Monday, April 29, 2019

A life unfurled in Ryan White's sweet and encompassing documentary, ASK DR. RUTH

My feelings about Dr. Ruth Westheimer -- who, at least until recently, was probably America's most famous therapist, media personality and author regarding the subject of sex -- have always been on the positive side, thanks to her huge help in bringing our country from the dark ages into the light in terms of sex, how we engage in it and what it means to us. That said, her near-constant rah-rah, feel-good, always-positive attitude did put me off a bit.

Having now seen the new and quite intelligent, engaging and encompassing documentary about Westheimer's life and times, ASK DR. RUTH, I have come to understand that this super active-positive attitude, given the history we see here, is a very necessary part of this woman's survival mechanism. (Toward the end of the movie, Westheimer's daughter calls her mom's need to be constantly on the go and accomplishing something part of her survival technique, but I would also suggest that her insistently positive attitude was and is part of her very survival.)

As directed by Ryan White, shown above, the documentary rumbles along, just as does its subject, with a lot of charm and wit, even as it encompasses the good doctor's early years as a child who managed to escape to Holocaust via a kindertransport to Switzerland.

Mr. White and his team, with the help of Westheimer (shown above and below), her family and other sources, have assembled a fine array of archival footage, along with some unusually good animation. While TrustMovies is usually not much of a fan of animation in documentaries, he must admit that it works quite well in this one. Its very sweetness and lightness of touch seem to fit Ms Westheimer like the proverbial glove.

How this child and then young woman went from Germany to Switzerland to France and eventually to America, in the process getting a fine education and then putting it to even better use, proves a fascinating tale well told. Her early "learning," offered via another student at the orphanage where she was relocated, is a particularly poignant and effective piece in the Westheimer puzzle.

During the documentary, we hear from family, friends and co-workers, and while what they tell us may not surprise much, it all adds up to the lovely and rich tapestry that has been woven into an impressive and edifying life. It is hard to imagine any intelligent, inquisitive audience not fully responding to this story of change and growth, history and sexuality, and a life particularly well lived.

Dr. Westheimer will celebrate her 91st birthday this June. Good for her. Lucky for us.

From Hulu and released theatrically by Magnolia Pictures, Ask Dr. Ruth opens in select theaters nationwide this Friday, May 3, and will be available exclusively on Hulu beginning June 1. Here in South Florida, look for the film in the Miami area at the Tower Theater, and at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth, and at the Lake Worth Playhouse. Click here to find locations of other theaters nationwide.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Idiocy writ large: Greg Bergman and A.D. Freese's I-need-a-larger-penis documentary, BIG LIKE ME

Never thought I'd be saying this, but the new documentary BIG LIKE ME makes the earlier doc about one man's search for a possible bigger penis -- Unhung Hero -- seem like a paragon of intelligence and subtlety. For the DVD release of the "extended director's cut," this new doc seems to have now been retitled, Bigger Like Me. Yes, that's the level we -- and the proud owner of the enlarged dick, Greg Bergman -- have here attained. What is particularly odd and unnerving about Mr Bergman's search is that -- unlike Patrick Moote, the star of Unhung Hero whose dick we never see but are told is very, very small -- Bergman himself (shown below and further below) has a perfectly normal-sized member.

In fact, this guy's dick is actually a little thicker than most. And though it takes a full two-thirds of the movie before we actually see Bergman's cock, once on view, it seems like our hero-as-zero can't show it to us -- and everyone else possible, from the ladies he hopes to impress, on line and quite literally on the street, to the audience at his stand-up comedy act (below) -- often enough. Talk about tiring. And embarrassing.

But then the entire movie has grown increasingly embarrassing from its outset, as we learn of Bergman's obsession with his size (to which no one, from his wife to his physical trainer to his therapist, can in any way take his feeble little mind off ), to his month-long use of various pills and pumps for enlargement purposes (yes: nothing works) followed by his visit to a clinic in Tijuana where the doctors promise enlargement of (not length but) girth, to his time in New York City walking the streets and flashing various dildos while asking passers by to choose their favorite, to a visit to Pennsylvania Amish country where he asks an elderly Amish man to make the same choice. Jesus: Has this guy lost all shame and intelligence?

While in NYC, he arranges to meet a man, Jonah Falcon, said to have one of the world's largest pensies (I've seen bigger, even in my limited experience), and he watches as Falcon shakes his dong around for our and his delectation (the homoerotic content of this film is staggering, all the more so because Mr Bergman seems utterly unaware of this). Toward the end of this sad piece of nonsense, a voice -- I assume belonging to the co-director of the doc, A.D. Freese, who is filming Mr. Bergman -- asks his subject if he thinks he has become the big success he wanted to be. "Not yet," is Bergman's response. Oh, honey: Not ever.

TrustMovies won't give sway any spoilers but will only say that the outcome is creepy, sad and even more embarrassing than all that has gone before. But for those who want to see a whole lot of shots of Greg Bergman's reproductive equipment, this is definitely the movie for you. From Breaking Glass Pictures and running a way-too-long 100 minutes, the doc arrived on DVD earlier this month -- for purchase and maybe rental.

Friday, April 26, 2019

László Nemes' SUNSET proves an enthrallingly odd follow-up to his Oscar-winner, Son of Saul

Just as his immersive and often very difficult to watch debut film, Son of Saul, thrust us into the Nazi extermination of the Jews, so, too, does László Nemes' second and new film, SUNSET, very nearly bury the viewer in the greed, sleaze, perversity, hypocrisy and violence that led us (along with some other things not covered here) into World War I.

Granted, Son of Saul spent all of its hour and 47 minutes in the middle of that Holocaust. Sunset puts us into WWI only for the final moments of its much lengthier two-hour-and-22-minute running time. The film's ending, however, is sudden and specific enough to make TrustMovies better understand what Mr. Nemes' major point appears to be.

The filmmaker, pictured at right, uses a similar point-of-view technique as in Son of Saul: He places his camera just in front of or right behind, sometimes to the right or left but always quite close to his protagonist. In Sunset's case, this would be a pretty but deadly serious young woman named Írisz Leiter, played with very nearly one single expression that manages to combine questioning and determination in a most unusual manner. The performer here is Juli Jakab, below and on poster, top) an actress/writer of note who was also featured in Son of Saul.

Ms Jakab's intensity, combined with her beauty and dedication to this unusual role helps keep us and the movie on track, despite its length and refusal to offer up a whole lot of typical exposition. Instead, Nemes seems to be saying to any remotely intelligent viewer who is at all familiar with history (That's what? Five per cent of America?), "OK, folk: Take what you know here, then watch, listen, and run with it."  And we do. Or I did, anyway, along with the approximately half of our critical establishment who approved of the movie.

The character Írisz appears at film's beginning, at a very chic and well-connected millinery shop, to which, we slowly learn, she shares a major bond. Yet she seems to know almost as little about her actual past and family than we do. Slowly, the movie lets Íris (and us) in on things.
They're not pretty.

The era -- 1910 and the time preceding WWI -- is aptly captured in sets, costumes and characterization, and eventually some (and only some) of the mystery of who and how is unveiled, as we come face to face (or via hear-say from not always reliables characters) everything from missing relatives to love and murder to sex trafficking, torture and plenty more violence.

Because so much of what we learn is only sidelong and suggested, some viewers may insist on something more substantial. They will be disappointed. For those willing to put the puzzle pieces together, making some connections on their own, Sunset should prove compelling, often quite beautifully filmed, and well-written, -acted and -directed enough to pass muster -- and then some.

What's missing here, for WWI history buffs, are the politics of the time and the people and companies who would profit most from the carnage. We get but a mere taste of any of this; instead we're treated to the uber entitlement of royalty and wealth, the huge disempowerment of women, and the violent reaction of folk who will be termed anarchists by some but who are in truth more like crazy, avenging angels. This offers plenty to chew on, of course, but it's not nearly the big picture.

From Sony Pictures Classics, Sunset, after opening in a number of major cities over the past few weeks, will hit South Florida today, Friday, April 26. In the Miami area, look for it at the AMC Aventura 24 and the Silverspot Downtown Miami; in Fort Lauderdale at the Classic Gateway; in Boca Raton at the Regal Shadowood 16 and Living Room Theaters, and at the Movies of Delray in Delray Beach. Now and over the weeks to come, it will play many more cities. Click here and then click on THEATERS to find the one closest to you.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Two worth streaming on Netflix: Bill Oliver's original sci-fi drama, JONATHAN, and Maya Forbes' so-American comedy, THE POLKA KING

I finally caught up with THE POLKA KING, a very charming and often tone-perfect American immigrant comedy directed and co-written (with Wally Wolodarksy) by Maya Forbes. If you are a fan of Jack Black, you will not want to miss this unusual film which details the very up and down career of Jan Lewan, the born-in-Poland but more-famous-in-Pennsylvania band leader specializing in polka and (on the side) Ponzi schemes. Mr. Black, just as he did in Richard Linklater's wonderful Bernie, plays an uber-positive, you-can-do-it! character with
such truthfulness and care that he almost makes lying and cheating seem like a kind of blessing.

Ms Forbes, shown at right, with Black's huge help, gets very close to just right the tone of the film: an American immigrant story of a white male with an uber-positive attitude bent of achieving success by hard work (and whatever else it might take) at any cost.

This isn't really satire. Instead, it's
life from the viewpoint of its protagonist. And Black (shown above) makes it funny, of course, but more importantly, he makes it genuine. You may cringe -- depending on your musical tastes -- at the performances here, but neither Forbes nor Black are making fun of the musicians or their audience. Consequently, you can understand the popularity, in Pennsylvania at least, of this let's-include-a-bear in-our-act! oddity.

Jenny Slate (above, center) is good as Mrs. Lewan, but it's Australia's Jacki Weaver (above, right) who pretty much steals the supporting scene as Lewan's mother-in-law. Just how versatile and fun is this marvelous actress? (Check out the Secret City series on Netflix for further evidence.) Robert Capron is sweet and sterling as Lewan's grown son, while Jason Schwartzman does a surprising and (as usual) very fine turn as the most important band member. The rest of the well-chosen cast contribute much to the movie's sense of authenticity and Americana.

The story itself here is rather staggering in its own quiet, comic and a little sad way, and the final shots of the real characters doing their thing are fun, too. A Netflix original, the movie's been streaming since January. Try to catch it if you're able.


If you're a sci-fi fan and also enjoy the quieter, subtler incarnations of this genre, be sure to see JONATHAN, now streaming on Netflix and featuring a simply stunning dual performance (it grows ever stronger as the movie proceeds) by Ansel Elgort, yet another actor who keeps surprising us with his versatility (Baby Driver, anyone? TrustMovies is more than primed to see him play Tony in the new version of West Side Story.) 

As directed and co-written by Bill Oliver, the story idea seems  
initially a rather simple one in which two separate brothers inhabit the same body, taking turns living their lives in twelve-hour segments each. How this has come about, how their lives are now lived out, and what finally happens to the brothers, Jonathan and Jon, is delivered with surprising gracefulness and subtlety, thanks to Oliver's touch (this is the director's first full-length film) and the dedicated, riveting performance by Elgort, shown below. The details of the brothers' work and play lives are handled very well, and most questions you'll raise should be properly laid to rest by film's end.

The two leading supporting players are Suki Waterhouse as the young woman with whom both Jons become involved and the ubiquitous and consistently wonderful Patricia Clarkson (below, left) as the doctor responsible for the creation and care of the brothers.

By the time you reach the extremely moving finale of this unusual film -- it's one that manages to avoid sentimentality while rocking you to your core -- between Jonathan and a cab driver, you may realize that you've just witnessed something quite special, with a performance you're likely to remember for a long time to come.

By now we've seen too many movies that tackle multiple identities within the same person (Split has got to be the showiest -- and silliest -- of the bunch.) This one is not only different; it's by far the best of the lot. Released theatrically in the fall of last year to mostly good reviews, Jonathan is streaming now on Netflix. Try it.

Monday, April 22, 2019

With Josh Lobo's VERY slow-burn, would-be horror-thriller, I TRAPPED THE DEVIL, prepare to shred your disbelief

That's right: Do not simply, as they say, "suspend your disbelief." Instead, shred it, stomp on it, burn it and bury it, if you plan to even vaguely enjoy a new "scary" movie entitled I TRAPPED THE DEVIL. As though -- let's say, to begin with, one even believes in the devil -- you could actually "trap" the thing. What? The devil is to be that easily had? In any case, if you have even paid attention to the title of this movie, then the first third of the film -- the what's up here? portion -- will be quite clear to you, even if it is not to two out of three of the movie's protagonists.

These would include two brothers and one's girlfriend or maybe wife, the latter two of which, come to visit the other brother at Christmastime.

As written and directed by Josh Lobo, shown at left, once all three characters are on the same page, the rest of the film is then devoted to some very paltry discussions about morality and philosophy and various things to which said devil might be up.

The final third is, as expected, devoted to what is really locked behind that basement door, along with the requisite would-be suspense and bloodshed and -- it must be said -- the sort of heavy-duty boredom during which TrustMovies thought he would go straight put of his fucking mind having to sit through.

The leading cast members do what they can with material that is, at best, been-there/done-that. These would include AJ Bowen, above, as the bro who comes to visit; Susan Burke, below, as his wife;

and Scott Poythress (below) as the bro who's done the trapping. I've seen them all in better films, and will no doubt have this pleasure again. And I hope to eventually see another, better movie from Mr. Lobo, too. (If the finale of this film does not put old-time movie buffs in mind of Toby Dammit, the Fellini segment of Spirits of the Dead, I shall be surprised.)

Distributed by IFC Films and running just 83 minutes, I Trapped the Devil opens in a select and very limited theatrical release this coming Friday, April 26 -- at which time it will simultaneously appear on VOD nationwide.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Blu-ray debut for Gérard Corbiau's under-rated musical/visual/sexual spectacle, FARINELLI

When FARINELLI was first released theatrically in the USA, back in 1995, it rather divided our major critics, winning Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes but losing its BFLF Oscar nomination to the winner, Burnt by the Sun.

When TrustMovies first saw the film he was hugely impressed by its visual beauty, its music, the castrati subject matter, along with the two gorgeous and sexy young Italian actors in the leading roles: Stefano Dionisi and Enrico LoVerso. Seeing the film again, 24 years later, it seems even better: deeper, stronger, more unusual, and every bit as beautiful as I remembered.

As directed and co-written by Gérard Corbiau, at right, the movie grabs you from almost the first few frames as a nude young man shouts down a warning from high above to another, younger boy, singing in the chorus below. What happens next is awful and riveting, setting the cinema table for so much that is to be served -- theme-, character-, and plot-wise over the nearly two hours to come.

Though the film moves cleverly and easily back and forth in time, it more formally begins as our young- adult Farinelli, played by Dionisi, below,
accompanied by his older brother, Riccardo (Lo Verso, below), impresses a surprised crowd with his amazing vocal skills and then shares a sexual conquest with his brother.

They share everything, it turns out, from their music to their finances to their women. (Farinelli was a stage name for Carlo Broschi, born in 1705 in what is now Apulia, Italy; brother Riccardo eventually became a noted composer and conductor.)

Carlo is by this time a castrato (having earlier been, or so he and we are told, in a terrible horseback-riding accident in which his scrotum was crushed). This has given him amazing vocal skills and range, while still enabling him -- said to have often been the case with eunuchs -- to achieve erection and full sexual union without ejaculating that life-giving sperm. Think of the fellow as the ultimate in pleasurable birth control.

As the film winds on and around, we're treated to other interesting subjects -- from the theatrical competition between the London theater that housed the work of Handel, the most famous composer of the time (played by Jeroen Krabbé, above, standing) and a lesser-known theatrical venue; creativity and its discontents (brought to sad life by brother Riccardo); the meaning of family (both birth and choice) and what one person might do to another to achieve his desired success.

Along the way we meet a raft of fascinating subsidiary characters, too -- from a continuing romantic interest (Elsa Zylberstein, above) to a mother and her beautiful but infirm son (below), both of whom provide our Farinelli with help and affection.

What holds this all together, however, are the gorgeous music and eye-popping visuals -- sound, production and costume design to die for -- giving us quite a splendid view of how 18th Century theatricals might have looked and sounded.

There's a lot of drama here -- melo and otherwise -- and the performances of Dionisi and LoVerso are exquisitely on target as the loving/feuding brothers. (Dionisi, as it turns out, had to learn to sing for this role and does a terrific job of lip-synching.)

The Blu-ray transfer in 2K helps preserve a truly splendid piece of moviemaking about a subject of which we've seen far too little. And don't miss the nearly hour-long Bonus Feature, Nostaliga for a Lost Voice, which details how so much of this amazing movie was researched and filmed -- with special attention to the way in which Farinelli's unusual voice was recreated, using the voices of two different singers, a female soprano and male counter-tenor, then seamlessly joining the two in the sound studio. Fascinating!

From Film Movement Classics and running 111 minutes, Farinelli hits the street this coming Tuesday, April 23, on Blu-ray, DVD and digital -- for purchase and/or rental.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Five fine films on Netflix streaming: LADY J, YOUR SON, MIRAGE, THE CLAPPER and A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE

Will Forte and Dohmnall Gleeson (shown below, left and right, respectively) are terrific in this very cleverly handled bio-pic about the two guys -- Douglas Kenney and Henry Beard -- who started the National Lampoon magazine and went on (one of them, at least) to give us a couple of raunchy/weird comedy classic movies: Animal House and Caddyshack. As written by Michael Colton and John Aboud, and directed with unshowy finesse by David Wain, the film grabs you from the outset via its very interesting narrator, who only grows much more so by movie's marvelous end. Filled with oddball fun and a main character who, though not all that likeable, via Forte's rich performance, holds you in

sway just fine, the film is abrim with nostalgia, all right, but even more with crack performances and smart writing that, thanks to Wain's great pacing, keeps things bouncing along delightfully until the bill must be paid. How this is handled is every bit as wonderful as all that has preceded it. The movie resonates emotionally without being at all sentimental or cloying. It's a great memorial to a very funny and special magazine and to the guys (and gals, one of these played by Natasha Lyonne, above, center) who created it.


Special for a number of reasons, chief among these that, even as it holds a very necessary mirror up to the ways in which would-be "reality" TV corrupts us all, THE CLAPPER also manages to show us the kind of Hollywood characters that almost no movie wants to get near. These are the barely-making-it, little people, some of them pretty bizarre indeed, who live and work in a Hollywood that is anything but the land of our dreams. Writer/director Dito Montiel may not be a critics' darling, but even so, the lousy reception this unusual little film received seems to me very unfair.

Ed Helms (above, center right) and Tracy Morgan (center left) make a sad but quite believable pair of "clappers" -- those folk who act as supposed "real" audience members made to laugh, gasp and applaud on cue -- while Amanda Seyfried is sweet and pretty as the gas station girl on whom Helms has a crush. Where this movie goes and how it gets there is full of smart little touches and a quietly angry attitude toward fake fame. It's certainly not a perfect film, but it's so much better than so much that's out there, you ought to give it a try.


Anyone who's been wondering why they don't make a romantic time-travel movie like the popular 1980 hit, Somewhere in Time (which was only so-so in any case), don't miss the Spanish film now streaming on Netflix entitled MIRAGE (Durante la tormenta is the original Spanish title). It's maybe ten times more convoluted and interesting than was that earlier time-travel romance, and in fact is much more than mere love story (which doesn't even kick in until half the movie is over). This is also one hell of a mystery -- about death and love and life and caring and very oddball electronics -- that should keep you guessing and more right up to its not-quite-good-enough conclusion.

Don't worry: So smartly paced, beautifully acted and cleverly invented (by writer/director Oriol Paulo of The Invisible Guest) is the tale, that I think you'll forgive an ending that doesn't quite make enough sense. With the fine Spanish actress Adriana Ugarte in the lead, and a very hot young actor, Chino Darín, as the cop on the case, the movie offers plenty of eye-candy as well as a nearly first-rate story, niftily told. I'd watch the entire movie again just for the marvelous scene of a young man waiting at a railway station and literally growing up in the process.


Get to know your children. Please! That would seem to be the important message of YOUR SON (Tu hijo), another Netflix movie from Spain and one of the darkest I've seen in some time. When the handsome late-teenage son of a successful doctor is beaten nearly to death outside a night club, his father becomes obsessed with finding out who did it and why. The journey takes him into uncharted territory, as this fellow -- who clearly has paid much more attention to his work than to his family -- slowly uncovers more and more ugly and unsettling information.

As directed and co-written by Miguel Ángel Vivas, of Kidnapped fame (or infamy), this much less "showy" movie is also a lot deeper. Extremely well-acted by the entire cast and especially by leading actor Jose Coronado (on the poster above), who brings gravity and tension to every one of his many scenes. He controls the movie, and by the time the film has reached its dark conclusion, you're with Señor Coronado in body, soul and hopelessness.


Is there another current filmmaker who can write witty, scintillating, intelligent dialog about love, sex, relationships and hypocrisy better than Emmanuel Mouret? If so, I sure can't think who that he or she might be. After Shall We Kiss and Please, Please Me!, his latest endeavor, LADY J (original French title: Mademoiselle de Joncquières) should only burnish his reputation even brighter. Mouret has always seemed to me to be a modern-day Marivaux, but with this film he actually places his period a couple of centuries in the past to tell a tale of love and seduction, betrayal and revenge.

What makes this so very special, however, is Mouret's light-hearted and near-comical take on it all. Truly awful things transpire here, but so charmingly, graciously are they unveiled that we bounce right along with them, only slowly becoming aware of the cruel nature of what is going on. Still, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in any of its incarnations, this ain't.

The movie stars three terrific French actors: Cécile de France (at right, two photos up), Edouard Baer (left, two photos up) and Alice Izaaz (above), each of whom proves so right for the role that you can't imagine anyone else managing it this well -- with fine support from the likes of Call My Agent's Laure Calamy as the "best friend." As we watched, my spouse and I kept marvelling at the wonderful dialog, of which we wanted to savor every subtitled word: It's that delicious. Miss this one at your peril.

All five of the above films are streaming now via Netflix. I suggest a watch soon, however, as one never knows when a film will suddenly disappear from view.