Friday, November 29, 2019

Leslie Ann Coles' enchanting 2016 music documentary, MELODY MAKERS, finally arrives

Forget Rolling Stone. The music magazine you need to know all about -- and will find out plenty via this new film -- is the no-longer-published British weekly, Melody Maker, which ruled the music roost for most of its 75-year run, ceding its deserved dominance to rivals only when its owners insisted on major coverage going to popular boy bands and that ilk, rather than to the folk who actually made the music worth keeping.

As written and directed by Leslie Ann Coles (shown at left) and expertly edited by Mark Sanders, the film spends just the right amount of time with the many talking heads rounded up to speak about this marvelous magazine and its storied (even if many times accidental) scoops and articles that could and usually did goose the careers of the musical artists involved -- sometimes into overdrive.

We hear from former editors and journalists/ critics and especially from one particular photographer, Barrie Wentzell, whose resonant work (shown below) is also redolent and utterly defining of a time long gone -- and much missed by many of us.

The thing -- other than the subject itself -- that makes this documentary so special is how very speedy is the dialog, together with the ideas tossed around here. Similar to the fast pace of another recent doc, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, the movie assumes its audience to be intelligent and quick-thinking and so neither drags along nor grows repetitive (à la Ken Burns), as it drops its many bons mots and makes us think, assess and often laugh along the way.

What all these interviewees have to say, and what we learn about the bands, individual musicians, music politics and just-plain gossip of the day should delight and surprise anyone who lived through and paid attention to the music scene of this day (particularly the 1950s, 60s and 70s).

For instance: As there were few to no teachers of guitar in Britain at the time, rock musicians had to learn the instrument, along with what it could be made to do, all by themselves. Once something new was achieved, it was often shared, as the musicians moved on to yet another new chord or challenge. (You'll also discover what the Mafia had to do with why a magazine as popular as Melody Maker never saw U.S. distribution.)

As all this occurred well before the internet appeared, the relationship between the magazine and the musicians it covered was more than a little "chummy," which had both positive and negative effects. While it's hard not to recall this time as a kind of golden age, the tone of the doc is never self-congratulatory. These folk look back on things with an eye both distanced and melancholic. Still, when at the end of the movie, the workers tell us that these were the best jobs they ever had, you'll be hard put to disagree. Once you've seen this film, you'll understand why, had you been young in Great Britain back in the day, Melody Maker would have been your must-read.

From Cleopatra Entertainment and running just 78 minutes, Melody Makers opens in Los Angeles today, Friday, November 29, for a week-long run at the Arena CineLounge Sunset, 6464 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood CA, followed by the Apple iBook debut on the same day -- with a DVD Release scheduled for December 17. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

This year's movie turkey for Turkey Day--the new Blu-ray of Merchant-Ivory's QUARTET

Hey, everyone's entitled to make a mistake, right? Even a producing/directing duo the likes of the award-winning combo, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant. Still, it takes something extra to prepare yourself for the increasingly tiresome, obvious and finally near-pointless depravations of the duo's 1981 endeavor, QUARTET.

That this movie stars Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, Isabelle Adjani, and Anthony Higgins, with a bunch more good people -- Suzanne Flon, Pierre Clémenti and Armelia McQueen -- in supporting roles, makes the whole affair even odder and sadder.

At the time of Quartet's initial theatrical release, certain critics commented on the oddity of finding filmmakers like Merchant/Ivory engaged with a set of characters who were mostly -- even though a few of these were wealthy -- among the low-end and very louche set. True enough, but a major change of venue can often prove as salutary for artists as for their audience. Not here. The creative team seems to sit just outside all the seaminess, observant and uncomfortable. All too soon, and continuing throughout, so are we.

The may well be due to the source material itself: Postures, the 1928 novel by famous British author Jean Rhys (shown above), published in the USA under the title of Quartet. Ms Rhys was a fine but dark writer, whose work may best be appreciated on the page. If its translations to screen so far are any indication, the results are only middling (Wide Sargasso Sea) to poor (the film at hand).

In this tale, a pretty young woman (Ms Adjani, above) falls in love with a rotter (Mr. Higgins, below) who is soon imprisoned. She is then taken in by a wealthy couple (Ms Smith, shown at bottom, and Mr. Bates, at left, two photos below) who use her, abuse her and toss her away. We see all this happening, all too slowly -- since we're quite aware of what's going on, and so, for that matter is our young heroine -- until the film's 101 minutes seem like an eternity.

Performances are as good as possible under the circumstances of a screenplay (by the usually on-the-mark Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, with some uncredited help from Mr. Ivory) that at best seems thoroughly mediocre and at worst borders on the obvious-tending-toward-ridiculous. You sit there waiting for something truly specific to emanate from the mouths of these characters, but all you hear is standard, paint-by-numbers stuff.

The background is sometimes interesting and fun, never more so than in a night club where Ms McQueen gets to perform a naughty number, but the foreground is consistently glum and glummer. As I say, everyone's entitled to a misfire, and Quartet is surely that film.

From Cohen Media Group's Merchant Ivory Collection, the movie made its Blu-ray and DVD debut earlier this fall and is available now -- for purchase and/or rental. A number of Bonus Features -- various interviews with Mr. Ivory -- are included on the disc, and the Blu-ray transfer itself is a decent one, if nothing special.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Jayro Bustamante's TEMBLORES (Tremors): Guatemalan horror tale for homosexuals

At this point in time and in most "western" countries, gay lives (as well as gay-themed movies) are most often feel-good affairs set out to prove how wonderful, encompassing and accepted the gay lifestyle can be. And why not, since these days, those lives are for the most part, and especially for the elite, pleasant and productive. Which is why something as unusual as Jayro Bustamante's TEMBLORES is cause for celebration. Temblores translates as tremors, the likes of which figure quite importantly, literally and symbolically, into this new film, co-produced by Guatemala (where it is set), France and Luxembourg. By celebration, TrustMovies means that of excellent filmmaking but certainly not of what happens to the poor guy at the center of this story.

In the film, Señor Bustamante (shown at left), who both wrote and directed, shows us how Pablo, an attractive, middle-aged man from a very wealthy family who has decided to leave his wife to settle in with his male lover is blocked from his desire by family, church, community, the law and just about everything else that could possibly stand in his way. This proves a quietly increasing horror show, the likes of which most of us in the GLBT community will not have heretofore encountered. It certainly will not increase the Guatemalan tourist trade -- except perhaps for that of right wing fundamentalists.

Bustamante gives us three generations in this uber-rich group, with a welcome and thoughtful concentration on the younger set, personified by Pablo's two children, the younger of whom is wetting his bed due to family tensions, even as the slightly older daughter is trying to come to terms with what is going on and what this means.   

This is a highly religious family, highly hypocritical, too -- elite and quite used to getting its way as the only expected and rightful course of action. That's the pastor's powerful wife, above (played with steely intelligence by Sabrina De La Hoz), as she leads a group of errant males back to the fold via means that are jaw-droppingly nasty and obtuse.

What happens to Pablo -- Juan Pablo Olyslager (above and below, left) giving a fine performance that moves from dread mixed with hope to complete capitulation -- becomes increasingly shocking due to the closing off to him of each level of society with which he had formerly interacted. Little wonder, then, that his lover (Mauricio Armas Zebadúa, above and below, right) has well adapted to the gay sub-culture of this country, becoming so much wiser and abler than is the clearly pampered Pablo.

That the two men care about and are attracted to each other is presented clearly enough via their verbal, emotional and sexual encounters. They also make a good pairing, given how one's character, class and abilities (or inabilities) so well complements the other's.

But as one circumstance after another -- too often attributed to "god's will" -- serves to undercut their relationship, our anger begins to grow exponentially. Yet Bustamante's quiet control and refusal to give in to melodramatics makes all this seem not simply believable but finally inexorable.

You'll imagine you know the final scene when you see it, but no. The filmmaker takes us one step further, and this is brilliant -- opening up the merest possibility of hope, if only via the next generation. Temblores is a film for the ages.

From Film Movement, in Spanish with English subtitles and running 107 minutes, the movie opens on Friday, November 29, at the Quad Cinema in New York City and at the Coral Gables Art Cinema here in Miami, and on Friday, December 6 at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles, the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and also in South Florida at the Movies and Delray and Lake Worth.

These screenings will be followed by openings in other U.S. cities, including Chicago, Washington D.C. and elsewhere. Click here and scroll way down to see currently scheduled playdates, cities and venues.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

All hail Paul Verhoeven, as the 1987 sensation, ROBOCOP, makes its grand Blu-ray debut

Only the other day I was complaining about an unusually poor Blu-ray transfer from the almost-always excellent distributor, Arrow Video. The firm more than makes up for that faux pas with the release it has coming out next week: a sleek new Blu-ray of the groundbreaking sci-fi/action/satire ROBOCOP.

Though beaten to release by James Cameron's The Terminator three years earlier, that film (still the best by far of all the Terminator movies) did not have Robocop's sterling social satire and anti-Capitalist stance, via screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner and its internationally acclaimed director Paul Verhoeven.

Mr. Verhoeven (shown at right) doesn't pile it on here as much as did in his later Starship Troopers, but the satire still sparkles and penetrates. From the first scene of a television newscast (these just don't change much over the decades, do they?) through our trip to corporate America and its plan to eviscerate society by pretending to help us, the movie is often simultaneously violent and hilarious, as was/is often Verhoeven's wont.

And don't worry if the image during that and other newscasts seems low-def. So will the scenes involving computer screens and imaging (as below). But once we leave TV and technology screens behind, the rest of the movie's narrative -- seen in utter hi-def sharpness and juicy chrome-bred colors -- proves amazing and a joy to view.

The tale here is one of a would-be corporate take-over and privatization of Detroit's police force. The movie was released during the British "reign" of Margaret Thatcher, during which privatization became a kind of holy watchword, with the fall of British unions the sad byproduct. (Or maybe privatization was actually the byproduct of union demise.)

The introduction of a new policing machine (above) at film's beginning is both funny and horrific, and Verhoeven's and his writers' wit and humor are further seen when this same machine, later in the film, must negotiate a flight of stairs.

The cast is aces, too. In the leading roles, Peter Weller (above), as the rookie cop who soon becomes robo and Nancy Allen as his policing partner could hardly be bettered. Weller spends much of his screen time behind his robocop attire (below), but there' no mistaking those luscious lips.

Ms Allen (above, left, and below), far too infrequently seen after her role in Dressed to Kill -- movies just didn't seem to know what to do with her or how to best use her -- brings enormous humanity to the film (and to robocop himself), and she's a treasure to watch in action. (There a very nice close-to-present-day interview with the actress among the enormous Bonus Features on one of the discs in this two-disc set.)

Verhoeven knows when to give us down-and-dirty action and violence. But he also understands less is more, just as he does the occasional need for more is more. His pacing is on the mark, and his excellent use of lost memory (and how to give this to us on screen) remains about as good as we have yet seen, even after the many times we've by now endured this Oh, gosh, I'm starting to remember! routine.

Dan O'Herlihy, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer (horizontal, above, in the third photo from top) and Robert DoQui lead the fine supporting cast, but the film's ace-in-the-hole is probably Ronny Cox (above), who plays the smartly tailored, extremely nasty villain with just the right combination of relish and disdain.

As with almost all the Blu-ray of Arrow Video, the Bonus Features are plentiful, but Arrow has  really outdone itself here: TrustMovies counted a total of 32 (you can peruse them all by clicking here and scrolling down).

Distributed in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group/MVD Visual, Robocop hits the street this coming Tuesday, November 26, in both a Blu-ray limited edition and a Blu-ray Steelbook edition -- for purchase (and I hope, somewhere, for rental, too).

Friday, November 22, 2019

Not-so-hot Blu-ray transfer for Anthony Mann's very good 1954 western, THE FAR COUNTRY

Arrow Video's Blu-ray transfers are usually so good (second only to Criterion's--and maybe no longer even second) that coming upon a new transfer, the quality of which looks like something between an old VHS tape and a DVD, is quite a surprise. Unless I received an incorrect shipment, the quality level of transfer for THE FAR COUNTRY is way below par for Arrow. Which is especially too bad because the film itself holds up well enough to be taken seriously as one of Hollywood second-tier "classic westerns."

Handled so well that we're kept on-track at all times by journeyman director Anthony Mann (shown at left) and starring James Stewart in one of his grumpy-on-the-outside/decent-on-the-in roles at which he became expert in the middle-to-late stage of his career, and with a crackerjack supporting cast surrounding him, the movie also boasts a better-than-average screenplay (by Borden Chase of Red River and Winchester '73) that is by turns witty and smart and also on target with dialog that is wonderfully good at getting around Hollywood's childish/hypocritical production-code "ethics" of the time.

Stewart (above, left) and his elderly partner (played by the great Walter Brennan, above, right) bring a hard of cattle into the 1800s town of Seattle, where they then board (along with the cattle) a ship headed north toward gold prospecting areas. Stewart finds himself in trouble with the law almost immediately after boarding, and things only grow worse, once he and Brennan land in gold country.

The local town is controlled by a particularly nasty fellow named Gannon (a fine, alternately sleazy/smart performance from John McIntire), whose retinue of bad guys kill off anyone Bannon can't control or buy. On the distaff side are Ruth Roman (above), long-time expert at playing good bad-girls (or is she a bad good-girl?), and Corinne Calvet, below left, trading her usual glamour-girl image to play a sweet but sassy local with an eye and heart for Stewart's grumpy good guy.

This being an adult western, as many important good guys die as do bad ones, and characters are left with life-changing choices that sometimes end those lives. Sure, coincidence flourishes (this is 1950s Hollywood, after all) and morality finally triumphs. But at a cost. (That's wonderful character actor J.C. Flippen, below, left.)

As usual with Arrow, Bonus Materials abound, including the film shown complete in two different aspect ratios -- 2.00:1 and the original 1.85:1 (yet both look equally poorly transferred) -- and an excellent new appraisal by critic Kim Newman of both this film and the career and westerns of Anthony Mann, and there is even a feature-length documentary on Mr. Mann to entertain us further in this huge array.

Distributed here in the USA via MVD Visual and running 97 minutes, The Far Country hit the street in its two-disc set last week -- for purchase and (I hope somewhere) rental.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

FRANKIE may not be up to the usual level of Ira Sachs movies, but it's still worth a view

Why? As they say in the real estate trade, location (I'll spare you the cliché of repeating this word another two times). FRANKIE, the new film from Ira Sachs (Love Is Strange, Keep the Lights On), has been filmed in Sintra, Portugal, in one of the loveliest locations -- the inside and outside architecture, as well as the lushly verdant landscapes -- I've seen in a movie in some time. Consequently just about every scene features a view or two that is drop-dead gorgeous. Another reason the film is worth seeing is its terrific international cast: Really, are you going to pass up a movie featuring Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear, Jérémie Renier, Pascal Greggory and the remaining international cast with whom TrustMovies was not as familiar but who are very, very good.

Mr. Sachs' (the filmmaker is shown at left) gift for largely doing away with exposition (or couching it so very well that we don't even notice) seems to have somewhat deserted him here so that we get more expo than we do action or plot.

There are probably times in which this would not mater. But here it eventually stalls the film to the point that we grow impatient for more to happen.

More never comes, so we fall back on the gorgeous cinematography (by the fine Rui Poças)  and the excellent work from the performers, for whom every moment rings true -- even if the movie as a whole doesn't quite make it. And then, Sachs drags his finale on well past the point of no return.

The tale told is one of internationally famous film star (played by Huppert, above) hosting a family-and-friends get together in Sintra during which much is revealed (much of which we, if not some of the other characters, already know). Revealing any of what is revealed risks spoilers -- in a movie that boasts so little plot that even spoiling a single thing seems too much.

So let's just concentrate on that cast of characters at this extended-family reunion to which a couple of outsiders are included. Ms Tomei (above) plays one of Huppert's dearest industry friends (she does hair for movies, as I recall) who brings along a director of photography (Mr. Kinnear) who surprises her with a sudden proposal.

Mr. Gleeson (above, right) essays the role of Huppert's current hubby, while Mr. Greggory plays her former spouse and M. Renier (below, right) is grumpy/sexy as Huppert's grown son who's equally concerned about his mother's health and what he'll inherit, once she has departed.

As I mentioned, we get all this via exposition that's not up to Sach's usual abilities, but the performances are good enough to carry us along, while the background locations, with their eye-popping visuals, keep us happy.

From Sony Pictures Classics, in mostly the English language with some English-subtitled French and Portuguese occasionally tossed in, and running 98 minutes, Frankie, which opened in our cultural centers a few weeks ago to not-so-hot critical notices, hits South Florida tomorrow, Friday, November 22, in the Miami area at AMC's Aventura 24 and in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters -- among other possible venues (Sony's Frankie website has not been updated to include any actual theater locations at this point in time).

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

VARDA BY AGNÈS: the French filmmaker's final gift is--no surprise--another marvel & treasure

A combination of honest, eloquent lecture filled with fascinating tidbits of French film history and a kind of crash course in first-class filmmaking -- granted, it's from a single, personal and very unusual perspective -- VARDA BY AGNÈS, the final film from one of the greats, Agnès Varda, who died this past March, is as eye-opening, charming and moving as any of her many fans will certainly expect.

As much as TrustMovies imagined he already knew about Varda and her work (the filmmaker is shown at right and below), the new documentary offers alternately the expected and some nice surprises.

Chief among the latter is the extended recent interview with that fine French actress Sandrine Bonnaire, who starred early in her career in Varda's Vagabond, from 1985. Bonnaire's conversation with the filmmaker is engaged and loving, even though some very difficult days of filming are recalled by both women.

We revisit other classic narrative Varda cinema such as Cleo From 5 to 7 and Le Bonheur, along with more recent documentaries like The Gleaners and I, The Beaches of Agnes, and last year's Faces Places, and the result is a kind of partial/mini retrospective which both reminds us of how wonderful are these films and brings us new information about them and the manner in which they were made.

Along the way, we learn of Varda's beginnings as a photographer, of her first foray into filmmaking -- La Pointe Courte (that's a young Alain Resnais, at work editing the film, above with Varda) -- and we even get to see her dressed as a potato for her Venice Biennale presentation (it's somehow a perfect visual match!).

The documentary grows ever more personal as it moves along. Even though Varda's oeuvre was so often focused on others, as she grew older, the work became as much about her as about her subjects. Fortunately she remains as interesting as they were.

This final testament is a grand way for the filmmaker to make her exit, and if this is your introduction to her work -- and you're relatively young -- you'll have plenty of time to drink it all in. Released by Janus Films, Varda by Agnès (which was originally produced for French television in two one-hour segments), in French and some English with English subtitles, runs two full hours and opens this Friday, November 22, in New York City at Film Forum and at Film at Lincoln Center. It also opens Dec 5 in Los Angeles at the Aero theater and then will be expanding nationwide.