Thursday, November 30, 2017


As someone who detested In Bruges but very much enjoyed Seven Psychopaths, TrustMovies has now become a firm fan of writer/director Martin McDonagh (shown below), whose latest endeavor, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, is currently gracing screens nationwide. This is, head and shoulders, the Britisher's best, deepest and most grown-up work yet.

In it, characters keep evolving (or at least broadening and deepening), even as the tale takes one surprise twist after another, not one of which seems finally off-base in the least. If that were not accomplishment enough, the movie is acted to near perfection by its entire cast. And as crazy as events sometimes seem, the actors keep it all grounded in reality, even as we audience members gasp, chuckle and laugh aloud at the goings-on. So adept is McDonagh at dialog, as well as in his understanding of human behavior, violence, caring, family and other concerns that he and his cast nail every scene while keeping us glued and on our toes.

Every cast member deserves great praise, but the movie belongs to its three stars: Frances McDormand above, left), Woody Harrelson (above, right) and the as-usual amazing Sam Rockwell (below).

The less said about plot, the better, since you deserve to be a tabula rasa going into this movie. You might call it a "police non-procedural" if you were so inclined, but murder mystery, family drama/comedy, character(s)-in-transition study, and unique vision of small town American life would do just as well.

I won't say more so that I can get this post up today. Just put Three Billboards on your must-see list. From Fox Searchlight and running 115 minutes, the movie is playing all over the country. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

All about anarchism in Tancrède Ramonet's fine French TV doc, NO GODS, NO MASTERS

As good an overview of and introduction to the ideas, philosophy and history of anarchism throughout much of our world over the century-plus that spanned 1840 until 1945, NO GODS, NO MASTERS (Ni dieu, ni maître, une histoire de l'anarchisme) is a thorough and eye-opening 160-minute documentary made for French and Swiss television that is now available in a two-disc, dubbed-for-English-speaking-audiences version from Icarus Films Home Video. This very necessary documentary is a singular treat, important in a number of ways.

The work of writer/ director Tancrède Ramonet, shown at left, the three-episode series tracks the history of anarchism throughout the world, western and eastern, via its various philosophies and the actions stemming from those ideas.

Many of us grew up with the idea planted in our collective head that anarchism stood only for violence and chaos and thus could never be allowed to take the upper hand. One of the great strengths of this documentary is how it demolishes that idea. Yes, violence was sometimes part of the anarchist plan but this was never, ever toward chaos. Instead, it was always with the idea of bringing the working class into the sphere of power and influence commensurate with justice.

This series may very well leave you feeling that Communism has utterly betrayed the very ideas and philosophy of the betterment of the working class that it constantly espoused and then undercut at almost every opportunity via its insistence on hierarchy coupled to abuse of power.

From Pierre Joseph Proudhon (above) -- said to be the only 19th Century revolutionary theorist to actually come from the working class -- to Prince Peter Kropotkin (the Libertarian Communist whose books on revolution and anarchy were translation into many languages) to Sacco and Vanzetti (below), the series covers the well-known to the not-so-known figures who carried anarchist ideas into the mainstream.

And, yes, these ideas were indeed mainstream during the 19th and even into the 20th centuries, which will probably come as much of a shock to some viewers, as it did to TrustMovies. Those ideas were then too-often co-opted by the Communists, and not only during and after the Russian revolution but especially during the revolution in Mexico and later in during the Spanish Civil War.

How all this happened is made clear by No Gods, No Masters in a forthright and entertaining manner. The documentary is so full of information that you will occasionally want or need to rewind a bit to hear something again. My biggest complaint about this English "translation" is that the original language has been "overlayed" or maybe over-dubbed in such a way that you can still hear the French, Spanish or Italian language being spoken underneath the English translation. This is unwieldy at best and actually makes it more difficult to fully understand the English, which should be louder on the soundtrack and the original language either much softer or maybe blotted out entirely. (I don't understand why English SDH subtitles were not provided, which would have solved both this problem, as well as making the series accessible to the non-hearing population.)

In any case, No Gods No Masters proves to be a combination of narration divided between a number of talking heads (historians and philosophers, one of whom is shown below) and archival photos and film (much of which I had not previously seen). The content of both narration and film is what keeps the series not merely afloat but deeply and consistently interesting, allowing us to see and understand how, as just about always since the Industrial Revolution, the proletariat has been kept in its place via Capitalism, assisted by government and either (or often both) the police or the military.

The manner in which anarchism insisted upon dispensing with religion and hierarchical power structure is at the core of the doc, and this is brought home time and again, in differing ways throughout. Anyone viewing this series can only think about, remember and despair at the constant struggle of the world's masses to share in the well-being that the rich and powerful continue to hoard.

Part One: The Passion for Destruction (1840-1906) details the history of the movement in the face of the Industrial Revolution, along with the various attitudes of anarchists that range from focusing on labor and the working man to violence and assassination, as capitalism grows ever more intent on destroying anything that stands in its way.

Part Two: Land and Freedom (1907-1921) focuses on the revolutions in Mexico and Russia, with a multitude of wonderful archival footage, and how Communism tried to supplant and finally destroy anarchism.

In Part Three: In Memory of the Vanquished (1922-1945) we watch this supplanting and destruction continue, as anarchism seems come apart, even while Communist movements around the world grow stronger. The Spanish Civil War, with its struggle between anarchists and Communists, is of particular note here.

M. Ramonet does not whitewash anarchism's tendency toward violence, but he offers a wealth of other information that gives a broader, deeper and more realistic picture of the movement, its goals, and its accomplishments. Nowhere are these accomplishments clearer than during the Spanish Civil war, when whole communities demonstrated that they could work and prosper without obeisance to hierarchy, religion or government control.

Overall, the documentary is hugely informative, and ought to provoke much thought and discussion from those who view it. It's a wonderful contribution to history, philosophy and, we hope, progress. It may also make you wonder if the very term anarchism, with all this word would seem to represent, was not the best choice for a progressive movement. Ah, well: water under the bridge at this point.

From Icarus Films Home Video, running two and one half hours, and complete with a set of Bonus Features that anyone who sees the documentary will want to additionally view, this two-disc set is available now for purchase (and, I hope somewhere, for rental). It is certainly a don't-miss video.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Jonathan Olshefski's QUEST, another top-notch documentary, makes theatrical debut in Philly

2017 has been a banner year for documentaries (and we still have a month left to discover even more of these). To the current list of winners must be added QUEST: A Portrait of an American Family, the new doc from Jonathan Olshefski that covers a period of some eight years, along with the events, growth and change that come to one unusual and yet, one might think, fairly typical Black family who lives in North Philadelphia.

Mr Olshefski, pictured at right (with someone whom I am guessing is a member of his own family), became a friend of his movie family a couple of years before he began filming them and, as he states in his press release, "That friendship is the most precious thing to me -- the film and all that comes from it is a bonus." Quite a bonus it turns out to be.

The documentary's subject family is the Raineys: father Christopher Rainey (shown below, left, and known as Quest), Christine'a Rainey (known as Ma and shown below, right), their daughter P.J. (shown at left, two photos below), William Withers (the son of Christin'a via an earlier marriage) and eventually William's own son.

There are also a number of folk we meet from the family's North Philly neighborhood in which Quest runs a music studio that boasts a weekly Friday-night talent fest where neighborhood kids come and practice their original rap songs. (Not surprisingly, I guess, these are all males.)

Chief among the rappers is a long-time friend of Quest, who has lost himself in booze and drugs yet keeps trying to make some sort of comeback. His scenes are among the movie's saddest and least hopeful. But hold on, things may change.

Ma works in a community center where she brings home not much pay, and it was never clear to me how much income dad's studio might be bringing in. But somehow the family manages. There is a scene well along in the film regarding school supplies and new sneakers that absolutely nails the plight of families who simply don't have enough income to supply their kids with their "wants" in addition to their "needs." This makes for a powerful few moments indeed.

There is no overt mention here of "the Black experience" nor of any difference between the Black and the White environments (which so fills the new movie Mudbound, which my correspondent, Lee Liberman will be covering here next month). Yet race and class are as ever-present in this documentary as is possible because we are placed so firmly in the shoes of this family. James Baldwin, I suspect would have appreciated this film, even though it has been made by a white man. (I think he'd have also appreciated Mudbound, which was made by Dee Rees, a black woman.)

As a filmmaker, Mr. Olshefski does a terrific job with his camera, placing it right into the midst of things yet almost never allowing it to appear obtrusive. This lets us come, film-wise, as close as possible to the lived experience. Along the way, we must deal with cancer, sudden and shocking street violence, and a GLBT issue to boot. The last of these, in fact, provokes the most conflict we've seen between man and wife. Among other of the movie's powerful moments are those in which Ma talks about the house fire from which she escaped but that left her badly scarred. (Later, in a particularly lovely scene, Quest holds her hand and tells her how he feels about those scars.)

The film begins during Obama's first term, takes us through his re-election and into the racist campaign of lying miscreant, Donald Trump. To hear that idiot mouthing his appeal for Blacks and Latinos to vote for him -- "What have you got to lose?" --  in the midst of watching this amazing documentary, is to experience near-stroke-inducing anger over what too much of our country is currently doing to itself.

If the Raineys can be seen as a "typical" Black family, the documentary also points up how impossibly tricky and useless that adjective really is. Olshefski film offers up a family that surprises us, makes as smile and breaks our hearts.  There is even, toward the end, a major Black Lives Matter moment in which we hold our breath.

Despite all the difficulties that occur over the years, Quest is finally somewhat hopeful, and the Raineys are, I believe, as memorable as any family yet captured in a documentary.

From First Run Features and lasting 104 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, December 1, in Philadelphia at the Ritz on the Bourse, on December 8 in New York City at the Quad Cinema, and in Los Angeles on December 15 at Laemmle's Monica Film Center. It will open in the weeks following in another half dozen cities. To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Blu-ray/DVDebut for Ivan Tverdovskiy's strange/moving/funny Russian hit, ZOOLOGY

Featuring a dynamic, one-of-a-kind performance by an actress new to me -- Natalya Pavlenkova -- and a story that seems almost as fantastic as its story-telling style is documentary-like reality, ZOOLOGY should prove utter catnip for cinema buffs.

As written and directed by Ivan Tverdowskiy, the movie introduces us to a middle-aged woman who will almost immediately charm and delight us before eventually very nearly breaking our hearts.

Zoology works on a number of levels, but primarily, I believe, it's a look at the plight of the "outsider" in relationship to the society in which she lives -- in this case modern-day Russia. So, yes, as usual with Russian filmmakers, we're in the land of corruption, hypocrisy, and small-minded folk who use what power they have in ways that alternate between abuse and cowardice.

Yet here, the filmmaker (shown at right) does not hammer it all home with the force and repetition that we often see coming out of Russia.

Instead, he allows his heroine (Ms Pavlenkova, shown at right, above and below) and hero (Dmitriy Groshev, ar left, above and below) to charm us and each other into a world of their own making that, for a time, takes them out of the despair of daily life.

As usual with a good movie, the less you know about plot going in, the happier you'll be coming out, having experienced the surprises that the filmmaker hopes to bring you along with the fun and challenge of piecing the story together. The tale here has to do with an unusual addition to the usual human anatomy and what this does to and for our heroine, along with how it affects those around her.

One one level this is pure fantasy, yet it works rather deeply on other levels, too: psychological, social, sexual, emotional. And our two lead actors could hardly be better. Ms Pavlenkova is a revelation: sad, needy, charming, sexy, and yet almost always mysterious, while Mr. Groschev proves her match. Younger, yet clearly very attracted to this woman, the character has his own quirks and needs, yet does as much as he can to satisfy our leading lady's.

Along the way we get a good dose of the Russian workplace -- the city zoo (for her), the medical establishment for him -- and the scenes with the animals are as beautifully handled as those in the hospital/doctors' offices are sterile and unwelcoming. Religion, along with a self-help guru (below), get trashed along the way, as well.

In the end, we're left with our heroine, her plight and the direction she chooses to take -- which is, TrustMovies thinks, not at all the necessary or right one. And yet, you'll fully understand why she's choosing this, even if you wish it were otherwise. So much more could have been had by and for our twosome, if only they, particularly she, were able to stretch and embrace it.

But maybe this is also the point: Russia and its population -- along with those of so many other countries -- can not yet accept (nor even want) change or evolution. It's simply too scary, too different, too demanding. And so we do what we think we must. Sad.

From Arrow Films/Arrow Academy and running an exemplary 91 minutes, Zoology hit the street this past November 14 -- for purchase and, I hope, rental, on both Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray also contains a  lovely and informative interview with actor Dmitriy Groschev that's very much worth viewing. The film's distributor in the USA is MVD Entertainment, and you can learn more information here

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Pablo Berger's latest delight (and follow up to Snow White), ABRACADABRA, opens in Miami

Spanish writer/director Pablo Berger has made three wonderful but utterly disparate movies: Torremolinos 73, Blancanieves, and now his latest, ABRACADABRA.

While each is in a very different genre, each also manages to jump genres, meld them, bend them or maybe just mash them up. In any case, once seen, a Berger film is something you will not easily forget. Even if you don't care for it all that much, it will very probably imprint itself upon your memory.

Señor Berger, shown at left, is mashing those genres with particular ferocity and agility in his new film -- which butts the Spanish male's machismo up against feminine perseverance and endurance, adds a bit of hypnotism, body swapping, the spirit world, matricide and multiple murders, a lot of humor (some of it rather dark), budding romance, and one absolute gem of a dance number. Among a lot else. Yet, as bizarre and sometimes baffling as all this grows, it is simultaneously so oddly enjoyable that I suspect you'll hang on for the ride, which lasts 96 minutes.

The movie stars two of Spains finest actors, Maribel Verdú and Antonio de la Torre (above and below), and both are more than up to snuff, with de la Torre particularly fine in what amounts to a dual role. (The pair's dance scene together is worth the price of admission and then some.)

In the juicy supporting cast are two standouts: José Mota (below, right) and Josep Maria Pou (at bottom), the former as our heroine's oddball cousin, the latter as that cousin's mentor in hypnosis.

I wish I had more time to expand on the delights of this film, but I must cut this one short. If you're a fan of Berger, you'll want to see it; if you don't know his work, it's as good an entry as any.

From Sony Pictures International, Abracadabra opened in Miami on Wednesday, November 22, at MDC's Tower Theater. Will it play elsewhere? Let's hope so.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Blu-ray/DVDebut for Richard Schenkman's film of Jerome Bixby's THE MAN FROM EARTH

Can you make any kind of decent sci-fi film by using a bunch of people sitting around a single interior location and simply talking their heads off?  The answer, if you haven't already guessed, is Oh, my god, yes! If the film, that is, turns out to be something entitled Jerome Bixby's THE MAN FROM EARTH. Mr. Bixby, who died in 1998 and of whom TrustMovies had not formerly heard, evidently wrote some classic episodes from TV series such as the original Star Trek and Twilight Zone, as well as some not-so-classic endeavors such as the 69-minute It! The Terror From Beyond Space.

I suspect that it might be safe to say that the late Mr. Bixby, shown at left, had poured just about every bit of his ideas and talent and caring about the world and the people in it into his unusual screenplay for The Man From Earth.

Fortunately, instead of coming up with something far too crammed and unwieldy, the man has taken a single idea, run with it to completion and given us one of, if not the most riveting 87-minute "idea fests" in move history.

The film's director, Richard Schenkman (The Pompatus of Love and Mischief Night), shown at right, has done a more-than-serviceable job of bringing this talk to fine life and getting completely believable performances from his troupe of actors, all of whom work together like a super-pro ensemble.

The tale takes place in an out-of-the-way but nicely appointed cabin in a dry and dusty region of California, where a "good-bye party" has been organized for a popular university professor (the tall, dark and mysterious David Lee Smith, below) who is leaving his prized post for reasons that none of his friends can understand.

As we learn that reason -- a whopper indeed -- the movie unfolds and we are knee-deep in everything from physics, finance and religion to history, anthropology and philosophy.

And yes, science fiction. But this is the sort of sci-fi that rejects even one single special effect, and in which the "action sequences" are mostly comprised of one character's turning his or her head to address the adjacent person on the couch. (To be fair, a gun is pulled a couple of times during the course of things, but there's not a ounce of real fighting to be seen.)

I'm not giving away another iota of plot (even the information on the Blu-ray/DVD box offers too much of this) so that you can better appreciate the unfolding surprises. But I will compliment the movie's excellent cast, the best-known of which include a very fine Tony Todd (at right, above, (of Candyman), William Katt, (shown at left two photos below, with Alexis Thorpe), and the works-almost-constantly Richard Riehle, shown at right, below, who is a stand-out here as the psychiatrist who tries to "treat" our hero as best as he is able.

How this Bixby/Schenkman combo keep us glued to the screen via ideas and storytelling is simply a wonder, and even when, as occasionally happens, things appear to be going off the rails, they soon come right back on again. Among the many topics under discussion, religion gets much of the blowback, deservedly so, via its would-be champion (played with equal parts caring and anger by Ellen Crawford, above, left).

Given this constant flow of ideas, the movie also manages to grip us emotionally now and then, never more so than at its finale that features a prominent Mr. Riehle and the lovely romantic interest, played by Annika Peterson (below, left). We care enough about the characters here to feel for them, but it is primarily those brain-busting ideas on view that hold us to the screen.

The Man from Earth was actually filmed an entire decade previous but never seems to have been released theatrically. Had it been, it would have earned a place on my 2007 best-of-year list. (In any year, however, this one's a must-see.) The movie was also shot digitally but prior to the increasing use of hi-definition video; consequently the image quality proves only so-so at best -- even on the Blu-ray disc, which makes the upgrade from DVD seem more than a bit unnecessary. In any case, it is the content rather than the visuals that will keep you on your toes.

Released to home video via MVDvisual and with a raft of Bonus Features included, this ten-year anniversary issue of The Man From Earth hits the street today, Tuesday, November 21 -- for purchase or rental. Don't miss it.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Blu-ray debut for Jean Grémillon's final full-length narrative film, THE LOVE OF A WOMAN

For all his continuing love of French cinema of many kinds, TrustMovies had somehow managed to miss viewing most, if not all, of the work of a certain French filmmaker named Jean Grémillon. The Arrow Academy arm of Arrow Video has now remedied that with its release a few months back of Grémillon's final narrative film, THE LOVE OF A WOMAN (L'amour d'une femme).

Though this was one of his last movies, perhaps it's not such a bad place to begin an appreciation of both the man and his work. According to the excellent full-length documentary feature, In Search of Jean Grémillon, that is offered as a bonus feature on the disc, what we see in this film includes much that was vitally important to this unusual filmmaker.

According to so many of the actors, other filmmakers and especially the famous film historian and co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française, Henri Langlois -- all of whom we see and hear during this 96-minute documentary -- M. Grémillon (pictured at left) was a fellow who genuinely cared about, loved and understood women about as well as any male filmmaker you can name. This is certainly borne out by The Love of a Woman, in which that fine actress Micheline Presle plays a doctor new to the seashore town where the quite aged physician has only just retired.

Ms Presle (still alive at 95!) is one of those minor icons of French cinema, equally adept in comedy or drama (Devil in the Flesh, Donkey Skin, The Five-Day Lover) who graced international screens for more than 70 years. Combining beauty, intelligence and a kind of bone-deep savvy, she was particularly good at playing career women, and here, as the new doctor in town, she excels once again.

Her love of her job and her great skill at it is demonstrable from the film's start and only grows more powerful as it continues. This is of course despite the typical sexism of the town's males, which, to Grémillon's credit, is never overdone. It is simply there -- even via the film's other protagonist, who doubles as the love interest of our doctor. He is played by Italian star Massimo Girotti (below, left, whose career spanned Visconti's Ossessione to Ferzan Ozpetek's Facing Windows), and the actor manages to bring beautifully to life a man of very ambivalent feelings about work, women and family.

On the basis of but this single film, I'd say that Grémillon was a better director than screenwriter, because his dialog is sometimes a bit too obvious and pushed, as though he is trying to fit it all into a time frame that's simply too constrained. So he leaves it to his actors to bring that dialog fully to life -- and they do.

Style-wise, the filmmaker, who made a lot of documentaries in addition to his narrative films, graces this one with a kind of doc style that concentrates upon the life of the little island off Brittany where the film takes place. It's often a fascinating thing to see, and it adds to the core of truth the film captures. (A couple of the movie's sweetest scenes involve a pair of children and their pet lamb.)

The movie is remarkably feminist, too -- way before its time (the film was released in 1953). How the idea of a woman who loves both her work and her man, even as that man struggles to understand this duality, is brought to compelling life here. Sacrifice is inevitable, but how this occurs and by whom assures that The Love of a Woman is anything but simplistic or simple-minded.

From Arrow Video and distributed here in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group, the film is available now on Blu-ray and DVD -- for purchase (and I hope for rental, as well). Click here for further info.