Thursday, October 31, 2019

COUSINS--Mauro Carvalho & Thiago Cazado's sweet, gay fairytale from Brazil--opens in L.A.

Sweetness and charm can help a little independent movie go a long way. For the latest example, see COUSINS, a small delight from Brazil that the country's current right-wing dictator is no doubt hoping to ban or perhaps have its cast and crew "disappeared" forthwith. Meanwhile, the film -- co-directed by Mauro Carvalho (below) and Thiago Cazado (who doubles as screenwriter and triples as one of the film's two stars) -- opens this week in Los Angeles where it should attract a fairly pleased and loyal following.

Co-star Paulo Souza (shown below) plays a closeted young man named Lucas who lives with his aunt and is told by this religious but also quite caring woman that she must go away on some sort church-group trip, and that while she is gone he is to expect a visit from his cousin, Mario, whom Lucas he has never met and who is just now out of prison (don't worry: it's for a minor offense) and that Mario will be staying with them for awhile.

Of course that cousin (played by Cazado, below) turns out to be an adorable and very hot young man who shows a decided interest in Lucas, and before you can say, "OK: How long do we have to wait for the first sex scene?", they are going at it hot and heavy.

The sex is fun and quite sexy, and there's enough full-frontal to satisfy fans. More important, however: The two performances are lovely and real, and they help us glide easily over the screenplay's coincidence, happenstance and obviousness.

A naughty, jealous neighbor girl brings the plot to a boil, yet the film is so full of good nature and good humor (along with its good-looking cast) that there is really little to stop you from giving in to its sweetness and charm and simply going with the flow.

Sure, it's a fairytale, but it's a lovely one that might just make you forget, even momentarily, the downward spiral of a country for whom we had, for awhile at least, higher hopes. Still, who are we to throw stones, as the USA now has one of the world's prime sleazebags as its leader?

From TLA Releasing and running just 82 minutes, Cousins -- in Portuguese with English subtitles -- opens tomorrow, Friday, November 1, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3. And as it's from TLA, there is sure to be a DVD/digital release in the offing soon.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

VOD/digital premiere for Milena Lurie's debut film, ENTANGLED

Early on in ENTANGLED, a film written and directed by newcomer Milena Lurie, our heroine/ narrator informs us that she used to be full but wanted to be empty, but now she is empty and wants to be full. Or maybe it was vice versa. Later she tells of a similar kind of situation in which she may be dreaming while awake, or awake while dreaming. By the point at which she informs us that, sometimes, she just wants to scream, you may be inclined to answer, "Honey, I know just how you feel."

Although it is being distributed via Samuel Goldwyn Films, Entangled has all the hallmarks of a vanity production -- Ms Lurie is writer, director and producer -- and I suspect from everything about this film that Lurie must be awfully young and untutored because she is telling us stuff we've seen and heard so many times before (told and shown much better) that she finally bores us silly.

For whatever reason, she has made her heroine a French ex-pat living in New York City (played by Ana Girardot, shown above, bathing) with an accent thick enough for us to need subtitles when she is speaking English). Ms Girardot is a good actress but she is lost here in the thicket of dreadful dialog she must intone.

The men in her life are played by Peter Mark Kendall (her current beau), Jonathan Cake (above, right: a pick-up at a local bar) and Grégory Fitoussi (below, right: her ex, who flies over from Paris for a one-night-stand). They all mutter dialog seemingly out of the discards of a class in Screenwriting 101. Oh, sure, miscarriage and abortions figure into things, but even they manage to seem about as shallow as all else. When miscarriage and abortion prove equal in importance to fashion, food and gossip, that, I suppose, is a very weird accomplishment.

I do hate dumping upon new filmmakers, but Ms Lurie should wait until she has something remotely worth saying that has not been said countless time previously before making another movie. It has been a long while since I felt that my time spent had been this wasted. Running 93 minutes, Entangled hit VOD and home video earlier this month. Your move....

Monday, October 28, 2019

QUEEN OF HEARTS: Trine Dyrholm stars in Denmark's entry into the BFLF sweeps

If you'll recall, the QUEEN OF HEARTS -- at least in the famous Lewis Carroll tale which the three leading characters in this eponymously-named film take turns reading to a set of pretty young twins -- is perhaps most remembered for constantly shouting "Off with his head!" This is worth noting, since that romantic-sounding title might put you in mind of various rom-coms you've seen over the years. That this film, directed and co-written by May el-Toukhy (shown below), is Scandinavian, however, might re-direct you into darker territory.

And though we are not talking an Ingmar Bergman-level of serious filmmaking here, the movie is perhaps the darkest example of the lives of the Scandinavian haute bourgeoisie to be seen in quite some time. Queen of Hearts is Denmark's entry into the newly titled Best International Feature Film category (formerly called the Best Foreign Language Film), and as such would be expected to deliver some prestige goods. It does -- and then some.

TrustMovies would be pleased to see the film arrive on the Academy's shortlist of nine movies considered for this award, perhaps even rising to become one of the five nominees. Yet it is such an incredibly dark film that I rather think an embrace by the entire Academy may prove difficult.

Queen of Hearts deals with an older woman's affair with her husband's son from a former marriage, and if your mind, as did mine when I heard this plot hook, moved into Phaedra territory or that of any number of melodramatic movies made around this theme, think again. That the older woman is played by one of the Denmark's finest actresses, Trine Dyrholm (shown above and below, and recently seen here in Becoming Astrid and Nico, 1988), only makes the movie even more of a must-see, and Ms Dyrholm plays each moment to its max without ever overdoing.

There is a single unnecessary scene of tears -- that perhaps indicates some sort of repentance but comes across as too easy -- meant to humanize our non-heroine; otherwise the movie is spot-on emotionally and psychologically. It is at its finest at the very moment when other films would take that melodramatic/soap-operatic turn. Instead this one offers up a gut punch unlike any we've experienced.

The other two leading roles -- Magnus Krepper (above, left, as the husband/father and Gustav Lindh (below) as the son -- are equally fine, the former caring but distant, the latter caring and all too present. Likewise the supporting roles all add to the specificity and believability of the scenario.

I can't go into more of the plot maneuvering without giving away genuine spoilers. Suffice it to say that this unusual character study takes you places you have not been and may not care to go. Once you've made the trip, however, it'll burn itself onto your memory.

Distributed via Breaking Glass Pictures, in Danish and Swedish with English subtitles and running 123 minutes, Queen of Hearts opens theatrically this Friday, November 1 -- in New York City at the Cinema Village and in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Glendale

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Must-see documentary: Patricia Marcoccia's look at a vitally important academic/author in THE RISE OF JORDAN PETERSON

Why isn't Jordan Peterson -- clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto -- better known here in the USA? Sure, he may be beloved by certain members of the alt-right (until he tweeted that, if confirmed, Brett Kavanaugh should step down), and although he speaks out against political correctness, so does Bill Maher, and look where that has gotten him. Peterson is a hugely best-selling author, so one might imagine that he would have been invited onto the likes of an Oprah-type TV show or perhaps The View.

The main reason, TrustMovies suggests, is that Mr. Peterson is not simply controversial, he is also... from Canada. As we know (or actually don't know, since this is seldom mentioned in polite society), most things Canadian -- especially those having to do with culture -- are often ignored or found wanting by our cultural guardians here in the USA.

In her new documentary, THE RISE OF JORDAN PETERSON, filmmaker Patricia Marcoccia (shown at left) explores this very interesting fellow, his ideas, history, family, friends (and some no-longer-friends) and has pieced together a believable and (it seems to me) relatively trustworthy account of Peterson's life and times. (You might also want to read the worthwhile article Ms Marcoccia has written about why she made this film.)

As popular and successful as Peterson (seated, above) certainly was, what made him so suddenly controversial was his huge and angry objection to Canada’s gender identity rights Bill C-16, and a certain section of it that appeared to criminalize behavior, whether than behavior was intentional or not, along with the forced use of new pronouns (below) when referring to the transgendered.

This was taken to heart by many in the trans community as something anti-trans -- rather than merely anti-unnecessary politically correct speech. And thus was born yet another "Let-see-how-much-more-divisive-we-can-be!" pro vs con campaign. TrustMovies thinks of himself as thoroughly pro-trans, but he suspects that he will never be able to refer to a single individual as a "them." Grammar just doesn't permit such a stupid lapse, the use of which, by the way, does trans folk no favors, in any case. Rather, it singles them out for further attention as "oddities" rather than helping them fit into society at large. This constant concentration on what we say -- the "n" word or the use of a "correct" pronoun -- comes at the expense of and takes attention away from what we do -- murdering blacks and the transgendered. This is political correctness at its most stupid and useless.

Ms Marcoccia, who spent a lot of time with her subject, clearly finds him a worthwhile one, but she gives noticeable weight to his naysayers, too, without, I think, tipping the balance toward them. From what we see and hear here, Peterson himself is rather quick to question his own motives and ideas, trying to keep himself on track despite the siren calls of fame, adulation, and all the selfies taken with and by his many fans.

Helping him with that task is his seemingly close-knit family -- wife (above) and kids, along with his still-living mom (below, left) and dad. We also discover all the art Peterson has accrued, some of it redolent of the Marxist/Lenin/Stalin era (see four photos up), a time and a politics which the man clearly loathes yet simultaneously finds fascinating.

If a person is to be judged by the amount of alt-right followers he has attracted, then Peterson is surely guilty of something. Yet seeing him interacting with fans who look and act anything but alt-right, and hearing him speak about how to take charge of one's own life in ways intelligent and certainly possible would seem to contradict that.

When the film was shown in Canada last year, it's full title was Shut Him Down: The Rise of Jordan Peterson. This probably makes more sense up north where the man was and is a household name. It also brings to the fore how angry and unsettled his very identity makes so many people -- not, perhaps, as much because of what he thinks and says as because of what certain people make out of what he thinks and says.

Yes, this is something of a conundrum, yet Ms Marcoccia has done a sterling job of marshalling the evidence, pro and con, and bringing it all together into a thoughtful, entertaining whole. I want to know more about Jordan Peterson and his ideas, and after seeing this fine documentary, I suspect you will, too.

From Gravitas Ventures and running 91 minutes, The Rise of Jordan Peterson will play a few venues around the country in day/weeks to come --click here to see all current and past playdates, cities and theaters -- and will be available On Demand tomorrow, Tuesday, October 29, for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

On Blu-ray from Arrow Video, two oldies worth revisiting -- MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON

As TrustMovies recalls (he was 16 at the time), upon the 1957 theatrical release of MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES, this movie bio of famous silent screen actor and vaudeville performer Lon Chaney (played by James Cagney, below, right, with co-star Dorothy Malone) was greeted in only lukewarm fashion by the critical establishment, garnering but a single Oscar nomination that year (for screenwriting), and seemingly consigned to that very large vault of the so-so that Hollywood has long produced and continues producing, if in even more mediocre fashion.

Seeing it again, it a spiffy new Blu-ray transfer that brings all of its ace black-and-white cinematography (by the great Russell Metty) to the fore, the film now seems a keeper for several reasons.

First of all, it seems to me to be as perfect an example as you will find of typical 1950s Hollywood moviemaking -- and that means both the good and the bad -- including the usual over-produced and -insistent musical score; fine Hollywood actors, all doing an expert job; good and careful screen-writing put to use in the service of a would-be "classy" subject; and competent, serviceable direction (by journeyman Joseph Pevney, below).

The result, thanks to fine work by Cagney and all his co-stars, is rather like cliché raised to something akin to its highest level: It may be obvious but it is highly entertaining, sometimes even quite moving.

The tale itself -- of Chaney's work in vaudeville and, thanks to a shocking and horrible event in his personal life that immediately went public, his move into motion-picture acting -- is simply too interesting not to grab us viewers.

And because of the good screenwriting and even better performances, the story maintains that hold, right through to an ending that -- even if fictionalized, as is probably most of the rest of the tale -- still works its movie magic rather well.

To Cagney's (and the screenwriters') credit, we certainly see all of Chaney's blind spots and weak spots. He's a hero, all right, but quite the flawed one. While the vaudeville routines are fun and fairly diverse, it's the Hollywood years, beginning with extra work leading to small then starring roles, that prove the most fun. That's Marjorie Rambeau, at left above, playing the extra actor who shows Chaney the ropes. In other supporting roles are well-known actors like Jim Backus, Jack Albertson, Robert Evans and Roger Smith, all of whom are just fine.

One of the most striking things you may notice about the film is its absolute and unflinching dedication to the mores and life-style of the 1950s -- in which a woman's place (particularly a mother's) was in the home and nowhere else. Career? Forget about that, honey! Watching this movie today, audiences are more likely to identify and agree with the character played by Ms Malone, whose chance as a successful singer, Chaney simply destroys because, well, that's his right. All this, in addition to the merits of the movie itself, make Man of a Thousand Faces an unusually interesting example of 1950s Hollywood. (That's Jane Greer, above, right, playing the oh-so-good-and-kind woman who comes into Chaney's life to replace that naughty, hateful wife. Ah, the 50s!)


AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, is pure early 1980s Hollywood, as the town and its films, particularly those in the horror genre, were quickly changing to fit a much more liberal, racy, show-it-all sensibility. Released in August of 1981, five months after The Howling, the real precursor of this new horror -- it was wittier, cleverer and scarier, too -- hit theaters, this second-tier movie from writer/director John Landis actually made a tidier profit than did The Howling (though the latter had a slew of sequels/follow-ups to the former's single clever but box-office-unsuccessful Paris attempt).

What An American Werewolf in London offers, aside from its clever-ironic title and the expected human to werewolf transformation effects, is a lot of grizzly special effects used -- a big surprise back then -- to create some laugh-out-loud comedy. Most of this humor is provided by the movie's ace co-star Griffin Dunne (below, left), whose career took off with this film and is still going strong.

If you still have not seen this movie, I shant go into detail about this gore and humor but will simply say that, having just seen the film again, after some 28 years, it's this very special humor that makes the whole enterprise most worth viewing and savoring once again.

Rick Baker's special effects are less convincing or scary than those he supervised for The Howling -- the werewolf itself (shown at bottom) looks rather fat, gross and silly, but I imagine Baker was intent upon not duplicating in any way the look he used for The Howling -- but Landis' juggling of the humor, suspense and horror still works quite well.

Leading actor David Naughton (above and two photo up at right) brings a quizzical, goofy appeal (was this the first time that full-frontal male nudity had been used in a horror film?), Jenny Agutter (below) makes a lovely, intelligent leading lady, and the film's sudden, no-frills/no-further-explanation finale remains bracing.

If you're a newcomer to the film (as my grandkids were: They thought it was silly fun), by all means have a look, and if you're hankering to revisit, you will probably not be disappointed, though the Blu-ray transfer is not nearly as fine as that of Man of a Thousand Faces.

From Arrow Video, distributed here in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group, both films hit the street on Blu-ray ("American Werewolf" is also available on DVD) this coming Tuesday, October 29 -- for purchase (and I hope) rental.  Plentiful and terrifically enjoyable Bonus Materials are available on both films, as is the usual case with Arrow's offerings.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Nadav Lapid takes another jump forward with his fine new Israeli/French film, SYNONYMS

Not that this exceptionally creative, challenging and deeply unsettling filmmaker has that much farther to go. From Nadav Lapid's bizarre and gripping Policeman (2011) through The Kindergarten Teacher (2014) and its unnecessary but certainly acceptable remake (from 2018, which Lapid did not direct) to his newest stunner, SYNONYMS, in which, as ever, his antagonist cannot fully live or maybe even survive while dealing with the horrendous contradictions of life in the hugely divided, corrupt and corrupting state of Israel today.

Mr. Lapid, shown at right, is not only pointing his finger at Israel; France, the country to which our "hero" has come for escape, takes its licks, as well. And any thinking person here in our deeply divided USA watching this film will also, TrustMovies suspects, wince in some kind of guilty, angry recognition.

The hero/antihero this time around is Yoav, a young, unhappy Israeli who seems to be suffering from everything from home-country dysfunction to a case of OCD and, though he understands and can speak some French, is counting on his lightweight French/ Hebrew dictionary to get him through each day.

Yoav is played by an in-every-way impressive newcomer named Tom Mercier (above and below), who gives the kind of performance that is so real, so moment-to-moment strange and compelling that you are not likely to forget it. You're not likely to forget Mercier either, for his face and body -- which we see all of and fairly often (there's ample full-frontal and full-rear nudity) -- are of the sort of that legends are made. Not to objectify here (goodness, no!), but M. Mercier has perhaps the best-looking male posterior in movies, and his frontal view is quite something, too (he often seem to be semi-erect).

So, how does a young man, without the equivalent of a French "green card," make his way in Paris? On the kindness of strangers, of course, via a wealthy young Frenchman out to do good while fulfilling his own needs, and his older-but-still-pretty girlfriend, both of whom help and use Yoav. The young man Emile, played by Quentin Dolmaire (below, left), that gorgeous kid from My Golden Days, proves visually stunning once again, while Louise Chevillotte (at right, two photos below) does subtle intuitive work in her role as Charlotte, the used-and-using girlfriend.

Yoav's job -- with a security company that provides this for Israelis in France -- leads us to some marvelous, if strange people and work, all of which is shown in often fast, frenetic scenes that make their point only later, when we've pieced together events and the unsettlingly mixed feelings they've engendered.

There's an extended scene on the Paris subway involving Yoav and his new, hugely troubled friend, that is as suspenseful and anxiety-provoking as any you'll have seen. Lapid's film is also allusion-riddled -- to security and what it means, in France and elsewhere; to the miasma of the military; to Jewish and/or Muslim identity; and especially to the allusiveness of words and their meaning.

Synonyms is also about as homoerotic a movie as I've encountered in a long while, though Lapid never pushes it over the boundary to homosexual. This is an interesting tightrope walk, and the filmmaker -- who both directed and co-wrote the screenplay with his father Haim Lapid -- manages it all with enormous elan. Women are noticeably secondary here -- to be used and enjoyed, of course -- but it's mostly about the power struggles/friendships between the guys.

Visually, Synonyms is Lapid's most impressive work to date (the cinematographer is the filmmaker's usual, Shai Goldman): alternately ravishingly beautiful in its flow and pace, sometimes simply quiet and cold. Once in awhile it goes overboard (in my estimation) but mostly it is almost wildly on-the-mark in the manner in which it keeps us as off-balance as is our hero.

Performances down the line are not simply solid but complete -- especially in the case of Mercier, who will have you thoroughly rooting for Yoav, even though you come to realize that he is lost. Yet perhaps not completely. Is there hope? Lapid may close the door., but I don't think he locks it.

See for yourself, as Synonyms -- from Kino Lorber, in French and Hebrew with English subtitles, and running 123 minutes -- opens theatrically in New York City tomorrow, Friday, October 25, at Film at Lincoln Center and the Quad Cinema; in Los Angeles on November 1 at the Landmark NuArt; and here in South Florida on November 15 at Miami's Coral Gables Art Cinema, and on November 29 at the Lake Worth Playhouse and the Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters around the country, click here & scroll down.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Midge Costin's knockout doc, MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND hits theaters

The thrilling, information-laden new documen-tary, MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND, may begin with the faulty observation about sound being the initial sense experienced by a baby in the womb (TrustMovies suspects it's that of touch). From there on in, however, the movie, directed by noted sound editor Midge Costin (her first directorial effort) and written by Bobette Buster, proves so full of fascinating history, interviews and anecdotes that I should think any real movie lover will remain glued throughout -- aurally and visually -- to this supremely entertaining and informative film.

Ms Costin, shown at left, has done a bang-up job of corralling a fine group of movie sound specialists -- concentrating on Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom, as well as a number of others noted in this field -- and what all of them have to say is worth hearing, accompanied as it is by pertinent and entertaining visuals.

We also hear from filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan and Peter Weir, and best of all get a history of the evolution of sound on film, as below, and finally a better understanding (than I have ever had, anyway) of the various divisions of the "sound" categories you may have noticed in a movie's end credits but had little understanding of what each category actually did. (The work of foley artists, I learned here, is all about sound!)

Much of the delight of the film comes from each new and usually fascinating tidbit you'll discover, one after another, in Making Waves: Murray Spivack's work on the original King Kong; regarding sound effects: how each of the major studios each had its own "sound" version of everything from the bullet ricochet to a punch in the face and an explosion; why John Cage is to music as Andy Warhol is to art; how the music industry formerly far outpaced the movie industry in terms of sound; and what particular sounds were used to create the jets heard in Top Gun (below).

Most surprising of all, perhaps, is the huge credit these sound folk give to Barbra Streisand for what she did with her version of A Star Is Born and how/why she did it. Of course, we get the info on Murch's work on Apocalypse Now , Burtt's on Star Wars, and how Rydstrom and Toy Story led us unto the digital age. However you may feel about the films themselves, what we see and hear here is germane and mostly riveting.

And, yes, there's Orson Welles, too, along with a nice nod to the many women who've labored happily in the sound field (that's Anna Behlmer, below). In their expert use of 94 minutes, the filmmakers pack in so much, so well. Early on, Walter Murch (shown above) notes that "Sound affects us in a deeper way than even image does." By the end of Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, I'll be surprised if you don't find yourself pretty much in agreement.

The documentary hits theaters in the Los Angeles area (Laemmle's Monica Film Center, and Arclight's Hollywood, Pasadena and Sherman Oaks locations) and in New York City (Cinema Village) this Friday, October 25 -- before expanding to cities around the country. Click here to view all currently scheduled playdates,cities and venues.