Friday, December 14, 2018

Big-time Oscar bait: THE FAVOURITE, Yorgos Lanthimos' most entertaining and accessible film so far, opens in South Florida

We've already seen as number of films this year with a terrific lead performance from a woman -- Kelly MacDonald in Puzzle, Julianne Moore in Bel Canto, Glenn Close in The Wife, to name a few of the best -- but here comes a movie that sports three major, spot-on and Oscar-worthy performances from its leading actresses. Plus, it proves such a fascinating, oddball entertainment for so many reasons that TrustMovies predicts it will be land Oscar nominations in quite a few categories.

THE FAVOURITE (British spelling, folks) is the fifth film from Greek movie-maker Yorgos Lanthimos (shown at right) to garner a theatrical release here in the USA, and it is by light years his most accessible and entertaining. Splendidly cast, top to bottom, it is also his first to concentrate so fully on women. The result has so far proven both mainstream-arthouse box-office and critical gold.

As usual with Lanthimos' work, the actual time frame is somewhat bizarre. If it seems like the present (Dogtooth or The Killing of Sacred Deer), the human behavior on view is from elsewhere -- in the case of the latter film, somewhere in the land of myth. In The Lobster, both time frame and behavior are completely elsewhere. (Alps comes closest to medling period and behavior into a cogent whole.)

The Favourite pulls a reverse twist: Set in England of the early 1700s, during the reign of Anne, Queen of Great Britain, the period details of the sets and costumes look both sumptuous and correct. Yet the dialog -- classy, witty and very smart -- is thoroughly of today, and it is delivered by the entire cast with such panache that it works with nary a hitch. (The screenplay comes via Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis.)

Note, too, the scene of dancing in the court (above) that begins as rather your standard sort before morphing into something closer to the kind of jitterbug/swing moves that were seen during World War II. Yet, instead of jarring us, thanks to the skill of Lanthimos, his cast and crew, this odd duality seems to somehow achieve precisely the correct tone.

The tale told is of Queen Anne (a brilliant job by Olivia Colman, above, of Broadchurch, Tyrannosaur and The Night Manager), a woman of unsteady mind, physical health and emotional state,

and the vying of two of her underlings (Rachel Weisz, above, and Emma Stone, below) for the place at the Queen's side as her favourite.

A war against France is currently raging, which provides some political backdrop and a chance for the lesser males in the story -- particularly the warring politicians Nicholas Hoult (below, center) and James Smith to strut their marginal stuff. Don't mistake my meaning here: The actors are just fine, but their roles are clearly subsidiary to those of the much stronger women.

Who holds the upper hand changes and then changes again, and the feint-and-parry antics of this crew proves consistently surprising and lots of dark fun. (Dark is ever-present in Lanthimos' world, as it seems to be in Greece.)

Interestingly, the most completely sympathetic character in the film is that of Masham, the decent young man played by Joe Alwyn (above, left) who simply has the hots for Ms Stone's character and is used as a disposable stepping stone throughout.

Lanthimos keeps a pretty firm hand and eye on things, but occasionally he can't resist a too-cute camera angle (as two photos up) or the use of something I believe is called a fish-eye lens, above, to produce an odd visual that calls attention to itself but says nothing. Still, this is overall a small price to pay for enjoying such good, dark fun.

History, bunnies (lots of them), poisoned tea and a runaway horse all come into play and help make this two hour movie pretty much fly by. That, and the work of its three very fine actresses, each of whom consistently commands your attention and respect, even sometimes convincing you that her character might just be the caring, humane person she so wants her Queen to admire.

But since this is a warts-and-all (maybe warts-and-little-else) affair in which power must be held so tightly, these strong, smart and heartless women must ever jockey for that power. The three actresses are a wonder to watch. As Ms Stone's character answers, when asked what side she is on concerning a particular dispute, "I am on my side." Well, aren't we all? And don't we end up in prisons mostly of our own making?

From Fox Searchlight and running 119 minutes, The Favourite, after opening on the coasts and elsewhere around the country, hits South Florida today, and is playing pretty much all over Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach County areas. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Ron Diamond-curated 20TH ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOWS OF SHOWS hits theaters

Based upon the fifteen animated shorts seen in this year's (the 20th) rendition of the annual ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS, the past 12 months or so (since last year's version made its debut) have perhaps not been the most creative or spectacular for the animation industry, particularly when compared to the general excellence of last year's batch.

Not that there is much wrong with this 20th edition: As curated by Ron Diamond, the films -- 15 of 'em which range in length from one minute to 16 -- are enjoyable, sometimes funny, often charming, and even now and then dark and/or moving, and only occasionally shrug-worthy. Too often, though, too many of them rely on the tried, the true and the sentimental. Here, below, is a brief critical description of each film, from the first on the program to the last.

French and running seven minutes, THE GREEN BIRD offers up an oddly humanistic green fowl that tries to protect its lone little egg -- with colorful and amusing results. It may bring to mind those old Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons. But classier.

From the USA and running eight minutes, ONE SMALL STEP tracks a young girl and her helpful dad (or is it grandad?) as she tries to become an astronaut. Full of hope, joy, disappointment, anger and grief, it's pretty but also fairly standard stuff.

TrustMovies once had a friend and co-worker who told him of the epiphany she had when she realized one day that every single thing ever manufactured first had to have been designed. This came to mind while viewing the French short GRANDS CANONS that begins with the drawing of a pencil and then quickly moves on to just about every useful object you can imagine. Driven along by a jazzy and propulsive musical score, this is one of the more creative and unusual of this year's offerings.

In BARRY (from the USA), the theme of everyone's favorite pig movie, Babe, has been distilled down to four minutes of cute and relatively simple animation that goes by so fast it may barely register as more than a blip.

Faster still is SUPER GIRL (also from the USA), a one-minute-long endeavor about a child's hope and dream that is here and then gone before you even know quite what to make of it.

Germany is represented by one of the more unusual of the shorts -- LOVE ME, FEAR ME (seven minutes) -- using some marvelous claymation (in which the clay seems still moist and ever evolving) and some well choreographed dance, first by a man, then a woman, a warrior and a bird. The animation here is not simply interesting; it's alternately sexual, creepy, and very creative.

What the hell is BUSINESS MEETING (from Brazil and running 2 minutes) even about? Maybe the nonsense of Capitalism? The power/ridiculousness of words? Copycatting?  Your guess is as good as mine. This one also features the simplest black-and-white line drawings of all the shorts.

The Netherlands' example, FLOWER FOUND!, offers some very cute animation in which a mouse teams up with a bird, rabbit, pig, stag and owl (and maybe more) to find a missing flower. Moving from cute quest to horrific mistaken identity, this bit of brightly colored animation turns out to be exceedingly dark.

In BULLETS (from the USA and running maybe 90 seconds), a child's voice over some beautifully colored and conceived animation tells us, "Relax, world!" and commands our attention with a message that's short, sweet/sad and quite timely.

Argentina's A TABLE GAME proves another head-scratcher. It may (or may not) be about the idiocy of sports of all kinds, as viewed by the world's population today, and how we give these way too much attention and importance.

Difference and "the other" get a good and very unusual working out in one of the stronger shorts, CARLOTTA'S FACE (Germany, five minutes). How do you manage when you cannot differentiate faces? You'll find out in this fascinating and often darkly beautiful tale.

At twelve minutes, AGE OF SAIL (USA) is the second lengthiest on the current program. It's a kind of ode to a drunken sailor as he ages and sees his life and work upended and replaced. When he rescues an overboard damsel, everything changes. This one is nicely animated and has a strong narrative pull.

The five-minute-long POLARIS (USA) offers polars bears and penguins and involves a young polar bear who has decided to set off on his own and leave family behind. Pretty animation, sure, and sweetly saccharine as all get out.

MY MOON (USA, 9 minutes) gives us some of the more impressionistic animation of this go-round, as it takes us on a romantic tour of our current world and a way maybe around and/or through it via imagination and fantasy. The widescreen anime is different and often quite lovely but finally perhaps a little too sentimental to soar.

The final (and longest: 16 minutes) selection, WEEKENDS, is also the best of the bunch. Set to Erik Satie's music, a mom bids good-bye to her son, as he leaves in the car with his dad. Clearly, the parents are separated or divorced, and the boy is negotiating his way, via reality, fantasy and dreams, through this difficult passage, as first mom, and then dad, gets a new lover. The usual male activities -- violent games and bad eating habits -- are set against mom's more solicitous leanings, and the animation is beautifully conceived and executed to bring all this to alternately jarring, sad and hopeful life. This one manages to avoid the usual sentimental cliches and is all the stronger for it.

With eight out of the 15 shorts coming from the USA, one wonders why more from abroad were not included. Surely, worldwide, there were some better examples than are seen here via a few of the more ordinary American submissions? Nonetheless, this year's compilation is certainly worth viewing, some of them more than once.

The 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows will open in Los Angeles this Thursday, December 13, at Laemmle's Monica Film Center and then at Laemmle's new Glendale on Friday, December 14, and simultaneously in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center. New York City will see it open at the Quad Cinema on Friday,December 28. To view all current and upcoming playdaytes, cities and theaters, simply click here and scroll down. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

An actor films his mom in Gustavo Salmerón's doc, LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE

If you're not hooked by the end of the opening speech/request/tirade by the protagonist of LOTS OF KIDS, A MONKEY AND A CASTLE -- Julita Salmerón, a one-woman whirlwind of narcissism and bravado whom her son, Gustavo Salmerón (one of those "lots of kids" mentioned in the film's title) has profiled in his new documentary -- then perhaps this film will not be for you. Julita's opening foray, all about what to do with her body, once her family believes her to have died, is so bizarre and funny, frightened yet controlling, that TrustMovies was
hooked completely by this ode to one of the more brazen and compelling uber mamas that the movies have so far given us.

Señor Salmerón, pictured at left and above, is one of Julita's six children, all of whom we meet and get to know to some small extent (her husband Antonio proves the figure about whom we learn the second most), in a movie that is made up of the pronouncements and world view of its leading lady -- a hoarder par excellence, of whose hoard we also learn a lot, especially where bones and teeth are concerned.

The Spanish Civil War figures prominently into things, and to the filmmaker's credit, he does not at all try to hide which side Julita and her family (her husband's, too) were on during this landmark and still hugely divisive conflict.

From the look of the movie, filmmaker Salmerón spent a good long time (more than a dozen years, it turns out) filming his mom and family and pouring over a ton of archival photos, along with other objects from Julita's hoard (she's shown above and below, left, with Antonio), each of which seems to spark a new memory and outlet for yet another rant or two.

Julita is a born performer and clearly always has been, and her energy helps carry the movie easily along. You can enjoy her hugely, even as you may find yourself extremely grateful that she is somebody's else's mother and not yours. (Her explanation of how and why she could not really love her children hurts.)

The filmmaker moves back and forth in time, depending on the subject at hand, but you'll have no trouble determining what time frame you're in -- due to Julita's ever aging face and the excess weight she keeps putting on. (Her love affair with food provides one of the funnier and more trenchant threads that her son weaves into his film.)

The doc also sports a menagerie of animals: a pig (above), that titular monkey (below), peacocks, cats, and more. Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle draws its name from what, as a young woman, Julita decided would make her life complete. Well, she certainly had those kids, and though the monkey didn't last long, she even got that castle, too. Despite her protestations of not being rich, it soon becomes clear that her own family was well enough off, while her husband's was a lot more than that.

Still, it is one thing to buy a castle but quite another to be able to afford to live in it long-term. The worldwide financial crisis of 2008-09 hit Spain as badly as perhaps anywhere except Greece, and the Salmeróns lost their castle, and even saw their adult children have to move back in with them.

The times may have been heavy going but the movie seldom is. It bubbles along on the nut-case narcissism and self-delusion of its heroine who manages to somehow avoid taking responsibility for things, even when she sounds most like she just about might be willing to do this.

Toward the end of the documentary, she tells her filmmaker son that this will never be a successful movie and then lists all the things a successful movie needs. She leaves out, however, the single most important requisite -- an amazing star performer -- which Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle has, and in spades.

The movie, winner of Spain's Goya award for Best Documentary, as well as other awards internationally, opened in Los Angeles this past October, and will hit New York City (at the Cinema Village) to qualify for this year's Oscar campaign on Friday, December 14.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

It's John Milton's birthday! Watch Jeremiah Kipp and Laura Sweeney's LOST + FOUND, their seven-minute adaptation of Paradise Lost

In the annals of chutzpah and cheek, right up there at the tippy-top may be the new short film, LOST + FOUND -- from director Jeremiah Kipp (shown below) and his adaptor Laura Sweeney -- of John Milton's huge opus poem (twelve books that include over 10,000 lines of verse), Paradise Lost.

December 9 happens to be Milton's birthday, so it's only fitting that this very short film (seven minutes, including credits) can be seen on Vimeo today. TrustMovies is a fan of Kipp's short films (if not so much his full-length stuff), and though I have only read snippets of Milton's original, Kipp/Sweeney's little distillation strikes me as a not-bad précis of this vast work.

Jennifer Plotzke makes a smart and impressive Satan, with Ari Rossen good as her prime minion. Carl Hendrick Louis proves a handsome and well-spoken Adam, while only Pia Haddad disappoints as Eve (her vocal quality is not up to the level of the rest of the cast). The rich black-and-white cinematography (by Brian Morgan), both interior and exterior, is gorgeous to view and the film is handily edited (by Charlotte Purser) and has a lovely music score by either Myuu (listed on  the IMDB) or Nicholas Gasparini (listed on the end-credits roll). Maybe they're one and the same? In all, this seems like a fine, if very brief, way to honor Milton, while reminding us that he and his work still matter, even after -- yes -- 400 years. You can catch this little film now on Vimeo by simply clicking here.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Marie Noëlle's bio-pic, MARIE CURIE: THE COURAGE OF KNOWLEDGE, explores the famous scientist's personal & professional life

Most mainstream audiences today, if they know much of anything about Marie Curie, will probably be somewhat familiar with her pioneering research on radioactivity. (She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, as well as the first person and only woman to win it twice.) The new Polish/German/ French co-production,
MARIE CURIE: The Courage of Knowledge,  should add to our own knowledge considerably -- even if this addition covers as much about Marie's personal and romantic life as about her scientific work.

Both, as it turns out, are interesting enough. As co-written (with Andrea Stoll) and directed by Marie Noëlle (shown at right), the movie proves consistently intelligent and entertaining, very well acted and, thanks to some excellent cinematography (Michal Englert) and editing (by Ms Noëlle and three others), especially pleasurable to view.

The filmmaker uses a bevy of medium shots, which manage to give us a combination of dialog and emotion, yet enough distance so that we don't feel that our nose is being rubbed into things too heavily. This also works well with the rather impressionistic focus Noëlle offers, which also has a somewhat distancing effect, even as the beauty of many of the visual moments takes hold.

In the title role, Polish actress Karolina Kruszka (above and below) does a marvelous job of bringing to life Marie Curie as both a hugely intelligent woman of science and, as the film moves along, an emotional being finally giving in to her needs and desires. There's a grand scene midway along in which, all of a sudden and with near-shocking simultaneity, Marie gives in to repressed feelings, sex, food, drink and lots more.

That splendid French actor Charles Berling (below, in foreground), whom I don't see on screen nearly enough, plays the love of Marie's life: her husband and co-worker, Pierre Curie. With not so much screen time but his unshowy but enormous arsenal of talents, Berling demonstrates exactly why this fine man was such a vital partner to his wife.

As the other male of increasing importance to Marie, once Pierre has departed, Arieh Worthalter (below, left) is smart, sexy and just slightly sleazy enough to not quite pass muster. While his and Curie's relationship brings Marie back to life -- and then some -- the filmmaker and her star make certain that we see Marie as the great scientist and fully cognizant, capable and life-embracing woman she no doubt was.

We view this woman as scientist, wife, mother, lover and feminist (how and why the French Academy of Sciences treated Curie as it did is a blemish that sexist organization will probably never live down). Along the way we're treated to a scene or two featuring Albert Einstein (Piotr Glowacki, above, center), who evidently was a big fan of Curie's work, as well as a dose of the anti-Semitism harbored by the French.

By the time we reach the lovely finale of the film, which returns us to the impressionistic style of its beginning, there is a superb moment as mother and daughter walk away from the camera, and the daughter turns to look back. Marie Curie, however, simply keeps walking, eyes and mind forever on the work and goals that lie ahead.

From Big World Pictures and running a sleek 100 minutes, Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge, after a very limited theatrical release last year, arrives on DVD this coming Tuesday, December 11--for purchase or rental.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Catching up with Nick Park's claymation soccer-themed delight, EARLY MAN

TrustMovies spent the past few days with his daughter, son-in-law and grandkids in the Atlanta area (specifically the uber-charming little town of Decatur, Georgia), during which grandsons Ronin and Walker suggested watching EARLY MAN, the animated movie directed by the claymation maven, Nick Park (of Wallace & Gromit fame, Chicken Run, and a bunch more).

The movie, as expected given Park's oeuvre, was great fun-- and probably as much for adults as for the kids. I suspect, however, that it proved more successful in Europe and elsewhere internationally than here in the USA because its subject is soccer (or futbol, as it is known around the globe), while the manner in which this game was originally invented and played is brought to goofy and delightful life by Park (shown below) and his writers, Mark Burton and James Higginson.

Early Man posits a properly dumb but very diverse caveman tribe, pushed by their youngest but most forward-thinking member (shown at  bottom, with his pet cave-pig) to hunt for something "meatier" than mere rabbit, when rather suddenly their quiet life (for cavemen, anyway) is upended by marauders from a more "civilized" (read empire-driven) society.

Somehow, this turns into an all-or-nothing soccer match, which, against great odds, our little tribe must win.

Don't expect much in the way of originality in how the plot progresses, but so much of what we see and hear is so much fun that I doubt this will matter.

The film is so full of lunatic moments (my favorite occurs at the left-hand bottom of the screen, as a roach dons a pair of sunglasses while a nuclear moment erupts) that you will probably find yourself alternately chuckling and laughing aloud.

The voices assembled for this little lark includes a bevy of talented and well-known actors (check out the full cast here), and no one disappoints in the least. That voice-master Rob Brydon may be the most fun, playing several roles, including the messenger bird, above.

And, yes, there's a love story of sorts, as well as a major nod to feminism, a good 'n greedy villain, a nifty gladiatorial Colosseum set, an exciting chase or two, and tons of humor in a wide variety.

Available now on DVD and streaming (we viewed it via Comcast/Xfinity's Free Movies for Kids category), Early Man is well worth a watch for children and adults -- especially, of course, fans of futbol/soccer.