Friday, August 31, 2018

BOARDING SCHOOL: As usual with a Boaz Yakin film, much more than meets the eye

For TrustMovies, a new Boaz Yakin film is always a joyful occasion. (Even if the movies themselves are not always so joyful.)  From Fresh through A Price Above Rubies, and on to Death in Love, Safe and now his latest genre offering, BOARDING SCHOOL, Yakin continues to give us visually commanding movies with themes that resonate and reverberate tellingly in ways both expected and not so.

With each new film he has written and directed, Yakin has tackled a new genre -- effectively making it his own in the process -- from coming-of-age, Jewish orthodox feminism, and the Holocaust to chase thrillers, dog stories and now, with his latest, the horror film.

The movie-maker (shown at right) is also consistently interested in "the other"; his characters, for many different reasons, don't easily fit it to the "normal" world.

In Boarding School, the protagonist is a teenager named Jacob, played with remarkable precision and depth by young actor Luke Prael (shown on poster, above, and below, right), who is also to be seen in the current indie hit Eighth Grade, who has very odd nightmares stemming from even odder relatives, particularly a grandmother who seems to have had an awful and bizarre Holocaust experience.

When Jacob's behavior grows worse, his surprisingly kindly step-father (David Aaron Baker, center above) and his much less kindly mother (Samantha Mathis, at left, above) send him away to the titular boarding school, where -- he is told -- "clarity" will be achieved in just a couple of weeks. If only.

The other students proves quite the assortment of strange characters, and Mr. Yakin sees to it that each one of them is brought to fine and sympathetic life (and sometimes, death). These young kids are never simply creepy or used for the standard, oddball special effects, and the young actors who play them are remarkable indeed.

The school's headmaster and his wife are portrayed with great zest and skill by Will Patton (above) and Tammy Blanchard (below), and by the time we have uncovered what is really going on here, the movie takes on about as dark a palette as you will have seen in some time.

Visually, Mr. Yakin proves as skilled as ever, giving us some simply gorgeous interior vistas (the boarding school itself is a visual knockout) and a number of set pieces as original as they are creepily fraught with buried meaning.

The talented Prael spends maybe the entire last third of the film dressed in drag, which he pulls off quite beautifully, even as his character grows in intelligence and strength. His is an impressive performance, and the film that surrounds him is even more so. Yakin has given us the most unusual, effective and memorable film in the horror genre so far this year. (And also one of the better, if darker, coming-of-age movies.)

From Momentum Pictures and running a surprisingly lengthy but consistently compelling 111 minutes, Boarding School opens today in theaters (in Los Angeles, see it at the Arena Cinelounge Sunset) and simultaneously on VOD and digital HD.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

HOSTILE: Mathieu Turi's creature-feature-and-would-be-love-story hits home video market

Hmmm... Is there something antithetic about the use of the word hostile, or any variation of it, in your movie's title? Last year we had Hostiles, one of the year's worst, which had the theatrical audience with whom I saw the film actually cat-calling to the screen. Now this year comes HOSTILE, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi love story combo that is the worst film I've had to sit thru so far in 2018.  Bypassing theaters, where it would surely have sunk without a trace (except for angry patrons probably demanding their money back), it arrives on home video this coming Tuesday, September 4.

Written and directed by a fellow named Mathieu Turi (shown at left and with whose work I was not formerly acquainted), the movie offers us a seemingly lone survivor (below) in a post-apocalyptic desert setting, whom we eventually discover is a woman. She appears to be out stalking... what? Aliens, maybe. Clearly, there is something very bad going on out there.

Soon, an utterly unbelievable moment occurs involving a seemingly treasured photograph and the wind. This leads to the sudden crash of her vehicle, after which our heroine is injured and stranded, and spends the rest of the film reminiscing about her lost love (which we see in flashback after flashback after flashback) and/or fighting off intruders.

This is a dreadful idea, and the movie that contains it proves even worse. Those flashbacks are mostly awful -- the first one (a meet-cute in an art gallery, shown below) isn't half bad -- cliche-ridden and ultra-obvious. Further, they drain much of the suspense from the present-day goings-on.

The love of our heroine's life turns out to be none other than Grégory Fitoussi (above and below, left), that tall-dark-and-handsome hunk from French TV's Spiral series. M. Fitoussi provides the most professional performance, though even he cannot rise above the so-so-to-not-so script.

Leading lady Brittany Ashworth (above and below) is also faced with the problem of surmounting a bad idea, badly done. In the present-day mode, she mostly suffers and threatens, rather tiresomely; the flashbacks are even worse.

To the writer/director's credit, he does not spell out every last detail but allows us to piece together what has happened to the former world. Unfortunately, what we do put together doesn't seen all that plausible: a "gas" accident has turned much of the population into these weirdo creatures? Oh, well. At least they're not zombies. (Well, not exactly...)

The surprise ending will probably have given itself away (to some of you, at least) earlier on, and instead of being at all moving will seem merely ridiculous. Reading the end credit "thank-yous" from the director, however, may make you kind of sad. He seems genuinely grateful to so many people. If only the result were a better film.

From 4DIGITAL MEDIA (but good luck trying to find the film on the company's web site) and running 83 minutes, Hostile hits the street this coming Tuesday, September 4 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Home video release for Eisha Marjara's transgender parenting rom-com, VENUS

The sudden announcement to a movie character -- generally a rom-com hero -- that he has an offspring he never knew existed is not exactly a new or novel plot device. When that character is a male in the midst of transgendering to a female, however, this probably constitutes the breaking of some new ground. So it is in the Canadian movie VENUS, which arrives via writer/director Eisha Marjara, shown below.

The first question you're likely to be confronted with by the film is this: Can a movie be simultaneously pretty enjoyable yet not very good? 

Venus answers this in a mostly positive vein. It's glossy, almost totally unbelievable, yet well-acted enough to just about slide by your (probably) many objections. This is due in large part of the performance of the young actor Jamie Mayers (below), who plays Ralph, the 14-year-old boy who has only just discovered his birth-parent dad.

As written, this character is not only too good to be true, but to be believed, as well. Yet Mr. Mayers is so charming, full of life and good will, that he manages to seduce you into coming along on this somewhat bumpy ride.

The young performer uses his wide-eyed face, adept body and high spirits to charm the viewer as much as he does the film's other characters,

who include his dad (the oddly cast actor, Debargo Sanyal, above and below, proves not particularly convincing),

his grandparents (the much better Gordon Warnecke and Zena Darawalla, below, left and right respectively),

and dad's lover (the very hot Pierre-Yves Cardinal , shown below, left). In fact, the two characters who seems least likely to fall for Ralph's charms are his mom (Amber Goldfarb, in the penultimate photo below) and his stepdad. This makes some sense, as these two are the ones who must deal with the kid, day in and day out.

The movie is both lively and bouncy, as it skirts along the surface of just about every thing and every theme it touches. Its refusal to go any deeper than the minimum requirements of GLBT rom-and-dram-coms, is best shown at the point at which Ralph's dad says to his son, "I think we need to have a talk." And then, instead of letting us see and hear that very important talk, the filmmaker simply cuts to some time afterward, depriving us of a scene in which both character and situation might have deepened.

But depth is certainly not what Ms Marjara is going for. Instead, we get the usual -- which is, as usual, nicely entertaining and often quite well-acted. If you'll settle for that, you will probably have an enjoyable time with Venus.

From Wolfe Video, the movie -- in English and running 95 minutes -- hits the street on DVD and VOD this coming Tuesday, September 4, for purchase and (I would hope) rental.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Glenn Close baits "Oscar" in the Runge, Anderson and Wolitzer melodrama, THE WIFE

She's been nominated for an Oscar six times already (she should have won for the too-little-seen Albert Nobbs in 2012), but this may just be Glenn Close's year. Her newest film, THE WIFE, is the kind of feel-good and perfectly timed-to-the-Me-Too-Movement arthouse/mainstream event that often sets Academy members' hearts aflutter. It is also a pretty good melodrama. And Ms Close is, as ever, sterling. Even if the movie that surrounds her proves mostly silverplate. And though its believability quotient is on the low end, The Wife still offers quite a bit of old-fashioned fun.

As written by the accomplished Jane Anderson (from a novel by Meg Wolitzer) and directed by Swedish filmmaker Björn Runge (shown at left), the movie opens as "the husband" (Jonathan Pryce) receives word that, yes, he is to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Off hubby and spouse soon go to Sweden for the acceptance of the honor, but along the way and while there, the movie keeps flashing back to those "early years" in which the husband's writing career took off, aided by his wife's devotion -- and then some.

The "real" story, which is uncovered in the course of this 100-minutes movie, is more complicated than a mere telling of one writer's rise to fame, but as told here, it is also awfully pat and rather contrived. Thanks to the elegant and layered performance Ms Close (above) provides, along with that of her her daughter's -- actress Annie Starke (below), who plays the wife in her younger days -- the character of this wife proves rich, complicated and compelling enough to make the movie worthwhile.

Because the screenplay must also include a "plot" by a semi-sleazy journalist (nicely handled by Christian Slater, below) to unmask the truth,

as well as a father/son estrangement due, among other things, to jealousy and self-revilement, the movie simply cannot probe very deeply into anything. (Max Irons at left, below, handles the son's role with the proper anger and hurt.)

Still, its surface is glossy and well-acted enough to carry things along serviceably and entertainingly. And Ms Close is a constant delight to watch. If she gets that nomination, it'll certainly be deserved, though my vote this year and at this point would go to Kelly McDonald in Puzzle -- a better and just-as-feminist movie with a deeper and more profound performance anchoring it.

Meanwhile, The Wife, from Sony Pictures Classics, after debuting in a number of major cities a few weeks back, opens here in South Florida this Friday, August 31 -- at the Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood and Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton; at the Cinemark Boynton Beach; in the Miami area at The Landmark Merrick Park, The Tower Theater, and Regal South Beach 18; at the Cinemark Paradise 24 in Davie; at the Movies of Delray and Lake Worth; in Fort Lauderdale in the Classic Gateway; and at Cobb's Downtown at the Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

WOMEN OF THE WEST: new Anthology Film Archives series features 18 westerns with female protagonists

The usual suspects are all gathered here: Joan Crawford in Nick Ray's Johnny Guitar, Jean Arthur in Wesley Ruggles' Arizona, and especially Barbara Stanwyck (above), who stars in in three films in this series: Anthony Mann's The Furies, Sam Fuller's Forty Guns and Allan Dwan's Cattle Queen of Montana. These are all from the glory days of the American western, the 1940s and 50s. But among the surprise delights of this new series -- WOMEN OF THE WEST, presented by Anthology Film Archives in New York City and beginning this Friday, August 31, through Sunday, September 16 -- are some unexpected near-gems.

Look for Gordon Parks, Jr.'s Thomasine & Bushrod (above: a sort-of Blacksploitation western from 1974), Maggie Greenwald's The Ballad of Little Joe (a cross-dressing surprise from 1993) and a must for any Lina Wertmuller "completists" out there, The Belle Starr Story, a Spaghetti western from 1968 that Wertmuller co-wrote, co-directed (under the pseudonym of Nathan Wich) and then took over, once her co-writer/director Piero Cristofani left the film.

All these and more are part of the series which TrustMovies imagines will be catnip for feminists, western fans and just about anybody who appreciates oddball movies -- some of them very good indeed.

Having already seen most of the films included here, I'll concentrate on the Wertmuller, which was spanking new to me and is not very good at all. Nor is the print I viewed via DVD screener, said to be provided by The Swedish Film Institute, which is utterly bleached of color and looks like it was transferred from a much-copied VHS tape back in the day.

From the outset almost everything about this silly movie seems rudimentary, as though everyone involved -- from those in front to the camera to those behind it -- were  thinking, "God, let's just get this over with!"

Consequently, it is difficult to determine or even imagine what drew Ms Wertmuller (shown at right) to the project, other than the opportunity to simply be able to direct a movie. Any movie. And, as this occurred very early in her career, it must have provided some important on-the-job training.

What the movie does have is a couple of Italian
"stars" of some note from the 1960s, especially the beautiful, slightly-freckle-faced Elsa Martinelli (shown below) in the leading role as that American woman outlaw icon known as Belle Starr.

Also onboard is the darkly handsome hunk, George Eastman (below), as another outlaw named Larry Blackie, who proves especially good at undressing, rolling his eyes and laughing a lot. The two of them prove to be one of those on again/off again romances in which the lovers keep vying for control over each other, with neither willing to give in (this would become a kind of hallmark of much of Wertmuller's work).

With a screenplay that's as obvious, silly, clunky and pseudo-poetic as it gets, the movie gives us Belle's back story and history -- which includes a lecherous and evil uncle, an Indian maiden rescued from lynching, and a friend-and-maybe-eventual lover (played by Robert Woods, below),

all finally leading up to the major diamond heist that provides the movie's most compelling section -- it's final half hour in which things heat up and get a little interesting for a change.

We get a bit of safe-cracking, the robbery itself, and then -- via a Pinkerton agent (Bruno Corazzari, below) who proves both the movie's major villain, as well as a bizarre bit of actual conscience at film's end -- a nasty, sexy torture scene complete with homoerotic overtones between said agent and our semi-hero Blackie (above).

The Belle Starr Story will take you back to a time when men were men, women women, and those Italian spaghetti westerns were already getting way too long in the tooth. And it'll make you eager to view again some of Ms Wertmuller's later films, while offering the chance to see an example of how this talented director, movie-wise at least, first cut her own teeth.

Her film will play during AFA's Women of the West series on Monday, September 10, at 6:45pm; on Wednesday, September 12, at 9pm and on Friday, September 14 at 9pm.  To view the entire AFA series schedule, simply click here.          

Saturday, August 25, 2018

On Netflix streaming, Camille Bordes-Resnais and Alexis Lecaye's very dark, then-and-now revenge series, THE CHALET

When I first read the description of the French Netflix series, THE CHALET (which, fortunately, the streaming service has since rewritten), it sounded like a fairly typical, Agatha Christie-level, And Then There Were None rip-off. Instead, it is a much darker, deeper exploration of the kind of appalling greed and us-versus-them mentality that can rob people of any trace of humanity.

This is an extremely well-executed example of a story -- puzzling, mysterious, suspenseful and exciting -- of the what's-going-on and why? variety that involves two generations and spans time periods that range over twenty years.

The build is slow, but steadily fascinating, as a family from the big city comes to a tiny village set in a gorgeous mountain location. The father (Manuel Blanc, above) is a writer working on his second novel, with his wife, young son and even younger daughter (below) accompanying him.

The village is insular to a fault, and the villagers, some of whom are seen below, do not appreciate these intruders, who hope to relocate here. Tourists are one thing -- they help pay the bills -- but something permanent? That is quite another matter.

That's the past, taking place in 1997. The present, 2017, sees a kind of "reunion" happening, as the children of the past (below and further below), now grown into young adulthood, decide to spend a long weekend together.

As we soon learn, revenge is on someone's mind. But for what, exactly? All your questions are eventually answered, and very well, and the answers unveil some of the darkest, ugliest impulses and actions of which we humans seems capable.

In the large ensemble cast, there are at least a dozen major players, with each actor cast extremely well cast and delivering a first-rate performance. One of the great strengths of this series is how much we come to like and understand so many of these characters. Consequently, when we lose them, this loss genuinely registers. (This is nothing like the usual, pick-off-the teenagers-one-by-one slasher movie.)

The single character we feel the least for -- and for good reason -- is the grown-up (sort of) Sebastian, played with undiminished ferocity and cluelessness by the excellent Nicolas Gob, above.

Most of the actors here seemed new to me, save Thierry Godard (above), who has starred in the popular French series Spiral and A French Village. But I hope to see all of them again, as well as view whatever new work Camille Bordes-Resnais, the director/co-writer (with Alexis Lecaye), comes up with.

Meanwhile, The Chalet -- lasting six episodes, each one around 52 minutes -- should prove a must for fans of sad, unsettling mystery/revenge tales. It streams now via Netflix.