Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Flori-duh movie screening strikes again -- this time to Marielle Heller's quietly delightful CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

TrustMovies dearly hopes that, elsewhere around the country, movie theaters are doing a better job of screening their films than happens down here in South Florida with alarming frequency. I would estimate that every four to five times that I go out to a theater, something untoward occurs that must be remedied before the screening can continue. And this happens as often at critics' screenings as it does when I simply pay to attend a film like most other audiences. Either the film is out of focus, or we get visuals and no sound (or sound without visuals) or, as last night, about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?, the movie simply stopped dead in its tracks, due to some problems with its "projection". After a few minutes, it started up again, only to stop a second and (soon after that) a third time -- after which it never finished at all (from what I'm told, at least; my spouse and I beat a retreat after waiting nearly an extra half hour to no result).

Hint to theater owners: If you are worried about further losing your ever decreasing audiences, this is not the way to remedy that.

As written by Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) and Jeff Whitty (Shortbus) and directed by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), shown at right, Can You ever Forgive Me? moves along at just about a perfect pace, as it tells the based-on-life tale of an ex-successful writer, Lee Israel, and how she became an even-better-known "literary forger."

While TrustMovies does not normally cover a film he hasn't finished viewing, since he does not know at this point if and when he'll get the opportunity to finish this one, and because that first and major portion has saw was so very good, it is hard for him to imagine the rest of the film will not follow suit.

Also, if you're a fan of actress Melissa McCarthy (above and below, and there are a lot of these), know that this may be her very best performance ever. She makes Ms Israel a bitch who -- thanks to the abilities of the actress and the filmmakers to instill such humanity into the woman -- wins us over completely.

Ditto Richard E. Grant (below, right), who plays her best (and nearly only) friend, confidant and eventual henchman, an aging gay con-man who is forever down on his luck.

Heller, Holofcener and Whitty do such a remarkable job of both storytelling and character-building that their tale seems to practically tell itself, balancing comedy and drama, with nary a seam ever showing. We so grow to understand the kind of self-imposed prison that Israel's life has become that it is difficult not to root for her, despite her deception.

Because the movie is so "literary" and 20th-Century-based, some knowledge of the likes of Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, Marlene Dietrich, Fanny Brice and others will certainly increase one's enjoyment. Action lovers had best remain at home. I could certainly watch the whole thing again, simply to savor the wonderful performances -- Dolly Wells' (below, left) among these -- and the witty, dry dialog.

When you see the film, I hope you have better luck at the theater than did we. From Fox Searchlight and running 106 minutes -- 20 or so of which  I still hope to see -- the movie opened on the coasts two weeks ago, and has expanded nationwide with each new week. Here in South Florida it opens this Friday, November 2, in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach areas.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Blu-ray/DVD debut for the Jean Cocteau classic, LES PARENTS TERRIBLES

First released in 1948, LES PARENTS TERRIBLES (aka The Storm Within) celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. This is -- here in the USA, at least -- a lesser-known film by French icon Jean Cocteau, and the reasons for this will become readily apparent upon viewing.

In the course of his 74-year life, Cocteau achieved great success as a poet, writer, designer, playwright, fine artist and filmmaker (Beauty and the Beast, Orpheus and Blood of a Poet among others), and Les Parents Terribles was adapted by Cocteau from his own very successful play of the same name. But instead of "opening out" the tale in its transition to film (as so many plays-become-movies insist upon doing), the author kept its theatrical roots stage-bound and ever apparent.

In fact, Cocteau, shown at left, makes witty good fun of his film's theatricality in a manner that is both sophisticated and charming. His dialog and mise en scène may bring to mind both Sacha Guitry and Oscar Wilde.

The plot involves a French bourgeois family in which narcissism, hypocrisy, sacrifice and basic human need gone awry keep coming into amusing conflict, as the family's overgrown child/man son begins to spread his wings, causing his mom, dad and aunt to have to re-jigger their own.

In the pivotal role of that son, appears Cocteau's favorite actor and long-time lover, Jean Marais (above), very probably France's most beautiful male actor until Alain Delon hit the screen. M. Marais was a well-seasoned 35 at the time of the shooting, so playing a naive 22-year-old is a bit of a stretch. It shows. (The actor overdoes the naivete and youthful enthusiasm.) Yet Marais is so gorgeous of face and body that many viewers won't mind in the least.

His new love is played by a popular actress of the time, Josette Day (above), and she is indeed lovely. But the performers who really grease the wheels here are that older generation: mother (played by Yvonne de Bray, below, right),

father (Marcel André, below, left), and especially Aunt Léo, given a lip-smackingly great performance by Gabrielle Dorziat, shown below, center. It is Léo, finally, who becomes the real pivotal character here, as well as the one we root for most, as it is she who has given up the most.

Most interesting of all may be how little Cocteau uses his usual and plenteous bag of film tricks. Instead he simply gives us a plethora of smart dialog, offered up by his trio of veteran performers. It is more than enough.

An oddball cross between a boulevard comedy and a knife to the heart of conventional morality (even -- nay, especially -- that of the sophisticated French variety), Les Parents Terribles deserves its "classic" status, though it may take some time and effort for the film to again reach those heights, audience-wise.

Among the new Blu-ray/DVD's bonus features is a lovely five-minute introduction by Columbia University professor and ex-FSLC stalwart, Richard Peña, plus a nice interview with assistant director Claude Pinoteau, a few "camera tests," and the film's trailers -- the original and that of the recent theatrical re-release.

From the Cohen Film Collection, the new Blu-ray and DVD of Les Parents Terribles hit the street this coming Tuesday, October 30 -- for purchase and (I hope) rental. The film will also simultaneously be available for digital streaming.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Felix Van Groeningen's BEAUTIFUL BOY tracks an extended family beset by a son's addiction

During the end credits for BEAUTIFUL BOY -- the new film from Felix Van Groeningen (who earlier gave us the much better and Oscar-nominated Broken Circle Breakdown) -- we are treated to some information and statistics about the horrendous addiction crisis going on today.

For some, this may serve to underscore the film's importance. For TrustMovies, this mostly seemed like old news -- as did the overlong and tiresome movie that preceded it. This end-title sequence also dropped some information about one of the film's two main characters that seems, given what we've just witnessed, at best surprising and at worst maybe a tad unbelievable.

The Flemish filmmaker, shown at left, who directed the movie, as well as co-wrote it (with Luke Davies, based on the memoirs of the father, David Sheff, and son, Nic Sheff, depicted in the film), draws the expected good performances from stars Steve Carell (dad) and Timothée Chalamet (son), as well as from the entire supporting cast.

The problem lies in the screenplay itself and the many incidents it chooses to offer us. Almost all of these are dour, if not downright negative, as though this poor family has had nothing but depression and mild-to-major trauma to contend with for most of its lifetime. Surely there must have been a few "good times" now and then? If so, you'd never suspect it here. Yes, the filmmaker tosses in a few very brief flashbacks, but they register as little more than standard cliché. After awhile, you begin to wonder why you would choose to spend much time with these dreary folk. That question never goes away for the nearly two-hour running time.

Dad (Carell, above) is a highly-regarded freelance journalist (we observe his credits in everything from The New York Times to Rolling Stone), who is clearly too controlling and pushy, though otherwise a pretty decent guy. Carell lets us see him, flaws and all. Son (Chalamet, below) comes through as pleasant, pretty, and a bit unsure of himself -- the last of which is only compounded by Dad's behavior.

The absent mom is played by the fine Amy Ryan (below), while the more easy-going and caring stepmom is essayed by the also fine Maura Tierney, with a drug-addled sort-of girlfriend brought to life/death by Kaitlyn Dever. The plot, such as it is, goes from on drugs to off them, on and off and on until the movie simply ends. While this is believable, of course, it is also tiring. And something we've seen time and again -- in movies (from The Man With the Golden Arm onward) and very likely at this point in reality.

Nic's degradation (below) seems real enough, as does dad David's reactions to it (occasionally the dialog does sound a bit too much like, "This is an important lesson. Are you listening?"). Otherwise, it's all OK. But little more. One's reaction to a tale like this really ought to be something other than Been there, done that.

From Amazon Studios, the movie -- after opening on both coasts a week or two back -- hits South Florida one week earlier than originally scheduled: today, Friday, October 26. Look for it at the AMC Aventura 24, Regal's South Beach 18 the Cinepolis Grove 15, The Landmark at Merrick Park 7, the Cinemark Palace 20, and Regal's Shadowood 16. Wherever you live around the country, click here (and then click on Get Tickets on the task bar atop the screen) to find the theaters nearest you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

LONDON FIELDS: Matthew Cullen and Roberta Hanley's adaptation of Martin Amis' novel. Or is it producer Chris Hanley's cut?

At this point in her career, the very beautiful actress Amber Heard is probably best known for her seven-year, off-and-on relationship with the notorious Johnny Depp, as well as for playing gorgeous femme fatales, and for getting involved with movies that end up in lawsuit-land, sometimes remaining in limbo for years -- as did All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and now the finally-released-theatrically-after-three-years-on-the-shelf, LONDON FIELDS.

The film-- it premiered a few years back at the Toronto film festival -- was not well-received, resulting in a nasty disagreement between director (Matthew Cullen) and producer (Chris Hanley). TrustMovies is not quite sure of what that result actually is. He also does not know if the streaming link for the film he recently viewed (which was nearly one quarter-hour shorter than the running time listed for the film on the IMDB, the soundtrack of which was not quite in sync with the lip-movements for about half of the film) was the Toronto cut or something quite else.

Not having read the original novel by Martin Amis, I can't compare the film to it. On its own merits (or demerits), this version seems to have a very "writerly" screenplay/dialog (by Roberta Hanley, the producer's wife, courtesy, I am guessing, of Mr. Amis), some of which is rather fun. It is classily photographed (Guillermo Navarro), and its plot -- about a beautiful young woman juggling at least three different lovers who is said to be clairvoyant and thus foresees her own death -- is certainly serviceable.

Yet the result, as seen here, is too heavy-handed by half, and even unnecessarily repetitive. In the leading role, the gorgeous Ms Heard is an eyeful and fun to view, whether in her "demise" dress (two photos above) or her skivvies (just above) or playing a bespectacled caseworker (below). She makes a believable femme fatale in all her several forms.

As the satellite fellows who circle round her, Billy Bob Thornton (below, left) proves the most interesting, playing the writer who intends to use her story as entryway to a best-selling novel.

Jim Sturgess (below, right) and Theo James (below, left) complete the trio. Mr. Sturgess, who more often plays sensitive types, here appears in uber-crass mode, and unfortunately the screenplay does not allow him to be be anything more. Mr. James is, as usual, handsome, hot and hunky, even if his character is also a bit too one-note. (The character does have a very amusing, if scary, young son.)

The ubiquitous Mr. Depp (below) makes what I am told is an uncredited appearance in what is a quite large supporting role, while Jason Issacs appears briefly as a famous writer, the London flat of whom Billy Bob has traded for his own Hell's Kitchen apartment. (Do stay around for the final sequence in which we note, via a comic literary television interview, the lengths to which a writer will go to achieve a new success.) There is some satire here, and some of it is fairly funny, though I feel certain that the novel, as is usually the case, is a good deal better.

All told, the film is pretty (sometime very), campy (probably unintentionally) and rather dumb fun. Whoever gets the credit for what we see here, I have experienced a lot worse times at the movies and, I wager, so will you.

From GVN Releasing and running 105 minutes, London Fields opens theatrically nationwide this Friday. October 26. In New York City it plays the AMC Empire 25, and in the Los Angeles area it opens all over the place, including Laemmles' Monica Film Center and the Cinemark 18 & HD in L.A. proper. Here in South Florida look for it at AMC's Aventura 24, Sunset Place 24, Indian River 24 and CityPlace 20, and at the Cinepolis Grove 14.  To see all currently playdates, cities and theaters around the country, click here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

SILENCIO: Lorena Villarreal's sci-fi fantasy proves heavy on manipulation and coincidence

Most science-fiction/fantasy combos have a certain manufactured quality, with some -- if not a lot of -- coincidence tossed into their mix. SILENCIO, a new Mexico/USA co-production written and directed by Lorena Villarreal, offers perhaps more than the normal amount of both. Ms Villarreal's movie takes a few "facts" about a desert area in Mexico -- famous for the myth that no radio signals can be received there and where, in actuality, a U.S. rocket launch crashed back in 1970, releasing in the process a small amount of radioactive cobalt 57 -- and runs with them.

The filmmaker, shown at left, initially seems to cleverly weave this scenario into her tale of of a meteorite with magical powers, radioactive time travel, a family tragedy, and a handsome young fellow who sees and hears ghosts who just happens to be a patient of the pretty young therapist who is the sole survivor of that family tragedy. And that's but the beginning of all the manipulation and coincidence on hand. And an awful lots of cliché, too -- like the young child in peril who of course has asthma. (Note to filmmakers: Can you please give this one a rest?!)

So, yes: What we have here is very coincidental and also sentimental (especially the musical score by Leoncio Lara), but overall relatively fun viewing, thanks to the plotting, cinematography (Mateo Londono), and decent performances, even under some rather trying circumstances. The latter is shown us during a would-be climax/action scene in which our seeming villain manages to shoot and kill two characters while our heroine, who has a shotgun pointed right at him, just can't seen to pull the trigger.

Yes, there's a good reason for this, but the scene is staged so poorly that you may not really care much. Still, the actors -- who include John Nobel (above, right) as the grandfather/scientist, Rupert Graves (below) as a little-too-helpful friend, as Melina Matthews (two photos above) as our feisty heroine -- do what they can.  The movie also include the best performance from a very large tortoise that I have seen in many a year.

The pacing is very up and down, with the post-climax, last-quarter-hour awfully slow. That said, the actual finale may draw a surprise tear from your eye, as it did from mine. The movie may finally remind you of an after-school special crossed with an endangered family film crossed with a time-travel scenario crossed with a shoot-'e-in-the-head blood bath. Yeah, it's weird. But it almost works. Sort of.

From Tulip Pictures and Barraca Producciones, Silencio opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, October 26. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Rupert Everett's a triple threat as writer/director/star of THE HAPPY PRINCE

The final years of Oscar Wilde, with a few flashbacks to happier times, are shown us in THE HAPPY PRINCE, a new film from Rupert Everett -- who not only wrote and directed but stars in it, too, as Oscar himself. He makes a wonderful Wilde, as good as Robert Morley, Peter Finch and even Stephen Fry, who, up to now, had been TrustMovies' favorite Oscar. Best of all, the movie that surrounds the character is very good indeed -- written and directed with finesse and subtlety, allowing us to see pieces of this man that come together to form quite a whole.

Mr. Everett, above and below, allows us to see not only the dissipated older Wilde (who can still belt out a nifty music hall ditty and/or enjoy pleasuring a much younger man) but also gives us glimpses of the successful playwright and bon vivant whose work set audiences laughing so merrily for so long.

The Happy Prince is both the title of the movie and of a story (first published in 1888) that Wilde wrote for children (he was a master at this, just as he was at theater), and Everett threads this sad, sweet tale throughout his movie, as Wilde is first seen reading it to his own children and later to one of the young boys he has befriended and cared for who loves to hear his stories.

Woven into this are Wilde's friendships with Reggie Turner (Colin Firth, above) and Robbie Ross (a wonderful Edwin Thomas, below, left), both of whom were great and good friends to Wilde, helping him through some of the darkest times.

And of course there is "Bosie," Oscar's most beloved friend and lover, Lord Alfred Douglas (Colin Morgan, below), portrayed here, as usual, as the young twit/twat most responsible for Oscar's downfall. How you'll wish that Wilde had a bit more sense in choosing a soulmate, but, as ever, the heart has its reasons....

Also on hand are an underused Emily Watson (below) as Wilde's wife) and the great Tom Wilkinson as a kindly and delightful priest, called upon toward the end. But it is, first to last, Everett's show, and he imbues our Oscar with such life and vitality, such understanding his own flaws and foibles, that Wilde indeed lives anew.

The film's funniest scenes involves an orgy into which crashes the mother of the main attraction (Antonio Spagnuolo, below, left), certain that her married son is having an affair with another woman. When no other female can be found -- instead just a bevy of near-naked men -- she leaves, abashed and contrite about her unfounded suspicions.

The movie moves from a rainy, bleak Paris to sunny Italy and back. Though quite obviously a labor of love on the part of the filmmaker, Everett has made it with enough intelligence and discipline to pass muster in every respect. The pacing proves near-perfect, while the many small, impressionistic incidents slowly build and combine to offer up a marvelous, productive, sad, beautiful and far-too-short life. I think Wilde himself would have loved this film.

From Sony Pictures Classics and running 105 minutes, The Happy Prince, after opening on both coasts and elsewhere, hits South Florida this coming Friday, October 26. In the Miami areas, look for it at the AMC Aventura 24 and the Regal South Beach 18; in Fort Lauderdale at the Classic Gateway, and in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters and the Regal Shadowood 16; and at the Movies of Delray and Lake Worth. Wherever you live around the country, to find a theater near you, click here and then click on GET TICKETS in the task bar.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The hot new Netflix series from Spain, entitled ELITE, proves sensational twice over

There are two major meanings of the word "sensational," and both easily fit the new Spanish series streaming now on Netflix. The first refers to something causing great public interest and excitement (synonyms: shocking, scandalous, appalling), the second tackles the quality of that thing: very impressive, gorgeous, stunning, captivating, and so forth. ELITE, which is set in an uber-high-end prep school in Spain in which the students, hormone-fueled to the max, engage in all kinds of sex -- straight, gay, and even threesomes -- proves sensational on both fronts.

The product of a pair of well-known Spanish writers/producers (shown above, respectively right and left), Darío Madrona (Vive cantando) and Carlos Montero (The Time in Between), Elite will be quite enough for some viewers interested in watching a group of gorgeous young actors, clothed and unclothed, getting it on. That we come to know and understand these kids so well and begins to care about them more and more as the series progresses is due to the exceptional writing and the crack performances given by every last cast member.

In conception and execution, Elite proves exactly that. The plot kicks into action as a trio of new students -- a Muslim girl and two boys of clearly working-class status, above (above, left to right: Itzan Escamilla, Mina El Hammani, and Miguel Herrán) -- are introduced into this high school made up of the sons and daughters of Spain's exclusive and entitled one per cent (two of which are shown below: Ester Expósito and Álvaro Rico)  Divisions are immediately drawn -- by the end of the first episode we know that a murder has been committed -- and the following seven episodes are devoted to blurring those divisions.

We soon find that we are seeing some good in the kids we initially despised, while finding fault with those we liked and most rooted for. In short, the characters here are rounded; they grow and they change. Some more than others, and some very little (especially the nasty, rich bitch below, played to near-perfection by Danna Paola), and their movements back and forth as they learn who they are, along with who their friends really are (or aren't) makes the series grow ever richer.

The Spanish, bless 'em, may be the best purveyors of melodrama in the world (followed perhaps by the South Koreans). Grand Hotel is of course the sterling example for our millennium, with so many other series like La casa de papel (known as Money Heist on Netflix) not far behind. Is this creative ability built into the Spanish DNA? One does have to wonder because -- so clever is the plotting, so fine the casting and characterizations, and so spectacular the production design and visuals -- little else compares.

The series is said to have raised eyebrows and hackles in its native Spain, ostensibly for its sexuality. (That's Arón Piper , left, with newcomer Omar Ayuso, above.) But I do wonder if, on a deeper level, it's the cynical "take" on the children of the one per cent, and their powerful, mostly despicable parents holding onto to power by any means necessary, that has riled the powers-that-be even more.

The attitude here is mostly progressive, including even the sex-and-sin portions, which are plentiful. Though we know the murder victim early on (this is nothing like Big Little Lies), the identity of the murderer remains hidden until the finale. (That's Miguel Bernardeau, above right, as the most entitled and pushy of the elite crew.)

Any justice, however, will have to be meted out during Elite's second season. There will surely be one, as the first season has been a major hit, with its popularity only growing as more countries discover its pleasures. Above, right, is Jaime Lorente, who plays the pivotal older brother of one of the new students. Both he and Senor Herrán (standing, below, center, and at bottom, left), are also stars of the Money Heist series. The two are clearly talented and versatile performers, with Herrán quite the little scene-stealer.

Probably the most problemed and difficult of all these characters is our sort-of heroine, Marina, played by María Pedraza, below, whose behavior and decisions will have you rooting for her one minute and wanting to smack her the next. Ms Pedraza was also in Money Heist, playing the pivotal character of Alison Parker. She is so different here as to be very nearly unrecognizable, yet in her own strange way, she holds the series' first season together.

You can stream Elite now, here in the USA and elsewhere via Netflix. Do give it a try. TrustMovies' blood pressure is still raised a bit, thanks to all the provocative goings-on.