Friday, August 30, 2019

Is Pierre Schoeller's ONE NATION, ONE KING the best French Revolution movie ever?

If not, it's pretty damned close. This 2018 film, just now being released in the USA to DVD and VOD, is so stunning and vital in just about every way -- visually, intellectually, emotionally -- that for the first time, TrustMovies found himself understanding so much more about what was going on during this incredible time of change for France and its populace than he had ever been able to do before, while viewing a movie on the subject.

ONE NATION, ONE KING (Un peuple et son roi, which translates into the far more meaningful title of "A people and their king') was written and directed by Pierre Schoeller (shown at left), who has done a couple of other interesting films (Versailles and The Minister), but nothing I'd seen prepared me for the breadth, depth and scale experienced here.

Schoeller has managed to combine beauty and spectacle with personal stories that grab us; political notions of many sorts (along with the particular folk who harbor them) that highlight the thinking of the time; and a look at the various classes -- from the French royal family on down to lesser royalty, the intellectual set, and the illiterate peasants and workers who strive for bread, shelter and some semblance of freedom.

Best of all, he gives all these characters their due, so that we come to understand, even if we cannot always sympathize with, their particular plight. And actually, he comes surprising close to gaining our sympathy, even for the French King, played extremely well by Laurent Lafitte (shown center, above and below). We first see Louis XVI performing a traditional religious ceremony in which he washes the feet of "poor children," and it is immediately clear, when one of the children actually speaks to him, that this King has no understanding or any genuine empathy for his people. And yet, over the course of the film, the more we see of him and his family, the more we come to understand the way in which extreme privilege both frees and imprisons its bearers.

The intelligentsia gets equal time, and we hear from a rather large number of them -- most impressively from the standout Denis Lavant (below, center) as Marat

and Louis Garrel (below) as Robespierre. Garrel gives us just barely a hint of the foul craziness that absolute power, even for a short time period, can bring with it.

The movie is awash with some of France's better thespians (that's Niels Schneider, below, second from right, as Saint-Just), but what these characters say proves every bit as interesting as who they are. I suppose it helps if you have some sense of France's history. Mine is certainly not that good, but I still found the film as intelligent as it is rousing.

In the roles of the working folk, constantly prodding for their betterment and freedom, Adèle Haenel and Gaspard Ulliel (below, left and right respectively) are front and center as the romantic leads. They are just fine (as always), but it is Olivier Gourmet in the role of the town's glassblower who proves (along with Lavant's role in the intellectual set), the film's standout.

How M. Schoeller weaves together all these characters and classes, their philosophies and intents, is exemplary. His pacing; use of sharp, short dialog; and especially his occasional action scenes -- the massacre of unarmed protestors ordered by the Marquise de Lafayette is the film's emotional high point, as well as its turning point regarding the strength of the Republican protests -- all combine to make One Nation, One King a resounding success.

From Distrib Films US and Icarus Home Video, the movie hits the street on DVD and VOD this coming Tuesday, September 3 -- for purchase/rental.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

VOD/DVDebut for traumatized adolescent numbskulls in Amanda Kramer's LADYWORLD

Whew! Characters, situation, scenario, dialog, behavior and movies in general do not come much dumber than LADYWORLD, a film co-written (with Benjamin Shearn) and directed by Amanda Kramer that hit theaters earlier this month and is now available on VOD/DVD.

The pre-visual opening -- in which we hear the sounds of what might be the apocalypse or perhaps just a large, out-of-control land-mover -- is by far the best thing about the movie, after which we see the apparent results of this "event," which strands a group of girls who seem not to know each other yet one of whose birthday they are soon celebrating (as below). Ah, kids!

If you are at all familiar with the blog of TrustMovies, you'll know that he does not generally direct his ire at fledgling filmmakers, and he is trying his best not to do so here. But this is a losing battle, having just sat through what seems like the worst film he has seen in his adult life so far. It does not work on any level -- realistic, symbolic, as fable, prediction, warning, nor even, god help us, as camp.

As conceived by Ms Kramer, shown at right, these girls make almost no intelligent effort to get out of the house in which they're suddenly trapped. Even if we decide that the film is not meant to be taken realistically, then why do they seem to care so much but do so little? Except, of course, scream and yell and act in an utterly insufferable manner -- even for teens (who, as is often the case, look a decade older that they ought).

I cannot recall a movie with worse dialog. It's almost as though Kramer and Shearn are deliberately trying to set our teeth on edge, while giving their characters ever more reason to be "dramatic." There is enough screaming, yelling and stupidity here to fill a dozen Dumb and Dumbers but only a single trace of humor. (Even of the unintentional sort: Yes, it's that bad.)

Normally I'd point out a movie's cast members, but I don't want to inflict any more damage. Maybe I'm just a typical man who can't or won't appreciate what women must go through in this world, though I do wonder how many women would get behind something this wrong-headed? Comparison has been made with this film and a certain classic entitled Lord of the Flies. Well, OK. But then please refer to this one as Lord of the Gnats.

To its credit, the film does have one moment of humor, as either the filmmaker or her cinematographer (Patrick Meade Jones) captures a parody of da Vinci's The Last Supper. From MVD Entertainment Group and running 94 minutes, Ladyworld hit the street on DVD and digital yesterday, August 27 -- for purchase and (maybe) rental. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

That internationally famous, uber-popular book is back again in Marjoleine Boonstra's THE MIRACLE OF THE LITTLE PRINCE

If you are an adherent of The Little Prince, the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry first published in 1943, to the point that you find this little tome to contain just about everything the world needs in terms of guidance, philosophy and ideas to live by, then this new documentary by Marjoleine Boonstra entitled THE MIRACLE OF THE LITTLE PRINCE will probably be quite up your (along with lots and lots of other people's) alley. After all, The Little Prince is said to be second only to The Bible in its popularity and the number of languages -- 375 -- into which it has been translated.

Ms Boonstra, shown at left, has gotten the idea to show us four of these cultures/languages that are currently in danger of disappearing, along with how Saint-Exupéry's novella is helping them to survive.

These languages would be Tamazight, spoken by the Berbers of Morocco; Nahuat, spoken by the Pipil of El Salvador; the Sami and their language of Northern Scandinavia; and Tibetan, the language spoken in Tibet (as long as those Chinese overlords don't hear you).

So we spend maybe 20 to 25 minutes in each of these locations, learning a bit about the people, their history and language, watching them read (from The Little Prince, of course) during which we hear some of Saint-Exupéry's verbiage. And in each of the locations (at least three out of four that I noticed) we catch sight of a child, usually in the background but still quite obvious, who is pretty clearly meant to stand in for that Little Prince (herewith to be signified as TLP).

And that's pretty much it. To call this movie slow would be to find a snail speedy, while to try to gain much more from the documentary than the notion that, yes, the famous book has served to help preserve these languages will prove difficult. Boonstra is unable to make any more thorough or specific connections that might pull us in more forcefully or creatively. Still, perhaps this will be enough for TLP lovers.

Along the way, we do learn an oddball thing or two -- most interestingly how to pack up three sheep and carry them on a motorcycle and that the Nahuat language has no specific word for rose -- and some of the settings, particularly the desert and El Salvador, look majestic or verdant, though Paris, where our Tibetan now resides thanks to the Chinese take-over, doesn't look nearly as lovely as usual.

Toward the end there is a very odd dead-bird story, and by the finale, you will see how the lessons of TLP can be applied here, as just about everywhere else. That's the point, I suppose. My question, after finishing The Miracle of The Little Prince (and of course, yes, it must be nothing less than a "miracle," right?) is how this movie ever got made, let alone how it managed to find a distributor.

From Film Movement, running 89 minutes, and in French, Tibetan, Tamazight, Sami and Nahuat with English subtitles, the film opens this Wednesday, August 28, in New York City for a one-week engagement at Film Forum. A couple more playdates are now scheduled; click here and scroll down to view them.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Blu-ray, DVD & Digital debut for Bertrand Blier's classic, GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS

You might not think it possible, but even though GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS (Préparez vos mouchoirs) won the Oscar back in 1979 for Best Foreign Language Film, this movie seems more timely-- shocking, even -- in today's crazy climate in which Me2, Trigger Warnings and an America President who prides himself on grabbing pussy all vie for our constant attention.

What goes on in this film will set so many minds on fire (of persuasions both far right and far left) that this new 40th anniversary restoration ought to have arrived with its own special warning label attached.

The writer/director of the film, Bertrand Blier, is by now an old hand at blowing up bourgeois values and exploring other possibilities (from Going Places and Buffet Froid to Ménage and How Much Do You Love Me?), yet what he achieves here goes up against our very dearest values about protecting minors from sexuality. And how Blier achieves what he does is so subversive, funny and full-out/dead-on that, well, there's no turning back.

The film begins in a nice restaurant, as the clientele dines, and one couple -- played by Gérard Depardieu (below, left) and Carole Laure (below, right) -- discuss their problems.

Or at least he does. She is mostly silent, as he becomes further and further convinced that she needs the attentions of another male. To that end, he accosts the single male diner (Patrick Dewaere, above, center) and slowly convinces this man (who is indeed attracted to the beautiful Ms Laure) to become "involved."

From here the movie goes places that you will expect and then takes a turn, and further and further turns, that you will not, ending up in a kind of pitch-perfect black comedy vein that works on a number of levels.

The two males here are so clueless about so much that Get Out Your Handkekrchiefs proves a wonderful, almost-faux comedy about the sort of male entitlement that becomes a kind of prison. TrustMovies suspects that M. Blier would be the last male filmmaker to pretend to understand the female mind, body and psyche. But damned if he is not utterly fascinated with these, and intent on exploring them just the same.

In Ms Laure, he found the perfect specimen to befuddle in extremis his male protagonists. The actress is quiet, centered and finally quite happy indeed. How a very young fellow played by Riton Liebman (below, with Ms Laure, and above, covered in rice pudding), figures into that happiness is a large part of the filmmaker's achievement. M. Liebman centers a couple of scenes in the film, the likes of which have not been managed before nor since.

Also involved and quite good indeed are Michael Serrault (below, left), playing a neighbor initially objecting to loud music played at 3am, and Eléonore Hirt (below, right), as young Liebman's easily swayed mother.

How this movie won (deservedly) Best Foreign Language Film way back in 1979 can mostly be attributed to the huge shake-up in Hollywood that the freedom-loving 70s provided. I cannot believe it could do the same today, in an era when Matt Damon can rightly suggest that perhaps touching and rape are not quite the same thing and then be pilloried for it.

In any case, thanks to the Cohen Media Group, you can discover (or rediscover) the film now, as Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, running 108 minutes, in French with English subtitles, hits Blu-ray (in a serviceable-but-nothing-special transfer, with a nice Bonus Feature introduction by Richard Pena), DVD and digital this coming Tuesday, August 27 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Friday, August 23, 2019

An energized, funny fever-dream of a movie-- Mikhanovsky & Austen's GIVE ME LIBERTY

I'm not certain I have ever seen a film with more uncorked, knock-your-socks-off energy than that exhibited by GIVE ME LIBERTY, the new made-in-Wisconsin movie from co-writer (with Alice Austen) and director Kirill Mikhanovsky. That energy is so consistent and contagious -- yet somehow not overly insistent -- that it not only disarms you but absolutely pulls you into its all-embracing humor and, finally, emotion.

Mikhanovsky, shown at right, has not exactly come out of nowhere (he was a co-writer on one of last year's most interesting narrative/documentary mashes, Gabriel and the Mountain), but his work here as director/co-writer seems to TrustMovies to be something that he will not easily equal again. His film is often that extraordinary.

Give Me Liberty's "plot" begins with a very long, constantly interrupted bus-ride in which the driver, Vic (a handsome newcomer blessed with quiet charisma, Chris Galust, shown below, right), must bring various special-needs patients to and from their destination.

His passengers, this time, are both expected and not so, with the latter providing much of the movie's grand energy, charm and humor. These, some of whom are shown below, are a bunch of Russian emigres, late for the burial of a dear friend, who cadge Vic into giving them the necessary lift. (There is evidently a large Russian Jewish community in Wisconsin, of which Vic and family are part.)

The film is set in and around a large Wisconsin city on a day when street protests are taking place -- which make the usual travel routes suddenly off-limits and of course add to the film's energy, convulsions, politics and fun. There is one passenger here -- a young lady named Tracy (played by another newcomer, Lauren "Lolo" Spencer, shown above, center, and below) -- whose beauty, needs and problematic situation attract both Vic and us.

The one passenger who really charms the pants off us, however (even as he lies, cheats and steals a bit), is a younger Russian emigre named Dima (a knockout of an actor, Maxim Stoyanov, below), who would be a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor nomination, if the Academy ever paid proper attention to movies like this one. Mr. Stoyanov is giving what is likely to be the performance of his life; you will not want to miss it.

How all these people -- and a few others I won't have  time to go into -- get where they're going, along with what they do, once they arrive there proves marvelous, and often as moving as it is amusing. We get family scenes, traumatic and hilarious; dancing and singing; artwork that is a beautiful as it is simple; and a wrap-around beginning and ending that offers up the film's most  endearing and moving character, a bed-ridden friend of Vic who provides him and us with some wonderful thoughts and ideas.

Give Me Liberty gets so much so right that I suspect you will forgive its occasional repetition and a running time that's just a tad too long at 111 minutes. When it is working full-throttle, which would be most of its duration, it is so dynamic that you can't -- hell, you won't want to -- look away. And by the by, this is also a bring-us-together movie like you have most probably never seen. It defines diversity without even trying.

From Music Box Films and one of this distributor's most unusual offerings, the movie opens today, Friday, August 23, in New York City at the IFC Center and Brooklyn's BAM Rose Cinema. Next Friday, August 30, look for it in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica Film Center, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5.  The film will hit South Florida on Friday, September 13 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, the Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale and the Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and here and then scroll down to click on Theatrical Engagements.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Pursuing dreams: Tyler Nilson/Mike Schwartz's sweet adventure, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

Yes, it's determinedly feel-good. Yes, it's not entirely (or even mostly) believable. And, yes, it's sentimental as hell. Yet THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON -- as you've probably already heard via copious PR and maybe, by now, word-of-mouth, too -- is such a sweet movie, so well-acted and often just as well-written, and full of the kind of specificity regarding character and incident that will quickly turn you into a supporter, that the film passes the "worth-seeing" test and then some.

Best of all, it bestows on one of its leading characters, a Down Syndrome young man, more multi-faceted, full-bodied, positive/negative integrity than you usually find in narratives featuring this kind of special-needs character.

The movie's writers/directors -- Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, pictured at left, with Mr. Schwartz on the right -- have done just about as good a job as you can imagine of creating a low-budget-but-thoroughly-mainstream film in which much that you expect indeed happens. But it happens with enough charm, sweetness and just enough of the sour to make it palatable for intelligent movie buffs.

Plus, it boasts a very good cast -- leads to small roles -- starting with Shia LaBeouf, who, with American Honey and now this film, seems to have gotten both his career and mental health back on track. The actor (below) has grown from a gorgeous if gangly, pretty-boy youth

into a real man. His performance here, as an angry, on-the-run fisherman who haltingly befriends our Down Syndrome hero (who's also on the run) is a very fine one indeed. In fact, it's LaBeouf's strength and complete credibility that most holds this movie together.

The actor is helped, of course, by the rest of the fine cast, starting with newcomer Zack Gottsagen, (above, left), an actor who has Down Syndrome and makes the very most of his role of Tyler, gaining our sympathy with absolutely no special pleading. Granted, today's audiences are likely to be on his side, just as soon as his condition is made clear. But this actor makes that condition at once both canny and complete. He's as likely to get you angry as he is to win you over. He's funny and moving and every-moment-real -- even when the movie-makers are asking him, as at the finale, to go full-out fantasy.

The leading lady (who is Tyler's care-giver and must track the kid down once he runs away from the facility where he lives) is played by Dakota Johnson (above, left), who is as good here as she's been elsewhere. The supporting roles are taken by actors as superb and in-demand as Jon Bernthal (below, right), Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church and John Hawkes, all of whom, considering their small roles, must have been most taken by the story, script and theme.

Comparisons have been made to the "rafting" tales of Mark Twain, and it's a good bet that Mr. Twain would have himself appreciated this smart little movie. Resist it as you might, get ready to be sweetly trounced.

From Roadside Attractions and running just 93 minutes, The Peanut Butter Falcon -- after making a splash at festivals and opening to excellent reviews on either coast -- hits South Florida and elsewhere this Friday, August 23. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Israel and Palestine in a whole new light (and genre): Sameh Zoabi's TEL AVIV ON FIRE

What a low-key delight is the new genre-melding movie, TEL AVIV ON FIRE. Taking on the Israel-Palestine conflict -- which we've now seen in just about every manner one would imagine possible, from documentaries such as the questing/philosophic (David Hare's Wall), historical (Colliding Dreams) and the bring-us-together sort (In the Land of Pomegranates) to narrative thrillers (The Little Drummer Girl, either version), family sagas (The Other Son), love stories (Omar) and sex-tryst films (the recent Reports on Sarah and Saleem) -- it provides quite the new perspective.

The genre we have not seen much of regarding this particular subject is comedy. To which you might immediately respond, "And for good reason, dummy!" Until you've viewed the movie under consideration here, that is.

As written and directed by Sameh Zoabi (shown at right), Tel Aviv on Fire might best be described as shambling -- which is not simply deliberate but a huge part of its charm. The film starts slowly and moves even more so. Yet that quiet, unhurried pace builds continually into something near amazing: funny, feisty, satiric, ironic and quite delightful. At film's end TrustMovies was in a state of sheer joy at its underhanded accomplishment of casting the kind of light on this more than 70-year conflict that both upends it and forces you to view it differently.

Even the film's seemingly incendiary title (which doubles as the name of a Palestinian soap opera that is also quite popular with the women of Israel) is part of the fun here. Our hero, a shamblin' man named Salam (Kais Nashif, above), who works as a low-end go-fer at that soap opera which his uncle produces, in order to get back into the affections of his old girl-friend, as well as gain faster thoroughfare at the Palestinian checkpoint, tell a fairly minor fib -- he claims to be a writer on the soap -- which results in his liaison with a Israeli military officer (Yaniv Biton, below) that actually does lead him into that writer's position.

What happens after gets sillier, funnier and much more productive in terms of irony and even depth of perspective, as everyone from the cast, director, original writer, Salam's ex-girlfriend (the lovely Maisa Abd Elhadi, below, left), the lead actress in the soap (a very funny Lubna Azabal), and that military officer's wife all become involved in the goings-on.

One of the small but piquant joys of the film is how this Palestinian soap opera seems different in scale yet all too redolent of soaps around the world. Ditto how love stories resort to such similar schemes to work themselves out. And, yes, how the male ego -- whether Israeli, Palestinian, or any other culture/nation -- proves every bit as tender and typical as you might expect.

The movie may be low-key, but it's an absolute triumph in just about every way -- never more so than when it addresses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without violence yet head-on, dead-on and with such unalloyed precision and delight.

From the Cohen Media Group, running 97 minutes, in Arabic and Hebrew (with English subtitles for both), Tel Aviv on Fire, after opening on the coasts earlier this month, hits South Florida this Friday, August 23. In Miami, look for it at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, in Hollywood at the  Cinema Paradiso, in Fort Lauderdale at the Savor Cinema, in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theatersand at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth. Wherever you live around the USA, to see if the film is playing anywhere near you, click here.