Sunday, September 30, 2018

NUMBER ONE FAN: DVDebut for Jeanne Herry's dark/funny/oddly real study of obsession

In NUMBER ONE FAN (Elle l'adore), her first full-length film, French writer/directer (sometimes actress, too) Jeanne Herry offers a very interesting and different look at obsession: that of a middle-aged woman fan's adoration of her "hero," a super-popular singer who is equally obsessed with his own career and reputation. What makes the film so unusual is Ms Herry's approach -- which is not from any of the usual angles we might expect.

The filmmaker (shown below) refuses to turn this into a comedy or a tragedy or even the
kind of mystery/police procedural we often see. And yet, as the movie moves along, it becomes, without seeming to even try, all of the above. And it does so while remaining, moment to moment, utterly real without ever resorting to any of the usual "movie" techniques (super-snappy editing and/or pounding music to ramp up the suspense).

Instead things stay relatively quiet and calm, even as they grow increasingly bizarre. This is an unusual "technique," to say the least, but in the end it pays off rather well.

In the starring roles, Ms Herry is fortunate to have two fine (and terrifically appropriate) actors: Sandrine Kiberlain (shown above) and Laurent Lafitte. Ms Kiberlain has always excelled (in literally every role she appears), especially when she plays the oddball outsider, as here. She captures that peculiar obsessive quality that fans bring to their adoration, which allows them to concentrate on their idol to the diminution of all else in their lives -- from their children to their employment.

M. Lafitte (above and below) brings his gorgeous face and physique to the fore, as a top-grade performer so used to the "entitled" spotlight that, when an accident happens that would have any remotely "normal" person calling for an ambulance and/or the police, instead reacts only in his celebrity "career protection" mode. On one level this is beyond crazy; one another, it is simply standard practice for the narcissistic celeb.

How events pile up and go quietly to shit is also somehow expected. But the manner in which Ms Herry handles it all is certainly not. One one level the movie becomes an oddball police procedural involving a pair of romantically involved cops (Pascal Demolon and Olivia Côte, below, respectively, left and right), one of whom is, as her lover describes it, a nymphomaniac. This provides not only some very weird-but-understandable plot points, but a chance for the two actors (below) to strut their stuff, believably and enjoyably.

How the movie winds up (and down) is low-key but effective, turning much of what we've seen on its head. Holding it all together is Ms Kiberlain, who has one scene toward the finale in which she is under questioning in the police station -- and allowing her character to give the performance of her life -- that should offer enormous evidence, were any still needed, of what a supremely expert actress she is.

From Distrib Films US and Icarus Films Home Video, the DVD hits the street this Tuesday, October 2 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A six-film round-up of some classy Spanish cinema -- available via Netflix streaming

Spanish-language cinema, especially that from Spain itself, is increasingly well-represented by Netflix. Currently there are a dozen good movies available to view, and probably twice (maybe thrice) that number of smart, enjoyable television series, as well. Herewith: a quick round-up of half a dozen of the better films.

Manuel Martín Cuenca's THE MOTIVE, which he directed and co-adapted from the novel by Javier Cercas, has won a pile of deserved awards in its homeland and elsewhere. It's a dark, ironic comedy about the need to create -- even amongst folk who have no real talent for this -- especially one middle-aged fellow (the wonderful Javier Gutiérrez, shown at left) taking a creative writing course (Antonio de la Torre, below, left, plays his teacher) who wants desperately to write a great novel because his wife (María León, below, right) has just published a popular best-seller.

How he goes about this is alternately hilarious and horrible, involving especially his new neighbors (once he has moved out on his wife) and what he imagines is the "right" way to create. You won't know just where this film is going (until the very end) but you should have no trouble sticking with it -- so astute, funny and often remarkable are the visuals, dialog and performances. Movies like this one come along rarely, so while The Motive remains available on Netflix, pounce!

The crime thriller, PERDIDA, hits just about every typical situation and plot point from the last decade or so of mystery movies and television series, from mobsters, murders and disappearances to, yes, sex  trafficking. Yet thanks to smart pacing, decent direction (Alejandro Montiel), a very nicely woven story that involves past, present and a cold case that one particular female officer refuses to let die -- and to some strikingly beautiful cinematography and composition -- the movie is a nonstop pleasure to view.

The cast in peppered with a wealth of attractive, talented performancer, with the the leading role played by Luisana Lopilato (above), an Argentine actress (the movie's a co-production of Argentina and Spain and was filmed in the gorgeous/harsh Patagonia region of South America). Perdida translates to English as "lost," and just about everyone and everything in this dark and unsettling movie ends up that way.

A very odd mix of the mythic, majestic and monotonous, THE INVISIBLE GUARDIAN is another murder mystery involving a serial killer set in Basque country, featuring a female police inspector (Marta Etura) called in to track the killer in a community that doubles as her home town. The movie, directed by Fernando González Molina, is yet another that is often so beautiful to watch, as it ambles along, that some viewers (TrustMovies, for one) won't mind the longueurs.

The film is full of dark family matters (you'll meet maybe the most wretched movie mother of all time), the awful past and not-so-hot present, as events bubble up and begin to coalesce. The supporting cast is aces, with the impressive Elvia Mínguez (above) especially good as our heroine's older, nastier sister. I do wish the filmmaker has been better able to balance the disparate elements with a much less heavy hand. The movie often clunks along, with that title character always hovering rather tiresomely in the background (and sometimes the foreground). Still, The Invisible Guardian provides at least enough occasional fun and dark beauty to be worth a watch by those who enjoy mysteries set in fairly exotic locales.

Much, much better is the second film with the word "invisible" in its title, THE INVISIBLE GUEST, which is yet another murder mystery -- but it's an exceptionally elegant one. The film, directed and co-written by Oriol Paulo (The Body, Julia's Eyes) is full of twists and turns as our protagonist, played by the sexy, smoldering Mario Casas (see The Skin of the Wolf, below) struggles to free himself from being railroaded into a murder rap. Aided and/or blocked by other major characters, including his lover (another terrific turn by Bárbara Lennie, below, left) and a high-powered, uber-intelligent lawyer (the unforgettable Ana Wagener), our boy struggles but gamely soldiers on.

This movie may be every bit as manipulative as was The Body, but here, because the film is all about manipulation, the twists and turns seem not only appropriate but enormous fun. Performances are excellent, and so is the cinematography, locations, and just about all else. And the ending, unlike so many would-be mysteries, proves incredibly satisfying, too.

Everything from reincarnation to numerology, murder, parenting, the otherworldly and so much more join forces in THE WARNING, the very odd mix of the mysterious and sentimental from director Daniel Calparsoro.

Because its star, Raúl Arévalo (shown at left), is one of my favorite Spanish actors, I'll see anything in which he stars, and this film was certainly not difficult to sit through. By turns thrilling, shocking, moving and very weird, it manages to build quite a head of steam before reaching its maybe-not-so-effective finale.

Taking place in very different time periods that seem to be united via location and a murder that occurs there periodically, the movie bites off more than it can conveniently chew. Yet the provoking puzzle it puts forth should pull you in nicely and keep you interested and alert throughout. One of the veins the movie skillfully mines is that of parents who try to help their children overcome fears by forcing the kids to face these head on. Easier said than sometimes done, it turns out. The Warning may not be a great film, but it is an effective "grabber."

Mario Casas (of The Invisible Guest) scores again via his compelling and low-key performance in THE SKIN OF THE WOLF, an historical mostly-three-character mini-epic about a hunter who lives alone in the woods and "buys" a woman to keep him company and provide sex and whatever else she is able. As written and directed by Samu Fuentes, this first film is impressive for its gorgeous cinema-tography/wilderness locations, as well as for the performances of Casas and the actors who play the two different women he procures (Ruth Diaz and Irene Escolar).

Overall the film offers very little dialog, as our protagonist is mostly a grunt-and-fuck fellow, so we must make do with simply watching him and his partners "behave." They do this well, it must be said, but eventually the lack of communication begins to take its toll. There is indeed a plot, as such, and some mystery, even a climax. But how well you'll last out the proceedings -- even given the great beauty larded with immense hardship these characters must endure -- will probably depend on just how immersed you become in the difficult daily life on display. In its way, the movie becomes as much of an endurance test for the audience as this life must be to those living it.

All the above films -- and a number of others from Spain -- are available now via Netflix streaming.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Blu-ray debut for a cult "classic" from the 1970s: Ted Post/Abe Polsky's THE BABY

Is THE BABY -- the 1973 shocker/horror/ slasher/chiller genre-movie written by Abe Polsky and directed by Ted Post just released on Blu-ray via Arrow Video -- some kind of camp classic? Or is it one of those movies so bad that it's good? Or simply so bad that it's awful? Or maybe just groundbreaking enough to sneak into the "classic" category? Turns out that The Baby proves pretty much all of the above. Just when you decide it is one thing, damned if it doesn't turn into another. And then another.

Overall, TrustMovies would have to say that The Baby is worth the time of viewers who love genre movies, particularly those that rather strain (if not full-out break) the "naughty" barrier. According to what we learn from the interviews in the Special Features section of this full-packed disc, the movie is more the work of writer Polsky than of director Post (shown at left) -- who, according to the Special Features section of this packed disc, had been brought in to class up the proceedings a bit and to add a little humor to the movie's dark mix. (During this same year of 1973, the director would also have two major films released: The Harrad Experiment and one of the "Dirty Harry" oeuvre, Magnum Force.)

The Baby's cast, too, is a cut above the usual for the horror genre: Anjanette Comer (above) and Ruth Roman (below) play, respectively the protagonist and antagonist, and both do a good job in roles the characterization of which rely as much on acting talent and charisma as any depth of writing.

The plot has it that an overly-caring social worker (played by Ms Comer) sets her sights the case of the "baby" of the title, a grown young man who is still in diapers and baby clothes and never seems to have progressed in intelligence or motor skills beyond the infant stage. His mother (Ms Roman) and sisters seems happy, eager maybe, to make sure he remains this way. They get a nice monthly stipend from the state to take care of the boy.

Baby is played by the young actor who used the name of David Manzy (aka David Mooney), and who is indelible enough in the role that you could imagine no casting director would ever take a chance on him in any other kind of role after this film. (Look what happened to the versatile, hugely talented and award-winning Anthony Perkins, once he had made his mark in Psycho.)

The plot, as well as the pacing, goes up and down, back and forth, as the movie moves oddly along and we are treated to some very weird, maybe even taboo delights, the best of which involves a babysitter (Erin O'Reilly, above) and a little unplanned breast-feeding.

We move on to a kidnapping, slashings and murders, and a surprise ending that's a hoot and a half. (That's Marianna Hill, above, who plays one of Baby's two nasty sisters.) By movie's end, you'll probably be satisfied that you watched this very oddball genre piece. Certainly, nothing quite compares to it.

As usual with Arrow Video, the Blu-ray transfer is excellent -- crisp, bright and colorful -- and the disc comes complete with a number of interesting bonus features: new audio commentary from Travis Crawford, archival audio interviews with Ted Post and David Manzy, a recent interview with Marianna Hill (in which she talks about director Post as though he were Ingmar Bergman or Roberto Rossellini), and a very interesting appreciation of The Baby by film professor Rebekah McKendry.

Distributed in the USA via MVD Visual and running 84 minutes, the movie hit the street this past Tuesday, September 25, on Blu-ray only -- for purchase and (I hope, somewhere, somehow) rental.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mary Elizabeth Winstead knocks it out of the park in Eva Vives' bracing ALL ABOUT NINA

Let's face it: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of the great-yet-underrated talents of our time. And regarding this compelling and versatile actress, the usual "rule" -- oh, well, she hasn't starred in a successful blockbuster yet, so that's why she's not on the map -- doesn't quire apply. She did indeed star in 10 Cloverfield Lane, which came reasonably close to blockbuster status. No matter. She'll be remembered for the "little" movies she made in which her performances proved indelible: from Smashed to Faults (probably the most underseen, close-to-perfect film of the millenium) to Alex of Venice and now ALL ABOUT NINA. A certain Mrs Maisel, not to mention Hannah Gadsby, may be the female comedians of the moment, but once you've met Nina Geld, you will have to make room for one more.

In this new film, written and directed by Eva Vives (shown at right), Ms Winstead, in the poster above and photo below, plays an ought-to-be-very-successful-but-isn't comedian who keeps shooting herself in the foot. (Or, as Nina's own fouled-mouth feminist repertoire might put it, "in the cunt.")

Our girl is about as self-destructive as they come: missing appointments, screwing up auditions, and ruining every possible decent relationship with a male that comes her way, while always opting for the very worst of the bunch.

But, oh, boy, she is funny -- as the bits and pieces of her act that we hear throughout the film will prove. Winstead keeps her character's guard up very cleverly, turning her bile on men and women alike, deserved or not. Her take-down early on of a fellow comedian played by Jay Mohr is priceless. When, later in the game, she gives him what he wants, you will note how far she has sunk.

The new man in Nina's life turns out to be played by Common (shown above, left), that actor with the one-word moniker whom I wish would change his name to Uncommon; he's that good. Seen only last week in the not-so-hot A Happening of Monumental Proportions (which his performance made a bit better), here his good work helps a very smart film take flight. How his character (Rafe) and Nina meet, bond and try to work things out proves both believable and sweetly compelling.

In the supporting cast are some other fine actors -- Camryn Manheim (above) as Nina's mom, Chace Crawford (below, left) as her sleazy ex, and Kate del Castillo as the very new-age Southern Californian woman with who Nina's agent (Angelique Cabral) has set up to care for her client while she is visiting the west coast. Everyone comes through just fine, but it is, top-to-bottom, Nina's movie. And Ms Winstead could hardly be better.

She has always been the kind of actress able to offer a huge range without the viewer even realizing the distance that has been travelled. She is not simply "realistic"; she inhabits each moment, each thought and feeling, so fully and completely that there no room to cavil. Oh, sure: We may wonder why she does some of the stuff she does. But we never question the fact that she has done it.

Ms Vives doesn't always or fully "explain" the why. There's no need. Winstead's performance proves good enough to easily carry us and the film along. I do wish that the movie's resolution did not seem quite so pat, however. Not that Vives ties it all up with a bright red bow. But it will take more than merely this to turn Nina into a better functioning adult professional. Still, the film is often wonderful. And Winstead is simply great -- as always. Few actresses ever get a role this good, let alone do it full justice, as here.

From The Orchard and running a swift 97 minutes, All About Nina opens this Friday, September 28, in New York (at the AMC Empire 25 and Regal Union Square 14) and in Los Angeles (at the AMC Sunset 5 and AMC Burbank Town Center 8). Elsewhere. Hope so. But as The Orchard has not seen fit to even list the film on its web site as of today, who knows?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Home Video debut for Jean-François Richet's remake of Claude Berri's ONE WILD MOMENT

When Claude Berri's 1977 film Un moment d'égarement was first released in the USA (not until 1981), as TrustMovies recalls, it was not met with much enthusiasm from our cultural guardians. Its theme of inter-generational sex (as well as caring and connection) between an older man and the daughter of his best friend proved too much for our hypocritical taboos.

Now Jean-François Richet (of the Mesrine moviesBlood Father) and the remake of Assault on Precinct 13) has remade the original (which he's dedicated to M. Berri) with an updated version, also titled in English ONE WILD MOMENT. The good news: It is very well done indeed.

M. Richet, shown at left, has cast his movie extremely well, using two of France's most popular and talented actors in the "dad" roles -- Vincent Cassel and François Cluzet (shown above and below, with M. Cluzet on the right) -- and with two young, beautiful and talented new actresses in the daughter roles. Although the director (who also co-adapted, with Lisa Azuelos, Berri's original screenplay) more often makes crime movies, he clearly has a knack for comedy, as well. Richet's blending of the humorous and the heartfelt with that age-old generation gap and a nice touch of feminism is quite expert. Further, as funny and crazy as things get, he never allows them to reach the point of unreal.

One Wild Moment stays grounded at all times, thanks hugely to the performances of Cassel -- who proves lighter on his feet here than I have seen him in years; the actor is always good, but he's usually given darker roles to play -- and Cluzet, who gets the more unpleasant of the two dad roles and runs with it to completion.

The two daughters are played by newcomer Lola Le Lann (above) and Alice Isaaz (below). Both are excellent, though Ms Le Lann all but steals the entire film, thanks to her great beauty and a talent that is not far behind. She's a knockout in all respects, controlling the movie -- pretty much as she does Cassel's character -- with ease, grace, beauty, charm and a whole lot of willpower.

Because the sex is initiated via the girl and not the dad (who tries his best to resist, again and again), the carnality goes down a lot easier. And it would be hypocritical to imagine that young girls do not sometimes feel this attraction. Couple that to their usual sense of entitlement (particularly when they are as gorgeous as our heroine here) and you have a recipe for an eventual explosion.

How that explosion happens is brought to fine fruition by Richet and his cast. To his movie's credit, its aftermath is only suggested rather than insisted upon. One Wild Moment is yet another example of why and how the French handle the intricacies of oddball romance and sex better than just about any other culture.

Frem Under the Milky Way and running 105 minutes, the movie makes its U.S. debut via home video tomorrow, Tuesday, September 25, available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Microsoft, Vudu, Comcast, Cox, Charter, Spectrum, RCN and additional VOD platforms. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Emma Thompson, superb as usual, in Richard Eyre and Ian McEwan's THE CHILDREN ACT

If you are looking for a movie full of ideas, excellent performances and situations that will move you and make you think -- without actually forcing you into some preordained box -- THE CHILDREN ACT may be exactly your cup of classy British tea.

As written by Ian McEwan (from his novel) and directed by Richard Eyre, the film probes subjects such as oddball religion beliefs, the law, justice, and most especially, what your responsibility is to someone whose life you have entered and irrevocably changed.

Mr. Eyre (Stage Beauty, Notes on a Scandal), a director of theater, opera, film and television, pictured at right, has had an up-and-down movie career, and this is one of his "ups," encompassing so much so gracefully that you may find yourself thinking about the film as much after viewing as during.

The film's main character is a noteworthy British judge named Fiona Maye, played exceptionally well by Emma Thompson (below), whose workload seem to concentrate most on cases involving children at risk. She soon finds herself embroiled in a case involving a family of Jehovah's Witnesses whose teenage son desperately needs a blood transfusion that the son and his parents all reject for religious reasons.

Simultaneously Judge Maye is going through a bad time in her sexless, emotionless long-term marriage to her University professor husband Jack (a tamped-down but still effective Stanley Tucci, below), who is about to embark upon an extra-marital affair. When the judge decides that she must meet with and question the son regarding his reasons for not agreeing to the blood transfusion, everything suddenly begins to change.

How and why this happens provides the meat of the movie, and, my, is there a wealth to chew on. All of it is held together via Ms Thompson's very strong performance -- which is spot-on moment to moment. The actress takes us through changes minute and major, allowing us to see clearly her character, flaws and all, helping us understand the reasons for each new decision that she must make.

In the pivotal role of the son, Dunkirk actor Fionn Whitehead (above) is even more remarkable here. He captures both the closed-off strength of the religious cult believer and then the strange, sad, buoyant freedom that can come via the release from that brainwashing. A word, too, must be said for the fine Jason Watkins, who plays the judge's aide, a kind, quiet fellow would clearly do anything for his boss yet is treated by her as something approaching the invisible.

What happens in the course of this thoughtful, deeply felt and surprisingly realistic film involves such sudden and life-changing events that even the possibility of these happening to our cast of characters offers more real nourishment that a year's worth of the overdone plots of mainstream soap operas. Viewers who insist on melodrama and cliché may go away unsated, but those who appreciate genuine feeling -- along with characters who struggle with right and wrong and all the stuff in between -- will come away from this film richly rewarded.

From A24 and  running 105 minutes, The Children Act seems to have opened here in South Florida one week prior to its originally scheduled playdate. It hit theaters this past Friday, September 21, at the Movies of Delray and Lake Worth, the Living Room Theaters, and the Tower Theater in Miami. Wherever you live across the country, click here to find the theaters nearest you. If you can[t find a theater close to you, note that the movie is also playing simultaneously via DIRECTV.