Sunday, January 21, 2018

Special "event" screening alert: Phil Grabsky's documentary, DAVID HOCKNEY AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS opens at various venues

Fans of popular British artist David Hockney (there are many of these worldwide) will not want to miss the new documentary, DAVID HOCKNEY AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS, which pretty much brings us up to date on the work of this 80-year-old-but-still-going-strong artist, tackling especially his most recent shows at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The 80-minute film, directed with sprightliness and the expected visual flair by noted documentarian, Phil Grabsky, is a most pleasurable and easy-going treat that concentrates almost totally on Mr. Hockney's art, unlike other Hockney films seen over the past decades -- A Bigger Splash (from 1973) and Hockney (2014), to name but two of many that journey into his life and private life, as well.

Mr. Grabsky, shown at right, offers up reams of examples of later Hockney art, along with talking-head interviews with art critics/authors who fill us in on the importance of Hockney and his art.

As one of these experts points out, Hockney (shown below and at bottom) was one of the most important artists who helped bring figurative art back into prominence, after the ascendance and too-long reign of the non-figurative stuff we used to call "modern art." As usual we see, again and again here, this man's great gift for color and composition, along with his own special skill in producing art that seems at once improvised and yet distilled into a kind of near-perfect resolution.

Another critic notes Hockney's combination of honesty, bravery and willingness to continually experiment -- "I don't mind boring others, but I'm not gonna bore myself! --  while yet another critic notices some early paintings whose subject matter seems "darker" than the usual Hockey work. "No," the artist corrects him. "I just used cheap paint." He was both younger and poorer back then, and the cheap paint used has led the canvas to darken over time.

The movie is full of Hockney's vaunted honesty, intelligence and wit. Mostly, though, it's full of his more recent art -- which is as beautiful and as much fun as ever. We learn that a good friend, who was dying at the time, brought Hockney back to England and then to painting landscapes once again. How much more lush are his British landscapes, as compare to his work in the dryer and more arid Southern California scenes (even with that Bigger Splash in the picture)!

We see an entire room full of his series, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, and also learn how and why he has begun to divide his painting via grids. Eventually we see the remarkable series of portraits shown at the Royal Academy of Art entitled 82 Portraits and One Still Life that it must have been museum-heaven to experience live.

We also learn more of his technique -- we see the quick charcoal drawing that first appears, followed by the fill-in of detail and color -- and finally get a sense of what might come next in the career of this continually busy and productive artist.

From Exhibition on Screen and running just 80 minutes, David Hockney at the Royal Academy of Arts is playing now at various venues around the country. To find the city and screen nearest you, simply click here and follow directions. (In South Florida, the film will screen at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach on Sunday, February 18.) 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

DVDebut: Taron Lexton's IN SEARCH OF FELLINI proves (very) light on the Fellini

Can a movie get by almost exclusively on charm and visual beauty at the expense of any kind believable story line? Prior to seeing IN SEARCH OF FELLINI, the first full-length film from South  African-born Taron Lexton (below), I would have thought this pretty doubtful, but after viewing his said-to-be-based-"mostly"-on-a-true-tale movie, I've got to admit the film works well enough to garner an OK rating.  As gloriously shot by Kevin Garrison in Verona, Milan, Rome and Venice, Italy (oh, yeah -- and in Ohio, too), the cinematography is often so breathtakingly beautiful that you'll be swept away long enough to forget, or maybe just ignore, the rather saccharine and unbelievable tale told here.

As written by Nancy Cartwright and Peter Kjenaas, that story is one of a young girl (played in adulthood by the very lovely Ksenia Solo, below), so pampered and secluded from real life by her mother (Maria Bello, shown at bottom, right) that the poor thing is completely unsuited for autonomous adulthood. So what does she do? She leaves her dying mother to head for Italy all by her lonesome and there to somehow meet her new hero, famed filmmaker Federico Fellini, whose movies she has suddenly discovered via a Fellini festival in her home town. (The film takes place a couple of decades back, as Fellini died in 1993.)

Too dumb to get to Rome where the filmmaker resides, she ends up in Verona, then Venice, before finally arriving at her real destination. But that's all to the good because, along the way, she and we get to view a raft of fabulous locations and also meet and fall in love with what must be the sweetest and most handsome straight male in all of Italy (Enrico Oetiker, below, with Ms Solo).

But onward she must go toward Signore Fellini, and so she also almost gets raped-while-being-filmed by a nasty hunk named (against type) Placido. Not to worry, despite its R rating, this is a feel-good movie par excellence, so when our heroine finally does encounter her hero, it is in perhaps via the most gorgeously lit and filmed restaurant scene in movie history -- with no dialog yet, so that we can instead imagine what is being shared by the two.

Yes, indeed, this is all so silly that it would defy belief -- were it not so lovely to look at. All the leads are super-attractive, and Italy, well, come on: You know how visually enchanting that country can be. So I would suggest placing you brain on hold for the film's 103 minutes and just giving yourself over to its many visual pleasures.

Inter-cut into the film are many moments from the real Fellini catalog. And while Mr. Lexton's work apes the master's, he has filmed his movie with mostly gorgeous actors, while Fellini preferred much more bizarre-looking casts. Both filmmakers give us fantasy based on reality. The master created his films from someplace deep and humane, while Lexton, whose view may be prettier, offers up what might best be called Fellini-light.

From Spotted Cow Entertainment and running 103 minutes, the movie -- after hitting VOD and digital outlets last month -- reaches DVD this coming Tuesday, January 23.

DVDebut for IN HER NAME, Vincent Garenq's drama of death and much-delayed justice

Less a revenge thriller than a quiet and compassionate drama of loss, anger and a search for justice, IN HER NAME, the 2016 French film by Vincent Garenq and starring the exceptional Daniel Auteuil, is a tale taken from life that spans several decades but compresses these into a smartly conceived, directed and written (by Garenq, shown below, and Julien Rappeneau) movie that lasts but 87 compelling minutes that are definitely worth a watch.

A true-life tale that made news in its native France, the movie tells of the Bamberski family -- husband (M. Auteuil), wife (Marie-Josée Croze, shown two photos below) and their two children -- torn apart by the wife's continuing infidelity with a family acquaintance (his daughter is a schoolmate/friend of their daughter) who is a successful doctor in Germany and who proves to be a swine of the first order. This character, who exists mainly as the significant "villain," is  played with a near-perfect combination of charm, sex appeal and sleaze by German actor, Sebastian Koch, shown below, left, with Auteuil.

The story -- which begins with the arrest of M. Bamberski by French authorities (we're unsure of exactly why, although kidnapping has been mentioned) -- then backtracks some 30 years to Morocco and then France, Germany, and back again, as events unfold in a continuous time-line made up of relatively short scenes that show us what is happening and why.

Although these events involve things such as rape, untimely death and maybe murder, Garenq avoids any heavy melodrama by keeping his film to more of a documentary style (and I mean that in the old-fashioned, not the newer, hybrid, sense of the word). He doesn't try to jolt us or turn his movie into a suspense thriller. He doesn't need to because the events themselves are awful enough, and what happens after the initial death proves even more jarring and anger-provoking. The filmmaker has chosen to tell his tale in what turns out to be the most appropriate way possible.

Garenq's other ace-in-the-hole is his leading actor. M. Auteuil has for decades now proven his command of the screen in his own generally quiet fashion. He can on occasionally go over the top, too, and either way stealing films from under other heavier-handed actors like Gérard Depardieu (remember The Closet) without even trying.

Here his quiet determination is both believable and occasionally chilling. He's an obsessive, all right, but as someone who has lost his daughter, first to her betrayer and then to the French and German justice systems, how could he not be? Auteuil holds the film together and brings it home. His final line, in fact, is as simple, honest and heart-breaking as you could want.

The supporting cast (made up mostly of characters trying to help Bamberski achieve his goal) is also spot-on, with Christelle Cornil (above) especially good as the new woman in Bamberski's life who tries her best to join in/put up with his obsession.

Out on DVD from Icarus Films and streaming from Distrib Films, In Her Name, in French with English subtitles, is available now -- for both purchase or rental.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nikolaus Geyrhalter's CERN finally gets an American release -- from Icarus on DVD

Made back in 2013, prior to Nikolaus Geyrhalter's later and better documentary, Homo Sapiens, but only now getting a release (on DVD) here in the USA, his eponymously-titled film about that famous research center in Switzerland where they are trying to understand and/or maybe re-create the Big Bang, CERN is interesting enough but it also seems lacking when compared to the terrific documen-tary, also made in and about that research center, entitled Particle Fever.

Herr Geyrhalter, pictured at left, has made a number of first-rate films I would not under any circumstance have wanted to miss, and while I am glad to have seen CERN, I would call it one of his lesser works in that it does not possess the depth, surprise or subtlety of his others. It is what it is -- a 75-minute exploration of the research center and some of the very smart scientists who labor there --  and that's perfectly OK. Perhaps because this documen-tary (according to the IMDB at least) was made for television, it seems an unusually simplistic example of Geyrhalter's oeuvre.

The filmmaker inter-cuts between scenes of physicists, engineers and researchers (as above) explaining to us non-scientists what they do and shots of what we might call the grunt workers (as below) doing the physical labor at CERN, who for whatever reason don't get the chance to speak with us. The higher-level speakers do the best they can explaining to folk like us who haven't much of a clue to this kind of science or research. (One fellow here almost continually chuckles and laughs as he talks, probably because trying to give us a elementary-school level understanding of his job is so ridiculous).

The film is full of Geyrhalter's usual gorgeous cinematography which is always a pleasure to view, and although the speakers here seem to come from all over the globe -- Italy, Germany, Africa, France, the USA and more -- English (being the one clear international language) is constantly spoken, albeit as the first speaker we hear tells us, it is very broken English because everyone speaks it with a different accent. English subtitles would have helped the film tremendously, given that, by the time you have managed to decipher a new and different accent, you've also missed half of what was being said.

Still, and aside from what you might be able to learn about what's going on at CERN, there is also some fun to be had hearing the little bits of gossip you'll pick up. There are lots of divorces here, one woman explains, probably because of how dedicated these scientists are to their work above all else.

After spending much of the film underground we at last see the natural light of day for a bit before returning below. CERN, it turns out, is like a small city with literally thousand of "citizens" to be governed. The place has its own fire department and police force, too. You'll learn this and a lot more, and even if you can't quite perhaps understand all of what you're being told, you'll come away from this relatively short documentary feeling, I suspect, that CERN is probably the absolutely smartest spot on earth.

The film concludes with one of Geryhalter's marvelous tracking shots in which we glide down a corridor for what seems like forever until... yes, the film simply ends. From Icarus Films, running 78 minutes, in broken English and featuring about one dozen interviews, CERN is available now on DVD for purchase and (I hope) rental.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

In Greg Barker's THE FINAL YEAR, we walk down a memory lane to which we weren't privy

The good news about THE FINAL YEAR, a new documentary by Greg Barker about, yes, a portion of the final year of the Obama administration, is that it is not, as one might have suspected, complete hagiography. Oh, it's hagiographic enough, but what it shows us of the administration, in particular what we see and learn about two important people in that administration -- Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, and former White House staff member Ben Rhodes -- is enough to make the movie worth viewing.

TrustMovies must admit that he was and is no fan of President Obama. Although I was thrilled to see a Black (well, mixed race) President elected in the USA, I was even more disappointed to see that the President-elect refused to go after Wall Street and the Banking industry, after the melt- down they caused, not to mention his refusal to prosecute the lying and venal former administration that got into into our seemingly eternal mid-east wars via outright lying, and instead went after whistle-blowers like a rabid dog. Sure, Obama-care was a small step in the right direction, but only a mere sop to real progressives.

Mr. Barker, shown above, knows how and what to film, and does this professionally, and what his documentary shows us best is the mind-set and actions of these two administration buoys: Mr. Rhodes (below) and Ms Power (shown with Obama, further below).

As we watch and listen to Rhodes and begin to understand his thinking on a number of state matters, we can also better understand what he and Obama had in common and why they agreed on so many important subjects. Rhodes, as is Obama, proves intelligent and generally perspicacious, though the movie allows us to see and hear things about only certain subjects. It would have been even more interesting to discover what and why these two have against government whistle-blowers and how this fits into Obama's claim of wanting "transparency." Well, good luck with that.

We're on much firmer ground with Ms Power, as we view her traveling around the world and trying (what certainly seem like her best) to provide real aid to the downtrodden. When she tells us how she and her President did not always agree about how and why to proceed with this, we can only shake our heads in understanding tinged with quite a bit of disappointment.

I wish that Mr. Barker had occasionally come up with better visuals instead of simply and ridiculously showing us Obama's literal words on-screen as the ex-President is speaking them. In general, however, the film moves along at a sprightly pace with enough varied and interesting situations to keep us alert and watching.

Toward the end, as the 2016 election approaches and then occurs, we see that the administration -- just as so many of the rest of us "grunts" -- was shocked and appalled at the outcome. And whatever sins for which the Obama administration must answer, I suspect they will pale absolutely against what our current and clearly mentally unstable leader will leave us. Let's just hope that Mr. Rhodes' prediction -- that we'll need to wait perhaps another 20 years before we'll see the good that has come out of all this -- proves true.  Otherwise....

From Magnolia Pictures and running 90 minutes, The Final Year, opens in a number of cities around the country this Friday, January 19. Here in South Florida, you can see it at the O Cinema Miami Beach. Wherever you may reside, click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

Religion as the "closet" in Jennifer Gerber's interesting gay melodrama, THE REVIVIAL

The gay closet, as it turns out, can take a number of forms with which we might not immediately associate it. One of these is religion, particularly when the gay in question happens to be a preacher of it. Such a fellow is our non-hero, Eli, who has taken over his little town's church (Baptist, I think) from his late father, who was -- from all we hear -- much more popular, offering up the fire-and-brimstone kind of sermon our country's Southern folk love to hear. Eli, who is married to a wife who is soon to be a mother, prefers a more thoughtful and, well, "progressive" kind of preaching. You can imagine how well that goes down with his congregation.

As adapted (from his own stage play) by Samuel Brett Williams, shown below, and directed with intelligent, straight-ahead force by Jennifer Gerber (shown at left: This is her first full-length work), THE REVIVAL proves to be one of the better gay-themed melodramas we've seen of late. Mr. Williams, with his intelligently withholding writing that does not allow us to understand or fully know most of these characters until the finals scenes (the execution of which Ms Gerber's restraint and skill helps mightily), has concocted a very interesting melodrama
that explores the lengths to which a man will go in using his religion to better hide his sexuality.

Most organized religions, particularly in the Southern USA, do not accept homosexuality as something natural and good, but there are all kinds of ways around this -- as so many of our Southern "preachers" and their past scandals have shown us -- from out-and-out lying and hypocrisy to burying this "sin" so deeply within that even the sinner can sometimes ignore it.

Nothing works forever, of course, and truth, as they say, will out.

When a good-looking young drifter (Zachary Booth, above) appears at church one day -- not for the sermon but for the pot-luck lunch held afterward -- our "kindly" minister (David Rysdahl, below) of course wants to help. First offering that meal and then later a temporary roof over the fellow's head, before you can say, "But I'm not gay," this new twosome is locking lips and then other parts of the anatomy.

Now, if this part of the tale were all that's on offer, we could yawn and say been there/done that. We also meet and spend time with some interesting subsidiary characters, too, such as Trevor (nice job by Raymond McAnally, below), the good-'ol-boy pal who consistently tries to get Eli to preach what the congregation wants. Trevor is , in fact, raising money for a big "revival" style meeting at the church -- which Eli is dead set against.

Eli's put-upon wife -- a low-key but very smart performance from Lucy Faust, below -- comes into her own during the course of the film, as well. It is her character of whom we learn perhaps the most about by film's end.

There is even one member of the congregation -- played with off-key charm by Stephen Ellis, below -- who is desperately in love with his first cousin. While this situation might initially seem merely a bit of comic relief, it serves a deeper purpose in showing us how poor (uncaring, really) a minister our anti-hero actually is.

By the time the "gay love" situation has worked itself out -- and not probably in either of the ways you will expect -- several other situations and characters have come heavily and surprisingly into play. The Revival is a much stronger and more forceful piece of gay-themed film-making than TrustMovies expected. Take a chance on it.

From Breaking Glass Pictures and running just 85 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, January 19, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3. The DVD will be released the following week on Tuesday, January 23.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Wanna get REALLY angry? Watch the new Aussie doc, KANGAROO: A LOVE-HATE STORY

It's from Australia -- where else? And if you've ever been there (TrustMovies has, a couple of times) and watched with delight all those kangaroos and wallabies in the wild, you've probably been left with an indelible impression and love for this remarkable species. And trust me: You won't get anything like the same result from visiting a zoo. The first time I journeyed down under -- this was back in the 70s -- I heard from some people about what horrible pests kangaroos really were. But then, when I asked around a bit, I was told by others that this was all bullshit, coming from the industries and government officials that wanted to "harvest them," and that, when dealt with properly, the kangaroo population posed little real problem at all.

That was over 40 years ago, and the situation has apparently only grown worse since then -- with kangaroo meat (eaten by both humans and our pets) becoming more popular and the industries that cater to this growing larger and more powerful. No film I've watched in a long while -- including anything, even, about America's current and unspeakably racist and venal sleazebag President -- has made me angrier and more disgusted than the new documentary by Kate McIntyre Clere (above, right) and Michael McIntyre (above, left), entitled quite properly KANGAROO: A LOVE-HATE STORY. I admit that you probably have to be an animal lover to get this worked up, but the filmmakers do a bang-up job of showing you what is going on (along with why), how awful it truly is, and what might be done to halt this -- if enough citizens finally speak up and hold their elected politicians' feet to the fire.

Those feet, by the way, belong mostly, as expected, to Australian politicians (and corporations), but they also include many others internationally, since Kangaroo meat and skin/hide is sold worldwide. What we learn here about how the industry and their lobbyists tried to subvert our own state of California to their needs will open many eyes and also show us, thankfully, that the USA still has some politicians willing to fight for what's right.

Kangaroo approaches its tale and goal using everything from history to statistics to a lot talking heads (here with their bodes shown as well, since we're so often in the wilds of Australia) who follow our kangaroos as they hop and play and are killed -- in the most awful of ways that allow them to die slowly and horribly by hunters who just don't give a damn. Their joey, too (the term for kangaroo young) are affected just as terribly. There is a scene here of one injured joey trying so hard to hop away that it will likely break your heart.

Sure, the film is biased. It wants to preserve a species, for Christ sake. But it allows the "other side" to have its say, and then pretty much pulls the rug out from under it, whether the speaker is a politician or a farmer who insists that the kangaroo cannot be stopped except by hunting them down. We see the ongoing results (over quite some time) of a public relations campaign to denounce these animals as "pests" and how, when done skillfully and long enough, this can turn a population against its own "national" animal.

Wildlife experts and preservationists have their say, too, and it is equally intelligent and anger-making, as we perceive yet another example of how the wealthy, corporate and "elected" are growing richer even as they destroy our planet and the life upon it. Kangaroo is a documentary you'll want to share with everyone you know, but you'll also have to warn them that it is not an easy watch. It is a salutary one, however. This is a movie that will put you on the alert and maybe drive you to action.

From Abramorama and running 99 minutes, Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story opens this Friday, January 19 in New York City (at the Village East Cinema) and Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Music Hall 3) and will then, over the coming weeks, open in another 15 or more cities. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.