Saturday, February 29, 2020

Roger Nygard's back -- with a new doc about making it work: THE TRUTH ABOUT MARRIAGE

The truth about THE TRUTH ABOUT MARRIAGE -- the new documentary from Roger Nygard, who earlier gave us the very interesting The Nature of Existence -- is that there isn't just a single truth here, but a myriad of 'em. Actually, Mr. Nygard's doc might have been better titled The Truth About Relationships because, as the movie rolls along, it becomes ever clearer that whether or not you sign on the dotted line, your relationship -- be it straight or gay, twosome, threesome, or the more oddly specific "parental partnership," it's going to take work. Lots of work. This can, however, turn out to be more interesting, productive and fun.

Nygard, shown at left, seems to have done more editing than anything else (now he writes, directs and edits), and it shows: The fellow certainly knows how to move his movies fast, make good sense, coalesce, and not be (too) repetitive. TrustMovies must admit that it was not the subject of this movie that intrigued him but the filmmaker's former work. Really, how much more can we see, hear or learn about "making relationships work," for Christ' sake! As it turns out, quite a lot. And Nygard has managed to ferret this out, via a handful of wise and well-spoken "experts," along with another handful of folk in various kinds of relationships, explaining how they have made their own brand come to fruition. (Some of both types are shown below.)

As well as being a smart editor, Nygard is a good interviewer, putting his subjects at enough ease so that they can relax, enjoy what's going on, and properly answer the specific and highly germane questions the filmmaker wants answered.

If the first couple-or-so minutes of the movie appear to traffic in the same old clichés, hang on but another moment or two (until you get to the attractive woman engaged in that parenting partnership) -- and suddenly you may find yourself in territory that is anything but typical.

Even when the male of one couple explains to us that the relationship is a work in progress -- "I do the work, and she makes the progress" -- the comment is not merely funny and original (to me, at least), it helps demonstrates one of the points that the film not-so-subtly makes: that women do indeed tend to control relationships, along with the Darwinian reason for this -- helping to guarantee a survival of the species.

Thankfully, the documentary never weighs too heavily toward either male or female, while some of its findings will probably surprise and maybe even please you. Nygard and his subjects tackle everything from history and genetics to hormones and (glancingly, at least) bisexuality.

In regard to one of these important subjects: Couples should go off the pill at least one year before they commit to a long-term relationship. To another: How did the understanding of agriculture change the way people behaved sexually? See what I mean: Unless you are already very intelligent and well-versed, you're going to want to learn the answers to these -- and lots more. You will, here.

Nygard moves his film fast, doesn't linger, and has enough wit, ideas and just plain common sense to keep us hooked throughout. Even when he seems to spend, shall we say, an awfully long time with Don Blanquito (above, right) a loudmouth American in Brazil you want to tell to shut-the-fuck-up, what do you know? Down the road a bit, the fellow has mellowed, and we soon see why and how.

And just when you're thinking, regarding that black man, his ex-wife and the woman with whom he's now in a relationship (they all three live together), "Well, that poor ex-wife seems way too silent!" then she opens up, and you find yourself  'eating your thoughts,' as it were.

No, this is the kind of movie you're going to want everyone you care at all deeply about to see, enjoy and learn from. In fact, I think it is literally the only example I've seen about relationships -- in films, books, TV, and elsewhere -- that I could wholeheartedly recommend. Not coincidentally, the movie made me realize how much more I could have done regarding my own relationships over the years.

From Blink Movies and running just 81 minutes, The Truth About Marriage hit VOD, via all the usual outlets, this past February 14 -- the perfect gift for Valentine's Day. I'm just sorry I didn't get to watching it sooner. (The movie, by the way, has its own accompanying book available for purchase.)

Note: For purposes of better comprehension, 
I've left out the names of the various interviewees,
but if you like to know who they are, click here and then 
scroll down till you've found the correct identification. 

Friday, February 28, 2020

THE WHISTLERS: Corneliu Porumboiu's new Romanian film proves something different

Not to worry: all the characters here -- criminals to cops -- are as corrupt/crooked as we've come to expect from the the lion's share of new Romanian cinema. And it doesn't seem to matter much which excellent director is in charge: Cristi Puiu, Cristian Mungiu, Radu Jude, Radu Muntean or, in the case of the film under consideration here, Corneliu Porumboiu.  THE WHISTLERS -- the latest movie from the fellow who gave us 12:08 East of Bucharest, The Treasure and Police, Adjective -- takes the dark-ish comedy (I'd call him one of the more overtly comedic of these directors) for which he is justly known and adds a gorgeous foreign locale, a more breezy story featuring a quirky-but-it-actually-exists "language," and a load of bright, zingy colors to the mix -- resulting in the most conventionally entertaining and enjoyable Romanian film we've experienced so far.

Mr. Porumboiu, shown at right, uses one of his main actors from Police, Adjective -- Vlad Ivanov (below, right) -- this time in the role of (somewhat) romantic leading man, Cristi, which he fills quite well. Sturdy but hardly pretty, here he's a man's man with a mother problem. Cristi is crooked and corrupt, yet not wildly so, and within that framework he's developed his own moral compass.

The filmmaker jogs back and forth in time, though characters and events are never difficult to follow. These include the plans of a gorgeous, would-be femme fatale (Catrinal Marlon, below, left); a wittyly used mattress factory, the product of which figures cleverly into things; the Canary Islands, one of which offers up whistling as an actual language; a life-and-death chase and gun battle (on an abandoned movie set); a nasty throat-slashing; even a romance or two that appear to be blooming.

Porumboiu has the skill to combine all of the above in a manner that never seems cobbled together. Instead, things flow quite nicely, as betrayal piles upon betrayal and no less than the Church itself gets involved. And when I say that everyone here is corrupt, believe it. Cristi's police-chief boss (Rodica Lazar, below) maybe most of all.

What sets apart The Whistlers, not simply from the other films of Porumboiu but from other Romanian movies in general, is the utter lightness of its tone (and perhaps its theme, too). What's at stake here (though several lives are lost in the process) seems almost featherweight, yet the results are extremely enjoyable. Think of it as the Romanian version of something like Charade or How to Steal a Million -- on a much smaller budget, and handled with more subtlety, wit and (of course) darkness.

In fact, so lightweight and fun is this film that it seems almost as if Porumboiu might be auditioning for his first Hollywood effort. If so, give it to the guy, and fast. He can handle locations, actors, scripts (he's both writer and director), budgets, the works. And if the Hollywood tale includes a good bit of corruption and hypocrisy, hell, it might seem as though the man has never even left home!

Distributed in the USA via Magnolia Pictures and running just 97 minutes (short by Romanian standards),  the movie opened today in New York City at both Film Forum and Film at Lincoln Center and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. It will soon be playing in cities all around the country. Click here to discover one near you.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

MANON: Henri-Georges Clouzot's re-discovered French Classic gets Arrow's Blu-ray treatment

Mid-twentieth century French director Henri-Georges Clouzot (shown below) is, unfortunately, best remembered for a couple of first-rate thrillers -- Diabolique and The Wages of Fear -- but he was a fine craftsman and artist in any number of genres. His very dark Le Corbeau is a dissection of French provincial life like no other, while Quai des Orfèvres is an original and witty crime drama. He was able to draw outstanding, often surprising performances from almost all the actors he used (Brigitte Bardot did her best work in his La Vérité), and the man had an almost shockingly good knack for smart casting.

For one of the best samples of that casting knack, look no further than Clouzot's 1949 film MANON, and his choice of newcomer (she'd had a small role in but one previous film), Cécile Aubry (the blond shown below), as his title character.  Based on the famous (and at time of publication scandalous) novel by Antoine François Prévost), the tale has since been adapted over and over again into operas, ballets, movies and television shows/series.

If you're an opera lover, you'll probably call your favorite the Puccini version. TrustMovies is not and so stakes his claim on Clouzot's fine film, the best of the Manons that he has so far seen -- thanks to the very interesting updating, rich direction and clever co-writing/adapting, by Clouzot and his collaborator, Jean Ferry.

Clouzot updates his version to begin at the end of World War II, as his hero, Robert, a French infantryman played by the in-his-own-way-as-beautiful-as-Manon actor, Michel Auclair (below), helps prevent local townspeople from cutting off the hair of a young girl they claim has collaborated with the Germans.

The filmmaker manages to make their near-immediate love for each other not merely acceptable but so much a part of who these two are that the love quite believably lasts and grows. The film begins on a freighter smuggling a load of displaced Jews to Palestine, where our lovers have stowed away, and most of the movie takes the form of flashback, as the pair relates their tale to the ship's captain, below, right.

Clouzot had a reputation as a misanthrope (I'm not sure I buy that), but he was no misogynist, and his ability to place us into the minds and hearts of his lovers turns his Manon into something rich and moving. The filmmaker understand how her coming from poverty makes her crave money as much as love, while Robert's more-than-middle-class upbringing has insulated him so that he wants Manon and nothing else.

How this duality plays out is not simply witty but very wise. It also involves Manon's brother (a very nice turn by top-billed Serge Reggiani (above, right), along with various moneyed lovers (like the weighty lecher, perfectly played by Raymond Souplex, below left).

In one of the film's most delicious scenes, Robert follows Manon to her place of work (which she has been keeping from him) and has a smashing dialog with this very-high-end bordello's smart and classy madam (the great Gabrielle Dorziat, below).

Through it all, love does not simply endure, it oddly but strongly burgeons. And when we reach Palestine, the film -- rather like the topology we're a part of -- changes radically. As the Jewish refugees, along with our pair, make their way to where they're going, a scene as disturbing as any I've watched occurs. Not that it is particularly bloody, but it is simply so startling and horrible -- because there is nothing either the participants or we in the audience can at all do about it -- that I suspect viewers of the time (hell, even now) would have experienced little like it.

Is this one more indication of misanthropy?  No. Rather, it's M. Clouzot allowing us a brief but awful look at the world as it was. And is. What a movie-maker this guy was! He is missed.

From Arrow Academy (distributed here in the USA via MVD Entertainment) a splendid Blu-ray transfer that consistently sparkles, Manon, in French with English subtitles and running 106 minutes, hit the street this past Tuesday, February 25 -- for purchase (and, I hope, rental, too). Only two Bonus Features appear on the disc: an unfortunately un-subtitled interview in French with the director and a very nice and newly-filmed appreciation of the movie by critic Geoff Andrew

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Matthew Pope and Don H. Thompson's BLOOD ON HER NAME: a tightly-wound, suspenseful unveiling-of-character study

A near-perfect example of what an American independent movie used to occasionally achieve but these days rarely even attempts, BLOOD ON HER NAME is a dark and magical melding of small-town southern gothic, neo-noir and character study that grabs and holds us from first frame onward.

Directed and co-written (with Don H. Thompson) by Matthew Pope, shown at right -- his first full-length feature -- the movie immediately puts you in the shoes and spirit of its heroine, Leigh Tiller, who appears to have maybe just killed a man.

But come on: She's a slight and frightened female, so of course we're in her corner. And despite some pretty bad choices on her part, we're meant to stay there.

Leigh is played by Bethany Anne Lind (above and below) with the kind of moment-to-moment intensity and utter honesty that would garner any actress in an "A" movie an Oscar nod for a role this well-written and acted. But Blood on Her Hands is a small "B" movie, though it honors that particular genre about as well as anything TrustMovies has seen of late. (Last year, either, for that matter.)

As we learn how Leigh helps create and then negotiate the repercussions from what has happened here, as well as -- piecemeal, which keeps the suspense full throttle -- why it has happened, our understanding of just who this woman really is forms more fully. At the same time, our sense of what morality means and how much more fluid and difficult a thing it can be keeps growing and changing.

By movie's end, when another character tells her, "You're a good woman, Leigh," we can only wish that, somehow, maybe she weren't. This is one unusually tense and tricky film -- especially where right and wrong are concerned. It makes you hold on for dear life to that old saw, Honesty is the best policy.

Ms Lind's performance doesn't just ground the film -- she's in, I believe, every scene -- she buoys it, too. And the ace supporting cast could hardly have been bettered. Leigh's father, the town cop, is played close-to-the-vest and smartly by Will Patton (above), while young actor Jared Ivers essays her teenage son with just the right amount of caring and distance, having been kept in the dark and thus semi-protected by his mom.

Among the unusual array of very mixed-bag characters on display here, Elisabeth Röhm (you can just barely see some of her blond hair at left, below), playing the wife of the film's initial victim, registers particularly strongly and surprisingly, while Jimmy Gonzales (above), stalwart and sensitive, plays the loyal and decent co-worker at Leigh's auto shop, the character who probably comes closest of any in the film to what we might call "normal."

Blood on Her Hands is a story of a family faced with questions of survival and morality that render difficult choices inevitable. Most (well, many) of us have probably never had to face these. The movie is about what happens when we do -- even when we're "good" women or men.

From Vertical Entertainment and running a sleek, swift 84 minutes, the film makes its theatrical debut in Brooklyn at the Nighthawk Cinema this Thursday, February 27, for one night only, and will hit another eleven theaters across the country the following day for a weeklong run: also in Brooklyn at the Kent Theatre; in Santa Monica, CA, at Laemmle's Monica Film Center; in Chicago at the Studio Movie Grill, Chatham; in Dallas, TX, at the Studio Movie Grill, Spring Valley; in Marietta, GA, at the Studio Movie Grill, Marietta; in Houston, TX, at the Studio Movie Grill, Pearland; in Tampa, FL, at the Studio Movie Grill, Tampa; in Rogers, MN, at the Emagine, Rogers; in Homestead, FL, at the Flagship, Homestead; in Kissimmee, FL, at the Studio Movie Grill, Sunset Walk; and in Columbus, OH, at the Gateway Film Center. For those not living in these cities, the movie will simultaneously be available via VOD. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Paul Solet's documentary, TREAD, explores small-town life, paranoia, the patriarchy and -- possibly, probably -- an abuse of power

Back in June of 2004 an event occurred of such bizarre circumstance that you might have thought it would make near-worldwide news. It almost did, but by the next day, another event happened that wiped the earlier one off the news circuit completely. You'll find out about the former as the documentary entitled TREAD unfolds, but the latter event you'll learn of only at the end of this truly strange and generally riveting new film.

The fellow at the center of Tread is Marvin Heemeyer, shown below, right, with his then girlfriend, whom we see interviewed at length, along with a number of other of Heemeyer's friends, as well as some folk who were not, shall we say, in his corner. The movie itself is a mixture of well re-created events, archival footage and the usual talking-head interviews.

The picture of Mr. Heemeyer that emerges however, is a tricky one. Initially, he comes across as a guy just about everyone loved. By the finale you could hardly find a more paranoid nutcase. In between we learn how the former became the latter via everything from small-town politics, greed, envy, along with the usual combo of nature/nurture.

The publicity materials for the film give away the big event immediately. Interestingly enough, the movie itself does not. In fact, if you do not know what happened here, you will hang on more because of the picture the writer/director, Paul Solet, shown at right, paints of small-town America (Colorado in particular) and the character of this clearly talented, interesting, tormented man whom you see and hear slowly coming apart at the seams.

Following, TrustMovies thinks, the film's directive, I'll leave what happened for you to find out when you see the film. To call it merely amazing is not nearly enough. Mr. Heemeyer knew what he was doing and exactly how best to do it. He knew the people and the buildings and the town itself -- though not quite as well as he thought he knew all this (it turns out that few other townspeople knew, either).

The documentary is full of surprise, and it also carries the whiff of tragedy, a life hugely wasted, a town far too indebted to one powerful family, and yet another of mankind's bizarre ideas of "what god wants."  Released to VOD and Digital HD via Gravitas Ventures, Tread -- running 89 minutes -- will be available for purchase and/or rental this coming Tuesday, February 25. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

U.S. VOD debut for a quite enjoyable guilty pleasure: Ken Scott's adaptation of THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF THE FAKIR

Don't worry if you can't recall the theatrical release of THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF THE FAKIR (WHO GOT TRAPPED IN A WARDROBE) -- the parenthetical section makes it way too long for billboards, even though it is based on an international best-seller by Romain Puertolas (unread by yours truly). The finished movie, however, proves surprisingly enjoyable in just about every way. Gorgeous to view (its settings include London, Mumbai, France, Belgium and Italy) and proficiently written, directed and acted, the finished film is simply, well, a treat, featuring a tale that is just about perfect for this kind of travelog/rom-com.

As directed (with some screenplay collaboration) via writer/director Ken Scott, left, just about everything falls into place so beautifully that you can just relax and go with things. There is a sweetness and genuineness about everything here that allows you give over, and Mr. Scott milks this for all its worth, even as he never condescends to characters, actions or audience.

After a very limited US theatrical release at the start of summer 2019, the film will soon be available on VOD, and TrustMovies bets that most audiences who appreciate this kind of thing will not at all be disappointed. In fact, I should think they will eat it up and recommend it to their friends and relatives, too.

Its star -- no, not Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), who is just too big now to do this sort of movie any longer -- is played by an actor with the single name of  Dhanush (above and below), whose character's last name is also Patel (yes, it's a common one in India).  Dhanush is a consistent delight: good-looking and sexy (but smart enough not to push these in the least), and every bit as good at conning folk as he in in getting them to love him (while loving them in return). You just can't get angry at this guy, nor would you even want to.

The supporting cast is aces, as well: From Erin Moriarty (below, of Amazon's naughty superhero series, The Boys) as his love-at-first sight, to France's Bérénice Bejo (two photos below) as a famous actress, who is as kind to our boy as you would be, too, had you the wherewithal, and Gérard Jugnot as a smart, funny Paris cab driver who helps both him and his would-be lover.

Everyone, down to the smallest role, joins in the fun. There's a moment toward the finale, as our hero runs from the character who comes as close to a villian as does anyone in the film. That character happens to pass a pair of policemen as he runs, and call out a greeting to one of them, who returns  that greeting. Not only does this moment speak volumes about the state of Italy (where the scene is set), it offers the kind of oddball, funny delight that Extraordinary Journey provides over and over again.

In another important role is Captain Phillips' Barkhad Abdi (below, right), playing, yes, another immigrant with class, finesse and no special pleading. Sure, the movie hardly gives immigration the weight and seriousness it deserves. On the other hand, it is pleasant to see it used in a manner in which our hero, himself an immigrant, begins to actually find himself.

A word must also be said for the what-the-hell? musical number given us by Ben Miller as a British immigration cop with rhythm, and another for the nod to Bollywood by Dhanush and Bejo (below) as they dance their hearts out, along with the whole crowd in a night club.  Fun? Absolutely!

Actually the word "pleasant" pretty much describes this whole movie. You could hardly find a better antidote to much of what rankles the U.S. and western world today -- even if it is, of course, nowhere near real. Ah, escape! When will we settle for something more meaningful? Maybe when we actually find a way to get it -- instead of simply watching it. So vote for Bernie or Elizabeth, Democrats. If we don't get real, progressive change in our upcoming election, we might as well toss in the towel.

Released to VOD via the The Comedy Dynamics Network and running just 97 minutes, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir hits home video this coming Tuesday, February 25 -- for purchase and (I hope) rental.