "hybrid" documentaries, as well as the work of Flaherty, Rogosin and many others.)

With Mouton, Deroo and Pistone don't claim to be making a documentary; they simply use that style to rather complete and full effect. From the opening scene, in which Mouton (played very well by Michael Mormentyn, shown above) is at last given a kind of freedom from his alcoholic, grasping mother to his time working in a restaurant, making friends with the owner and staff and falling into a relationship with a newly hired waitress (below), it all seems as real as life, if occasionally as slow-moving, too.

When the movie changes from its lead character to its supporting ones, this sense of reality never wavers, though one does wonder if the filmmakers mightn't have simply incorporated all this into a more singular narrative that included all the events and also seemed more of a fuller, complete piece. Perhaps they wanted that sense of "loss" we feel once Mouton has left the narrative.

Also, their use of inter-titles to explain what is happening in those final scenes seems a bit of a cheat. (Without the use of one of these -- "Mimi abandons a dog" -- I might not have understood exactly what was going on.) Yet these final scenes do offer some strange and wonderful moments: the twin brothers and the prostitute proves a humdinger combining sexual realism, kindness and need, while the scene that follows, featuring love and obeisance to a very large fish, together with the religious service practiced at the seaside wharf makes it absolutely clear how much this community owes its employment and its very life to the vast ocean and its many species (they could have called the movie Poisson, just as easily as Mouton).

By the end of this singular film, I felt I had indeed experienced the life of the community, it's small pleasures and joys, as well as its losses, chief among these, our sweet-natured (and maybe, yes, a bit slow) titular boy. From IndiePix Films, Mouton makes its DVD debut this coming Tuesday, August 29, for purchase and/or streaming rental via IndiePix Unlimited, the company's (relatively) new streaming service.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"Dreck" the halls: Craig Anderson's "nut"meg eggnog, RED CHRISTMAS, hits a few theaters

Can you make a decent slasher movie while tossing in themes of religion, pregnancy, parenting and abortion, among other things? Yes, if your film is as good as, say, She Who Must Burn. But a big, fat "no," if the new RED CHRISTMAS, written and directed by Australian filmmaker Craig Anderson, serves as a more recent indication. Once the killing starts -- among family members gathered to celebrate here -- these characters begin acting stupider and stupider, breaking even the cardinal rule of this kind of film: When under siege, you idiots, stick the fuck together!

Mr. Anderson, pictured at right, proves pretty good when he keeps his gore effects on the subtle side, as in the "offing" of his first victim (below, left), a nasty Outback outlier who makes quite unnecessary fun of the movie's Michael Myers/Jason/Fred Krueger stand-in, a poor cobbled-together creature named Cletus, who arrives unbidden but hell-bent for revenge at the family gathering mentioned above.  The second killing (but the first, so far as this family is concerned) is also handled with exquisite tact/taste.

Following that, however, the bigtime stupidity sets it, and the movie, as well as all its further killings, never recovers. Characters begin doing things for either no discernible reason that makes any sense -- other than merely separating them from the pack so that each can be "offed" more easily -- or to give the filmmaker another opportunity to grace us with further tiresome past history/exposition.

The cast is mostly Australian, with the exception of Dee Wallace (below), who plays the family matriarch with appropriate fear and ferocity, though even she finally joins the full-out nonsense on parade here. If you're a fan of Ms Wallace, better to revisit The Howling (does she not make the cutest werewolf in film history?), or even E.T., than waste your time with this one.

Other cast members meet either grizzly ends, via very unbelievable-looking "special effects," as below, or find themselves on the wrong end of various lethal objects. Either way, you'll probably be drumming your fingers in something like boredom, waiting for the final body count, as it piles up with tiresome regularity.

What's particularly grueling about Red Christmas is the highly unlikable group of characters thrust upon us by Mr. Anderson. They argue incessantly, while they're not doing dumb things, and as the increasingly obvious chunks of wholesale exposition come plotzing out, you'll find yourself more than ready for this overlong-even-at-82-minutes movie to end.

The film opens with demonstrations pro and con regarding abortion, above, and with a flashback sequence on which a lot of what happens later depends (below), but whatever the filmmaker might imagine he's trying to say here

gets quickly and thoroughly lost within the extreme idiocy of his poorly concocted characters. As my spouse remarked wearily, post- viewing, "What should have been aborted was this movie."

From Artsploitation Films (great moniker, by the way!) and arriving in a Los Angeles theater (Laemmle's Music Hall 3) this Friday, August 25 (just four month prior to the holiday!) for a once-daily showing at 9:55 pm, Red Christmas will then expand to San Francisco, Denver, Dallas and other cities over the weeks to come. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Fun from Mexico -- no kidnappings, minimal drugs -- in Manolo Caro's screwball rom-com, TALES OF AN IMMORAL COUPLE

If one purpose of movies is to take us away from the horrors and drudgery of reality -- all too evident these days -- young Mexican filmmaker Manolo Caro is certainly doing his job to a "t." His latest work, the first to find theatrical release here in the United States, TALES OF AN IMMORAL COUPLE  (La vida immoral de la pareja ideal), is quite the little charmer. In it, ex-lovers who first bonded during high school, meet again 25 years later and, sure enough, romance blooms anew, even as screwball comedy quickly rules the roost.

Señor Caro, shown at left, has created a trifle as adorable and pixie-like as he himself seems to be: full of fun and amusement, even as it probes themes as everlasting as love, sex and the meaning of fidelity -- with dollops of satire tossed in, the welcome objects of which are religion and politics.

His movie, while breaking little new ground, manages to cover the ground it trods with energy, sparkle and enough wit to keep us with it all the way. Its introduction into the kids' lives of heterosexuality, as well as homo- and bi-sexuality is handled well, too. Of enormous help to all this is the near-constant inter-cutting of past and present, as we see the couple as youngsters and then as adults.

The smart flashback-and-forth conception (by Caro) and on-the-mark editing -- from Yibran Asuad (Güeros and We Are the Flesh) and Miguel Musálem -- helps keep the pacing swift and fun, while the excellent ensemble cast (pictured on poster, top, and above) help bring each character to amusing life.

As the two love-struck kids, Sebastián Aguirre (above, right, from A Monster With a Thousand Heads) and Ximena Romo (above, left ) prove lovely, sensitive and youthfully ignorant, while Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (below, left) and Cecilia Suárez (below, right) bring the pair to more hesitant, suspicious and cynical adult life.

Supporting characters -- kids to adults -- are specific and funny, as well, while Caro's plotting brings us pleasantly and fairly speedily to a close, at last solving the mystery that will be foremost in viewers' minds: How come these two "seahorses" remained apart for so long? You'll find out, and I suspect the answer will satisfy you every bit as much as has the fun leading up to it.

From Hola Mexico and running a just-right 91 minutes, Tales of an Immoral Couple opens this Friday, August 25, nationwide in limited release. In the Los Angeles area, look for it at Laemmle theaters and elsewhere. Click here (and then click on THEATERS on the task bar midway down) to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed.  But be careful and maybe check with your local theater before heading out, as some of these supposed playdates appear not to be happening....

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Korean action par excellence in Jung Byung-gil's eye-popping, mind-blowing VILLAINESS

TrustMovies suspects that you might have to go back as far as Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita to find an apt comparison to the new South Korean action flick THE VILLAINESS. What an opening sequence this movie has! This is eight minutes or more of pre-title action and mayhem so violent, funny and enthralling that it barely gives you time to catch your breath. And then the movie gets even better: richer, stranger, funnier and more exciting.

As directed and co-written by Jung Byung-gil (shown below), the film offers up a heroine named Sook-hee who is so daunting in her fury and commitment to revenge and justice that she'll have you rooting for her in no time flat.

As with so many of these action/mayhem movies, especially the Korean variety, the themes includes love, trust, betrayal, and parent-child relations, among other things. And, being Korean, yes, the movie is very dark. This one, in fact, may be among the darkest I've seen. (Don't let that smile on the director's face fool you. He has surprises and disappointments in store here that you would never find in an American action movie.) As for the action itself, it's A-1 and often pretty damned original, too. In the first half, we get a samurai sword-fight while on motorcycles, and the finale finds our heroine chasing a bus while driving atop the hood of her car and then proceeds into full-out, gasp-inducing chaos.

Behind it all is the Korean state/government, and while this movie may take place in South Korea, we still get a good strong whiff of a police state. Why not, given this little country's long and fraught history?

Sook-hee, played quite well by Kim Ok-bin (above, of The Front Line and Thirst) makes a strong and genuinely laudable heroine, and by the time we and she have reached the final frame of the film, the smile that appears on her bloody-but-unbowed face makes the movie's title radiate with appropriate anger, irony and sadness.

The men around Sook-hee are hardly her match, though they do try -- especially the sweet, smitten State-employed handler (Sung Jun) who falls in love with her, as well as the blast-from-the-past who suddenly reappears in her life, as a surprise "target" on her second wedding day (the latter is played by the notable Shin Ha-kyun, above).

Three of the women with whom our heroine works in the "agency" also register strongly: the sweet new recruit who becomes Sook-hee's friend, the older agency diva who is soon her nemesis, and especially the ice-queen agency head (Kim Seo-hyeong, above) for whom trust is a dirty word.

At 124 minutes, the movie does ran a tad too long (though this is relatively short for a Korean film, where audiences demand their money's worth, in quantity as well as quality). The filmmaker also packs his tale with flash-backs that fill in some of the blanks in our understanding of Sook-hee's life.

Even if you're not a fan of this kind of film, The Villainess may well win you over (or at least wear you down into "uncle"-crying submission). If you are a fan, better stick it on your "must-see" list now.

From WELL GO USA Entertainment, the movie opens this Friday, August 25, in New York City at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles at AMC's Dine-In Sunset 5. A limited national release will follow in September. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled cities and theaters.