Monday, March 30, 2020

CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: Justin Pemberton's necessary documentary of Thomas Piketty's even more necessary book

If ever a tome was needed to help correct the world's ever-growing inequality between the wealthy and the rest, it was Thomas Piketty's CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, published in French in 2013 and the following year in an English-language translation.

Though an immediate best-seller internationally, TrustMovies suspects it was one of those books more talked about than actually read by the intelligent masses (yup, I didn't read it either). For those of us who didn't -- and even maybe for those who did -- here comes the movie version (a documentary, 'natch) directed by Justin Pemberton that, after a bit of a shaky start, goes on to become one of those must-see movies that may change the attitude of many lucky enough to view it.

Mr. Pemberton (shown at left), along with M. Piketty (shown below), make
their point via history, economics, statistics and even psychology. Regarding that last, the experiment shown here involving wealth, entitlement and the results of a Monopoly game played without anything resembling a level playing field should open your eyes and leave your mouth agape. That aforementioned point is how hugely the gap in western countries between the very wealthy and the remaining populace continues to widen -- along with how unhealthy this situation clearly is.

Piketty, who, along with Pemberton and Matthew Metcalfe, adapted his own book to the screen, has certainly managed to make his information come across as intelligent, important and more than a little timely.

It is Piketty himself who acts as initial narrator, speaking to us in French (with English subtitles) and popping up from time to time, along with a number of other smart, well-spoken talking heads (including economic analyst Rana Foroohar, above) who, together, make a very good case for why this enormous income disparity is so destructive for so many.

Initially, the documentary took some time to involve me and to lift off. I suspect this is because the film spends a good half hour offering a look at history and telling us things that, if we've also seen other fine docs such as Capitalism and No Gods, No Masters, we'll already know. Add to this, Mr. Pemberton's penchant for filling up the screen with so much of everything as to be distracting (see above and below).

Yet, as Capital in the Twenty-First Century moves along, it gathers such a head of steam that is soon becomes so vitally interesting and packed with more and more with succulent examples and pertinent information that, once finished, you may want to watch it all over again, just to make sure you got the whole thing.

By the time it gets to -- and sticks with -- this twenty-first century,  you'll be absolutely hooked, as Piketty and company explore everything from globalization and its discontents to the country of China (above) -- and why the Chinese (below) are faring better than are we in the west.

This is not simply a slap on the wrist or some dire warning without an accompanying solution. Piketty offers some good ones -- involving taxation and the monitoring of offshore tax havens, among others. Yes, this'll take work. But what that is worthwhile does not?

More to the point, this change demands both the will and the work. But with so many of our current politicians (just as those of the past, above) --- of either stripe -- in hock to the wealthy and the corporate, will and work are, as ever, in short supply. And now we have the current Corona virus to makes it all more difficult. Still, this is a documentary that demands to be seen, discussed and acted upon. We shall see.

From Kino Lorber and running 103 minutes, Capital in the Twenty-First Century was supposed to open theatrically this Friday, April 3 (click here, then click on PLAYDATES, to see the should-have-been theatrical venues). If not available theatrically, surely the film will soon be seen via digital streaming. I'll try to keep you posted with any updates here....

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Can't get enough of YSL? Try Olivier Meyrou's Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé doc, CELEBRATION

In a very real sense, it is unfair to call CELEBRATION -- the documentary from filmmaker Olivier Meyrou (shown below) -- the most recent of all the several film about Yves Saint Laurent (or YSL), the famous fashion designer who died in 2008. Though it only hit USA theaters last fall, it was actually made back in 2007 and has spent the remaining dozen years in movie limbo because, from what I can ascertain, although it was commissioned by Saint Laurent's lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé, M. Bergé then decided it was too revealing and refused to allow it to be shown.

Bergé is now dead, and so the film, so to speak, has finally come alive.

The ironic joke here is that Celebration is revealing, all right, but almost exclusively about the character -- pompous, controlling, power-hungry and sleazy -- of Bergé himself. We learn next to nothing about Yves Saint Laurent (show below), except that he is clearly very ill and barely able to function any longer.

Because M. Meyrou, with his fly-on-the-wall camerawork and never-intrusive presence, covers only the behind-the-scenes (along with some upfront) preparations for YSL's final show, and a bit of the show itself, as well as some sort of awards ceremony for this famous designer, we get little historical perspective and no narration whatsoever.

Instead we rely quite a bit on the musings of some of the older workers for YSL, who babble on amusingly about everything from the layout of their former quarters, which dresses were sewn by whom, and -- when a parade of models shows off YSL's eclectic-but-not-terribly-creative gowns in a stadium-like setting -- exclaim in awe: "The whole world will see this! This is France!" Oh, please: Let's hope not.

Some of the film is devoted to an interview between a fashion reporter and YSL (above). Her questions, however, are not particularly probing, nor are his answers revealing of much we either don't know or could not quickly figure out for ourselves. Her praise for the designer, along with that of just about everyone else we see and hear in the movie, is effusive in its use of superlatives. If we had a nickle for every time someone opens his/her mouth with another hype -- "Magnificent!" "Brilliant!" "Wonderful!" "Incredible!" -- we might becomes millionaires. (I exaggerate, but you get the point.)

Plus, we have already seen several movies -- both narrative and documentary -- about YLS and Bergé to perhaps not need very much more added to our overflowing plate: a doc made for French TV titled Yves Saint Laurent: 5 avenue Marceau 75116 Paris, the not uninteresting 2011 doc called L' Amour Fou, the paint-by-numbers and cliche-ridden tripe of Yves Saint Laurent from 2014, and Bertrand Bonello's fantasia on fashion, fame, celebrity and culture Saint Laurent (also from 2014 and certainly the best of the bunch).

What does Celebration add to all this? Not much, I'm afraid. Although the little dog of YSL and Bergé provides some fun here, this tiresome movie itself is mostly a dog -- unless of course you're a huge fashion aficionado and/or can't get enough of YSL.

From 1091 and running just 74 minutes, Celebration becomes available this coming Tuesday, March 31, via digital and VOD -- for purchase and rental.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Sexual abuse tracked, as Deborah Kampmeier's TAPE gets a "virtual theatrical" release

Now that most theaters are closed, thanks to the current Corona virus, we'll be seeing more and more new movies -- particularly those of the small independent variety -- opening in what is termed a virtual theatrical release: available to digitally stream but only at what would be normal theatrical screening times, sometimes followed by online live panel discussions about the film and the topics it addresses via Crowdcast.

That is the case of the torn-from-the-headlines, sexual-exploitation-and-revenge film under consideration here: TAPE, from writer/director Deborah Kampmeier, who back in 2007 gave us an interesting movie entitled Hound Dog.

Tape could hardly be more au courant, dealing as it does with a very smart, sexy male sexual predator and the women, past and present, he has abused. And Ms Kampermeier, shown at right, sets things up stylishly and creepily, as one of our two heroines, Rosa -- played by the unusual looking and acting Annarosa Mudd, below -- wires herself for sound and then utterly defaces herself. This is not simply shocking but pretty horrific to view. It's an attention-grabber that certainly works.

From there we move to a group of young actresses going through the "audition process" for the movie's immediately recognizable villain, a handsome, suave and especially well-spoken fellow, Lux, who seems to specialize in making women feel empowered -- even as he utterly debases them.

This smart, savvy and very sexy predator is played by an actor now named Tarek Bishara (shown below, and if the face is familiar but the name not so much, you might better remember him under his former moniker of Thom Bishops), who does a first-rate job of convincing these poor young women to do exactly what he wants, although the purpose of this -- other than an enjoyable fuck -- is not nearly so readily apparent.

Even as Rosa goes about her plan to tape Lux (via video and audio) as he despoils his latest lady, a very sad and unfortunately pretty stupid young woman -- you'll begin by excusing this due to maybe youth and innocence, but as the movie wears on, her behaviors grows sillier and ever more incredible -- named Pearl (Orphan's Isabelle Fuhrman, below), the film's credibility begins to deteriorate. By the finale, a showdown at gunpoint in a New York restaurant during which Kampmeier tosses in everything from porno streaming to Bill Cosby, Tape has become, well, laughable.

This is too bad because, god knows, the movie's heart is in the right place, and the performances are as solid as the increasingly weak script allows them to be (Mr. Bishara is particularly convincing in his lovely little "You're-in-charge" speeches), and the tale is said to be based on fact.

Fact, however, needs more reality than Kampmeier seems able to muster, as the entire plot to wire things up goes off too easily (despite one glitch that then revolves itself almost magically), as does the whole unmasking scene, including bringing in a newscaster to present all the evidence. References to Titus Andronicus abound, as does a look at everything from female objectification to eating disorders. In the end, though, and despite strong performances, it seems at most oddly surface. And not very believable.

From Full Moon Films and running 98 minutes, Tape hits the virtual theatrical realm today. Click here for all the information regarding how to access the film and/or the Q&A's following the screenings -- which will run for the next two weeks. The film will then be available beginning April 10th on VOD platforms Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay and Microsoft.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Sicily's gift to the world explored in Kim Longinotto's fine doc, SHOOTING THE MAFIA

I've long opined that if you want to see a movie that really holds the Mafia up to scrutiny without in any way glamorizing this shit-hole organization, that film had better be Italian.

So it is again with the exemplary documentary, SHOOTING THE MAFIA, from British filmmaker Kim Longinotto that tracks the history, career and work of Palermo-born Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia, who, though her work spans a wide array of subjects, is best known for her photographs of the Mafia and their countless killings in Sicily.

Ms Battaglia (below) proves a terrific subject for a documentary, and Ms Longinotto (at left) does her ample justice, offering up a fine serving of this most unusual woman's history: her youth and young adulthood as a married woman champing at the bit for more freedom and expression; the period in which she begins work as a journalist but finds she has more proclivity, passion and talent for photography; her long array of productive relationships with men, all of whom are attractive and interesting, some of whom remain part of her life today.

One of these many men, pictured in his youth, appears below. The major concentration of this movie, of course, is on the Mafia and the increasing role it comes to play in Battaglia's life and work. The photographs we see in the film are reason enough -- if you've any interest in great photography -- to put it on your must-see list.

These photographs, most of them showing murder, are so much more than simply that. They're shocking, yes, but shot (and composition-wise maybe cropped) so well that all the passion, horror, grief, sadness and especially to stupid waste that the Mafia inflicts on society, wherever its rotten tentacles can reach, is on full display.

Longinotto's ability to mix past documentary footage with her current use of Battaglia gives us the shards of history and knowledge we need to fully understand appreciate the depravity of this sick organization and its near-constant killing sprees.

With some of the photography, Battaglia reflects on what it meant to her then and now. There's often a quite a difference, as with the photo (above) of the young prostitute and a couple of her gay friends -- all murdered because the girl broke that cardinal Mafia rule: She tried to work for herself.

As you might expect, this documentary gathers steam and a strong sense of feminism as it moves along. Women have long been relegated to second-rate in Italy, and Battaglia is having none of that. She knows her place, all right, and she's going to make sure that the men know it, too. She's not simply pushy; he has everything it takes to back up that pushiness.

Much of the movie is devoted to the famous 1986-87 Mafia trials involving Judge Giovanni Falcone above), later assassinated, along with his wife, by the Mafia. (Watching these documentary scenes should immediately bring back the recent Bellocchio film on this subject, The Traitor.) Then, to see what looks like half of the Sicilian population turn out in the streets to condemn and protest not just the Mafia but the politicians who help keep them in power proves a most stirring and life-affirming scene.

There is so much to appreciate -- the photographs, the history, the characters -- in this fine documentary about a woman and her work, neither of which you're likely to forget, that for anyone interested in Italy and the character of the Italian people, in photography and the Mafia, TrustMovies cannot imagine your missing the opportunity to see this fine film.

(The five-minute interview with director Longinotto, part of the Bonus Features on the disc, is a must-see, as well.)

After a limited theatrical release this past November via Cohen Media Group, Shooting the Mafia hit the street on DVD and Blu-ray just yesterday, Tuesday, March 24 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Rescue vs. revenge in Jonathan Jakubowicz's intelligent and immersive Holocaust-themed bio-pic, RESISTANCE

Yes, this is a bio-pic, but the biography we get here is a quite interesting look at that of the late/great world-famous mime, Marcel Marceau. For many of us, including those of the senior years, M. Marceau will have been known as only as a mime. Turns out, however, according to the new movie RESISTANCE, written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, Marceau was part of the French resistance to the Nazi takeover of France during World War II -- during which he helped save the lives of hundreds of children.

As the Venezuelan-born Señor Jakubowicz (show at right) tells it, in his tale as-close-to-truthful-as-an-entertaining-bio-pic-can-manage-it, Marcel -- born with the name Mangel, which he only later changed to Marceau -- was a Kosher butcher's son chaffing at his job assisting his father in the shop in Strasbourg, France. In the evenings he performs at a local cabaret, entertaining the patrons with his funny imitations, à la Charlie Chaplin, of the increasingly powerful Adolf Hitler (the film begins on Kristallnacht, 1938).

Marcel is played, surprisingly (to me, at least) and quite strongly by Jesse Eisenberg (shown above and below), who does a bang-up job doing mime routines, especially for the Jewish children he's seen training early on regarding how best

to hide from the Nazis, and he is expectedly excellent (when is he not?) in all other regards. Even his faux French accent is surprisingly good. Though he's no fighter, the need to save Jewish children -- initially in Germany, soon all over Europe -- has Marcel helping the French Boy Scouts and eventually joining the French Resistance, while getting up to the kind of derring-do that you'd expect from the most thrilling adventure film.

One of the great strengths of Resistance, however, is how it shows Marcel's need to place rescue above revenge, even though there is plenty of cause for the latter throughout the course of this two-hour-but-never-draggy film. The movie refuses to become an exercise in "revenge porn," in the manner of the new Amazon Hunters series, which my colleague Lee Liberman recently reviewed. (TrustMovies agrees with her mixed assessment of the series: that "the bits and pieces outweigh the whole.")

Here, the whole is relatively synonymous with the pieces, as Jakubowicz has filled his film with exciting events alternating with quieter scenes that help fill in the characters of Marcel, his family and the children that he and the other resistance fighters try to help.

The Nazi regime pretty much coalesces in the character of the notorious Klaus Barbie, here played well and even relatively subtly by Matthias Schweighöfer (above), shown as a "family man," though not above torturing a priest, let alone flaying alive a woman resistance fighter (in front of her sister, yet). Blood and gore are kept to a minimum, though the acts themselves are spelled out in all their horror.

In the role of the young woman resistance member whom Marcel loves, Clémence Poésy (above, right) registers strongly, as do Edgar Ramírez (below, right), as the father, and Bella Ramsey (below, left), who plays his daughter, the soon-orphaned child with whom Marcel and his brother first bond.

If, overall, the film retains the feel of a somewhat standard bio-pic, the fact that most Americans will be learning a good deal more here than they ever knew about mime Marcel Marceau and see Jesse Eisenberg stretch his acting wings another notch, all coupled to the theme of rescue vs. revenge, makes Resistance a Holocaust-themed movie worth a visit.

From IFC Films and running 121 minutes, the film was to have opened theatrically this coming Friday, March 27, but will now be available via digital platforms and cable VOD -- for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Blu-ray debut for another under-rated Philip Ridley film, THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON

Only eight months ago, we were treated to the Blu-ray debut of Philip Ridley's first full-length film, The Reflecting Skin, and now we're graced with the same for his second feature, THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON.

Released theatrically back in 1995, the film not only holds up far better than it did (for most critics) at the time of its release, it actually seems a much stronger film today, what with its major theme of how religious fundamentalism destroys lives being ever more timely and important.

Though Mr. Ridley, pictured at left, has only three full-length films (a sort of trilogy, the filmmaker has suggested) to his credit (his last was the dark, marvelous and best-of-the-lot Heartless from 2010), the man -- as we learn from the superb 20-minute appreciation by James Flower that is part of the disc's Bonus Features -- is a polymath: a fine artist, writer, playwright and filmmaker. He can probably cook, too.

As much as I love Ridley's work, and even after viewing and listening to Mr. Flower's fine appreciation, TrustMovies feels that each of the filmmaker's movies has been better than its predecessor. On second viewing, The Reflecting Skin -- a kind of indictment of America and its supposed values -- simply bites off more than it can properly chew, interesting as it is to contemplate, as well as gorgeous to view.

The Passion of Darkly Noon, on  the other hand, for all the drama and melodrama on hand, tells its urgent story extremely well, with literally every scene and theme necessary and contributing by the finale to a quite satisfying whole. The title role -- an unusual one for the actor Brendan Fraser (above) -- is played very well indeed, as are all in the quintet of supporting roles.

In the film's opening, we see Darkly running and running through a forest until he collapses and is later found by a local (the uber-charming Loren Dean, above), who transports him to the nearest house, inhabited by Callie (Ashley Judd, below, who has never looked hotter nor more gorgeous)

and Clay (Viggo Mortensen, below, who always looks hot and gorgeous). Initially, it's only Darkly and Callie in this large house (he has a room atop the barn), and romance soon blossoms -- at least for one of these two. "We want you to be part of our family," Callie tells Darkly. "Don't ruin it."

The characterizations, via the excellent actors as well as from the screenwriting (also by Ridley), is strong and true. Even though the characters here tend to be either kindly or crazy -- one of these, the local undertaker, delightfully played by the late Lou Myers, is both -- the characterizations are nuanced enough to seem real and easily engage us.

The final member of the supporting quintet -- played with her usual truthfulness and ferocity by Grace Zabriskie, above -- is the craziest, for good reason. Together, these folk dance around and with our troubled Darkly. Add the boy's dead but still crazy parents to the mix, and you have an excellent recipe for disaster.

Ridley's penchant for fascinating byways -- into caves, hot springs (above), fantasy and really oddball visuals (the giant floating shoe is my favorite) -- is on full display.

Yet even the most unusual of these gets its own delightful, out-of-the-blue, well, of course! moment at the finale, making The Passion of Darkly Noon a very special kind of entertainment indeed.

The Blu-ray transfer is a very good one, and don't let the above photos fool you; they were all I could find, and they do not reflect the quality of that transfer.

From Arrow Video (distributed in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group/MVD Visual) and running a just-right 101 minutes, the movie arrives on disc -- with beaucoup Bonus Features -- this coming Tuesday, March 24, for purchase (and I hope somewhere, for rental, too). The shot of the barbed-wire bloody Fraser, two photos above, may give certain viewers an idea from where Paul Schrader got his inspiration -- other than from the Crucifixion itself -- for the finale of First Reformed.