Friday, September 18, 2020

Hannah Rosenzweig & Wendy Sachs' SURGE tracks the entry of women into the 2018 congressional race

At this point in time there have already been several American documentaries about political candidates who were not white nor male. The latest of these is SURGE, and it is another fine example of both filmmaking and finding a subject well worth pursuing.

Filmmakers Hannah Rosenzweig (below, left) and Wendy Sachs (below, right) do a bang-up job of following three women candidates in the 2018 mid-term elections, allowing their viewers to see these women and their teams in action -- along with their hoped-to-be constituents, staff and 

friends and family -- their ideas, why they decided it was important to run for office and how they hope to achieve that goal. 

The overall film is impressive, and even if we might have wished for better election results, the strength and certainty these women possess about why and how our country needs to change -- and not in the MAGA (Make America Grate Again) manner of 

President Clown-cum-Realty-TV-Show-Host -- is worth seeing and hearing.

The three candidates we follow are Jana Lynne Sanchez (shown below), who is after a Congressional seat in a Texas district that Democrats have not won for 36 years; Lauren Underwood (two photos below) running in Illinois' 14th district, who, if elected, would be the youngest black female to hold this kind of office; and Liz Watson from notably red state Indiana (though South Bend did elect Mayor Pete), the state that gives its working class only a 12-hour window (6am to 6pm) in which to vote on election day. 

We watch as these campaigns kick off, gather steam and win their primaries, often against stiff opposition (Jana Lynne Sanchez, above, even after she won her primary, got no support from the Democratic National Committee -- yet another reason why TrustMovies shall never give another dime to that crap organization that keeps foisting "centrist hacks" upon us and refuses to endorse any real progressives).

You can see and fully understand how tiring campaigning is as you watch these women work against all odds to see things through to the finish. You also understand even more strongly what a waste it is to have to keep asking for donations rather than doing what's necessary to get out and meet, really listen to, and then convince, the voters.

As Election Day approaches and Republican opponents get dirtier and nastier, good things look less likely, but onward these gals go, and so do their documentarians, whose style is as positive, smart, caring and energetic as that of their subjects.

If you have mixed feelings by the finale, you're entitled. But I can't imagine any progressive-minded viewer not being pleased and edified by the chance to see all these wonderful women at work. Running 93 minutes, Surge is available to view now. Click here for further information on how to do so.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Israeli writer/director Itay Tal's film debut, GOD OF THE PIANO, hits virtual theaters

In the annals of non-heroines who are cold and controlling, TrustMovies would place Anat, the musician mother at the heart (if one can even use that word without grimacing) of the new Israeli film GOD OF THE PIANO at the top of the list. Whew. This is one horrendous woman. And yet so quietly, effortlessly does Anat seem to move ahead with her plan to turn her "offspring" into a crack classical pianist and composer that the viewer simply hangs on, frightened and mesmerized, as one might be by an approaching lion, tiger or undulating Cobra.

God of the Piano is the first full-length feature from Israeli writer/director Itay Tal (shown at right), and it is a humdinger of a nasty character study that proves all too believable -- except perhaps for the initial surprise the movie springs upon us. (Come on: Could it be that easy to achieve, with no one even suspecting or questioning this? If so, this does say much good about hospital procedures in Israel.) Still, it is the hook that makes the remainder of the film possible so, sure, we must go along with it.

Mr. Tal's style is relatively serene and unshowy (given all that goes on here), as is that of his leading lady, Naama Preis, an actress new to my view. Ms Preis (on poster, top, and above) is highly focused on each move she must make and every weapon in her arsenal -- which including using family, friends, deception and absolute rigor to achieve her ends. Why this is so important -- making certain that her son becomes a famous pianist -- is never explained. It is simply an obsession. Yet anyone who has ever been close to another person's obsession will probably agree that crazy behavior can be all too credible.

From the outset, as Anat is either giving a concert or perhaps auditioning for something, it appears that -- from the pressure, fear, or some sort of emotion going on -- she urinates even as she plays. No, it's something else entirely. And this is but the first of a number of times that the movie and its lead character appear to be doing one thing but instead are doing quite another.

In months and then years, we flash ahead to watch, as her son (newcomer Andy Levi, above, right) works hard as both pianist and composer, her marriage grows rockier and her extended family fractures, even as it appears that what she has done early on has now come back to haunt her. The filmmaker and his star never over-explain, and this may annoy some viewers. I prefer it that way. Give me just enough information and let me arrive at my own conclusions. 

See what you think, as God of the Piano opens in virtual theaters later this week. Whatever you finally decide, you will not, I expect, be bored. Here is another small movie from the troubled state of Israel that, as so many other Israeli films have done, in its own special way and perhaps without at all meaning to, discovers the national character in the specifics of a torn and disturbed individual.

From Film Movement, in Hebrew with English subtitles and running but 80 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, September 18, in limited release in virtual theatres nationwide. Click here then click on THEATERS in the task bar to find one (virtually) near you.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Family trauma meets feel-good: John Sheedy/ Lisa Hoppe's adaptation, H IS FOR HAPPINESS

Stick with this recent Australian movie, please, despite its initial unsure footing. H IS FOR HAPPINESS -- directed by newcomer-to-film theater director John Sheedy (shown below) with a screenplay by Lisa Hoppe from the popular young-adult novel My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg -- combines family dysfunction with feel-good filmmaking in a manner that (finally, at least) manages to come together quite beautifully. Initially, if it appears a somewhat uneasy mix of coming-of-age, family tragedy, pretty scenery, humor and even maybe a little mysticism, do hold on. 

Once our heroine Candice (newcomer Daisy Axon, on poster above), about to celebrate her 13th birthday and waiting for impatiently for breast development, tells us: "Waiting for progress in the chest department is like watching grass grow," we listen with a knowing smile.

Then, when Candice receives a very special birthday present from a certain important new friend, the film kicks into action and simply gets better and better with each succeeding scene until its joyous, surprising and delightful climax -- which proves to be just about everything you want (but so seldom get) from most feel-good finales.

The plot of the film has to do with a family fractured from a death and a possible financial betrayal by a sibling, all of which Candice is now trying to repair. When an unusual new boy enters her classroom (Wesley Patten, also on poster, top) and confides to Candice that he is from "another dimension," our heroine is hooked.

The movie's large and talented cast includes some of Australia's finest -- from Richard Roxburgh as dad (above, right), Emma Booth as mom (above, left), and Miriam Margolyes as Candice's wandering-eyed schoolteacher (below). Young Ms Axon and Mr. Patten could hardly be better, both bringing a genuine sweetness and innocence to the proceedings.

The ins and outs of the plotting include a seemingly mystical pony (three photos up), the proprietor of a local costume shop (George Shevtsov, below, right), and even a little quantum mechanics. It all comes together nicely though, with that special birthday gift popping up again and again, each time funnier and even more appropriate than the one before.

From Samuel Goldwyn Films and running a just-about-right 96 minutes, H Is for Happiness will make its American debut via VOD and digital streaming this Friday, September 18 -- for purchase and/or rental. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Native American food, culture and people brought to much-needed attention in Sanjay Rawal's documentary, GATHER

Does it occur to you, as it has repeatedly to me of late, that while Black Lives Matter most definitely, where the hell is the attention and responding change necessary for Native Americans? Black enslavement has led to centuries of continuous oppression; genocide, on the other hand, is so much easier to ignore, since there are so few reminders left of what "My country 'tis of thee" did to its original population. The new documentary GATHER goes some distance toward remedying this by reminding us quietly but insistently of our history while showing us some excellent reasons why Native American lives and culture continue to matter -- for now and for whatever future we may have left.

As directed and produced by Sanjay Rawal (shown at left) and featuring a collection of Native Americans of differing tribes all working toward the betterment of their own society while re-introducing the USA to some better ways to eat and act and think and live. 

We meet a Native American chef (below) from a four-star restaurant now ready to open his own place where diners will be able to sample Native American food that's both healthy and tasty.

Also on board is a young student (shown at bottom) whose science fair project is devoted to finding then demonstrating scientific proof of why Buffalo meat is superior to that of America's current favorite, good old cholesterol-ridden, antibiotic-injected beef.

We learn how members of a tribe of Northern California, the Yurok Nation (one of whom is shown below), are trying to save the salmon population -- that is both the major food source and means of earning a living -- even as we receive a lesson in furthering our own diet, cultural possibilities and even, yes, spirituality. (The latter is not hit overly hard, thank goodness.)

Mr. Rawal is light on his feet, moving things along quickly, offering lots of good information with little waste or repetition (the movie lasts only 74 minutes). We meet the families and friends of the Native Americans on view and learn why what they are all doing -- it's about food sovereignty -- is important in sustaining their (and our) food supply. 

Alone for the information we glean on the disappearance of the Buffalo herds and how and why this was so major in the destruction of Native Americans, the movie is worth a view and a listen. This little documentary, for all its positive attitude and charm, goes a distance in reminding us of the genocide in our own backyard. When will proper attention and real reparation be paid to the remaining Native Americans?

premiered last week via iTunes and Amazon and is available now for purchase or rental.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Streaming now, and in a darker mode: NEW QUEER VISIONS: RIGHT BESIDE YOU

Clearly titled with an eye toward irony, the latest installment from NQV Media -- NEW QUEER VISIONS: RIGHT BESIDE YOU -- makes that titular proximity mean both everything and nothing simultaneously. This is certainly the darkest compilation of GLBT shorts from this distributor that I've thus far seen. And if it is not maybe the best of the lot, it is certainly worth viewing and pondering.

This collection of five short films offers three that can in no way be interpreted as having a happy ending; another might have one in the best of all possible worlds, while one simply exists as a kind of brief character study. Another "plus" here is that both bisexuality and transgender are interestingly explored for a change. (Not for nothing was NQV's original company name New Queer Visions: Most of what we see harks definitely toward the gay.)

From Mexico, MY MOTHER'S LOVERS (Los Movios de mi madre) is all about a teenager, his best (and only) friend, and his mom. Dark as pitch and beautifully handled, the 22-minute film was written by Lorena Moleres and directed by Samuel Montes de Oca León

The 13-minute BOOTYFUL, from France, introduces us to a lithe and beautiful black man who attracts and is attracted to both men and women. What does this mean to our hero? A full-length film might further explore this; what we get here is a very nicely filmed introduction, well-written and -directed by François Barbier.  

ONLY WHAT YOU NEED TO NOW ABOUT ME (Apenas o que você precisa saber sobre mim) involves skateboarding, friendship, identity and ersatz closeness. As written and directed by Maria Augusta V. Nunes, this 15-minute film, in Portuguese from Brazil, handles a delicate subject with finesse, understanding and absolute empathy for all concerned.

JUNK refers to the drug and is by far the darkest of the short films presented here. Family, fallout, hard drugs, hopelessness, love and the need to save all jockey for position as our heroes' predicament grow more dire. From the United Kingdom, running 24 minutes, and written and directed by Joe Morris, this is another movie that cries out for expansion. (Though it might just be too much of a downer for many filmgoers.)

The most upbeat (well, maybe) is saved for the finale, as HIGH TIDE explores what happens when a hugely closeted (from himself, as much as from anyone else) Muslim man meets and finds himself attracted to a hunky younger fellow. From The Netherlands, running 22 minutes, and written and directed by Claire Zhou, the movie may open your eyes to the benefits of first closing them.

NEW QUEER VISIONS: RIGHT BESIDE YOU, with English subtitles and running 95 minutes in its entirety, is available now via digital streaming. Click here and scroll down for info on how to view the film.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

DVDebut for Nanni Moretti's fine new documentary, SANTIAGO, ITALIA

Really? Something good came out of the horrific Pinochet dictatorship that ravaged the country of Chile during the 1970s and 80s? God knows, all this has been covered and re-covered in countless documentaries and narratives in the decades since then. Yet the new and ever-so-welcome SANTIAGO, ITALIA by the popular Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti offers something surprisingly positive, along with information and a situation that TrustMovies knew nothing of until viewing this gripping and moving new documentary. 

Not that Signore Moretti (shown at left) leaves out the bad stuff. No: His interviews with Chilean citizens who were imprisoned and tortured by the military at the time still horrify and disgust, as do those with former members of the military forever trying to justify and/or sleaze out of their actions back in the day. 

But the heart of this fairly brief documentary details how the Italian Embassy in Chile at the time of the coup and after managed to help rescue, then house and eventually ship safely off to Italy several hundred Chilean dissidents. As we hear from these Chilean-Italians, their stories of the time of Salvador Allende and his and Democracy's death in Chile become a kind of mosaic, of things we knew and plenty we didn't, about how various embassies (there were other good guys, in addition to Italy) helped those being persecuted by the new dictatorship.

Filled with archival footage (above and below) that shows us Allende (above, center) and the time period, and then fills in the history via interviews with Chileans in numerous walks of life -- factory workers to musicians, journalists, artists and filmmakers (Patricio Guzmán is one of these) -- the documentary works its way up to the good news about how many of these people were saved.

Early on, one woman recalls how Chile under Allende "was a whole country, a whole society in a state of love." Except it wasn't, of course. Allende was faced with two choices, one interviewee explains: Strike while the iron is hot and nationalize industry or try to placate the bourgeoisie. He chose the former, more progressive model (unlike America's centrist Democratic Party that keep us moving toward the wealthy, powerful and corporate). Although democratically elected, Allende and his socialist policies were hated by many right-wing bourgeois and upper-class Chileans, so with the help of America, the military coup took place. 

All of this has been told and seen many times over. What Moretti brings new to the table is the tale of that Italian Embassy (above) and its good work. His movie is so full of solid, smart information that attention must be paid throughout. The payoff is worth it, for his interviews are often exciting, funny and very moving. My favorite is the story of a grandmother who must toss her baby grandchild over the wall of the embassy and what subsequently occurred. 

What happened to the "saved" Chileans, how they got to Italy, found employment (and much else, too) and, though hoping to return eventually to their homeland, finally settled in Italy is simply a marvelous, engaging story. But, as encouraging and hopeful as the documentary often is (as are most of Moretti's movies), this one ends on a realistic, near-negative note. We can only hope that Chile, Italy, and -- hello -- the USA, too, will take a different course before the opportunity for change runs out.

From Icarus Home Video and Distrib Films US, Santiago, Italia, in Spanish and Italian with English subtitles and running 84 minutes, hit the street this past week and is available now on DVD (and eventually via streaming). It's a must-see for history buffs, lovers of Italy and/or Chile, and progressives of all countries.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Justine Triet's crazy/masterful SIBYL is this year's must-see movie for and about shrinks

For all of us who've wondered down the decades just how much of a "real" life that person might have who has been acting as our psychiatrist or psychotherapist -- with whom s/he is involved, what kind of a life they have, and even how crazy they themselves might possibly be -- have I got a new movie for you! 

That this is also a film about film-making, acting, creating and directing should only add to the enticement. SIBYL is co-written and directed by Justine Triet (shown below) and it ought more firmly than ever place both its director and its star, Virginie Efira, on the international movie map.

Ms Triet takes in an array of characters and situations, weaving these together with a fine combo of skill and originality, while using time past and present so speedily and smartly that you will barely have the opportunity to take a breath without risk of missing something vital. 

Without giving away too much, the tale begins as therapist Sibyl (Efira, below) tells her own shrink that she wants to finally concentrate on writing a novel and so will give up many of her current patients in the process. He tries to dissuade her, to little avail, and we see the pain that this causes some patients, even as Sibyl receives a call from a new patient, an actress named Margot, who is desperate for help. 

It becomes increasingly clear that Sibyl herself is in need of more therapy, as is just about everyone around her, though part of  the irony of this very interesting film is that is also becomes clear that therapists/therapy can end up offering more than solving problems -- even if there is at least one patient who Sibyl has certainly been able to help.

Via that desperate actress (another very fine performance from Adèle Exarchopoulos, above), we meet her lover and co-star (Gaspard Ulliel, below, left), his lover and the film's director (Sandra Hüller, below, right) and assorted crew members, and then we go to the shoot on that famous island of Stromboli -- which becomes the movies's high point (for us, if not for the characters and the film-within-the-film).

Triet's understanding of (and sharp sense of humor about) actors and acting, psychiatry and human nature, together with the especially fine performances she draws from her entire cast -- including Laure Calamy, whose plays Sibyl's sister, Niels Schneider (below) as her former lover, and Paul Hamy as her current hubby -- makes the film even more of a pleasure, as well as something of a tease. A nod also to Arthur Harari, who plays Sibyl's therapist and who co-wrote this unusual screenplay.

TrustMovies would imagine that Sibyl will become the go-to movie for all kinds of therapists, maybe some of their patients, and certainly for actors and movie-makers. It is a French film, remember, so do not expect all the loose ends tied up neatly. Better to simply savor the conundrums the film explores, smartly and often humorously -- about identity, performance and the uses/misuses of the therapeutic process.

From Music Box Films, in mostly French with English subtitles (and unfortunately in some heavily-accented English that could have used subtitles of its own) and running a nice 101 minutes, Sibyl opens in virtual theaters this Friday, September 11. Click here then scroll down to click on Theatrical Engagements to learn how you can view the film.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Finally -- a Blu-ray/DVD release of Hayao Miyazaki's 2014 Oscar nominee for animation, THE WIND RISES

What a bizarre (but somehow blessed) subject for an animated movie: the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the Japanese aircraft designer whose work, though he did not believe in the Japanese war effort, resulted in the production of massive fleet of airplanes used against the allies during World War II. From the little I know of Horikoshi's life, the resulting movie -- THE WIND RISES by Oscar-winning filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) -- though greatly fictionalized becomes in the hands of Miyazaki a beautiful meditation on everything from flying and dreaming to love, trust, friendship, creativity and (perhaps to a lesser degree) responsibility.

The result is an animated film, old-fashioned but still eye-poppingly gorgeous, that seems -- despite its tale of childhood love lost and found -- surprisingly adult, the work of a mature artist (the filmmaker is shown at left) wrestling with difficult themes and finding a way to make them meaningful, resonant and moving.

The time and place in Japan in the 1920s, which makes a nice change from much other animation we've seen, and the pre-WWII background, including an Italian inventor, young Horikoshi, and the German military adds a certain irony to the proceedings, especially for those of us from the Allied side.

"Inspiration unlocks the future; technology eventually catches up," the movie's Italian inventor (above left) tells Horikoshi (above, right) -- an idea of which I'm sure Tesla would approve, and the film spends a surprising amount of time on the details of the technology of flight. And then, in its second half, it becomes a love story that begins in humor and delicacy then morphs into something extraordinarily poignant and sad.

This change is not jarring, however, because the whole enterprise in infused with Miyazaki's rich sense of beauty, mysticism and the natural world. He uses dreams to help forge a new reality and, as usual, his movie is both thoughtful and humane.

Along the way we get everything from a major earthquake to a windswept parasol, and the movie ends all too appropriately in an airplane graveyard and on a note of mysticism and sadness, leavened with as much hope as can be gleaned from a situation this fraught and wasteful. And yet how much beauty and invention Miyazaki has been able to offer us!

From Shout! Factory and running a long but never boring 126 minutes, The Wind Rises is available now for digital download, and will hit the street on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, September 22 -- for purchase and/or rental.