Saturday, March 31, 2018

A few scares, some interesting characters dot Netflix's new set-in-Wales series, REQUIEM

The best thing to be said for REQUIEM -- a new supernatural series from the BBC now available via Netflix streaming -- is that it's short: only six not-quite-hour-long episodes before it's over.

So, even if you get past the final one feeling, as TrustMovies did, that you probably will not continue for another season, at least you'll have only wasted around six hours, rather than the ten, thirteen or even sixteen you can mange via certain other current series.

"Wasted" is not quite the proper word, either. Requiem did at least hold my attention well enough that I continued for the six episodes. (Lately, I give a series two full installments before I sign off -- as I did with The Crown, which I'm told got a whole lot better as it moved along.)

Requiem is the product of creator/writer Kris Mrksa (shown at left) with all six episodes directed by Mahalia Belo (shown below). Though I'm a fan of the supernatural so far as entertainment goes, I have not seen much of it that works all that well of late.

In this series, the supernatural seems both
all-important and somehow not nearly as important as the missing-child cold case at the heart of the series. There were times throughout that I found myself asking, "Why did they bother making this supernatural-related at all?" But then, by the finale, the supernatural takes over completely. So go figure.

Better to not give away much about the plot to let you discover the ins and outs on your own (such as they are). For me, it was the excellent characterizations and performances by the supporting cast that made the series worth watching.

While the leading role, taken by Lydia Wilson (above, right, and below, left) proves finally more tiresome than anything else (she's a world-renowned cellist who, mid-season, smashes her cello into bits and with it most of the minor good will she's managed to accumulate with us), the role of her best friend, Hal (played by Joel Fry, above left), proves a good deal more productive.

Hal becomes involves with the daughter of the local pub owner (Sian Reese-Williams, above), who takes her place as the most interesting and sympathetic of all the characters on view. The especially convoluted plot finally churns up those supernatural goings-on, but along with this comes some sub-plots, one of which involves pot-growing and seems more than a little ridiculous, given all else that's happening around it.

The past -- and the guilt that goes with it -- is constantly dredged up, too, and for awhile this works. Until it begins to seems more like the writer is simply vamping to fill out the six-episode time-frame. For eye candy we do get to see Aussie actor James Frecheville (above, of Animal Kingdom) looking older but ever-hotter as he ages.

As I say, this one may be "iffy," but you'll probably know within an episode or two if you want to stick with it. And six episodes is hardly a life-enduring sentence. Streaming digitally via Netflix, Requiem (a little too "standard" a title, if you ask me), Season One, is available now. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Spielberg's READY PLAYER ONE makes a nice return to a past master's older adventure films

If you're worried (as was I) that lack of any interest in video games would keep you from enjoying Steven Spielberg's latest endeavor, READY PLAYER ONE, you can rest (relatively) easy.

Yes, the movie begins with way too much video-gaming in its typical (though, in this case, very-good-for-its-genre) animated form, but once it concentrates more on its "real" characters rather than their so-called "avatars," the film will probably pull you in to its convoluted universe and keep you there.

This is particularly true, should you be one of those film nuts who love seeing and hearing lots of references to other famous films. Spielberg (at right) and his writers -- Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (who adapted their screenplay from Cline's novel) have filled their film chock-full of this, Young kids will enjoy the swift pace and adventure, while adults will be chuckling/ snickering at the many "in" references. (A surprisingly long scene devoted to The Shining proves the most fun of all these.)

The story, set in Ohio a few decades ahead in 2045, involves our dystopian and even more income-unequal society in which most folk prefer to spend their time online in a virtual universe known as Oasis, created by a brilliant but now-deceased fellow named Halliday, played by that amazing actor and Oscar winner Mark Rylance (above), thus continuing this most productive relationship between actor and director (which includes Bridge of Spies and The BFG). Mr. Rylance is wonderful once again, providing the movie with both its strongest character and most of its "heart."

Our hero is a young fellow named Wade (Tye Sheridan, quite grown up since his early appearance in Mud, and now looking like Miles Teller's younger brother), a very good gamer who hopes to win the "prize" embedded in Halliday's Oasis universe, which will makes him rich and powerful beyond measure.

Also hoping to win are a few other good gamers, including our heroine, Samantha (played by Olivia Cooke, above). The fly in the ointment -- more like a giant cockroach -- is Sorrento (the always fun Ben Mendelsohn, below), a former disciple/intern of Halliday who now owns one of the country's largest corporations, and simply wants to add to his arsenal by capturing the prize.

What happens and why fills out this overlong (two hours and 20 minutes) but usually entertaining and exciting adventure, in which Mr. Spielberg returns to some of the themes and concerns of his earlier adventure films. The difference this time centers around so much that has changed in our world over the past 15 to 20 years: the internet and the ability to lose oneself in fantasy and online friends and identities.

As much fun as all this can be (as well as an escape from the pretty crappy reality faced by the great majority of our world today), it is not, finally -- as the filmmakers reminds us rather too heavily at the conclusion -- at all real. Reality is real. And that's it.

In the supporting cast are some fun characters (see above) decently portrayed, once we're allowed to actually meet their real selves, much later in the film. Mr. Sheridan makes a good enough hero, as does Ms Cooke a heroine (though, really, you must view this actress' performance in The Limehouse Golem to see how she can stretch!)

TrustMovies got up from his seat at the finish of Ready Player One, happy and satisfied with the time spent. But I have to say that now, just 24 hours later, the film is already seeming pretty forgettable. Maybe, however, that's because I don't give a hoot about video games or alternate realities.

From Warner Brothers, the movie opened this week in theaters all over the country. To find one (or ten) near you, simply click here then scroll down and click on one of the three options below the words GET TICKETS.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Catching up with Alexandra Dean's fine doc, BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

First hitting U.S. theaters in November of 2017,  BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY has continued to play to surprising large crowds all across the country -- particularly, I would guess, in areas where senior citizens reign supreme. We remember this gorgeous leading lady of cinema. And although the film is playing currently in a two-week run here in South Florida, TrustMovies suspects that this is already something of  a "return engagement." No matter.

The movie's worth seeing, certainly, and probably, for some people, more than once. Though the famous Ms Lamarr was most noted for her beauty, as you may have heard by now, she did and was a lot of other important things, as well.

As an Austrian Jew with a burgeoning film career in her native region before WWII (Hitler is said to have hated the landmark film in which she starred, Ecstasy), Lamarr had to flee Austria and come to America to continue to make her mark on audiences worldwide. As written and directed by Alexandra Dean, Bombshell is actually a relatively quiet and thoughtful documentary. And though Lamarr's life offered plenty of ammunition for scandal and shock, Ms Dean, shown at left, manages to keep us focused on the woman herself: who she was and what she tried to achieve.

As Lamarr herself admitted, she was best known for her beauty, but she also possessed a unique intelligence  and deep interest in how things worked -- which eventually led her, along with well-known musical composer George Anthiel, to invent a technology known as frequency hopping (now called Spread Spectrum), originally conceived to help the Allied forces during World War II, that has led to the creation of everything from fax machines to cell phones and wireless.

How this came about is but one part of this eye-opening and fascinating documentary/biography, from which Lamarr emerges as a complicated, frequently troubled woman, who proved a fine parent (early on, at least), a much-married movie star, and finally a kind of recluse, living out her last years with little income and even fewer friends -- though at last, during the short time before her death, receiving some genuine acknowledgment and tribute for her invention.

Along the way, we hear from an enormous number of "fans," from Peter Bogdanovich to Mel Brooks, Robert Osborne (who was also a close friend) to German actress Diane Kruger, plus a number of family members, children and grandchildren. What they tell us is both germane and entertaining. (That's one of Lamarr's co-stars, Spencer Tracy, above, left).

By the finale of this 90-minute movie, we've been surprised, amused and moved by this life that was so much richer, fuller and sadder than we could probably have ever imagined.

From Zeitgeist Films, now working in conjunction with Kino Lorber, the movie continues its slow and steady nationwide release. Click here  (then scroll down) to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. Eventually, of course, there will be home video options, as well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

What, already? The documentary of the year? Jed Rothstein's THE CHINA HUSTLE hits theaters and digital

Yes, TrustMovies realizes that the 2019 Oscar ceremony is eleven months away but he dearly hopes that over the coming year a small but massively important documentary entitled THE CHINA HUSTLE will not get lost nor be forgotten in the ensuing awards season chaos. Not unlike The Big Short in its righteous condemnation of Wall Street, the banking industry and the SEC, the documentary demonstrates (for anyone who still remains unconvinced) not only how little-to-nothing has been done to regulate our wretched finance industry in the years since the housing bubble burst but how newer and ever-more-sleazy scams have come down the pike to relieve investors, together with pension and retirement funds, of their resources.

Very well written and directed by Jed Rothstein (shown at right) in a manner that allows us to understand the ins and out of a rather complicated scheme/scam, the doc begins with a few voices, including that of Donald Trump, extolling the virtues of China, followed by a most interesting definition of Capitalism. We're then introduced to a fellow named Dan David (below), who immediately tells us, "There are no good guys in this story -- including me." Amen to that because we're back in the territory of short-selling stock, à la The Big Short, and just as with that situation and in that movie, the film here involves people who short sell at a great profit to them, while everyone else in the picture loses.

And yet in The China Hustle this short selling appears to be the only way in which these sleazy scams by China, together with the help of our own financial industry, can be stopped -- since neither the SEC nor our government will do anything to prevent this outright fraud, in which Chinese companies claim huge profitability and/or growth for investors but in reality offer nothing of the kind.

How is this possible -- particularly after all the horrible effects of our earlier financial meltdown? Rothstein's documentary explains this quite thoroughly, cleverly and interestingly: It involves something called Reverse Mergers, in which a company (in this case one based in mainland China) gains a listing on U.S. Stock Exchange by way of buying the corporate shell of a defunct U.S. company that is still trading on that stock exchange. It then promotes the newly merged company’s supposed potential for "enormous" growth -- all of which is utterly fake.

The tale of how this happened (it's still happening) and why, and how these frauds came to light, becomes a truly enthralling kind of mystery during which, along the way, quite a set of fraudsters are exposed from under their rocks. Some of these -- that supposed icon of virtue, Wesley Clark (above) is one such -- may surprise you with their embarrassing behavior. Others will seem pretty much like the usual suspects, finance-industry version. And while Mr. David reminds us that nobody's a hero here, a few of the folk we meet would certainly seem to qualify in my book, particularly the young Chinese man who did research in China for one of the fellows who helped expose all this and for his time and trouble went to prison.

Still, heroes or not, some of the (mostly) men we meet here are pretty damned fascinating, as are the various jobs they do -- from Matt Weichert (shown below) and his friend Soren to Jon Carnes (aka "Alfred Little") and Carson Block, the CEO of Muddy Waters (because, as the Chinese proverb goes: You can't catch fish in clear water). Director Rothstein, in addition to making the scams come to such immediate life, also involves us a bit in the life and family of Dan David, as well as in a particular culture of China known as Gwang Hi (trading favors) that makes these dreadful deals all the easier to perform.

Wall Street, it appears, has developed a whole new way to scam -- with the "illegality" arising in and from China, making it difficult if not impossible to prosecute here. We hear about Roth Capital, a company involved in so many of these sleaze deals, during which between 2006 and 2012 over 400 Chinese companies managed to list themselves, via the American shell companies, on the NYSE. An estimated $14,000,000,000 in public pension and retirement funds have now been lost to these Chinese reverse merger frauds. And, as usual -- concerning Wall Street, the Banks and "investment" -- the supposed "gatekeepers" remain either outright sleazy or just intentionally ignorant.

Like The Big Short, this film will make you angry enough to see red. And I do not mean just red China. Yes, the Chinese have proven themselves worthless scammers (it is not at all illegal in China to defraud foreign investors), but more of the responsibility lies with the American creeps who have negotiated and profited from all this. Not that most of us any longer have money left to invest, but on the chance that you do, if China is at all involved -- stay the fuck away.

No film I've seen in a long while has made me as angry as this one. Our sleazy finance industry needs an adversary as strong and organized as the student anti-gun movement has so far proven against the NRA. Perhaps, when they've won this battle, the kids can turn their attention to Wall Street. From Magnolia Pictures and running 82 minutes, The China Hustle opens this Friday, March 30, in New York City at the IFC Center and the Landmark 57 West and in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt, as well as in cities all around the country. To find a theater near you, click here. Simultaneously with its theatrical release, the film will appear on digital and VOD platforms.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The new Roar Uthaug/Alicia Vikander TOMB RAIDER offers slick, fast, entertaining fun

Few mainstream movies of late have so thoroughly divided critics, if not so much audiences, as has the new version of TOMB RAIDER. According to Rotten Tomatoes (yes, a notoriously unreliable site), the good/bad vote comes in at 50/50. But, of course if RT allowed what used to be known as a mixed review (which many reviews tend to be), rather than one that must be rated either all good or all bad, this would change everything.

The first thing to be said about this latest, newest version of the original Angelina Jolie two-movie "franchise" is that Alicia Vikander, shown above, together with the movie that surrounds her, is in every way the better Lara Croft: leaner, meaner, stronger, more believable, a lot less bloated and a lot more fun.

The film's director, Roar Uthaug (shown at left) was responsible three years ago for the much smaller, tighter and very exciting Tsunami-hits-Norway thriller, The Wave. Here, he is again able to marshal his skills to make another fast-paced film that moves halfway across the world, introduces a load of various characters, has a number of terrifically handled action/special effect sequences, and ends up being a surprisingly enjoyable adventure film with a heroine so skilled and obsessive that she would no doubt find a movement such as our current Me2 quite unnecessary. No man in his right mind would mess with this young woman.

In fact, unless I missed some small moment in the film, no man makes even a slight sexual advance on our Lara. They may want to kill her, and do try their level best, but as for verbal innuendos, unwanted "touching," let alone rape -- better forget it, guys.

Laura, in fact, is father-fixated, and while any decent psychiatrist would have a field day here, the movie simply sees this as loyalty and love. Dad disappeared a decade or so back but Lara refuses to believe he's dead and so, rather than signing some papers that would allow her, him, and his business connections to move on, she instead insists that she must somehow find the old codger.

Since Dad is played (often in flashback) by the wonderful Dominic West, above, you'll hope that Lara will indeed find him. Her nemesis (at least the one she's mot conscious of earliest on: there will be more  to come!) is played with savoir faire and sleaze by Walton Goggins (below, right).

The fellow who might come closest to anything approaching a bit of romance is the young boat captain played by Daniel Wu, below, who manages to be simultaneously sexy, charming, drunk and funny and helps the movie along enormously via both his acting and his action skills.

The sturdy if fairly prosaic screenplay comes via Geneva Robinson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, and it proves serviceable to a fault. Mainly, it's the immaculate pacing and cinema sense of director Uthaug, his three editors (click and scroll down) and cinematographer George Richmond that make the movie such a fleet-footed and entertaining adventure.

In the rather starry supporting cast are no less than Kristin Scott Thomas (above) and Derek Jacobi, so, yes, folk -- you'll be getting a smidgen of "quality," too! Mostly though you'll be getting pretty much non-stop Vikander and plenty of action. That ought to be quite enough.

From Warner Brothers and Metro-Goldywyn-Mayer, the movie opened nationwide last week and should still be playing in a theater near you. Click here to find one.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

DVDebut for a funny, French family movie: Laurent Tirard's NICHOLAS ON HOLIDAY

There's a lot to like about the smartly-made, 2014 French family comedy, NICHOLAS ON HOLIDAY (Les vacances du petit Nicolas) co-adapted -- from the children's book series by René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé -- and directed by Laurent Tirard. Set back in the 1960s and featuring a riot of colorful and nostalgic cars, clothes and set designs, the movie offers plenty of fun and frolic for the kids and eye-candy of all sorts for the adults who are likely to be watching with them.

From the opening credits that feature those used-to-be-popular post cards with resort town views (that come alive here in odd and funny ways) to the choice performances that M. Tirard (shown at right) draws from his excellent cast, the movie is full of energy, delight, and just enough of that typical French perversity to make it stand apart from any American film of this type. (Instead of mere fart jokes, we get a quite literal shower of shit.) Further, the movie explores themes such as the male gaze and how easily it strays, the female need for control via "love," and a wealth of oddball habits that distinguish one child from another.

The movie begins with the end of the school year and summer vacation in view, and from there it travels through the annual argument between mom (Valérie Lemercier, above, center right) and dad (Kad Merad, above, right) regarding mountain or seaside vacation, and finally to whether grandma (Dominique Lavanant, above, left) is to be allowed to join the family holiday.

In the role of young Nicolas, Mathéo Boisselier (above) is about as pert and adorable a young actor as you could want. Nicolas narrates the film and it is often from his point-of-view that we see and understand things. That POV is pretty funny, childlike and quite smart in its own way.

Tirard makes certain that his film is full of near-constant charming little touches that will draw out a smile, if not occasionally an outright guffaw. While some of the humor (the intentional change-of-plumbing-pipe incident and the kid who literally eats anything and everything) is pretty perverse, it is also pretty funny.

The supporting cast is made up of a nice array of ages and types, with Belgian actor Bouli Lanners (at left, two photos up) particularly effective as an old schoolmate of Nicolas' dad. M. Marad is properly glum and goofy, Ms. Lavanant's granny is also fine as the mother-in-law from hell, and Ms Lemercier gets her chance to shine in a scene involving too much champagne and a very funny dance number (below).

A kids' adventure that's also about adults having their own adventures, the movie culminates in a funny costume party, a pair of missing children, a fortress/castle dotted with WWII mines and other explosives, and mistaken identities involving gorilla suits.

Along  the way our Nicolas becomes "involved" with the girl next door (or maybe across the street), played by Chann Aglat (above, left, in one of our hero's wedding fantasies) and then with a girl named Isabelle (Erja Maltier, below, right), who begins as a member of some kind of French Adams Family before morphing into a very cute and loving kid.

All in all, Nicholas on Holiday ends up a sweet, funny and smart little movie. Kids'll love it -- if, that is, they can either speak French or read English subtitles, while adults who go along for the ride may be surprised at how easily digestible all this proves to be.

From Distrib Films US and distributed on DVD by Icarus Films Home Video, in French with English subtitles and running 97 minutes, Nicholas on Holiday hits the street this coming Tuesday, March 27 -- for purchase and/or (one hopes) rental.