Monday, September 30, 2019

Coming-of-age in East Germany, 1956, in surprising, wrenching ways: Lars Kraume's marvelous THE SILENT REVOLUTION

Ah, kids, and the things they can up to! What those of THE SILENT REVOLUTION get up to during their final year of high school in East Germany back in 1956 begins as something of a lark, as well as a genuine and sympathetic feeling for those young people active in the protests taking place in Communist-controlled Hungary. The Berlin Wall hadn't even been built back then, so access between East and West Berlin was easier than it would be a few years hence.

What a couple of students see during the newsreel portion of the screening they have snuck into in a West Berlin movie house -- footage of the Hungarian Revolution they would never be allowed to view in their home country of East Berlin, now controlled by the USSR -- influences them to talk their classroom into staging a couple of minutes of silence to honor the Hungarian protesters.

That's all. Nothing special. No big deal.

Based on a real situation that arose in this particular classroom, the movie -- directed and adapted (from the book by Dietrich Garstka) by Lars Kraume, shown above -- turns out to be one of the more compelling, engrossing and moving films I've seen this year.

In fact, the film is right up there with Oscar-winner The Lives of Others in the detailed manner in which it captures life under Communist rule: when anyone -- say, those two boys who go to the movie theater (Theo, played by Leonard Scheicher, above, and Kurt (Tom Gramenz, below) -- proves foolish enough to, even slightly, question that rule.

As the kids' two minutes of "solidarity" slowly becomes "counter-revolution," once the higher-ups -- from teachers to principal to government flunkies and ugly high-level bureaucrats -- become involved, things turn simultaneously ridiculous and frightening, as entire families' lives begin to disintegrate.

The Silent Revolution is particularly good at demonstrating the ways in which this Communist/Fascist bureaucracy invades and threatens the individual, and as this threat increases and the kids are further worn down, your blood will start to boil.

Herr Kraume refuses to make the students simply good or bad; all of them are mixed bags, managing wrong and right as best they can and for reasons that are genuine but sometimes flawed. They try their best to present a united front, but their masters engage in lies and betrayal to break them.

The student for whom all this takes the greatest toll is Erik (dazzlingly portrayed by Jonas Dassler, above and below, left), whose journey from belief to belittlement is excruciating and surprisingly moving. Getting to the truth is one thing but getting any kind of justice is quite another

The film's Spartacus-like climax is just fine, but it's the very final moments that seal the deal. "I'm getting goosebumps," my spouse exclaimed, as The Silent Revolution came to its brilliant, beautiful, breathtaking end. I think you will remember these kids and their predicament for a good long time.

From Distrib Film US and released via Icarus Home Video, the movie -- in German with English subtitles and running 111 minutes -- hits the street on DVD and via VOD this Tuesday, October 1 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sex as an agent of discovery and hope: Mark Lewis & Ryan Balas' ENTHUSIASTIC SINNERS

Can a really good fuck -- no, no: I mean a really good fuck -- lead to discovery, growth and change for the two parties involved? Good question, and it is one that quite a number of movies have asked us viewers over the years, in their own special ways, of course -- from 1933's very interesting  Ecstasy to more relatively recent schlock like 9-1/2 Weeks and Fatal Attraction.

In their new and (it seems to TrustMovies) genuinely ground-breaking film, ENTHUSIASTIC SINNERS, writer/producer/ director Mark Lewis (shown at right) and cinematographer/editor Ryan Balas have given us a movie that answers that question in -- god bless us! -- a positive way by making the sex both believable and hot as hell (full-frontal for both the man and the woman) and the two characters interesting and worthwhile as human beings, but without making their situation in any way too easy or by tying up loose ends that need to be left untied in order for the film to be truthful about its central situation.

That situation is this: When a young, on-duty policeman (Christopher Heard, above) gets a call to investigate gunshots in a home nearby, he finds a widowed mother (Maggie Alexander, below), whose teenage son (along with his friends) have been up to dumb things that boys sometimes do. The cop and the woman talk a bit, she spilling out too-much-information at times, he listening with kindness, interest and a growing attraction. She's attracted, too.

The sex comes hot, hard, heavy -- and very believable. These two people talk to each other during sex, tell each other what they want or need, sometimes in a funny way that makes their union all the more real, moving and sometimes clearly fun, as well as often orgasmic.

In less than a 24-hour time period, it becomes clear, then clearer, that our protagonists, Bruce and Shelby, are a fine mix in terms of sexual compatibility, communication (both verbal and not), honesty, caring and neediness. Except that he is married-with-children, a fact that they and we both know almost from the start. Hence the film's on-the-mark title.

And while neither of our love-makers is all that religious, it is clear that they are, or try to be, genuinely moral, caring people. So where does that leave his wife, whom we never see, though he makes one phone call to her in the course of these proceedings?

Questions like this crop up during the course of the film, which is given over mostly to bouts of hot and heavy sex. Yet because Bruce and Shelby, their sexuality and their personae, are brought to life so remarkably fully, we must and do engage with them, their connection and even, to an extent, their lives prior to each other.

This is thanks to Lewis' writing and direction, both of which could hardly be more intimate and real, and to photographer/editor Balas' contributions, which manage to put us right there, amidst the lovemaking, without making us seem voyeurs. (I was surprised that my spouse, who is a good deal more prudish than I, had no problems whatsoever with any of the sex scenes.)

The performances of Mr. Heard and Ms Alexander are about as close to perfect as you could ask. They capture the most intimate moments, as well as all the heat, with utter specificity and truth. Both actors are attractive without being "model" pretty. Her body is actually a bit more "toned" than his, though his is certainly attractive, while his ample cock, which I believe we sometimes see in a slightly semi-erect state, is a nice turn-on, too.

Even with all the nudity on view, I don't see how you could call the film in any way pornographic. It's too real and honest, and its intent is to strip these two people down to, not mere nakedness, but to their very character and soul. The film also tells us that sex can be genuinely liberating and positive -- rather than something violent or power-hungry or stupidly comedic, which is what we get much more often in movies.

Instead we witness this unusual day and night, and when we leave Bruce and Shelby, though much has changed for them, we simply do not know what the result of this will be. I would love to see Netflix or Amazon take a real chance and give us an ongoing series. If these two are the soulmates they seem to be, what will this mean to his wife and kids, to her son, to his job and all the rest? What an amazing meaningful journey -- for everyone involved -- this could be. (And not something tiresomely second-rate, as that cable series The Affair turned out).

Meanwhile, Enthusiastic Sinners, running just 85 minutes, is available now to rent or buy via iTunes, with a DVD release to come on October 8. If you have any interest in discovering what an exploration of honest-to-goodness, active-positive sexuality can offer, here's your chance. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

From Venezuela, amidst the chaos, comes a based-on-life police procedural/bloodsucker movie, Carl Zitelmann's THE LAKE VAMPIRE

Back in the mid-1970s, in a healthier (compared only to the past few years) Venezuela, a serial killer by the name of Zacarías Ortega was narrowing down the population, body by body.

Ortega may be little more than a footnote in Venezuelan history today, but an industrious  filmmaker, Carl Zitelmann, in his full-length debut, has brought Ortega's tale -- sort of -- to the screen in the new film titled THE LAKE VAMPIRE (El vampiro del lago).

As director and writer, who adapted his screenplay from a novel by Norberto José Olivar, Señor Zitelmann (shown at right) has no doubt added some of his own "liberties" to those already taken by Olivar in telling this true-life tale via his novel, A Vampire in Maracaibo.

The result, TrustMovies opines, is a film that quickly engulfs us by offering up the news (but fortunately not the views) of decapitated corpses and severed heads -- often those of children -- and the simultaneous introduction of a novelist named Ernesto (Sócrates Serrano, below) trying awfully hard to find a subject for his second book. Oh-oh: Could he be on to something here?

Indeed, yes, and so Ernesto tracks down the police investigator, Jeremias (Miguel Ángel Landa, below), who handled that initial case back in the 70s -- one that these new killings would seem to imitate -- and together the two men begin to bond and then to investigate.

As Jeremias tells Ernesto the story of how he tracked down the earlier killer, we are given a number of scenes devoted to those distant days (Jeremias' younger self is played by Abilio Torres, below), even as we are also learning about the current spate of killings.

The filmmaker competently juggles his police procedural, serial killer and vampire genres, as well as his past and present time frames, though we do grow a little weary of things by the point the movie has reached its pretty-much foregone conclusion. The identity of one or two characters, past and present, may carry a surprise, though for fans for either the serial killer or vampire genres, the bigger "reveals" will have probably revealed themselves awhile back.

What saves the film is its visual style -- atmospheric and almost always compelling --  along with it's mostly excellent pacing, and the fine performances from its entire cast.

As good as everyone is, the top acting honors actually go to the actor who plays the three "vampire" roles in distant past, not-so-distant past and present day: Eduardo Gulino (shown above and below), who is by turns crazy scary, sublimely creepy, and quite classy.

One of the more interesting things about this film is how male-centric it consistently is. The single female character of any note (other than one of  the killer's victims, below) exists simply for the most prominent male to use for work and sex purposes; otherwise, it's all men all the time. And not particularly nice men, at that. By the time of the very downbeat finale, you may feel, well, fuck 'em all: They got what they deserved. (Even if the people of Venezuela, then and now, certainly have not.)

From Uncork’d Entertainment and Dark Star Pictures, The Lake Vampire will have its U.S. theatrical premiere tomorrow, Friday, September 27, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Glendale -- with a VOD release to follow later this fall.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Thrills, chills and tired tropes abound in Matthew Currie Holmes' halting horror debut, THE CURSE OF BUCKOUT ROAD

Evidently a hit at some of what we might call second-tier film fests -- the Pasadena International Film Festival the Hot Springs Horror Film Festival --  this new-to-cinemas-and-VOD scary movie, THE CURSE OF BUCKOUT ROAD proves an oddball mix, for sure.

The film begins most auspiciously, with moments of impending horror alternating with a college classroom scene in which a professor challenges her students with the question of why we need -- and then need to destroy -- our myths. Soon, the first corpse (of many to follow) appears, and we are off to the races once again.

As directed and co-written by Canadian actor-turned-filmmaker, Matthew Currie Holmes, shown at left, abetted by good cinematography (Rudolf Blahacek) and excellent editing (Lindsay Ljungkull), the movie takes place in the supposedly urban-legends-and-scary-stories capital of the entire USA, where a particular avenue called Buckout Road is clearly the worst place of all.

It sho' nuff' is. As soon as a character gets near the road (or even if they simply dream about it, for goodness sake), you can bet they're about to be dead. You might think that the town's police department would be just a little concerned, but the police chief (the always reliable Henry Czerny, below, right) seems more interested in badgering witnesses than in putting two and two together to arrive at... something supernatural!

Soon the town's eminent psychologist (Danny Glover, below, right) becomes involved, along with his estranged grandson (Evan Ross, below, left) and his about-to-be girlfriend, that police chief's daughter (Dominique Provost-Chalkley, above, left).

There is also a pair of goofy fraternal twins who dream about Buckout Road (Kyle Mac and Jim Watson, shown seated below, left and right respectively). Mr. Mac gets the movie's funniest low-key line, "They're coming back, right?," more of which would have done a world of good.

The Curse of Buckout Road certainly is not an awful film. It has some decent-if-typical suspense (what's behind that door that just opened by itself?), surprise and shock (a supremely well-edited scene involving an apparition and a bathroom sink, below), clever flashbacks to the 1970s using grainy, handheld footage and, as expected given the cast, some decent performances.

But its insistence on tossing so much into its mix -- witches, albino zombies, and been-there/done-that/would-be scary/creepy things (as below) -- and then returning to each of these again and again eventually wears us viewers down. (Really now, do you have to show us more than once the same set of characters killing themselves?)

The plot, such as it is, does offer one nice surprise toward the end, and young Ross does well in his would-be "hero" role. Mr. Holmes and his movie seem to want to take us back to the former glory days of scary cinema, while using a number of more recent, modern additions to the genre. It works, I guess, off and on, and just might be enough to please horror aficionados.

From Vertical and Trimuse Entertainment, The Curse of Buckout Road opens theatrically this Friday, September 27, in Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Tampa and Riverside, California -- and will simultaneously be available via VOD.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Garland's back -- in the interesting Goold/ Edge/Quilter/Zellweger collaboration, JUDY

Judy Garland's legion of fans may be dying off in large numbers these days -- the famed singer/ actress was at her peak from the 1930s thru the early 1960s -- but those of actress Renée Zellweger, despite the latter's six-year disappearance from movies during the 2010-2016 period, are still around and large enough, TrustMovies suspects, to help make the new film about Garland, simply titled JUDY, a moderate success.

As directed by Britisher Rupert Goold (shown below), with a screenplay by Tom Edge (from the stage play, End of the Rainbow, by Peter Quilter), the movie covers the last years of Ms Garland's life during her final and very up-and-down performances in London -- with numerous flashbacks to her early days and career as MGM's most successful musical star.

As a film, this is all pretty standard and mostly downbeat stuff, due to Garland's addiction to drugs and alcohol, along with her either choosing poor marriage partners or not understanding how, nor being able, to make a success of those partnerships.

So Judy proves a mostly glum movie -- it would have to be were it to remain true to the facts of this difficult and sad life. Those rumors of how a certain Mr. Mayer and his minions treated the young Garland are shown via pointed if somewhat obvious scenes.

Meanwhile our adult Judy -- clearly down on her luck and performing daytime shows for little pay with her two younger children (shown two photos below; the movie features but a single scene with her daughter Liza) -- meets her fifth and last husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock, below), whose presence is welcome until Garland's drinking and drug use helps ruin this relationship, too.

Interestingly, we don't hear a lick of Garland's singing until maybe 40 minutes or more into the film. How it is introduced is quiet and clever, too. From that point we get more songs, and Ms Zellweger does a good job of giving us Garland's look and sound, even if, to my mind, no one -- not even Liza Minnelli -- has come close to capturing that unique voice and the enormous range of emotions it contained.

Yet even the musical numbers here are all tinged -- occasionally a good deal more than that -- with sadness and failure to launch. The film does not shy away from the addictive behavior that made Garland's reputation increasingly bleak until almost no one wanted to take a chance on booking her -- for movies or concerts.

Garland had a large gay following, well before homosexuality came out of the closet and when, in England, it was still a crime for which you could go to prison. Yet the single "up" scene in the film involves two gay fans of the singer, waiting to greet her after the show and ending up making her dinner in their flat.

True or not, it makes a lovely few minutes and gives the movie an ooomph that helps it move along, while leading to the kind of feel-good finale, brief as it might be, that makes nice use of Garland's signature song and should put a tear into the eyes of die-hard fans.

The film's production design is first-rate, with sets, costumes and cars all nicely period, and care has been taken to not duplicate exactly but clearly still match the look, style and colors of Garland's attire. And Zellweger certainly recreates the emotional life of the singer -- on stage and off.

From Roadside Attractions and LD Entertainment and running just under two full hours, Judy opens this Friday, September 27, nationwide. Here in South Florida, you can find it in Miami at the Regal South Beach 18, AMC's Sunset Place 24 and Aventura Mall 24 theatres, CMX Brickell City Center 10, Silverspot at Met Square Cinemas; in Fort Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway 4; at the Paradise 24 in Davie; at the Cinemark Palace 20, Living Room Theaters, and Regal Shadowood 16, all in Boca Raton; at the Movies of Delray 5 and Movies of Lake Worth; at the Cinemark Boynton Beach 14; at Cobb's Downtown at the Mall Gardens Palm 16; at the Royal Palm Beach 18; the Cinepolis Jupiter 14; and the Regal Treasure Coast Mall 16 in Jensen Beach. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Friendship, interrupted & rekindled, beautifully explored in Simone Catania's DRIVE ME HOME

Essentially a full-length road-trip movie buoyed by two marvelous male performances, DRIVE ME HOME -- a lovely, meaningful-yet-never-spoken title -- is one of those special films from Italy that give us an exploration of "family" in a manner no other country seem to manage quite as well. Bonus treat: This one is often visually stunning, too.

Simone Catania (shown at right), the film's director and co-writer (with Fabio Natale), has created a little movie with big themes -- the testing of friendship, the meaning of goals unachieved, the relationship of past to present -- all of which are explored honestly, even deeply, without a lick of pushing or overdoing anything. This is quite an accomplishment, but it is one so gracefully, subtly managed that, in our current era of overlong overkill, it is likely to be near-completely overlooked.

The two leading roles could not have been cast better nor, I think, could the resulting performances been improved. Both Marco D'Amore (above, left), best know for his role in the Italian television series Gomorra (available here via Netflix), and his co-star Vinicio Marchioni (shown below, and last seen by me in the also lovely and poetic Italian crime film, Tainted Souls, now available via Amazon Prime Video) inhabit their very different roles completely. The result is a movie that resonates and builds to a conclusion that -- in any other film might seem like foolish feel-good. Here, thanks to the complete credibility of the actors, instead it seems as though these two men, along with us viewers, have indeed reached some version of "home."

With boyhood scenes from the two men's past in Sicily intercut with their present-day road trip through Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and finally back to Italy, we slowly learn both who they were and who they are. They are learning this, too -- which is one of the things that makes the film so quietly moving.

Along the way, due to an accident and the need for truck repair, they encounter the kind of commune that could make socialists of us all, as well as a visit to a no-holds-barred sex club where anything goes and some important information is revealed. How this information is processed by one of the men is handled by the actor and filmmaker in exemplary fashion.

There are some sweet and spiky supporting characters --  especially those played by the lovely Jennifer Ulrich and the fine-and-still-kicking Lou Castel in that very special commune -- but the film belongs to D'Amore and Marchioni. And to that amazing truck that the character played by D'Amore drives. It (shown above and below) -- along with these two guys and the movie they inhabit -- is an absolute keeper.

From Breaking Glass Pictures and running just 99 minutes, the movie makes its American debut on home video tomorrow, Tuesday, September 24 -- for purchase and/or rental.