Saturday, March 30, 2019

Cam Christiansen's animated film of David Hare's thoughtful, rigorous play, WALL

The Israel/Palestine situation, with emphasis on the 435-mile long wall that helps divide the two peoples/nations, is the subject of the beautiful, sad, moving and thought-provoking new animated film, WALL, written for the screen by David Hare and based upon his 2009 play of the same name.

As animated and directed by Cam Christiansen (shown above, right, with Mr. Hare) in black/white/gray tones to which but a trace of color is very occasionally added -- only toward the conclusion do we get a riot of gorgeous color, via the graffiti that decorates the Palestinian side of the wall -- the film's loose yet rich visuals seem to TrustMovies an excellent complement to the very-much-worth-hearing ideas and arguments presented here.

Playwright Hare, who narrates a good deal of the movie, knows better than to simply take the expected left-leaning stance toward the whole situation, in which the "solution" of the wall has proven to be every bit as much of a problem. According to the International Court of Justice, the wall is contrary to international law, yet we see an animated version of the discotheque suicide bombing that was a major precursor to the wall and can understand why it has been built.

The movie is a journey, both geographically (inside the wall and in the Palestinian-occupied area outside) and emotionally/intellectually via the thoughts and ideas of a number of people we meet (Israeli and Palestinian), during which we come to better understand the reason for and the results (some of them perhaps unintended) of the wall.

As you might expect from Hare, the "take" on all this is measured, low-key, intelligent and necessarily problematic. As one of many speakers we hear from during the course of the film, a presumably left-leaning Israeli, notes early on, "Eighty per cent of the terror attacks against Israel have stopped since the wall. Am I not meant to be pleased by this?!" Yes. But.

For the Palestinians who must earn their living, most of whom we must assume are law-abiding and peace-loving, the wall means daily injustice writ large, via the checkpoints through which they must pass, usually waiting in impossibly long lines, often deliberately kept in that state. Does it really come down to death via terror or hardship via the wall. As Hare notes, the first is irreversible; the second, while reversible, has so far not been.

From famous Israeli writer David Grossman and a Palestinian taxi driver to a Hamas torture technique used against those suspected of informing and our arrival in the huge but now-barely-there city of Nablus -- the animation for which is simply stunning -- this journey is a consistently compelling one.

The finale, by the way, is a supreme example of art triumphing over oppression -- even if only in our minds and hearts. Ctrl + Alt + Delete indeed.

Wall, a National Film Board of Canada release that runs just 81 minutes, has its theatrical premiere this coming Wednesday, April 3, in New York City at Film Forum for a one-week run. The entire run is being shown free of charge, by the way, thanks to the generosity of the Ostrovsky Family Fund. Tickets are available via the Film Forum box-office on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of show only.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Family history and the Holocaust explored anew in Jeff Lipsky's unusual THE LAST

Jeff Lipsky is back. This storied producer, shown below, who has also directed a number of interesting films -- one of which, Flannel Pajamas, is among TrustMovies' favorites -- loves to push envelopes. And while those envelopes would ostensibly seem to be filled with the usual envelop-pushing subjects such as sexual taboos, the results are films that actually push our ideas about those things, rather than the things themselves. Folk who want more sex and violence will likely feel cheated by Lipsky's movies, while those willing to have some of
their precious notions/beliefs upended in ways surprising but maybe salutary should find the experience bracing and perhaps a lot more than that.

Lipsky's latest, entitled THE LAST, may be one of his best. (I'll have to let it roll around a lot more before coming to any air-tight conclusions.) It is certainly one of his more provocative endeavors, dealing as it does with The Holocaust and the multi-generational history of one particular family in quite an unusual manner. Who these people are, together with how they got that way and what they plan to do about it, once they've learned the truth, makes for quite a movie.

The film begins by a lake with a certain Jewish ritual. The family here is mixed-faith: Jewish on the great-grandparents side downwards, Catholic on the side of the father (Lipsky regular, the fine Reed Birney, above), with dad's daughter (Jill Durso, below, right) about to convert to Judaism as she marries her hot-looking Jewish hubby (A J Cedeno, below, left).

A day at the beach with 92-year-old great-grandma (a most memorable performance by Rebecca Shull, below), during which our elderly non-heroine talks about her past, changes everything for the entire family.

How each member of each generation reacts to this news comprises the meat of the movie, and while the filmmaker, as is his wont, gives us all this via conversations, the dialog is good enough to keep us glued and alternately surprised and off-kilter.

Lipsky forces us, simply via dialog, to imagine, even experience World War II from a different viewpoint that we've heretofore encountered. He allows the leading members of his fine ensemble -- including Julie Fain Lawrence (above, right, as Birney's wife, Melody) -- to have their own scene or two in which they grapple, with intelligence and emotion, with this news.

It's both challenging and oddly diverting to be forced to come to grips with what's exposed here -- which includes everything from religious faith, morality and hypocrisy to genocide, justice, euthanasia (or maybe murder) and what actually constitutes a Jew.

And though the story is told almost exclusively through conversation, which includes a ton of exposition, so well-performed is the film -- especially by Birney, Shull and Lawrence --  that I think you won't mind. The younger generation is perhaps not quite as skilled, but even that makes a certain sense, given the fact that age, coupled to experience, does count for a lot, in performing, as in building character.

The Last is likely to set more than a few teeth on edge. I hope it plays down here in Florida, where audiences are more likely to be subjected to nonsensical feel-good twaddle such as Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel. What a mitzvah it would be to give our audiences something to actually think about that maybe shakes them up a bit.

From Plainview Pictures and running (just a tad long at) 123 minutes, The Last opens in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the newly reopened East 62nd Street and 1st Avenue cinema, the CMX CinéBistro. Over the weeks to come, the film will play other cities across the USA -- it hits Los Angeles on April 26 at Laemmle's Royal and Town Center 5 -- click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A young man probes the past in Eric Khoo's family, food and feud movie, RAMEN SHOP

A sweet and homey family, food (and, yes, a little feud) tale, RAMEN SHOP offers a lot of can't-miss ingredients which hit their mark pretty damned close to the bull's eye -- if you don't mind a combination of food so delicious looking you can indeed nearly taste it, quite a bit of exposition and some sentimentality in both style and content. TrustMovies didn't mind and suspects you might not, either.

As directed by Singapore filmmaker Eric Khoo (shown below, of Be With Me), and perhaps written by him, too
(the IMDB lists no actual writer on the film), Ramen Shop is the story of a young man named Masato, who is distant from his chef/ramen shop-owner father (his mother died years ago) and who, more than anything else, desires to learn how to make a really delicious soup, just like his family members made in the old days when everyone was alive and (relatively) happy.

To this end Masato (played with great charm and feeling by Saitoh Takumi) leaves Japan for Singapore and some family members he has not seen for years. The movie becomes a kind of "food" journey, in which not only do we get to see the food made and eaten but we also hear about how to make it. This verbal/visual combination works surprisingly well in helping us understand what's so special about the menu here. Granted, you cannot actually taste the food, but I think Ramen Shop comes as close in this regard as any movie I've so far seen.

The acting ensemble assembled by the filmmaker proves every bit as good as Mr. Saitoh, too. Each member brings such caring and grace to the proceedings that you are immediately pulled in to the story and the emotions it conjures.

Discovering a trove of family momentos is the key to sending our boy off to Singapore and to the new friends and old family members he encounters there -- who, in addition to all the cooking, more than make the trip worthwhile.

Mr. Khoo flips back and forth between past and present  and does this cannily enough that we soon easily follow along. During the film's second half, we get a history lesson regarding Japan and Singapore during World War II -- which serves to explain the events that still divide this family.

Ramen Shop offers an unusual kind of culture clash, one that is finally put to rest via food. Yes, it's sentimental as all get-out, but the movie also hits its mark, over and over again, with surprising accuracy. I suspect that by the finale you'll agree that the words, "Let's eat!" have seldom been uttered with such meaning and resonance.

From Strand Releasing and running a crisp 90 minutes, the film opened in New York City last weekend (at the IFC Center and The Landmark at 57 West) and will open in another 20-odd cities across the country during April and May. Click here then scroll down to click on Screenings to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. (Here in Boca Raton, it will tentatively open May 3 at the Living Room Theaters.)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Sexual harassment in Israel via Michal Aviad's slow-burn melodrama, WORKING WOMAN

Location, location, location. That famous old real-estate slogan seems mightily appropriate in regard to the new movie, WORKING WOMAN, and not simply because the film involves the sale of some heavy-duty real estate by its heroine. Even more important is the fact that this tale -- which concerns the kind of sexual harassment that ranges anywhere between a 2 and a 10 (on a 10-point scale) -- takes place in Israel, a country that, even in our current age of Me2, seems a couple of decades behind much of the western world concerning the place of women in society.

As directed and co-written (with Sharon Azulay Eyal and Michal Vinik), by Michal Aviad (shown at left), this very interesting and believable movie tracks the new career of a wife and mother of three children, who goes to work for an ex-superior of hers (during her time in the Israeli army) who is now something of a real estate mogul. She does this in order to help salvage her husband's barely-making-it restaurant.

The couple is played by Liron Ben-Shlush (the wife, Orna) and Oshri Cohen (her hubby), and you could hardly ask for a more attractive pair: young, intelligent and sexy as hell. They seem quite happy, too -- except that we do get a sense that the husband is not overjoyed about his wife going to work for someone else. Just a minor annoyance, mind you, but still: It's there, and it begins to cement our further notions about Israeli society.

How our girl makes good at her new job is demonstrated with flair and subtlety by the filmmaker, and it is soon quite clear that her new boss, Benny (played by Menashe Noy, above), is more than a little appreciative of her abilities -- which demonstrate skills of which Benny himself is noticeably lacking.

Once the sexual harassment starts -- just a kiss, mind you, and one for which Benny is ever so sorry -- all begins to change. It's incremental, of course, but it upends Orna's behavior even more than it does Benny's. That's one of the insidious effects of female life under the patriarchy.

How all this plays out -- there's a lovely and successful trip to Paris in the mix! -- should have you impressed with Orna and her skills, even as you're growing ever more concerned. And when the shit finally hits the fan, how resolution arrives seems light years from what we might expect today in the USA or in many western countries. But this does not make it any the less believable. The culture of the state calls the shots here, as elsewhere, for better or worse.

If you find that resolution maybe just a tad too easily achieved, that is what makes the movie more melodrama than drama. There nothing wrong with a crackerjack melodrama, however -- which Working Woman most definitely is. Well acted, written and directed, the film makes a very nice addition to the increasing number of international movies addressing feminism and sexual harassment.

From Zeitgeist Films via Kino Lorber, the movie opens in New York City this coming Wednesday, March 27, at the IFC Center and the Marlene Myerson JCC Manhattan. It hits the Los Angeles area on Friday April 12 at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5. Over the weeks and months to come, it will play another 25 or so cities. Click here and then scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates and venues.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Blu-ray debut for Desiree Akhavan's THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST

A movie that was well-received at its debut at last year's Sundance Film Fest and later in the year when its had its limited theatrical run, THE MIS-EDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, directed and co-written by Desiree Akhavan
(shown below), didn't set the box-office on fire nearly as much as those who championed the film would have liked.

Now that a special edition of the movie has appeared on Blu-ray, home viewers will have further opportunity to judge for themselves. Although The M of CP, as we'll call it, is all about the increasingly outlawed practice of GLBT "conversion therapy" (it takes place in 1993) and we've already seen two other films on this subject within past year (the excellent based-on-fact narrative movie, Boy Erased and the unusual documentary The Sunday Sessions), this one easily finds it own special niche.

For one thing the protagonist here is female rather than male, as in the other two films, and Ms Akhavan's style is lower-key, generally resisting melodrama very well -- even in the one toward-the-end scene in which this is very nearly unavoidable. The filmmaker draws fine performances from her entire cast, many of whom will seem brand new to the viewer's eye.

Though lead actress Chloë Grace Moretz (above) and three supporting players -- Jennifer Ehle,(below, right), John Gallagher Jr. (below, left) and Sasha Lane -- are well-known, most of the other faces are fresh and new enough to make the film seem as close to documentary in feel as to narrative.

Ms Moretz, in particular, is such a fine actress (even in claptrap like the recent Suspiria remake) that she makes every tiny gesture and small thoughtful moment something you never question. She is so adept here at keeping her thoughts and feelings close to the vest, even as you realize how difficult is the position in which she has been placed, that you will find it hard to take your eyes off her.

When at last Cameron is able to truly bond with a couple of her co-prisoners -- Ms Lane (center, above) and the excellent American Indian actor Forrest Goodluck (above, left) -- this quiet, increasingly deeply-felt relationship binds the movie. As usual with these "conversion therapy" stories, religion plays a huge and pretty terrifying role. And though The M of CP doesn't make any of its characters out-and-out villains, if you're anything like me, you'll want to shove a pocket version of the Holy Bible down the throat of most of these faith-based idiots.

From FilmRise and running 91 minutes, The Miseducation of Cameron Post hit the street last week on Blu-ray, complete with Bonus Features -- for purchase and/or rental. According to the distributor, it will soon be available on VOD, as well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

ROLL RED ROLL: Nancy Schwartzman's expansive documentary about rape culture at that Steubenville, Ohio, high school

The rape, back in 2012, of a teenage girl by a couple of guys from the Steubenville, Ohio, football team did not go unnoticed by our national press. I recall reading about it in The New York Times in the months afterward and being surprised (but not really) at the nastiness of both the thing itself, and of some of the reactions of the students and adults who were involved, even as bystanders, to this ugly event.

Even if you remember a lot about this, too, TrustMovies suspects you will still be surprised and quite interested in the information garnered by filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman and how she has delivered it for further exploration in her new documentary, ROLL RED ROLL. The movie is quietly involving and finally as depressing as it is devastating.

Ms Schwartzman, pictured at left, has a low-key but penetrating style; this is nothing like so many of the obvious, repetitive and cliche-ridden weekly television programs that deal with "true crime."

Instead, the filmmaker has unearthed enough behind-the-scenes information and subsidiary characters, one of which -- a female crime blogger named Alexandria Goddard (shown below) -- seems as close to the heroine of the documentary as you'll find. Ms Goddard, when she first heard of this incident, did her own digging, and her blog posts made much of the town of Steubenville angry as hell. For very good -- if very guilty -- reason: As in so much of American, today, just as at the time of this event, boys, machismo, and football trample just about everything in their path. Especially girls and even a remote sense of justice.

One of the most interesting things about the documentary is the manner in which it demonstrates both the horror and the help produced by social media. What we see of these footballers' texts speaks volumes about male entitlement and the place of the female in American society. And the collusion between everyone from parents and students to school administrators and teachers to protect the guilty and tarnish the victim is appalling, disgusting. What is uncovered here goes both farther back and farther ahead than this single rape incident.

Schwartzman also reconstructs the night of the crime, the where and the when, along with the police investigation, then puts it all together so that we easily follow things. By the time Anonymous becomes involved, further goosing justice into a "woke" state, you'll be holding your breath yet again. Schwartzman and her crew have done a major service in helping to upend the ongoing rape culture so prevalent in our own and much of western (hell, eastern, too) society, personified perhaps most clearly and wretchedly by the current President of the United States.

A Together Films release running a lean 80 minutes, Roll Red Roll opens in its theatrical premiere this Friday, March 21, at Film Forum, New York City. Other playdates? I don't find any currently listed on either the distributor's or the film's web site. But if you are not currently in the NYC area, the documentary will air later this spring as part of the popular PBS series, POV. Check your local PBS station for more details.

Monday, March 18, 2019

A slasher art-film? Tamae Garateguy's bizarre SHE WOLF attempts this offbeat melding

What to make of SHE WOLF? This 2013 movie from Argentina is finally being released (on DVD and digital) this week via Omnibus Entertainment, the genre arm of Film Movement, so fans of would-be horror/slasher movies and/or very oddball art films will have the chance to view it and weigh in.

As directed by Tamae Garateguy (shown below), with a screenplay by Diego Fleischer
(from a story by Ms Garateguy) and shot in appealing black-and-white by cinematographer Pigu Gómez, She Wolf is a very uneasy mixture of the arty and the sleazy, with plenty of voracious sex, enough slashing to make blood-and-guts fans relatively happy, and just enough of a germ of a genuinely interesting idea to keep art-film aficionados on their toes.

Ms Garateguy's most interesting touch is to have three very different appearing actresses essay the leading role of the "she wolf," a woman who, from the first scene onwards, seems to enjoy killing men, particularly the kind who like to abuse women.

Fair enough (well, sort of) for these me2 times, I suppose, and the three actresses who play the leading lady are talented and attractive. Initially, it will seem as though there are three different characters here, but no, eventually you'll realize that they are differing aspects of the same woman. The first we see is played by Mónica Lairana, above, who appears to be the victim in a bondage sexual encounter. But not for long.

Then we get the blond version (above and below), played by Luján Ariza, and finally what is called in the end credits, the "young" version, the pretty and innocent-looking Guadalupe Docampo. The male roles are mostly throw-away, during which we see just enough to know that these guys like to hit on women and parade their macho credentials -- with two exceptions.

The first of these is a guy (Egardo Castro, below) who has "come on" to our mujer lobo on one of her subway rides (her favored pick-up spot) and annoyingly interrupted her flirting with another man. "He'll get his," we think, but back in his apartment he pulls a gun on our gal and she barely gets away. Turns out, he's a cop, to boot (making a point, I suppose, about Argentina's law enforcement and the kind of police/military control that goes back decades and decades in the history of this South American country).

The second, more-nuanced male character is the young man who helps our "heroine" escape from her gun-toting captor. As nicely played with charm and sex appeal by Nicolás Gold (aka Goldschmidt), this fellow gets a whole lot more than he bargained for -- especially when he enjoys a sexual rondelay with all three of these women at once. (Most often we see them only individually, but here, as below, they seem to appear in the flesh together.)

What does all this mean? Aside from the usual pro-feminist slant, along with perhaps a look at the appeal and danger of sex and men, it is difficult to say. At 92 minutes, the movie still outlasts its welcome by a few, at least. So sit back, enjoy the black-and-white cinematography, the decent performances, the usual genre tropes, and then try putting it all together into some meaningful whole. I wish you better luck than I had.

From Film Movement/Omnibus Entertainment, She Wolf hits DVD and digital tomorrow, Tuesday, March 19 -- for purchase and/or rental.