Saturday, June 30, 2018

The latest in the Jurassic series is the best yet (though the best still remains a bit "iffy")

The much-vaunted Jurassic Park franchise finally turned tiresome enough, culminating in the 2015 episode that proved so boring that TrustMovies had begun referring to the series as Jurassic Fart: a bunch of dinosaurs running amok amidst a lot of hot air. What a surprise, then, to actually enjoy the latest installment, JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM. This one boasts the usual silliness, coincidence and longueurs that have plagued the series since inception, but it also grows better, more interesting and exciting as it moves along -- which proves pretty much the opposite of the rest of the sequels, which were increasingly paint-by-numbers productions.

The movie's not great by any means, but the dinosaurs are a bit more fun and inventive this time around (see below), while the story, though full of already overused ideas --  Let's weaponize 'em! -- manages an environmental resonance missing from the earlier films, which helps moves the viewer regarding the fate of some of these creatures.

With the gifted J.A. Bayona (shown at right) as director (he did The Impossible, A Monster Calls and episodes of the great Penny Dreadful cable series), the movie is never less than watchable. Along with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, that scary-but-sweet dinosaur, "Blue," returns, too, and proves every bit as helpful as ever.

The supporting cast is competent and well-chosen -- Rafe Spall and Toby Jones are standouts -- and production-wise, the movie generally sparkles, even at its dark and muddiest. This may be a time-waster for dino-lovers, but at least that time, in the hands of these particular professionals, can be wasted in relative enjoyment.

From Universal and running the requisite two hours and eight minutes, the film is playing just about everywhere. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

Friday, June 29, 2018

A kind of canine Kedi arrives on DVD: Mary Zournazi's doc, DOGS OF DEMOCRACY

Since both the very popular cats-of-Istanbul documentary, Kedi, and the just-now-arriving-on-DVD doc about some Athens canines, DOGS OF DEMOCRACY, were made in 2016, I don't think you can accuse either of any kind of plagiarism. Yet it's very difficult to watch the latter without constantly recalling the former. Kedi is the longer film (by 21 minutes) and the better one -- more graceful and professional -- too. But writer/director/ cinematographer Mary Zournazi's 57-minute movie is still very much worth seeing.

Ms Zournazi (shown at left) is the Australian daughter of a pair of Grecian ex-pats who only recently made her first trip to that "cradle of democracy," which was at the time (and still is) going through an economic crisis which has put that country's 99 per cent into a state of what appears to be an ongoing and maybe permanent kind of "austerity" which has thrown a huge amount of its population into actual poverty (or even deeper poverty). And while the general public has done everything from continually protesting this austerity and had even elected a government that tried to do something about this, it has all been to little avail. The uber-sleazbag politicians who brought Greece to its knees seem to have gone unpunished, and, as usual in our current western would-be "democracies," it is the public who pays for it all -- over and over and over again.

While Kedi was barely political (I recall a single anti-Erdoğan slogan appearing as graffiti; anything more and its filmmaker might not still be among the living), Dogs of Democracy definitely is. Like the cats of Kedi, these dogs live on the streets and are cared for only via the good will of the humans who help them.

Yet they seem to have taken their place as canine helpers of the many protestors who regularly take to the streets. The dogs have endured tear gas attacks, just as have the protestors, and have had their already short life span made even shorter.

We hear from one of the people who care for the dogs -- himself a homeless person -- that a stray dog's life expectancy is around three years, due to the probability of being hit by an automobile or poisoned. As in Kedi, we meet a number of the folk (above and below) who make it a point to care for these animals, and we're also given a little history of Greece and its dogs, in particular one famous canine who regularly visited a POW camp during World War II and which, more than any of the Germans in charge of the camp, attested to the humanity of the prisoners there.

The movie is a pretty interesting -- but also pretty uneven -- mix of interviews, visuals, poetry, prose, dogs and history (and, finally, even a single cat!). For animal lovers of any sort, I should think it will be a slam dunk, given how bracing and often moving is its mix of animals helping humans and humans helping animals always turns out to be.

Among the various folk we meet, the most famous face probably belongs to Yanis Varoufakis, the economist/academic/politician who served for six months as Greece's Minister of Finance back in 2015 -- though he, like some of the others interviewed here, are identified only by their first name. This may be cozy but it's not particularly professional. The movie could have used a bit more rigor.

From EPF Media and released via MVD Entertainment Group, the documentary hit the street earlier this month and is available now for purchase or (I would hope) rental.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

SHAKESPEARE WALLAH: early Merchant-Ivory collaboration gets 2K Blu-ray/DVD restoration

Made in 1965 and released in U.S. theaters the following year, SHAKESPEARE WALLAH, though not the first collaboration between producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory, was the film that put the two on critics' and the art film circuit map. TrustMovies was too young and untutored to nearly appreciate the movie back then (he found it dull and weird), and he knew little about Britain's long-term "adventure" in India.

Seen now, more than a half-century later, the movie shimmers and glows with typical Merchant-Ivory (the pair is shown above in a 1983 photo by Lord Snowden) subdued wit and a crisp and glorious transfer of its black-and-white cinematography in this new restoration via the increasingly important Cohen Film Collection.

The film follows an itinerant group composed of a British family (father/mother/daughter) and their native helpers (you'd have to call them lackeys, as they barely get paid for their work), as it travels about the provinces of India putting on scenes from (or entire but heavily cut-down) plays by Shakespeare. If the actors are not great, neither are they bad. They do their art as best they can under increasingly difficult circumstances.

Ditto the actors who play these actors -- Geoffrey Kendal (dad, above, center left), Laura Liddell (mom, above, center) and Felicity Kendal (daughter, above, center right) -- a real family, the parents of which actually toured India for decades doing exactly this, while their daughter, Felicity, who was born in India, went on to make quite an important career for herself in British film and television.

When their barely-making-it automobile breaks down between stops, they are helped and befriended by a local man (a young and so sexy Shashi Kapoor, above) who immediately sets his sites on the daughter.

Trouble is, this fellow is also the boyfriend of a top Bollywood star of the day, played to perfection by Madhur Jaffrey (above, right). Complications ensue, and sure enough, they're handled with the usual flair for irony, subtle wit and entertainment provided by the Merchant/Ivory combo and their oft-times writing collaborator, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Along the way, we're treated to scenes that show how change is always with us, then as now -- and, as usual, just as difficult to accept. While politics don't seem to matter much here, economics certainly do, as do the usual themes of class and race where India and Britain are concerned.

Overall  though, this remains a mostly light-hearted, romantic entertainment touched with a melancholy that grows ever more pronounced as the film moves along. In the years since Shakespeare Wallah arrived, Mr. Ivory has proven enormously assured in his skills (he won an Oscar this past year for his adapted screenplay to Call Me By Your Name). Of the filmmakers and major actors on view only Ivory, Ms Jaffrey and Ms Kendall are still with us. Thankfully, their movie is, too.

From the Cohen Film Collection and running two hours and two minutes, this newly restored treat arrived on DVD and Blu-ray this past April -- for purchase and/or rental.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

All about an amazing personality and career: Lisa Immordino Vreeland's LOVE, CECIL

Back in 2012, the granddaughter-in-law of the fashion maven Diana VreelandLisa Immordino Vreeland, co-directed a documentary about the more famous Vreeland's life and work. It was a resounding success in many ways (even, to some extent, at the box-office), and in 2015, the younger Vreeland followed this up with another well-received documentary about Peggy Guggenheim. Now, Ms Vreeland has turned her attention to one of the fashion and photography icons of the mid-20th-Century, Cecil Beaton. The result -- LOVE, CECIL -- is yet another documentary home run.

Sure, Cecil Beaton was, as one of the interviewees admits rather far along in the film, a social-climbing snob. But he was also a supremely talented photographer, writer and designer, as so much of the work we see in this rapturously beautiful documentary thoroughly proves. And Ms Vreeland (shown at left), along with her editor, Bernadine Colish, and cinematographer, Shane Sigler, using a wealth of archival photographic treasures and a running narrative taken from Beaton's own witty and delightful diaries (read superbly by Rupert Everett), interspersed with amusing, telling and intelligent interviews with a wide range of prominent people, whips all this into an informative, entertaining and, yes, brittle (just as was Mr. Beaton) froth that allows this 98-minute movie to speed along quite nicely.

Gay and barely closeted (at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offense in Britain), Beaton (shown above and below) managed to avoid any consequences from this (save perhaps his inability to latch on to any even vaguely permanent love relationship).

What got him most in trouble, stalling and nearly ending his career, turns out to be an anti-Semitic slur he buried, hardly able to be noticed, into some published art work for Conde Nast. Why this even happened remains a mystery (it seems to have been so to him, as well), as he was not noticeably anti-Semitic -- though god knows, plenty of his famous friends certainly were: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, for instance, along with other Hitler worshipers in the extended "royal family."

How and why he survived this event and quite literally "worked" his way out of it provides one of the more interesting episodes in a documentary chock full of them. His initial success in the USA and New York City enabled him to return to England with enough fame to build on and garner even more. His photographic work during World War II (for which he seems less known now) helped him regain his stature, as did his photography of the Royal Family and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

As we learn what happens to his brother, father and mother (his two sisters disappear from the narrative early on, never to return) weight and sadness are added to Beaton's tale and life. Yet the man himself remains witty, charming and cleverly self-deprecating throughout.

Thanks to Vreeland's smart pacing and to Beaton's rather incredible life, nearly everything we see and hear proves a kind of "highlight." What a career this man had! By the time we get to the section in which an interviewer asks him to name some of the folk he does not like -- and why -- his bitchy, funny answers scorch the screen. (His take-down of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, in particular, seems absolutely on the nose.)

Among the interviewees, artist David Hockney's reminiscences prove especially fond and thoughtful. As old age approaches we meet Beaton's much-loved white cat and see the man himself struggling against the dying of the light. Once that cat has departed, it is but a matter of a very short time until Beaton does, too.

Vreeland's documentary is like a trip back to a time long gone -- one that perhaps is not so much missed (it's the mid-20th-Century, after all). Compared to our current times, however, and what looks like a world approaching corporate/wealthy Fascism leading a citizenry made up of far too much right-wing, racist scum, those days seem a paradise lost.

From Zeitgeist Films, Love, Cecil opens this Friday, June 29, in New York City at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and in Los Angeles on July 20 at the Landmark NuArt. Overall, the film is scheduled to play some 25 cities across the country, including, here in South Florida, the Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton on July 27 and the Coral Gables Art Cinema in Miami on August 10. Click here (then scroll down) to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Emotionally on point as are few films you'll have seen: Ofir Raul Graizer's THE CAKEMAKER

In the hands of a less gifted filmmaker, a story such as the one told in THE CAKEMAKER might defy credibility. Fortunately writer/director Ofir Raul Graizer has the ability to tell his story and tell it with such perfect attention to and belief in the emotions engendered in and by each character that not only do we buy into the tale, it becomes, by its conclusion, one of the most surprising and moving of its generation. Little wonder that, at the end, when one character looks up into the sky, for a moment we believe that these people may just have -- somehow and against great odds -- found their slice of heaven.

Mr. Graizer, shown at right, has made a movie about, of all things, love. Deep, abiding love. Love that is so strong that, as felt by our protagonist -- a quiet, remarkably passive young man named Thomas who does the baking for a little cafe in Berlin -- it leads him into an adventure and then into an entire life dedicated to that love, which he is only slowly, fully and finally beginning to understand.

The role of Thomas is played by a young German actor named Tim Kalkhof (shown below and further below), and he fills it so fully and memorably that you are not likely to forget him. Handsome, sweet and just slightly chubby, he looks quite like the mythical Cupid brought suddenly to adulthood.

Kalkhof's performance is so strikingly original -- he pulls us in via his quietude and his willingness to be led -- that only slowly do we learn bits and pieces of his history that will help fill what seems a personality almost too empty to be believed. Yet by virtue of an unerring understanding of emotional resonance -- how much to show, and when and why -- filmmaker Graizer and his star bring to life a story and a character who seems as real as he is timeless.

Thanks to his sweetness, his beautiful appearance and his evidently supreme baking skills, Thomas has attracted the eye and taste buds of an Israeli man (married and father to a young son) who come to Germany on business several times a year. The two fall into an affair that suddenly stops when Thomas no longer hears from his long-distance partner.

When he learns what has happened, Thomas' passivity turns active enough to get him to Israel, where he looks up the man's wife (played by French actress Sarah Adler, above) and slowly wends his way into her life and that of her son and her brother, Moti (Zohar Shtrauss, below, left), a fundamentalist Israeli who first resents and then tries to accept the intrusion of this odd German man.

Also on hand, later in the film, is the mother of Thomas' lover, played with such reticence and power by Sandra Sade (below) that, with very little dialog, Ms Sade manages to convey not simply immense feeling but an ability to help us understand past history without the use of the kind of clunky expositionery dialog on which most directors would have to rely. Again, Mr. Graizer manages to guide us along via the smallest yet most vital changes in emotional tone.

Nowhere is this use of visuals and emotional power more apparent than in a fully-clothed sex scene that is simultaneously about as hot as you could want and yet so full of trepidation, wonderment and surprise that you follow each moment in near breathless anticipation.

The filmmaker's theme is a vital and important one: finding your place in the world and making something of it while simultaneously helping others to do the same. This is something we don't often find in current films. And certainly not handled this well. Emotionally on the-the-mark at every moment regarding every character, this precious ability of Mr. Graizer allows a very unusual tale to live fully and take flight.

From Strand Releasing, running 105 minutes, in German, Hebrew and quite a bit of English, too -- with English subtitles as needed -- The Cakemaker opens this Friday, June 29, in New York City at the Quad Cinema and Landmark 57 West and in Los Angeles at Laemmles Royal, Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7. Over the weeks and months to come, the film will hit cities all across the country. Here in South Florida, look for it to arrive on July 13 in the Miami area at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, in Fort Lauderdale in the Classic Gateway, in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters, and at the Movies and Delray and Lake Worth.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A commendable, eye-and-mind-opening documentary bio-pic, Tiffany Bartok's LARGER THAN LIFE: THE KEVYN AUCOIN STORY

Considering how woeful are so many of the our current "fashion" documentaries from Manolo Blahnik's to Vivienne Westwood's -- who'd have thought that TrustMovies would suddenly be singing the praises of a bio-pic documentary about, of all things, a make-up artist? That's part of why he loves taking a chance on a new movie experience: You just never know.

As directed with finesse and welcome intuition by Tiffany Bartok (shown below), her documentary, LARGER THAN LIFE: THE KEVYN AUCOIN STORY, makes excellent

use of archival footage and interviews with the late Mr. Aucoin's family, friends, lovers, and an array of fashion and celebrity icons about as starry as you are likely to have seen together in any single film.

Even better, these icons actually say some intelligent, thoughtful, sometimes quite moving things about their Kevyn -- a fellow from Louisiana who was adopted very young to a kind and loving family, and who went looking, in his adult years, and was able to actually find his birth parents, only to lose them again because of their Christian fundamentalist attitude against gays and other outsiders. ("Don't judge us and then make Jesus the reason," he tells his birth mother in a letter.)

That Kevyn (above, left) was charismatic is clear, even in the archival photos and the info we get about his youth. "Different" and pretty clearly gay from the outset, he was bullied in school but survived and somehow prospered enough until he finally left Louisiana for points north and the career in fashion and specifically make-up that he had long desired.

Bartok's movie barrels along at a fast clip, full of information and smart interviews that fill in many of the gaps in Kevyn's life, loves and burgeoning career. What is particularly compelling about this bio-doc is how it manages to bring us a full-bodied, warts-and-all view of Aucoin -- without ever resorting to the gossipy, inherently shallow techniques of so many fashion docs. There is also none of that "Let's lavish on the praise" idiocy that ruins so many bio-pics. What we hear about Aucoin seems indeed praiseworthy, but what we see and hear also seems commensurate with his achievements.

It is clear that the interviewees here -- which include Isaac Mizrahi (shown above) and Kate Moss (two photos up) -- clearly loved Kevyn, for all his faults (having to control everything was but one of them) and this love comes through so strongly that the viewer is apt to feel it very nearly as much as those being interviewed.

Aucoin's great talent at and love for what he did best -- making others look their best (that's Naomi Campbell, above)-- also comes through. He set fashion trends in make-up for good, rather than for their junky worst, which would arrive with the "grunge" era and stick around far too long after that.

Other icons we see and hear from here include the likes of Cher (above, who appears to have been responsible for diagnosing a vital health problem of Kevyn's that had remained undetected for far too long), Isabella Rossellini (below), Tori Amos (who reminds us that, although Kevyn never let any of them down, they in the fashion industry definitely let him down in the end), and especially Paulina Porizkova (shown at bottom), who offers a number of most interesting observations about Aucoin's life and work.

Even when he cast off one lover for another, Kevyn did not leave the old one flat. (Often, it seems, his paramour served a second purpose -- business manager, say -- as well as love/sex interest.)

Never for a single one of its 102-minute running time is the documentary flat or uninteresting. Kevyn's personality, along with those of all the interviewees, carry it along with bounce and flair. The movie allows even those of us who don't follow or care about fashion to engage with it via the life and career, troubles, trauma and successes of this unusual and unusually gifted man.

Distributed via The Orchard, Larger than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story opens this Friday, June 29, in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center and then hits the Los Angeles area at various Laemmle theaters on Friday, July 20 and Monday, July 23. It will be available everywhere via digital and VOD beginning Tuesday, July 31.