Friday, May 31, 2019

Dominga Sotomayor's TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG: a Chilean artists' commune circa 1990

A kind of banner year for the country of Chile, 1990 saw the end of the murderous dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The dawn of that year embodied by a New Year's Eve party proves the pivotal point in TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG, the new film by Dominga Sotomayor, in which the filmmaker attempts to recapture a very specific period and place of her own youth, a small Bohemian commune in the hills far above the city of Santiago.

The result is a slow-paced but not uninteresting look at the young, the teenage and the adult world of that day, but without ever -- unless TrustMovies missed some offhand but loaded Chilean reference -- mentioning anything remotely political at all.

Instead, Ms Sotomayor's movie (the filmmaker is shown at right) covers the budding romantic, sexual and jealousy-laden lives of the teens, the often angry and sadder lives of the parents, and the free-wheeling fun had by the very young. The film opens and closes with a dog running along a road. But what a huge difference in feeling each of these scenes conveys. The filmmaker also uses a foreboding brush fire somewhat in the manner of Chekhov's gun.

In between there's a load of quite realistic, if somewhat generic dialog and behavior from pretty much all the characters involved here. (The filmmaker has used all fledgling performers to essay her leading roles.) And while we don't expect anything close to the liveliness and wit of, say, Noel Coward on display, one occasionally longs for something more from this mostly very non-communicative bunch.

The leading character is a budding young woman named Sofia, played very well indeed by newcomer Demian Hernández (shown above), whose activities and feelings pretty much anchor the movie. Sofia is being courted, sort of (if only he had more courage), by Lucas (Antar Machado, shown below, under Sofia)

but Sofia herself prefers the older and much more confidant Ignacio (Matías Oviedo, below, right), who knows just how to be, sequentially, appealing, seductive and shitty.

Señor Hernández -- the actor was in the middle of transgendering while the film was being made; he has now, we are told, made the transition fully -- is particularly good at looking pensive and confused, so that Sofia pulls us in and easily holds us in her questioning, questing grasp. (In an earlier rendition of this post, I had assumed that Hernández was transitioning from male to female; I apologize for that assumption.)

Still, it is the youngest generation, personified by Clara (Magdalena Totoro, below), who eventually makes us think and feel most. Clara proves the moral center of the film: Who she is, how she reacts, and what she finally does brings the movie to its fitting close.

Though the pace is slow and meandering, you may find a day or two after viewing it, that the film has stuck with you in ways you might not have expected. It is odd, too, that for or all the fraught historical baggage that the year 1990 carries for Chile, this particular movie could be taking place just about anywhere and at any time -- it's that "universal."

From Kim Stim and running 110 minutes, Too Late to Die Young (Tarde para morir joven), in Spanish with English  subtitles, opens today, Friday, May 31, in New York City at Film at Lincoln Center (the unnecessary new name for what we used to call the Film Society of Lincoln Center: Was the latter one too many words for today's audiences?), and then the following Friday, June 7, it will open at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles. Another eight cities across the country are scheduled for the weeks to come. Click here, then scroll down to click on PLAYDATES to learn if you're in the vicinity of any of these. Blu-ray, DVD and digital opportunities are also promised soon by this increasingly prolific distributor.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Andrew Scott shines in Brendan Higgins' and Simon Fellows' unusual drama, A DARK PLACE

An oddball endeavor if ever there was one, A DARK PLACE (originally titled Steel Country) takes place in small-town Pennsylvania but was filmed in Georgia with a British director (Simon Fellows, shown just below) at the helm and its leading actors all from Ireland.

Whatever: The movie works, and in fact does a lot more than that. It gives the fine actor Andrew Scott (shown on poster, right, and further below) the best role I've yet seen him play, as it very unusually and interestingly places a character somewhere on the spectrum of Aspergers syndrome in the center of this tale involving a child's disappearance, a cover-up, and a desperate attempt to do the right thing.

Small-town America in the time of Trump (the first thing we see in the film is a Trump placard on a shabby front lawn), with its own special structure serving the wealthy and powerful, is front and center here, with everything working just fine, so long as people know their place -- and stay in it.

Mr. Fellows does a good job of bringing Brendan Higgins' first-class screenplay to life. His pacing is steady and increasingly fraught, as our difficult hero, Donald, a sanitation worker (played by Mr. Scott), attempts to learn what really happened to the young boy who used to wave to to him daily on his sanitation route and is now said to have accidentally drowned.

As the information Donald gleans points ever more clearly toward a cover-up, the powers-that-be -- from police to community "leaders" -- close ranks. What some critics have pointed to as preposterous and/or risible plot turns strike TrustMovies as more like business-as-usual in small town America.

And so, anything goes, and by the finale our hero is lucky to have been left in one piece. What he feels he must do is thus horrible yet perfectly understandable, under these Trump-land circumstances and those of his own constantly anxious state.

Mr. Scott's rich, lovely and angry performance as the quirky, unstable Donald carries the movie. He is as difficult as he is worth caring for and about. And the two most important women in his life -- his "ex" (played sadly and smartly by Denise Gough, below),

and his co-worker, Donna, who also carries a torch for the guy (a wonderful job by Bronagh Waugh, below) -- make Donald's exasperating-but-worth-it combination painfully obvious.

His daughter (a clear-headed and loving performance from Crista Beth Campbell, below) is the only character to whom he can comfortably turn for the sustenance he craves.

That those three lead performances (by Scott, Gough and Waugh) are being played by Irish actors doing a surprisingly good job giving us Pennsylvania accents adds to the unusual quality of the film, and a special nod must be given to the fine screenplay from Mr. Higgins, who captures small-town creepiness and unexpected kindness with equal care and believability.

Two scenes stand out among many that nail our hero's singular and difficult world: his sudden verbal use of his and Donna's names as a reason for them not to connect, and another, purely visual moment, as Donald quietly sits in the middle of a closed circle of drawing pencils, all arranged by color. In a world more just, in which Academy members dare venture beyond what the box-office and/or typical media pundits offer up, Mr. Scott's performance might draw Oscar consideration.

This quiet, sad little film is so much better than many other big-budget dramatic wanna-bes featuring "name" actors and/or directors that you ought not let it get by without a watch. From Shout! Studios and running just 89 minutes, A Dark Place arrived on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download last week -- for purchase and/or rental.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Dealing with the future in Noble Jones' unsettling, funny, surprising and moving movie, THE TOMORROW MAN

Audiences are not going to want to hear the message of THE TOMORROW MAN, the new movie from Noble Jones (here being billed as Nobel Lincoln Jones), any more than the recipient of the telephone call wants to hear the message being told him by the character, Ed (played so very well by John Lithgow) that opens this unusual film.

That message is this: The world we live in is today in such terrible trouble environmentally, politically, morally that we must do something/anything -- arm ourselves, stockpile, get ready, do something! -- before the shit (whether via our environment or our fellow man) hits the fucking fan.

Now, Mr. Jones, shown at right, whether by intention or maybe accident (I doubt the latter), has peopled his movie with two main characters so oddball and interesting, and then cast his film with two actors of such graceful, aging countenance and top-tier talent that you cannot take your eyes off them, as that aforementioned theme keeps rolling forward.

In addition to Mr. Lithgow (shown below, left), we have Blythe Danner (below, right) in yet another of her impressive senior-years roles (See You in My Dreams, What They Had, The Chaperone), and together these two superb actors bring to life a couple of characters we might not want to spend a lot of time with in real life -- due to their strange

compulsions/obsessions -- but are more than happy to watch in a movie that puts them front and center, then lets them run with the film and, for some folk, at least, steal it from under its urgent and uncompromising message. How uncompromising you will only understand at movie's end. Which I will not go into here.

Taken as a whole, The Tomorrow Man is a lot more than the sum of its clever parts: surly/sweet old codgers who are difficult but loveable; younger generation family members who just don't get it but still provide some love and support; an urgent warning of how we are losing the world we inhabit.

As much fun as the film often is, how terrific are its lead performances, how well-constructed the screenplay and well-written is the dialog, how astutely directed is scene after scene, overall, this is one quietly jolting experience. Sure, we ought to enjoy today -- the now and all that -- as the film points out. But, hello, what about the future?

From that opening scene, as what we hear sounds like some very intelligent, if aggressive, radio or TV pundit prognosticating on our dire future but then turns out to be someone quite different, Mr. Jones knows how to keep us on our toes by subverting expectation. Lithgow and Danner do this subverting, too -- as so many intelligent actors can. They know that surprising us is every bit as important as entertaining and/or pleasing us. And Jones has given them the opportunity to do all three.

The Tomorrow Man is full of ironies -- its title being but one of these. It will probably annoy as many people as it pleases, but it is worth seeing, enjoying, wrestling with and -- yes -- being depressed by. From Bleecker Street and running 94 minutes, the movie opens here in South Florida this Friday, May 31, in Boca Raton at the Cinemark Palace 20 and Regal Shadowood 18, and in Palm Beach Gardens at Cobb's Downtown at the Gardens 16. On Friday, June 14, the movie will expand to The Movies of Delray and the Movies of Lake Worth and to the Miami area at AMC's Sunset Place 24 and Aventura 24, CMX Brickell City Center 10, the Coral Gables Art Cinema, and Regal's South Beach 18. Wherever you live around the country, click here to learn if and when the film will be coming to a theater near you.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Felix Randau's tale of murder, vengeance and a long road trip -- 5,000 years ago -- in ICEMAN

Der Mann aus dem Eis is the German title for ICEMAN, and as of now, that's the only way you'll find the film on the IMDB, since that site has not seen fit to update its title of the movie. After a very limited North American theatrical release this past mid-March, the movie arrives on DVD and digital streaming this week, and it's definitely worth a watch -- for both its raw and riveting revenge-set plot and its unusually fine cinematography, as gorgeous to view as it is appropriate and compelling.

The cinematography here is from Jakub Bejnarowicz, while the writing and direction come via Felix Randau (shown at left), a name new to TrustMovies but one we're sure to hear from again soon. Herr Randau's movie begins in what I believe is known as the Chalcolithic time period or Copper Age, some 5,000 years ago, as agriculture and animal husbandry were spreading from Asia to Europe and everything from language to religion was exceedingly primitive. We see what looks like a couple of one-room, made-of-wood huts and a very small community of folk who seem to live and perform as one large family.

In the first scene, a man and woman fuck, as small children run about the hut and a neighbor enters to announce something that stops the sex midway, after which the apparently alpha male goes off to hunt. Language seems minimal and is not translated via subtitles at all during the movie. Not to worry: You'll have no trouble following the story because, very soon after, three males enter the scene to kill everyone (children included), steal what appears to be an important religious icon, and then set fire to the entire community.

The fire is seen from afar by our alpha male, but by the time he can get back, all hope and life are gone. His search for the three men and his need for vengeance seem to be as much about that religious icon as about the killings, and off he goes on a road trip that lasts the remainder of the film.

If this sounds at all predictable and obvious, Iceman turns out to be more beautiful and surprising -- due to the extraordinary scenery constantly captured and the oddly occuring moments of quiet humanity found in our "hero" and others -- than it is a somewhat typical revenge thriller.

What happens along the way helps keep the film paced very well, with the quiet scenes nicely threaded among the more actionful. Performances, which require the cast to excel at playing early humanity, are all first-rate; I doubt you'll grouse about any of them, with especial kudos to leading actor, Jürgen Vogel (above), who is onscreen almost constantly and proves up to everything -- action to acting -- asked of him.

Among the few female characters, Susanne Wuest (above) registers for a moment or two early on, while the still-manages-to-be-glamorous Franco Nero (below) pops up, too, in a small but pivotal role. But it is almost entirely the rough-hewn plot, smart pacing and surprisingly real-seeming look at this unusual time period -- together with the eye-popping scenery -- that should keep you glued to Iceman.

From Film Movement's Omnibus Entertainment division, and running 96 minutes, the movie hit DVD and digital streaming yesterday, Friday, May 24 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Friday, May 24, 2019

French fun and games in Laurent Tirard's period charmer, RETURN OF THE HERO

A French frolic worth seeking out (it made its DVD debut last week and is also now available via digital/streaming), RETURN OF THE HERO proves one of those exceedingly rare costume comedies that should have you smiling, chuckling and occasionally outright guffawing at the antics of the clever (or not so) characters on screen.

This is, unfortunately, the kind of movie that gets lost in the shuffle precisely because it has nothing to offer -- no important theme, no great art, nor maybe any redeeming social value -- other than first-class entertainment. That last, of course, never in great supply, should be reason enough to see it.

As written and directed by Laurent Tirard (of the Nicholas movies) -- a writer and filmmaker, shown at right, that our critical establishment, as well as perhaps its French equivalent, prefers not to take seriously and therefore deliberately overlooks the work of -- the movie knows exactly what it is and where it is going and thus arrives there in its breezy 89 minutes with nary a hitch.

Return of the Hero is anchored by the terrific performances of its two leads: Jean Dujardin (above, left, and below, right) and Mélanie Laurent (above, right and below, left), both at the top of their very fine form.

M. Dujardin is in his element, playing a handsome, pompous would-be military officer (only his uniform, we suspect, is real, and most probably belongs to somebody else), while Ms Laurent, more often seen in serious roles, here gives her penchant for subtle comedy its rein and matches her co-star, gibe for delightful gibe.

When at film's beginning, "Captain" Neuville (Dujardin) proposes to Pauline, the younger daughter (Noémie Merlant, above, front right) of the wealthy Beaugrand family, Laurent -- as the older, wiser sis -- smells trouble and goes on high alert.

What happens in the course of this smart little movie is not quite the expected, as one surprise topples over the next, in the course of which love and justice are both somehow served, though not in the manner we might have expected.

The supporting cast is as good as are the leads, with Christian Bujeau and Evelyne Buyle (above, left and right respectively) playing the foolish, funny Beaugrand parents, and an actor new to me, Christophe Montenez (below, right), especially fine as the endearing young man in love with the wrongly besotted Pauline.

By the finale of the film, our two main characters have grown and changed, and you may feel, as did TrustMovies, that writer/director Tirard has made a smart, snide and subtle comment about the worth of the society of the time (early 19th Century France) via the direction his "hero" and "heroine" choose to take.

All in all, a highly enjoyable little lark, Return of the Hero never received even a limited theatrical release here in the USA, so we must be grateful to Icarus Home Video and Distrib Films US for the opportunity to finally see it -- available now on DVD and/or streaming, for purchase or rental.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

ALL IS TRUE: Kenneth Branagh's Will Shakespeare "take" does the Bard proud

As both actor and director, Kenneth Branagh (shown above, center, and below, has by now done so much filmed Shakespeare that it seems somehow only fitting that he should himself play the great guy in a movie. And so he does -- as Shakespeare during his final years -- in the splendid new ALL IS TRUE. The title seems immediately ironic on a number of levels, as we are told via info offered at film's beginning that this title was given initially to the Bard's play now known as Henry VIII, during a production of which, the Globe theatre, in which it was being performed, burned to the ground.

The irony is echoed again in a wonderful scene in which Will's intelligent and angry daughter Judith tells her father directly and unequivocally, "Nothing is true." (This would seem even more appropriate in our own age and the full-bore falsity of Donald Trump.)

And yet, in its own sweet and unhurried manner, Branagh's movie seems to this Shakespeare fan a  remarkable achievement in that it captures so beautifully time and place, character and event, and finally the utterly splendid and remarkable poetry the man was capable of in a scene of such perfection, it will probably be vimeo-ed and/orYouTubed into eternity. (More about that scene later.)

We meet our Will as he returns to the home and family he has cared for mostly at a distance during his long (for the times: most of his contemporaries are, or soon will be, dead) and successful career. That family includes his distant wife (the sublime Judi Dench, above)

and two daughters: the smart and angry Judith (Kathryn Wilder, above, left) and the loving and more submissive Susannah (Lydia Wilson, below). The Bard has given up playwriting -- writing of any sort, really -- and decided to create and tend a garden (he's not very good at it). But of course he becomes most involved in the family matters -- marriages, in-laws, and mostly past mistakes -- that continue to distance him from those he's supposed to love and care for.

The biggest of these matters has to do with the life and untimely death years ago of his son, Hamnet (Judith's twin), and what this finally means to him and the rest of the family. Nothing is hurried here, yet all of the events and themes are worked through believably, humorously and/or movingly, resulting in a work that celebrates the most significant writer (and probably mind) in world history in a manner that does him as much justice as could be managed in a 101-minute movie.

All is -- if not true -- quite wonderful. Yet two scenes stand out above the rest. One, as mentioned earlier, captures the beauty of the writing, as Branagh and Ian McKellen (left, playing the Earl of Southampton) chat and reminisce. Here, poetry, love, loss, class and position all merge so perfectly, with the two actors at the absolute tip-top of their form, that I suspect this perfect scene will survive as long as there's anyone left who appreciates great art.

The other scene involves Will's surprise visit by a younger fan, played with a gentle combination of sweetness, strength and sincerity by Phil Dunster (below). This fellow simply wants to meet the great writer and try to tell him how much his work has meant to him. But of course, in the presence of "greatness," he fumbles and meanders and finally asks, "How did you know? "How did I know what? Shakespeare asks back. And then the answer comes: "Everything."

Indeed. That's the question that's been asked over and over by so many other great minds -- as well as by all of us lesser souls who revere the Bard's work. How did he know people and politics, greed and ambition, love and lust, youth and age and everything in between so very well that it does seem as though, yes, he did know it all? And women, too (who befuddled even Freud). While Shakespeare wasn't much of a feminist, perhaps, he was surely forward-thinking for his time.

Mr. Branagh has given us quite a little gift here, and Shakespeare fans ought to partake. For those afraid that perhaps the language used will be "old English" and beyond their ken, worry not. Branagh and his fine screenwriter, Ben Elton, have made it all perfectly accessible. All Is True is a quiet joy.

From Sony Pictures Classics, the movie, after opening on our cultural coasts, is now expanding elsewhere around the country. Here in South Florida, it opens this Friday, May 24, and will play various theaters in the area, among them the O Cinema Miami, the Classic Gateway in Fort Lauderdale and the Movies of Delray in Delray Beach. Wherever you live, click here and then click on GET TICKETS to discover theaters near you.