Monday, December 9, 2019

Piling it on: home video debut for Jen Tullock and Hannah Pearl Utt's BEFORE YOU KNOW IT

We often hear that "theater people" are crazy but, really, several of the characters found in BEFORE YOU KNOW IT just about reach the point of insufferable.
This wobbly concoction, about a family of theater folk who live above the small New York City theater they also own, begins with Mandy Patinkin playing the most insufferable of the entire bunch, a playwright who won't allow a word of his precious verbiage to ever be changed. When he departs early from the film, you'll probably breathe a sigh of relief. Hold on, though; things don't get much better.

The film stars a pair of actresses -- Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock, shown above, left and right respectively -- doing double and triple duty here as director (Ms Utt) and screenwriters Ms Tullock and Utt again). Utt plays Rachel, the supposedly dowdy but smart sister who of course holds the family together, while Tullock, as Jackie, who is dumb, blousy as just about as insufferable as her dad. She also is the mother of a near-shockingly normal daughter named Dodge (played by Oona Yaffe, below), who, as the single, vaguely non-insane family member, pretty much steals what's left of this near-intolerable movie.

Ms Utt plays Rachel using almost a single hangdog expression. It has its charm, for awhile, but come on now. However, even this is better than Ms Tullock's loud, crazy, mostly ridiculous outbursts that begin to defy credulity early on and only grow worse as the movie progresses. I swear you'll soon want to throttle her. How this family could leave Dodge in the care of an accountant they may not even know (of course, he turns out to be a fabulous, standup guy) is one of those idiot wonders of present-day screenwriting (and, no, don't tell me this is screwball comedy time).

Before You Know It posits that the siblings' mom, long thought dead, is alive and well and starring in some famous TV soap opera. That she is played by the fine actress Judith Light (above) ought to offer hope. But, no: Ms Light has rarely been seen to less advantage.

Aside from some dumb would-be sibling rivalry and an utterly clueless therapist (Alec Baldwin, below) the film concentrates on manipulating us and its plot into a typically desired but totally undeserved happy ending. Along the way there is a funny/sad and nicely-done section regarding Dodge's first menstruation, and thanks to the editing, music, and the occasional correct tone when the writing and performances come together, the movie has its moments and seems to almost work (an audition scene in which Patinkin's dead dad reappears, and how this flows into the following scene, for instance).

Content yourself with what you can and be grateful that your own mother was probably a hell of a lot better than anything you see or hear here. From 1091 and running 92 minutes (my spouse gave up at the point of 43, but TrustMovies soldiered on), Before You Know It hit "early purchase" EST on home video last week and will be available via VOD tomorrow, Tuesday, December 10 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Pair of Fritz Lang's late German films -- THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR and THE INDIAN TOMB -- make Blu-ray debut

Fritz Lang "completists" are sure to want to include this (for the most part) very good Blu-ray transfer of two of his last films made in Germany, once the director had tired of filmmaking in Hollywood and returned to his home country, after the Nazis had been defeated (and/or relocated to South America, the USA and elsewhere).

The place of Herr Lang (shown in portraiture/caricature at right) in filmmaking history seems pretty secure to TrustMovies, and so, when I say that these two later films are not particularly good, this certainly should not take away from the fellow's work (Metropolis/M, earlier in Germany; Man Hunt/The Big Heat, while in Hollywood.

THE TIGER  OF ESCHNAPUR together with THE INDIAN TOMB -- available this coming week on Blu-ray in a new two-disc set, with some nice Bonus Features -- should certainly find their way into the collection of Langophiles, particularly those who must have everything. For the rest of us, however, we may watch and watch and find ourselves wondering if maybe the filmmaker's style, as well as his intelligence, had partially deserted him.

The pacing is snail-like, with exposition poured upon more exposition until, as with so many soap operas, you could miss an episode and not have missed anything at all. One the plus side is an extravagant budget (for its day and for post-war Germany), with India seen in much of its glory in a Blu-ray transfer that is quite good, for the most part.

Unfortunately, the first of the films, The Tiger of Eschnapur, is by far the weakest, with the titular tiger(s) the best thing in the movie. German star Paul Hubschmid, as the hero, is rather wooden, but American actress Debra Paget (below) as the temple dancer/love interest proves beautiful and a decent enough actress to somewhat counteract her co-star. Better yet is Walther Reyer (in royal garb, bottom left) as the initially-nice-turned-nasty Maharajah, full of contradictory impulses.

The movie drags and dawdles until you may find it hard to stick around. If you do, good news: The second film moves faster and is more fun, as our hero and heroine escape the Maharajah's clutches (for awhile). The plot thickens a bit and speeds up considerably, and so The Indian Tomb proves more event-filled -- always a good idea for an adventure melodrama.

Ms Paget gets another dance number with a very fake snake (above) in which she is even more scantily-clad (these dances owe a hell of a lot more to Hollywood than to India), Mr. Hubschmid (below) takes his shirt off, and those gorgeous tigers barely make an appearance at all. But the palace intrigue among family, army and priests does hold our interest, at least.

According to history (and the Bonus Features), these 1958 films were actually released here in the USA in 1960 -- crunched together into a single 90 minute feature (each individual movie was longer than that in its original release!) by American International Pictures. Yet considering how slow and repetitive the movies are, one wonder if this more concise version might not have been the best way to view this Fritz Lang passion project. Sometimes, even Samuel Z. Arkoff knew what he was doing.

From Film Movement, in German with English subtitles and running 203 minutes, The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb combo hits the street this coming Tuesday, December 10 -- for purchase and/or rental. Among the several Bonus Features, don't miss the delightful and informative video essay by Mark Rappaport, Debra Paget, For Example. It's a keeper, even if the actual movies may not be. 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Daniel Schechter's AFTER CLASS (aka Safe Spaces) makes good on a 13-year-old promise

If there's a better ensemble dramedy this year than AFTER CLASS -- the new film from writer/director Daniel Schechter -- I haven't yet seen it. Beginning with a scene in a college classroom in which a professor goads a student into speaking more truthfully about a short story she's written, and in the process spilling the beans regarding some of her sexual activity, the movie starts out fast, fresh and full of energy and keeps its delightful pace going for all of its 93 minutes.

The "promise" TrustMovies refers to in his headline above is that of a wonderful movie -- the embodiment of what a true piece of American independent cinema can be -- entitled The Big Bad Swim that came out in 2006, the terrific screenplay for which was written by Mr. Schechter, who went on the adapt and direct the under-rated Life of Crime and now this new little gem. Schechter, shown at right, has a real gift for witty, fast-paced and utterly believable dialog and also for storytelling using ensemble casts.

The filmmaker gives everyone in his ensembles the chance to shine by making even the smaller roles full and resonant. He also has the smarts to give his characters just about as many annoying traits as charming ones, and he scrupulously shows us various sides to the many different characters and situations he creates. And, boy, does he create a bunch of them.

Beginning with a crash course in political correctness that of course crashes down on our chief protagonist -- played to perfection by the near-consistently marvelous actor Justin Long, above, left, in what may be his best role so far (and, no, it's not Tusk) -- the movie moves on to family matters. And what a family we have here.

There's Long and his rival brother (Michael Godere), sweet/sour sister (Kate Berlant, above, right), dying grandmother (the grand Lynn Cohen, below, right) and his mom and dad (played so very well by Fran Drescher , shown at bottom, center, and Richard Schiff). This is one of the best conceived, four-generation movie families to be seen in some time: They're funny, witty, sad, smart and always real, and best of all, while their Jewishness is alive and well, it is never beaten into the ground. It's simply a part of them, and so it eventually becomes part of us, as well.

After Class (which was initially called Safe Spaces, a better title, I think) bubbles along in high gear for its entirety. There's not a low point in the whole film, and its high points are so many they tend to simply run together, keeping us smiling -- and thinking -- throughout. Who's right and who's wrong are never crystal clear, not in matters of family, political correctness or sexuality. This, along with splendid performances, dialog and direction, makes After Class one of the most entertaining and surprising movies of the entire year.

From Gravitas Ventures, the film opens this Friday, December 6, at 16 theaters around the country. Here in South Florida, it will play the Cinema Paradiso, Hollywood, and in the Los Angeles area at Arena Cinelounge and Galaxy Mission Grove; Orlando - Old Mill Playhouse; Cleveland - Tower City Cinemas; Boston - Entertainment Cinemas Leominster; Minneapolis - Emagine Rogers 18, East Bethel 10 and Lakeville; Seattle - Galaxy Monroe; Dallas - La Gran Plaza 8; Reno - Galaxy Victorian; Las Vegas - Galaxy Theaters Luxury and Galaxy Cannery; San Francisco - 4 Star Theater; and Santa Barbara - Galaxy Colony Square. If you don't happen to live in any of these locations, good news: After Class will simultaneously be available on VOD via iTunes

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

With IN FABRIC, Peter Strickland is back with more great ideas but only so-so follow-through

Offhand I can't think of another current filmmaker whose movies combine exotic erotica and creepy behavior in any more memorable fashion than those Peter Strickland. His Berberian Sound Studio combined audio for a giallo movie with an all-out dissolution of character; The Duke of Burgundy offered S&M, butterflies and the very bizarre world of all women; and now IN FABRIC he gives us a sexy red dress that tortures and then murders its wearers, and perhaps the hottest and most perverse sex scene of the decade, involving a nude and prone mannequin. You aficionados are hooked already, right?

Fair enough, but be warned: You'll have to put up with Mr. Strickland's (the filmmaker is shown at left) predilection for very slow pacing and some tiresome repetition.

Here, in fact, he has the naughty dress pull a series of nasty stunts on its first victim (which turns out to actually be its second), and then he parades this same series all over again with victims number three and four. Please.

A genuinely sophisticated filmmaker would know better and do things a little differently. And yet Strickland sure can thrill us with his inclusion of gorgeous, outre sets; creepy ideas; and sexual stunts.

The "fashion" shop (above) in which much of the movie takes place is a wonder of glossy, gleaming 1930s and 1950s off-kilter glamor, complete with that old-fashioned and fun pneumatic tubing used in the department stores of yore.

Visually the movie is mostly a treat, as you'll have expected if your seen the filmmaker's other work. He also casts his leading characters well: Borgen's Sidse Babett Knudsen in Burgundy, Toby Jones (giving a terrific performance) in Berberian. Here, he uses Secrets and Lies' Marianne Jean- Baptiste (above), and she proves as watchable as ever as a newly single mom put upon by her employers, her shit-ass son (the very hot Jaygann Ayeh, below), his callow girlfriend, and now this homicidal dress.

Strickland's film makes yet another pass at indicting our increasingly dumbed-down consumer culture (Dawn of the Dead did it earlier and 2016's Nocturama one hell of a lot more stylishly), and has at least, in that dress idea, come up with an original-though-not-terribly-interesting "villain." He also does a little indicting of bankers and banks, via mom's sleazy/screwball employers, personified by (below, left and right respectively) Steve Oram and Julian Barratt.

The writer/director also casts his supporting roles well, and each is performed with the requisite relish. That's Gwendoline Christie, below, receiving some oral pleasure from her aforementioned hot boyfriend, as mom watches with, hmmmm, a combination of pleasure and envy (yes, another perverse and over-the-top sex scene).

The film's next round of victims, an about-to-be-married couple, are played with nice comic brio by Leo Bill (below, relentlessly fucking) and Hayley Squires (beneath and putting up with it). These two, who appear maybe halfway along, add some needed humor to the proceedings.

In a most interesting casting coup, the aforementioned Sidse Babbet Knudsen (below) appears in the film as the dress' initial victim, seen only via newspaper and catalog ads -- which leads TrustMovies to suspect that this noteworthy actress may have had a much larger role, one that might now be on what we used to call (pre-videocam films) the cutting room floor.

As it is, the film is already two (too-lengthy) hours long, and more, no matter how good Ms Knudsen might have been -- see Borgen to lean just how good she can be -- would have been a surfeit indeed. Overall, there is plenty here for film buffs to savor but not, I think, for more mainstream moviegoers, even those who claim to love comic horror films, which In Fabric pretty much/sort of is.

From A24, the movie opens this Friday, December 6, in limited release, in 25 venues -- from New York to Orlando, L.A., DC, and elsewhere across the country. (Shown above is the impressive actress Fatma Mohamed, who plays, perhaps quite literally, the saleslady from hell.)

Monday, December 2, 2019

An unusually difficult, painful and very well-acted love story: Harry Wootliff's ONLY YOU

By now we've seen a number of films and cable entertainments that deal with the problems of couples who want children but are unable to procreate these in what we might have once called "standard fashion." (The most recent of these that TrustMovies readily recalls is Tamara Jenkins' fine film for Netflix, Private Life.)

Now comes British filmmaker Harry Wootliff's movie, ONLY YOU, an honest-to-god love story driven by this same engine of reproductive failure and how to handle it.

Ms Wootliff (shown at right; is her first name short for Harriet, I wonder?) begins her film with our heroine, Elena (beautifully played by Laia Costa, of The Time in Between), being told by her friends, as they drink themselves into oblivion, that she absolutely should be in a relationship.

Before you can say "meet semi-cute," she has connected with the character who will fill that bill, her co-star, played in even better fashion by Josh O'Connor, of God's Own Country and this new season of The Crown: he's Prince Charles. (Just this past Sunday evening, in fact, O'Connor won a BIFA award -- not BAFTA, as I unfortunately earlier posted -- for Best Actor of the Year for his role in this film, while Ms Wootliff won for Best Debut Director!) In short order we're confronted with what has the hallmarks of a real love relationship but simultaneously carries with it problems such as age difference (she's considerably older than she initially admits) and then the supposed necessity of pregnancy.

The writing and direction (both by Wootliff), together with the two lead performances, are all good enough to place us firmly on the side of the protagonists and keep us there -- despite some midway longueurs -- throughout. In my own experience and very probably yours, as well, we've seen enough real-life examples of infertility to make this dilemma more than merely believable.

Both parties here want to have a child and are willing to go through the necessities involved in bringing this to fruition. But what happens if and when nothing seems to work? How does our couple respond? You will see, and for the most part you will care and respond as does this pair.

The movie grow deeper and more painful as it moves along, buoyed by the work of its two leading actors, as well as the well-chosen supporting cast, particularly Peter Wight in the role of Jake's father. As love stories go, which Only You most definitely is, this one is worth seeing and savoring.

From 1091 and running a lengthy but worthwhile two hours, the movie arrives on digital streaming tomorrow, Tuesday, December 3 -- for purchase and/or rental. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

63 UP, Michael Apted's continuing extension of the landmark British 7 UP series, opens

Film buffs, particularly those who love documentaries, can hardly be unaware of the great British series that began on television back in 1963, with an episode of World in Action devoted to profiling a highly diverse -- in terms of class (and therefore economic station) and in one case race -- group of seven-year-old children, which proved popular enough that its director, a 22-year-old fellow named Michael Apted, did a revisit to the kids seven years later, and consequently a renewed visit at each seven-year period until now, as these "children" reach the age of 63.

With each visit the series has grown richer, stranger, often sadder, and definitely more complex as we watch these lives grow, blossom (in ways both typical and quite unexpected) and now begin to end.

Mr. Apted (shown at right) and TrustMovies both happen to have been born in the same year (1941), a fact that of course has us wondering if we'll be around for any further episodes -- he to film them, I to view them. God, I hope so, and I also hope he has selected someone to follow up for him, just in case.

Younger viewers who have arrived mid-series may be able to last until each of these people have bid the world adieu. Lucky are they! Meanwhile here we are at the participants' age of 63, eager to learn what has happened during the past seven years.

I suspect many viewers will be ever more grateful to Tony, above (and in the red-and-white striped shirt next to the 63UP logo, further up), that short, sweet, energetic little kid who wanted to become a jockey, gave it his best shot, and then went on to drive a cab. One of this series' linchpins is "Give me a child at seven years, and I will show you the man." While Apted continues to ask his subjects if they think this to be true (they seem to agree, to various extents), it appears absolutely truest with Tony, whose positive energy, despite his share of setbacks, continues to buoy the series beautifully. Everything we saw at age seven, we still see now -- in spades.

Other of the children have aged quite differently. Nick (at right), for instance, after a promising physics career here in the USA, has now grown quite ill.

At one point in his interview, discussing his relationship with his late father, he addresses the filmmaker personally. "You know me, Michael: I probably haven't dealt with it fully." Which makes us viewers suddenly realize that, yes: Apted really does know and understand these people -- probably better than some of their friends and/or relatives know them.

At another point in the film, Jackie (at left) gives the filmmaker "what for," telling him, "You didn't have any idea of the changing role of women in Britain!" He doesn't disagree. As this series has rolled on, the role of the filmmaker to and for his subjects has clearly become more and more personal. Which simply adds to the series' depth and pleasure.

Jackie has endured quite a journey -- marriage, divorce, kids, and now, with the death of a partner, single-grand-parenting -- as have most of the "Up" series' participants -- except, perhaps, for a couple of the upper-class males here: Andrew (shown below) and John, the latter of whom has long struck me as the most clueless of the participants (he still does not seem to understand the why and wherefore of inequality in Britain).

John had earlier pulled his participation, due to critical comments made about him, but has now come back, and I do not wish to push his pulling out again, so I apologize in advance. John, shown below, is, as are all the rest, hugely important to this series, but the lives of these two upper-class children, now aging men, seemed to have changed the least. They set their sights as kids, achieved much (if not all, particularly in John's case) of what they wanted and seemed to have worked, lived and married quite well, and to have grown and changed the least of all the participants -- except maybe Tony, who wouldn't waste much time complaining in any case.

Among the women, major surprises are in store from wealthy playgirl-then-happily-married-mother Suzy and especially from that lovely children's librarian, Lynn (shown at bottom), but all the participants here have their interesting life choices (or events that life forces) to share.

Lynn's story will certainly move you, but so, I should imagine, will all of them to varying degrees: Neil (below), still struggling but coping with depression and relationships; Symon, after helping produce a number of children via two wives, is now fostering even more of them; the ever sweet, charming and industrious Sue; Paul, still living and working in Australia; and Bruce, ever heavier but as happy at work as he is now as a family man, too.

I could go on -- and I would like to, about each and every child who has grown into an interesting man or woman -- but those who've already seen the series will want to find out for themselves. For those who have not, 63 Up is as good an entry point as any (except of course the first one) because each participant's story is given as much of the history as viewers will need to fill in enough blanks to appreciate these lives.

If you decide to view the entire series (available on home video), don't even think about binge-watching because there

is so much repetition over the episodes that you'll drive yourself crazy in the process. It is very much worth seeing the entire series, however; just allow ample time to elapse between viewings.

Released by BritBox and running 144 minutes, 63 Up opened this past week in New York City at Film Forum. Elsewhere? Not sure, but one would imagine this film will eventually find its way to home video, just as have the others in the series.