Thursday, May 31, 2018

OPEN ROADS 2018: Crime, the Church and the Mafia in the D'Innocenzo brothers' BOYS CRY and Vincenzo Marra's EQUILIBRIUM

One subject the FSLC annual series, OPEN ROADS, usually includes in its round-up of new Italian films is -- hello -- the Mafia in one ugly iteration or another. This year includes at least two such films (of those I've been able to view). Both are interesting and relatively well-executed, but the more-so of the two proves to be the one that takes the quieter, less-traveled and less-overtly-violent-while-being-even-more awful-to-contemplate route.

In EQUILIBRIUM (L'equilibrio), written and directed by Vincenzo Marra, the first thing we see is the famous Warner Brothers logo (the studio clearly had something to do with funding and/or distribution), which leads you to wonder why Warners never makes American movies that are this timely or important. The film shows us -- slowly, simply, shockingly via life in an Italian suburb -- the intersection of crime, environmental contamination, government failure and The Catholic Church.

This quartet of horrors, in which the Church proves the most horrible, has reduced the populace to near-literal slavery and many, many deaths. When a handsome, middle-aged priest (newcomer Mimmo Borrelli, above), trying to avoid a would-be romantic entanglement, requests a transfer from Rome back to his home-town parrish, he is suddenly confronted by all of this -- which understandably takes him some time to comprehend. (Why is the church school's playground closed off to the children so that a pet goat can stay there?)

Our hero, for that is certainly what he is, begins trying to change things. But how does one man, even if he is a priest, go up against this combination of powers? ("That collar," notes one of the crime gang, "is the only only thing keeping you alive, Father.") Filmmaker Marra does a quietly powerful job of making all this seem as believable as it is disgusting, and our priest's (as well as the viewer's) increasing shock at the deep involvement of the Church in abetting and covering up the crime lords' environmental pollution, drug sales, and sex abuse, makes it ever more difficult for him to do the job he believes he must do.

It won't take much pushing to see Equilibrium as a look at where the USA itself is heading under the current control of Republicans and the Trump administration. The only thing missing here is the criminal/Mafia element. But with this administration, Congress and our devolving court system, the criminal element is already built in. And so far as the Catholic Church is concerned, simply replace this priest with a member of a Christian fundamentalist church who just wants that church to get back to the real teachings of Jesus instead of preaching bigotry and hatred, and you'd have a nifty American version.

Meanwhile, Equilibrium, in Italian with English subtitles and running just 90 minutes, will play Open Roads this Sunday, June 3, at 1pm (there will be a Q&A with Vincenzo Marra, shown above, right, following the screening) and Wednesday, June 6, at 4:30pm. Click here for more information and/or tickets.

A new, young Italian filmmaking team of brothers, Damiano D'Innocenzo and Fabio D'Innocenzo, are at the helm, as writers and directors, of BOYS CRY (La terra dell'abbastanza), another gangland-driven drama included in Open Roads. Although flashier, cinematically darker, and considerably more violent and bloody than Equilibrium, TrustMovies found the brothers' movie a little too been there/done that to qualify as anything exactly "new." Still, in terms of pitch dark movies about family, friendship, betrayal, stupidity and greed, this one has got to rank pretty high.

The D'Innocenzo brothers (shown above) have contrived a tale of two "best friends"-- Mirko (newcomer Matteo Olivetti, below, right) and Manolo (Andrea Carpenzano, below, left) who, in terms of honesty, decency and anything approaching actual friendship, have a lot to learn. Instead, thanks to Manolo's dumb dad, the pair becomes involved with the local gang and is soon acting as its go-to hit men.

Everything about the movie seems a tad too "manufactured" in order to demonstrate its themes of betrayal and greed. From the opening car accident to the identity of its victim to the gangland connection right on through to the final, full-circle irony -- which is far too pat to be taken seriously -- everything clicks so nicely into place that the rub-your-face-in-the-dirt reality the brothers so seem to want comes at the expense of some believability.

The look of the film is spectacularly cruddy, intentionally so, I've no doubt. With gangland films set in Sicily, we can usually look forward to some beautiful location cinematography. What you get here is ugly-and-then-some. Performances are as fine all around as they're allowed to be, with barely a chance given to any character except maybe Mirko's mom (Milena Mancini, above) to behave in any way other than badly.

Still, the charisma of the two leads, coupled to their characters' unrelieved stupidity, may rope in the younger set, while providing more mature audiences with yet another chance to ponder raw youth at its least appetizing.

In Italian with English subtitles and running 95 minutes, Boys Cry screens at Open Roads on Sunday, June 3, at 3:30 pm (after which there will be a Q&A with the D'Innocenzo brothers) and Tuesday June 5 at 2:30 pm. Click here to view the entire Open Roads series, and here and here to see my earlier posts on this year's films.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Want to see a lengthy Ayurveda infomercial? Try Jeremy Frindel's THE DOCTOR FROM INDIA

What's Ayurveda? Well, according to the press release for the movie covered here -- THE DOCTOR FROM INDIA. directed and edited by Jeremy Frindel -- "Ayurveda is considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science still in practice. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda translates roughly to 'The Science of Life.' Ayurveda is the art of daily living in harmony with the laws of nature. Working through entirely natural means to maintain the health of a healthy person, and to heal the disease of an unhealthy person. Ayurveda is not a passive therapy but rather asks each individual to take responsibility for his or her own health through their diet, relationships and activities, and to take simple actions towards prevention, self-healing and growth towards fulfillment."

All of the above certainly sounds like something that you or I might want to practice, maybe in conjunction with the occasional antibiotic or knee/hip replacement, as we grow older. But as given us by Mr. Frindel (shown at right) and his leading character in this documentary, Dr. Vasant Lad (shown below, right), the holistic health practitioner who first brought Ayurveda from India to the west in the late 1970s, this healing process seems much more like a "replacement" for the medicine that most of us know (and probably don't particularly love).

From what we see and hear here, Dr. Lad appears to be a pretty good lad, overall. As the movie begins, the doc's day does, too, as he opens up shop in India. Though he now lives in the USA, he returns yearly to the sub-continent and to his birthplace in Pune. We learn of his family history (his dad worked for India's freedom, back in the day, and was jailed by the British for his effort. We also learn how Dr. Lad's marriage to a woman of his choosing alienated him (and his bride) from his own family -- though over time this rift has apparently healed.

So far as Ayurveda is concerned, we are told how its gurus compare to mother turtles, we see free treatment and free medicine being given to those in need, and learn something of the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico. There's some charming animated explanation along the way, and then one of our interviewee's notes that "Integrated medicine is the future of medicine." So far, so-so. Then we're told of the "magical" (that is the word used here, I believe) healing of Lad's own son, followed by one of our interviewees' description of the good doctor in the following fashion: "He's a Yogi, he's a psychic, he's a healer." If, by this time, some red flags (or silver alerts) have not been raised, they certainly will be now.

Dr. Lad does seem like an awfully nice guy (if there are any problems concerning the fellow, you're never going to see them in a film like this), and while Ayurveda and its Ayurvedic Institute do appear to be thriving and are probably very financially successful businesses, so what? Could the filmmakers not have found a single important person in our own medical establishment to confirm any positive accomplishment of Ayurveda or Dr. Lad? Surely a few such people are out there? Or maybe not. The bona fides of the folk who are interviewed here do not strike me as anything special. They're Ayurveda boosters, first and last. Excuses are made for why Ayurveda has not overtaken (or maybe taken over) standard medicine, as it were. But an excuse is still an excuse -- even if it sounds a bit better than "the dog ate my homework."

To add to the negativity, further along the way, we hear more and more "God" stuff -- which for me, as an agnostic-tending toward-atheism, is not helpful. Then, toward the latter section of the film, we learn that the Transcendental Meditation movement wanted at one point to fold Ayurveda, along with Dr. Lad, into its own organization. Nothing doing! So instead TM brought Deepak Chopra (shown below with the film's director) and his version of Ayurveda into its welcoming arms.

By the time we see and hear our good doctor explaining to his acolytes that "Modern science is just moonshine; Ayurveda is sunshine," you may suddenly realize, "Oh, shit -- I've just spent an hour-and-a-half of my life watching a goddamned Ayurveda infomercial!" Instead of making me interested in learning more about Ayurveda, this movie succeeded mostly in closing my mind.

From Zeitgeist Films  (in whom I must say I am disappointment for releasing an "advertorial" in the guise of an actual documentary) and Kino Lorber, the movie opens this Friday, June 1, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. Its theatrical run in Los Angeles is restricted to one day only at several Laemmle theaters, and the movie will also open across the country in another dozen cities. Here in South Florida look for it to screen one day only on June 16 at the O Cinema, Miami. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and scroll down.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Childhood sexual abuse meets the cult of American macho in Travis Mathews' DISCREET

Possibly as dark, dismal and depressing a movie as you are likely to encounter, DISCREET, the new film from Travis Mathews (writer and co-director of Interior. Leather Bar.) is also worth seeing for a number of reasons -- starting with the fact of its remarkable subtlety. 

Mr. Mathews (shown at right) doesn't slap us in the face with anything. And considering the subjects he's dealing with -- childhood sexual abuse, revenge, murder, suicide, prostitution, group sex in blindfolds, and homosexualty trying its damndest to disguise itself as the activity of really macho men -- this is quite a feat. Instead, Mathews parcels out his information via visuals and sounds, memories and current activity that come to us in small, oblique shards that we must piece together.

Piece them we do. And, boy, is the finished product ugly. 

The movie's non-hero, Alex (played in properly dark, if one-note fashion by Jonny Mars, above), is carrying around a load of traumatic memory. Instead of trying to work this out via more usual routes -- a therapist, perhaps -- he has taken to arranging oddball group sex sessions between men (below), while simultaneously stealing their money;

hiring a young man to do who-knows-what with the very fellow, now old and infirm (Bob Swaffar, at left, below), who molested Alex in his younger days; fellating and/or jacking off a local wealthy Hispanic man in his sauna (João Federici, shown at left, two photos down); and then onwards to actions that are much, much worse.

The breadth (if not the depth) of the despicable goings-on here is near breathtaking, and yet Mathews gives it to us as though these were merely every-day events. (Perhaps, for those engaging in them, they are.) This makes it seem all the more awful. Intercut with the degradation is the interesting web site of a young and pretty Asian woman with whom Alex seems to want to connect.

Yet despite this tiny morsel of hope, along with the attempt of Alex's mother to share her son's life in some small way, our boy is dead set on a course of major destruction. Throughout, the filmmaker never strays from his oblique style, dark content and refusal to provide us with one bit of the usual positive spin. The result is one of the more unnerving, queasy-making movies in recent memory. And yet, due to Mathews' subtle, indirect approach, TrustMovies does not remember a single moment of overt violence, blood nor gore to be seen. Yet all of this is present, somehow, via the unspoken "threat."

Discreet opens this Friday, June 1, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 and simultaneously will be available via VOD. The movie is certainly worth a look -- if you're ready for something strange and about as far from feel-good as you can imagine.

More OPENS ROADS 2018: Sergio Castellitto's FORTUNATA and Fulvio Risuleo's LOOK UP

The FSLC's series of new Italian films, OPENS ROADS, begins this Thursday, May 31. Here are two more movies very much worth your consideration:

TrustMovies has enjoyed the work of actor/filmmaker Sergio Castellitto for well over two decades now, and while I've appreciated him more as actor than filmmaker (he is shown below, center), I'm pleased to say how much I enjoyed his latest directorial endeavor, FORTUNATA, which was written by Castellitto's screenwriter wife Margaret Mazzantini. Or I should l say I enjoyed at least as much of this film -- about one-third -- as its screening link would allow me to view.

The link began stopping and starting over and over again 30 to 40 minutes into the film, until we finally had to give up watching entirely. These bum links -- which may very well be due to who-knows-what crap going on with our cable provider Comcast -- are perhaps the worst way to try to view a movie ever invented. Even the finest film, under this kind of duress, can begin to make the viewer hate it when access is given for maybe 30 seconds to one minute before it stops all over again. Though I am reviewing only what I could see, this was enough for me to want desperately to be able to finish the film -- which at this point seems not to have any U.S. distribution.

The title character, Fortunata, played with great strength and feeling by an actress we've enjoyed for some years now, Jasmine Trinca (above, right, who last year won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance), with a failed marriage to a nasty, abusive cop (Edoardo Pesce, above, left) only partially behind her, is trying desperately to take proper care of her little girl, even as she attempts to raise the finances needed to open her own beauty salon.

She's got a hunky, long-haired boyfriend (Alessandro Borghi, also seen in this year's Naples in Veils); a group of close caring and maybe-too-controlling friends; and soon she meets an especially kind and helpful psychotherapist (Opens Roads regular Stefano Accorsi, above). The dialog is succulent and strong, the direction and pacing smart and swift, and Ms Trinca (of Miele), as always, is a pleasure to watch in action. At least for those 30-or-so minutes.

Quite often in the yearly roster of Open Roads, an oddball little film crops up that you will not have heard of. Ditto the director, actors and almost anyone else concerned with it. This year's example is something called LOOK UP (Guarda in alto), and it's an absolute delight. (There is at least one actor involved here of whom you will have heard: Lou Castel, of Bellocchio's Fists in the Pocket.)  The story involves a young fellow working in a bakery in Rome, who, while taking a cigarette break with his co-workers on the bakery's rooftop, sees an odd-looking bird falling and goes to investigate.

What happens then moves from bizarre to more so, as our young hero, Teco -- played with a sweetness and naivete that is never for one moment unbelievable by a charmer named Giacomo Ferrara (shown above and below) -- becomes involved with everything and everyone from a very strange group of nuns to an even stranger group of children, a female parachutist (below), a pair of nudist twins (who play badminton), an old man who seems to live in a kind of garden paradise -- and lots more.

As directed and co-written (with Andrea Sorini) by Fulvio Risuleo (who clearly has an appreciation for the work of Lewis Carroll), the movie manages to be simultaneously utterly bizarre and completely real, thanks to Risuleo's use of details -- all of which add to the oddness and veracity of these goings-on. Unlike Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, there's nothing magical here. Instead the movie makes use of things we see and hear and experience daily, but the way in which they are put together beggars description (yet not quite belief).

The now pleasingly plump Mr. Castel (above, left) has a wonderful scene midway, and each of the other actors nails his or her moments, as well. Teco's advertures grow more wondrous, delightful, sweet, moving and memorable as the film unfurls, while the details -- from those birds to the bees to a baobob plant to the black cat that crosses our path -- are as lovely as you could want. In fact, only the nuns seems scary (which is as it should be), and even the latter scenes of gambling and naughtiness, while darker, do not seem really threatening.

As the "mute" leader of the children explains near the film's end, there are things in life that we can never understand, and yet they can change and even control us. Consequently, "we need wonders." Amen to that.

Look Up will screen only once at Open Roads -- this Sunday June 3, at 8:30pm -- and it's the kind of one-off movie that you may remember much longer than some of the more obvious choices in this series. So grab it while the opportunity presents. You can access the complete Open Roads series by clicking here.  More to come on this series later in the week...

Monday, May 28, 2018

Fashion time again in Kate Novack's new doc, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ

A big step up from last year's embarrassment about shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, this year's gift to fashionistas -- THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ directed by Kate Novack -- is a good deal more palatable and intelligent a film. Whether you will be interested in the life and work of one, André Leon Talley (shown at left: fashion writer/ historian and layout/photo-shoot artiste), will depend, I should think, mostly on your interest in the world of fashion. But if, say, your spouse or significant other is of that mind, should you tag along, you may find yourself at least somewhat interested in what you'll see, hear and learn. Mr Talley has a lot to say, clearly loves saying it, and more often than not makes pretty good sense. There are reasons that this great big bear of a man is so very famous.

Filmmaker Novack, pictured at right, has done a capable job of interviewing this semi-icon who was born and raised in our South, knew he had to get the hell out of there as a Black man who was also gay, and so left his beloved grandmother (who raised him) and lit out for places like New York and Paris, where he quickly made his mark as a disciple, first of Diana Vreeland and later of Anna Wintour, and then by garnering a name of his own, with which the fashion world would soon have to contend.

All this is shown (by Novack) and told us (mostly by Talley himself) via some good archival photos (such as the two final shots, below) and present-day interviews with Talley and a ton of celebrities who seem to swear by this man.

The celebs include everyone from Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford (above) to Isabella Rossellini and Whoopi Goldberg (below), Fran Lebowitz (who offers the film's funniest line -- about sex in the 1970s), Diana Ross, and of course Ms Wintour (who admits that André possesses a much greater sense of fashion history than she does).

If you follow the fashion world closely, much of what you see and hear may not seem so new to you. Since I don't follow this, the content here proved pretty interesting, even if the documentarian does not probe all that deeply. To her credit, Novack does ask (and Talley answers) questions about his enormous girth. "I bloated up after the age of 40," he explains. Later we see him trying to lose a little at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in North Carolina. He never appears to have had any ongoing, heavy-duty intimate relationship with anyone, and clearly does not care to go much into the reasons why -- other than the usual excuse of career and too much work.

In fact, Talley spends more time bemoaning the nasty comments he overheard regarding the reasons for his relationship with Vreeland (was he her "big black buck"?) and the appellation affixed to him as "Queen Kong." But this is more than countered by some of his conceptions and famous photos shoots  -- Cindy Crawford as a sexy widow, veiled but in her skivvies, and that Vanity Fair fashion piece aping Gone with the Wind but with the races reversed.

After Trump's election, he blogs for The New York Times about Melania's elegance at the inauguration, and near the end of the documentary we're back in a Black church in the south-- the place from which Talley says he gained his earliest and most enduring sense of fashion. At the close of the movie, one of his acolytes claims, regarding Mr Talley, that "Under it all is a very fine cashmere heart." Huh? A heart made of cashmere? Now that's a new one!

From Magnolia Pictures and running 94 minutes, The Gospel According to André, after opening in our cultural centers last week, hits South Florida and elsewhere this Friday, June 1. In Miami, it will play the O Cinema Wynwood. Wherever you live around the country, click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

At the FSLC, OPEN ROADS returns with a bevy of new Italian films. First up: Ferzan Ozpetek and the Taviani brothers

Mark your calendars for May 31 through June 6, as the popular series, OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA, now in its 18th year, returns to the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Co-presented by the FSLC and Istituto Luce Cinecittà, this year's series offers 15 new Italian films --narrative or documentary, plus a pair of " classics" that perfectly complement two of the new films to be seen: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Night of the Shooting Stars (above) will be shown in conjunction with the appearance of the brothers final film (Vittorio died this past April), Rainbow: A Private Affair, while Marco Ferreri's famous The Ape Woman will screen alongside a new documentary (below) about this iconoclast filmmaker, Marco Ferreri: Dangerous but Necessary.

In past years TrustMovies has often viewed all (or almost all) of the Open Roads films, but this year, due to age, infirmities and screening links that don't always work, he has only managed to see a half dozen of the selections. Still, these were enough to make the series, as always, a "must." Below are his thoughts on the first two films. More will come over the days to follow. You can view the entire Opens Roads schedule by clicking here and then clicking on the individual films for more information and/or on the particular screening time in order to procure tickets.

Ferzan Ozpetek is one of my favorite filmmakers, with a resume full of fine films, most of which deal with subjects and themes close to my own mind and heart -- from the intersection of art and life to sexuality, passion and love (often GLBT-related) -- so the opportunity to see anything new from this fellow is not to be missed. His latest, NAPLES IN VEILS (Napoli velata), seems to me a kind of culmination of all that's important to Signore Ozpetek, brought to life with the kind of beauty, passion and art that seems near-extraordinary, even for the likes of him. (The filmmaker is shown below, center, with the two gorgeous stars of his new film: Giovanna Mezzogiorno (right) and Alessandro Borghi (left).

Ozpetek's movies are usually eye-poppingly beautiful to view, and Naples in Veils is no exception -- except that it is exceptionally so. The director and his cinematographer (Gian Filippo Corticelli) give us the architecture (exterior, interior), the sea, the penthouses, basements, highways and byways of Naples as we've never seen them. The movie is such a visual treat, in fact, that if it were merely a travelog, I'd probably have been thrilled.

Yet the tale it tells is even more unusual. As written by Ozpetek, along with Gianni Romoli and Valia Santella, Naples in Veils begins with the murder of a husband by his wife, with their young daughter a witness to the result. We move to that daughter, now grown into Ms Mezzogiorno, attending a very bizarre "Nativity Scene as performance art" (above). At this event, staged, I believe, in the very apartment in which that murder took place, our heroine meets a young man (Signore Borghi) and is soon trysting in the hottest sex scene Ozpetek has yet filmed. Our couple spends a passionate (and quite versatile) night together night and arranges to meet the following day at the museum.

From there, the movie turns into a major mystery -- not simply of what, why and how something awful has happened but even more about the mysteries of character, identity, and the why and how of who we come to love. It seems to me that all of Ozpetek's major concerns are mirrored here: passionate love vs the stable, caring variety; the place and meaning of art to our lives; and even the very act of storytelling itself (the filmmaker borrows a page out of Paul Haggis' wondrous Third Person). And all of this is given to us wrapped in the most spectacularly beautiful packaging.

I'd try to stop myself from overpraising this film, but I don't think that is even possible. Yes, Naples in Veils is all over the place, yet every place it ventures is worth the trip. The movie -- in Italian with English subtitles and running 113 minutes -- screens at Open Roads  this Saturday June 2 at 8:30pm, and next Thursday, June 7, at 2:30 pm. Click here for more information and tickets.

It always sad to reach the end of a filmmaking career, particularly when that career has encompassed so many interesting and worthwhile films (and not just the usual suspects: The Night of the Shooting Stars and Padre Padrone) such as Allonsanfan, Good Morning Babylon and especially the more recent Caesar Must Die. With the death this past April of Vittorio Taviani, pictured below, right, with his brother Paolo, the duo's final film is now upon us.

I only wish RAINBOW: A PRIVATE AFFAIR had proven a better good-bye. God knows, the movie is lovely to look at, with crack cinematography by Simone Zampagni and sets and costumes so redolent of the movie's time frame (World War II Italy). Trouble is, these lustrous and nostalgic visuals (as below) call so much attention to themselves, they often overwhelm the movie's story, told in very fractured fashion by the filmmakers, who themselves adapted to the screen the novel by Beppe Fenoglio about Italian partisans in WWII.

The story has to do with a young partisan, played by the usually excellent Luca Marinelli (at right, below and at bottom), who, here, seem mostly in some sort of daze, on the run from Mussolini's Black Shirts, as he keeps flashing back to various memories of a love triangle between himself, his best friend Giorgio (Lorenzo Richelmy of Netflix's Marco Polo, dancing above, right) and their would-be girlfriend Fulvia (played by Valentina Bellè, above, left, and at bottom, center).

Simultaneously, our sort-of hero travels through the mist and over hill and valley -- first looking for Giorgio, and then after the latter has been captured by the Black Shirts, trying to find and capture a Black Shirt to trade for Giorgio's release. On some level the plot here makes little sense realistically, but the Tavianis seem to have imagined it to be a kind of fantasy anyway, so perhaps that doesn't matter much. The past, in all its pristine beauty, resonates most. The present, in all its degradation, violence and torture, registers as more of a dream.

If so, it's a dream that isn't nearly as strong as it might be. I am glad to have seen the film, but it will not remain in my memory as one of the brothers' best. Rainbow: A Private Affair (dumb title. the addition of "Rainbow" to the original Italian title is just silly, even if the song Over the Rainbow figures as part of the nostalgic past), in Italian with English subtitles and running 84 minutes, screens twice at Opens Roads: Friday, June 1, at 2pm and Monday, June 4, at 6:30pm. Click here for more info or to purchase tickets.

There'll be more to come on Open Roads over the following few days.
Stay tuned...