Thursday, January 31, 2019

A TIME FOR DYING: Budd Boetticher/Audie Murphy's final narrative film gets the remastered treatment on DVD

TrustMovies had never heard of  A TIME FOR DYING prior to receiving the announcement of its imminent appearance in remastered form on DVD from Corinth Films, a distribution company the output of which I've been particularly fond of over the years.

Turns out that this very odd little (it lasts only 76 minutes) western from 1969 -- the last narrative film directed by Budd Boetticher and featuring the final performance of Audie Murphy -- is very much one-of-a-kind.

It's no secret to film fans -- particularly those of westerns -- that Mr. Boetticher (pictured left) was one of the better directors in this once-popular genre. Boetticher was drawn to and had a knack for making the most of stories that highlighted moral questions, together with those oft-times gray areas between right and wrong, evil and good.

This interest gets full play in A Time for Dying, as we note early on a scene in which a sweet bunny rabbit is about to be attacked by a rattlesnake. After the movie's hero (Richard Lapp, shown two photos below) prevents this, he is interrupted by a young man who looks rather villainous (actor Bob Random, shown below and currently making news via the popular documentary, The Other Side of the Wind), who suggests to our hero that the rattler had a right to live, too. Hmmm...

A Time for Dying turns out to have been both directed and written by Boetticher -- his first and only try at screenwriting, although he did provide stories for a few films. His script may not have won any awards, but it still stands as a simply-constructed, nicely-written and very surprising piece of work. Its simplicity, in fact, is one of the reasons the film so easily draws us in and keeps us both amused and interested in just where this oddball story might be heading.

The movie possesses genuine charm, thanks to the work of actors Lapp (above, who looks amazingly like a young and fresh-faced Audie Murphy) and its heroine, a spunky and intelligent young woman played by Anne Randall, shown below. These two "youngins" combine sweetness and naivete in such perfect measure that it's difficult not to be charmed by the pair and the situation in which they find themselves.

Though the two have only just met -- they're both "new in town" -- only a day elapses before they've gotten themselves "hitched." At the point of a gun. The gunslinger is none other than a certain famous Judge Roy Bean (played with great relish and fun by Victor Jory, below), who takes a liking to these kids, even as he sentences another sweet-looking youngster to be hung by the neck until dead for possibly stealing a horse. ("Don't worry," my spouse noted, "he won't really be dead.") Hmmm again...

By the time you have reached the finale and denouement of what one of our more famous critics, Roger Ebert, called "the damndest and confoundingest western you can imagine" -- I suspect you'll have arrived at a notion that would have pleased the late Mr. Boetticher immensely: It really does not matter how charming or sweet or "good" you might be, people: 
Life is mostly shit.

Along the way, not only do we meet that hanging judge, but also Jesse James (played by Murphy, shown above, in his final screen role), Jesse's brother Frank, and their relative, also known (by a pompous-but-not-so-hot filmmaker) as "the coward Robert Ford." Boetticher's take on these famous folk, just as on Judge Bean, is every bit as unusual and enjoyable as is all else in this oddly sweet and darkly satisfying film.

From Corinth Films, A Time for Dying makes its DVD debut this coming Tuesday, February 5. Simultaneously -- already, actually -- the movie is available via Amazon Prime Video and free, for members of that popular streaming service.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Peter Jackson's World War One visual/verbal 3D amazement, THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD opens in South Florida -- and nationwide

I've never seen anything quite like new film this over my entire 77-year movie-going life. (TrustMovies saw his first film, or so he was told, before the age of one year; by the time he was 2-1/2, he had run away from home in order to go to the "picture show.") What filmmaker Peter Jackson has accomplished in THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD -- he dedicates his film to his New Zealand grandfather who fought in WWI -- is so truly surprising and unexpected (even if, oddly enough, you have already reads lots about the film itself) that it will leave you amazed and shaken. This is hands down the closest thing to being in war itself that the movie experience has given me.

Most filmgoers best know Jackson (shown, left) via his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, though early fans will remember his bizarre and oh-so-tasteful Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Dead Alive (my favorite of his -- besides this film -- still remains Heavenly Creatures).

Nothing he has done, however, could prepare you for this new documentary, in which archival photos and film shot during "The Great War" have been not simply restored but colorized, wide-screened and given the three-dimension effect, rendering them literally something heretofore unseen.

If this sounds like some mere stunt, the effect of actually viewing it on screen proves something else entirely. (We saw it in 3D, but it is also being shown in standard format.) This, combined with the film's narration -- which is nothing more or less than the actual recorded-during-interviews voices of the men who served in the war talking about the experience itself -- join forces to make what we see and hear seem like utter and unalloyed reality.

Very wisely and cleverly, Jackson begins with old, black-and-white small-screen footage, which continues for quite some time, as he first shows (and has the soldiers tell) of how the war began for England, along with all the rah-rah recruiting (often of boys as young as fourteen or fifteen), the training of the troops, and then the shipping of them all off to the war itself.

When, at last, one of those black-and-white photos suddenly changes to color, the effect is so startling, amazing and memorable that, for me, it outdoes any and every "special effect" I've had to sit through in our dismal array of current superhero schlock. Further, Jackson coordinates the visuals with the soldiers' narration extremely well.

Only once during the entire movie did I find the visuals amiss, due mostly to the overly repetitive use of one particular photo, of soldiers supposedly waiting for the battle to begin. Otherwise, the well-chosen combos of visual and narrative keeps us locked in, producing an immediacy that works like a charm. A deadly charm.

As amazing as the documentary is, They Shall Not Grow Old is not an easy watch. In fact, it is often grueling. But what else might we expect from a film that place us so squarely in the middle of wartime?  While the overt carnage is less than we often get from our usual slasher movie, the sense of fear, of odd isolation, of impending doom is so strong that (the acute and specific sounds effects are an enormous help here) that I found myself holding my breath and literally jumping slightly in my seat at numerous times throughout.

Particularly engulfing and horrendous was the trench warfare (and trench living) to which the soldiers were subjected. Their utter lack of cleanliness -- and their inability to do anything about this -- along with their decaying teeth and non-healing wounds will stagger you. At 99 minutes, the movie does not seem overlong, but by its end, as the war itself ceases, you will be more than ready to cry "enough!"

This is a fine and fitting way to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I. Though the press audience with whom I watched the screening were made up mostly of the elderly or near so, I would hope that a few intrepid young people will take a chance on this one-of-a-kind movie.

Though it seems that most of our youthful population can barely understand or be aware of our current and seemingly endless middle eastern war(s), let alone differentiate between our War for Independence, WWI, WWII, or our unnecessary and destructive wars in Korea and Vietnam, one can only hope that some few of these will want to learn something new, while having the kind of movie experience they will not have encountered anywhere else.

From Warner Brothers Pictures, They Shall Not Grow Old, after opening in special screenings last December, will now hit theaters nationwide this Friday, February 1. Click here to find those nearest you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

South Korean comedy, action & fried chicken: Byeong-heon Lee's genre-mash, EXTREME JOB

Of all movie genres, so they say, comedy has the most difficult time crossing cultures. TrustMovies thought about this old saw while viewing the new genre-jumper, EXTREME JOB from South Korea, which turns out to be a pretty odd mix of comedy and violent action.

As directed by Byeong-heon Lee (no writing credit is translated via English subtitles, nor does any writing credit appear on the film's IMDB site), the movie's first half is mostly comedy, while the second part is pretty much violent action scenes. Interestingly enough, the comedic portion works best, with the humor alternately broad and somewhat more subtle, abetted in both cases by noteworthy comedic performances.

Director Lee (shown at right) keeps the comedic action flowing smartly and amusingly, as our team of barely-heroes and a single heroine (above and below) foul up one maneuver after another, much to the dismay of their lawman boss.

There are competing cop teams here, with ours clearly the underdog, and fairly soon the boys and girl have set up shop watching the bad-guy drug-runners from the bizarre home base of a low-end, take-out, fried-chicken establishment.

Via the usual coincidental-if-manipulative plot machinations, the team ends up buying the restaurant and coming up with such a fabulous fried-chicken recipe that the place becomes a record-breaking crowd pleaser.

The five leading performers here are each good/funny enough to often surmount the silliness on view and make the movie at least watchable. But even their good work isn't quite enough to compensate for some really ridiculous plot devices that crop up during the second half.

By the time it is revealed -- with literally nothing to back this up -- that each member of our dumb-ass team is a crack martial arts fighter of one sort or another, you'll be scratching your head and murmuring, Huh?, even as they are taking out what amounts to a small army of villains. Ah, well, it's the movies, right?

Extreme Job goes on too long, too. By the time we reach the final fighting match between the hero and his nemesis, you'll be hoping someone cries "uncle" as soon as at all possible. Still, for those willing to suspend disbelief, logic and pretty much all else, the movie may just pass muster.

From CJ Entertainment and running 111 minutes, Extreme Job opened this past Friday in Los Angeles and Buena Park and will hit major cities all across the US and Canada this Friday, February 1. To locate a theater near you, click here, and then click on Find a Theater, then keep clicking on View More until you locate something near you.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

THE WILD PEAR TREE: Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest, lengthy, loving dissection of family, country, religion -- but not quite politics

Nothing overtly political ever crops up in the latest endeavor from Turkish filmmaker, Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Not even a tiny aside such as the bit of "Erdo-gone" graffiti you might have noticed oh-so-briefly in that popular Turkish cat documentary from 2016, Kedi. Yet I defy any viewer who lasts out the 188-minute running time (this should not be difficult, given the quality of filmmaking here) of Ceylan's newest, THE WILD PEAR TREE, not to feel grateful that he or she lives almost anywhere else.

Mr. Ceylan, shown at left, never stints on showing us how beautiful are the Turkish landscapes, full of the kind of flora, fauna and gorgeous scenery you'd want to embrace. It is the people here, thoroughly fucked-up as they seem (which is standard in this filmmaker's work), who will give you pause.

Major family dysfunction is the rule, and while Ceylan is more than adept at spreading responsibility -- no single person, nor even an entire generation, comes off as villain here -- still, the buck must stop somewhere. And so it does. Just off-screen. The restraints that hobble anything close to a democratic society -- while inflicting helplessness and depression on that society, as it forever scrambles and strains to make ends meet by hook (or mostly crook) -- are inescapably shown.

Yet so long as Ceylan points no obvious fingers, he is allowed, thankfully for intelligent film lovers, to keep working and even to have his movies chosen as Turkey's Best Foreign Language Film submissions, as was this one. Mr. Ceylan has so far had five of his films submitted by Turkey in the BFLF category, but none have been actually nominated. TrustMovies suspects they are simply too demanding and lengthy for Academy members to appreciate fully.

The Wild Pear Tree has at its center a young man named Sinan (played by Aydin Doğu Demirkol, above) at last out of college who has written his first book -- that eponymously titled fruit tree --  and has come back to his family and home town to try to find financing for publication. How he does this involves everything from bureaucratic snivelling to family (depending upon how you perceive it) betrayal.

All this allows us to get quite an inclusive and all-angles view of his father (a fine Murat Cemcir, above), an addictive gambler; his angry yet steadfast mother (Bennu Yuldirimlar, below); and Sinan's grandparents;

as well as a look at some of his friends, a would-be lover, and a local politician, a business owner and even a successful author (Serkan Keskin, below) to whom he turns, somewhat angrily, for help.

As in his other lengthy and extremely rich movie, Winter Sleep, The Wild Pear Tree is distinguished by not only by its very strong character studies but also via some equally vital and almost shockingly lengthy conversations/philosophical discussions about writing/accommodating and religion, during which we eagerly hang on to each new turn of phrase and idea expressed. (The gorgeous, beautifully framed cinematography -- by Gökhan Tiryaki -- helps, too.)

We also find ourselves, in a tale told via occasional fantasy and dream, moving from anger and dismay to a sad and quiet understanding of the various characters and their needs and actions. The final father/son scene is as surprising and full-bodied as you could wish, ending the film on a note that is simultaneously hopeful yet might also be a mere continuation of all that has come before, now passed down to a new generation. However you choose to view it, The Wild Pear Tree takes an immediate place as one of this year's best.

A Cinema Guild release, the film opens in its U.S. theatrical premiere this Wednesday, January 30, in New York CIty at Film Forum and on February 8 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, followed by openings in another dozen cities over the weeks to come. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Friday, January 25, 2019

On Blu-ray/DVD: Masaaki Yuasa's bizarre, boisterous (and eventually pretty profound) anime, THE NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL

TrustMovies doesn't know quite what he expected when he sat down to view THE NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL, the 2017 Japanese anime just now hitting Blu-ray and DVD via the combined auspices of Shout! Factory and GKIDS.

According to the press release, the animated movie is "a free-wheeling comedy about one epic night in Kyoto, in which a group of teens go out on the town." While that description is, yes, more-of-less true, it barely begins to give you an idea of the utter strangeness and (I think) cultural foreignness of what you are about to encounter.

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa (shown at left), the movie -- based on a popular novel of the same name written by Tomihiko Morimi and illustrated by Yusuke Nakamura (the latter also served as the film's original character designer) -- is so full of oddball characters, both human and supernatural, and cultural references seeming perhaps rather bizarre to non-Japanese, that uninitiated viewers had best sit back and simply let the movie flow in, over and through them.

Eventually, during the final third of this 93 minute movie, things begins to coalesce and, if you're anything like me, you may find yourself surprisingly moved by the theme that finally makes itself most felt: that of how important are the connections -- all kinds of 'em -- between people.

In the film's most surprising scene, our heroine explains to an evil supernatural being how his misdeeds have actually connected people so that they -- and he -- are not alone. My god, this might mean there is hope even for someone like Donald Trump. (No, I am going way too far with that prognosis.)

That heroine, a college sophomore, known here as Otome (above), is being followed/stalked (but nicely) by a senior called Senpai (below), a probably decent enough fellow who is coming undone because he can't deal with or understand his mixed feelings of affection, sex, love, caring and all the rest.

The anime is peopled with lots of other characters, many of whom are as bizarre and interesting as all else in this very strange and energetic movie, the animation of which is super colorful and often quite inventive -- more and more so as the movie rolls along.

There's a "used-book ghost/being" (above), a love-smitten character who refuses to change his underpants, and a friendly pervert (below) with quite the collection of erotica (further below, with the sexual organs blocked by colorful florals).

Otome drinks like a fish yet never seems to actually get drunk. She can drink everyone else in the film under the table: This is one of her many "abilities" -- and one reason for parents to make sure they watch the film along with their under-age kids and then try to explain it all later.

The movie compares to little else I've seen (though maybe you're more anime-educated), and I suspect it will stick with me for some time. The combo Blu-ray/DVD package hits the street this coming Tuesday, January 29 -- for purchase and/or (I hope) rental. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Is Russell T. Davies' BANANA: EPISODE 2 TV's high point of compact beauty & enchantment?

I've seen this amazing little episode twice now (the BANANA series streams here in the USA via Amazon Prime), and I will probably watch it many times more over the years ahead. In just 23-1/2 minutes, it comes as close to perfection as I can recall -- in writing, directing, performance and particularly in its ability to tell such an all-encompassing tale so succinctly and well.

Banana, for those who don't know, is the very oddball addition to the Cucumber series, also penned by the great writer Russell T. Davies (he's done everything from Queer as Folk to Doctor Who, Torchwood, and A Very English Scandal), in which subsidiary characters from Cucumber are given their own short little tale, via which we get to know them better, as they shine quite brightly.

This is a lovely idea, and Mr. Davies, shown at right, brings it home with such joy, surprise, passion and delight that I should think you'll be immediately hooked. Best of all, you do not need to have seen Cucumber first. If you have, this will add to your enjoyment, but it is absolutely not necessary.

Cucumber, as it tracks the lives of some middle-aged gay men, as well as some much younger gays, proves funny, dark, moving and altogether special. It's like little else you'll have seen in the GLBT genre.

And while sex is the driving force at work in Cucumber, Banana concentrates on the need for connection.
Connections of many sorts are made here, some sexual, others not, yet all prove of equal importance.

The series offers eight episodes in all, with numbers two, six and seven TrustMovies' favorites (all are wonderful and very much worth seeing). That second episode stars two remarkable actresses -- Letitia Wright (above, left) and Rosie Cavaliero (above, right) -- and is a tale of love at first sight, in which both the huge and the tiny changes that occur prove absolutely understandable and believable.

How good to see Ms Cavaliero, who has been around now for decades and is always terrific, in a role this special, while Ms Wright (above and below), who has been around for a much shorter time (she's a nominee in this year's BAFTA Awards for Best "Rising Star") proves extraordinary in a role that should mark her in your memory for life. Here she gives "innocence" the kind of depth and glory you'll not have heretofore experienced.  Possessing a face you cannot help but fall in love with, Wright also offers in her roles -- so far, at least (Black Panther, Black Mirror and The Commuter, to name but three) -- versatility & maximum acting chops.

In those remarkable 23 minutes (directed very well by Lewis Arnold), Davies probes attraction, marriage, relationships, trust, the workplace and more with such specificity, nuance, charm and sheer fun and surprise that you'll keep alert and alive for every second. Don't miss Banana, and then maybe explore some of this wonderful writer's other work.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Claus Räfle's moving combo of narrative and documentary, THE INVISIBLES, tracks WWII Jews hiding out -- in Berlin!

What -- yet another World War II Holocaust survival drama? Indeed, and another very good one, too. THE INVISIBLES, co-written (with Alejandra López) and directed by Claus Räfle, tells of four young Jews (out of some 1,700) who elected to go into hiding in order to remain in Berlin, Germany, during WWII, rather than joining their parents and/or other relatives deported to concentration camps and near-certain death.

Using a well-calibrated combination of documentary interviews with the four survivors (some of whom have since died), well-chosen archival footage, and a majority of dramatic narrative of these characters during their war-ridden youth, Herr Räfle (shown below) and Ms López have created a movie that grows in interest and power as it moves along.

Toggling between the two young men and two young women, as they hide with one family and then another and another, finding work, food and shelter wherever they can (at one point Ruth, played by Ruby O. Fee, shown below, and her friend are employed by a Nazi officer and his family -- who treat the girls well and never betray them) the film shows us how -- by wit, luck and the kindness of others (often decent Germans) -- they managed to survive.

This can't have been easy, and the film, though somewhat sanitized, as these tales often are, proves compelling, suspenseful, surprising and moving. Best of all, The Invisibles is full of so many little details that, as pieced together here, make these stories both believable and different enough that TrustMovies suspects the film may stick with you longer than many others of its genre, whether narrative or documentary.

In addition to young Ruth, the movie tracks the fortunes of Hanni, the pretty Jewess (played by Alice Dwyer, below) who, via a bleach job, turns visually into the perfect German dream girl and thus makes her fraught way through this wartime maze;

Cioama, a talented artist (Max Mauff, below) who uses his skills wisely and well, yet still barely escapes the tentacles of the police to the SS to even the beautiful Jewish girl who works as an informant for the Gestapo but who grasps a moment of decency regarding Cioama;

and finally Eugen (Aaron Altaras, below, the good-looking young fellow who seems to have the easiest time in hiding, becoming romantically involved with the daughter of his host family. But even this must come to a halt, eventually. Virulently anti-German Jews may have some trouble with the movie, which shows us time and again at least some of the German populace doing the decent thing. 

But, as the now-elderly survivors insist, they would not be alive except for the kindness and help of those Germans. (The real Ruth Arndt, now departed, is shown below.)

The film's slow but solid accretion of detail and character helps us get to know both these elderly survivors and their younger, "acted" selves, building eventually to a surprising and very moving conclusion.

From Greenwich Entertainment and running 110 minutes, The Invisibles opens this Friday, January 25 in New York (at Landmark 57 West and the Quad Cinema) and Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal) and will expand to cities across the country in the weeks to come. Here in South Florida, look for it at the Living Room Theater in Boca Raton beginning, Friday, February 8. Click here to check if there is an upcoming city/theater near you where the film will be playing.