Thursday, April 30, 2020

Cristina Ibarra/Alex Rivera's THE INFILTRATORS gets a nationwide release via virtual cinema

Purchase tickets to stream The Infiltrators beginning 
Friday, May 1 at the following South Florida theaters: 
Savor Cinema Ft. Lauderdale 
O Cinema South Beach 

To find a theater nationwide, click here and scroll down.
To view the film's trailer click here.

TrustMovies admits that he went into his viewing of THE INFILTRATORS with his usual mixed feelings regarding illegal immigrants: Yes, it's a problem when people are here illegally, but if they and their families are threatened with major abuses should they return to their home country, ought we not take this into account and help them?

So, the first few minutes of this new hybrid documentary by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera (shown below, left and right, respectively) -- which tells an absolutely real story about actual characters but with the major portion devoted to actors in a totally narrative version of events -- left me with back-and-forth, positive/negative reactions. By film's finale, however, I was indiscriminately cheering for these "undocumented" men and women.

In retrospect -- two days have passed since I viewed the film -- I find myself still very impressed with the story told here, as well as the characters we meet in it, even if I have to admit that it is the truly bizarre yet quite heroic situation that our leading characters willingly place themselves in that both engulfed and impressed me most.

These young people, Marco (played by actor Maynor Alvarado in the narrative portion, above) and Viri (actress Chelsea Rendon in the narrative portion, below, left) are members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, a group of radical DREAMers whose mission it is to stop unjust deportations. In order do this most efficiently and with the best results, these two -- already illegal and "deportable" -- get themselves tossed into the Broward Transitional Center, a detention facility used as a holding space for imminent deportations.

Once inside, they begin their education of the other prisoners regarding how best to ensure their non-deportation and even their chance to get out and rejoin their families. This takes the kind of courage and selflessness that ordinary U.S. citizens seldom ever see or experience--let alone possess. The Infiltrators' great strength comes from allowing us to take part in this, as Marco especially and Viri (later in the film) learn how to get this job done without themselves being exposed as "plants" and/or then being deported.

The movie often has the feel of a suspense thriller -- particularly one scene in which the cleaning-crew prisoners enable necessary paperwork and information to make its way both into and out of the prison -- and if, in retrospect, the film also seems a little fudgy with its facts, along with how easy it was to manage all this, trust me, you'll still be hooked.

The Dream Act and those Dreamers were in the news a lot during the first portion of Donald Trump's abominable Presidency, but they have fallen out of the news of late. This most interesting and important movie should bring them back into notice, as well as helping force us citizens to look at immigration/deportation (and all that goes with it) through a wider perspective and with more open eyes.

The Infiltrators, distributed by Oscilloscope Films, opens nationwide and here in South Florida -- where this all took place (and is still taking place) -- this Friday, May 1. See theaters listed at the top of this post. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Guatemala's "disappeared" have their day in Cesar Diaz's quietly moving OUR MOTHERS

The more we learn about the various countries of Latin America, the more we discover that each one appears to have it own version of "the disappeared," that multitude of citizens murdered (often tortured first) by the military -- think Chile or Argentina -- and then buried in unmmarked graves so that any identification would be difficult to prove.

Sometimes (as in Brazil), they were simply murdered by the police, with no need for justification.

Recently, we've been seeing more movies from the Central American country of Guatemala, though the two previous that TrustMovies has seen -- Temblores and José -- were concerned with present-day GLBT issues, rather than the crimes of past dictators.

OUR MOTHERS (Nuestras Madres), the new film written and directed by Cesar Diaz (shown at right), addresses these crimes head-on, yet in a style told simply, slowly and honestly -- with enough skill to more than pass muster.

Senor Diaz's dialog is serviceable, if somewhat obviously expository, but his visuals -- especially when he is simply surveying the faces of the relatives, in particular the mothers of the disappeared -- are generally expert: revelatory and moving.

The film begins with a pair of delicate hands piecing together skeletal remains and finally presenting these to the widow of the man to whom the skeleton belonged. Later, in a bar over drinks with a friend, our hero, this "remains" gatherer named Ernesto (Amando Espiritia, above, center left) who works for the government, listens sadly as his friend remarks, "To live in this shitty city, you need to go mad or get drunk."

Fortunately Ernesto does neither but simply soldiers on in his quest to uncover history. During another investigation, a photo of townspeople with guerrillas, shown him by a still-grieivng mother, comes a little too close to home for our hero, and an entirely new investigation begins. This one has more to do with "our fathers" than it does our mothers.

Along the way, we're faced with some difficult ideas, as when Ernesto contrasts the philosophies of the soldiers with that of the guerrillas, and the widow reduces them both to mere military uniforms. We also see more of Guatemalan life as lived by these mostly indigenous widows and by Ernesto and his mother. It all seems seedy, if not downright ugly, with too many supporting players in the story either wanting to forget about the past or simply remain money-hungry in the present.

By the time the movie concludes, daddy issues are in full swing, a major surprise is on offer, and the film's final spoken line proves almost unbearably moving. Our Mothers is a movie that needed to be made. How good it is that it was made this well.

From Outsider Pictures, in Spanish with English subtitles and running just 77 minutes, the film was to have opened theatrically this past April but will now have its virtual premiere this Friday, May 1, in over 15 cinemas nationwide. Wherever you live across the country, click here to learn if there is one of these virtual theaters near you.

Monday, April 27, 2020

USA Blu-ray debut for Alain Corneau's 1979 would-be cult film, SÉRIE NOIRE

Said to have been inspired by the Jim Thompson novel, A Hell of a Woman, the 1979 French film SÉRIE NOIRE was directed and co-adapted (with major help on the latter by Georges Perec) by the late Alain Corneau, a filmmaker whose work TrustMovies has usually very much enjoyed. While everything I've seen by this fellow would qualify as a good deal more than adequate, this film doesn't even come close to that.

Corneau, pictured right, evidently decided to filter Thompson's tale through the sensibility of dark comedy, if not outright farce, leading almost immediately and consistently thereafter to something very close to camp. Worse yet, unintentional camp.

The movie's star, the also late Patrick Dewaere (below), appears to have been given rein to go full-throttle. The result is rather like watching Nicolas Cage at his wildest and worst. In his too-short career, Dewaere was always threatening to go over the top. Here he does it in spades, giving the kind of what-the-fuck performance I should think might have caused the sctors working with him to run for the hills.

The story here involves a seedy salesman (Dewaere) who happens upon an elderly female client who has recently been cheated by another of the salesman's clients. She has a nubile, seemingly nympho neice (the also late Marie Trintignant, below, right) whom she rents out, and to whom our salesman takes an addled fancy. (Just about everything Dewaere does here is addled.)

Our salesman also has a nutty/slutty wife (Myriam Boyer) and a deadpan sleazebag boss (the-best-of-the-lot performance from Bernard Blier, below, right) and yet another client/friend (Andreas Katsulas) who is as crazy as everybody else. And that's a big part of the problem. Everyone is so busy being "out there" there very soon there's no "there" there, as Ms Stein, for other reasons, once surmised. I don't doubt that our world is full of reprobates and hypocrites, myself included, but Mr. Corneau's world here is more like an alternate universe with little of the fun or semi-logic that most of these provide.

You might indeed say that the filmmaker turns the conventions of noir on their head, subverting them into would-be comedy. Yet even by this standard, Serie Noire does not work, but instead takes its place as one of  the biggest major misfires in movie history: no suspense, no real laughs, no credibiity, no nuttin'. Oh, wait:  there is plenty of embarrassment.

"Name me one guy who's been as unlucky as me?" shouts our nitwit protagonist near the film's finale. After watching this far into things, the viewer may want to scream back at him, "Me!"  From Film Movement Classics, in French with English subtitles and running a lengthy 116 minutes, the movie hits the street -- in a fine Blu-ray transfer featuring some very interesting extras (yes, even if you disliked this work as much as I did) -- tomorrow, Tuesday, April 28 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Unhealthy obsession dominates Yuval Hadadi's Israeli mid-life-crisis-themed 15 YEARS

Dani is obsessed with Yoav, his lover of the titular 15 YEARS, and so is Alma, Yoav's best friend since childhood. Yoav is obsessed, too. With himself. And TrustMovies' best guess is that Yuval Hadadi (shown below), the writer/director of this new Israeli film, is also obsessed -- with the middle-aged but extremely hot-looking actor, Oded Leopold, who plays Yoav and who bears a rather striking resemblance in face, body and age,  to the filmmaker himself.

Mr. Leopold, shown below and further below, appears in nearly every scene of this film and is also prominent in every single publicity still I could find for this movie. Thankfully, he's a decent enough actor and is a consistent pleasure to look at, clothed or nude, throughout.

Because of all this, one might be tempted to imagine that 15 Years is possibly auto-biographical, but since I know nothing about Mr. Hadadi, I'll bring the subject up then leave it alone and concentrate on the movie itself.

15 Years is worth seeing for its extremely attractive cast, its look at haut-bourgeois gay life in Tel Aviv, and its often quite beautiful visuals: There's one composition featuring a plate of green apples and bright oranges that you'll want to immediately capture on canvas (its the image seen to the right of the screen through a window, not the later, less interesting image where the plate is centered). The expert, often gorgeous cinematography here is via Yaniv Linton.

The movie's plot, such as it is, concerns the sudden announcement regarding the pregnancy of Alma (Rute Asarsai, below, left) and how this affects the relationship between Dani, who might want a child of his own, and Yoav, who definitely does not. The idea of becoming a parent unleashes all sorts of negativity in Yoav.

Along the way we learn -- via a dying father whom Yoav does not want to visit and a scrapbook/wall of photographs -- about this fellow's problematic childhood. While no details are offered, we are meant to conclude that "family" is not a particularly positive part of Yoav's history. And this is the film's major problem: No details are offered about much of anything.

Late in the game Dani (Udi Persi, below, right) has an angry speech in which he lets Yoav know that their relationship has been mostly bad -- for Dani, at least. But we've seen little of this. Likewise, the bond between Alma and Yoav must be taken on faith. The performance are as good as they can be, given that character-creation does not appear an important part of the filmmaker's plan. The movie simply sets out its characters and situations and then does not go deep enough.

There are a couple of good sex scenes along the way, one of which -- simultaneously hot and creepy -- brings to the fore Yoav's capability for dominance and pain, even as his sex object seem to revel in the possibility of his own demise.

For all of the filmmaker's obsessing over Yoav, this too-loosely-drawn character seems far too narcissistic and egotistical to be worth this much attention (from the other characters or from us viewers) -- despite Mr. Leopold's enormous sexual charisma, which is on view consistently.

The film's most intelligent and upbeat character, a possible love interest for Dani (played with a graceful charm by Tamir Ginsberg), gives the movie a much-needed lift, but then we're back again with Yoav and his dire, dour problems. Sorry, but obsessions -- unless they're handled with the kind of skill Hitchcock could manage -- are more often than not difficult for an audience to fully share.

From Breaking Glass Pictures, in Hebrew with English subtitles and running 89 minutes, 15 Years hits DVD and VOD this coming Tuesday, April 28 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

HUE & CRY highlights Film Movements's quartet of classic British comedies starring Alastair Sim

Neither as well-known nor as well-loved perhaps as Alec Guinness, British comedian Alastair Sim was nonetheless a major force in British comedy from the 1940s through the 1960s. Now four of his best-known comedies are getting a Blu-ray debut in excellent transfers (without, unfortunately, SDH English subitles) in a four-disc package titled ALASTAIR SIM'S SCHOOL FOR LAUGHTER from Film Movement.

Film buiffs of a certain age will easily recall the original version of The Belles of St. Trinian's and School for Scoundrels. Lesser known but just as worthy are the other two "classics" included: Laughter in Paradise and the film under consideration here, HUE AND CRY.

Helmed by one of Britain's undersung comedic directors, Charles Crichton (at right), and written by the wonderful T.E.B. Clarke, Hue and Cry tells the tale of a gang of thugs whose clever leader uses a popular comic strip to alert his band to their next moves.

Another gang -- of British school-kids (below) -- led by an even more clever fellow gets on to the bad guys and determines to stop them, which leads to all sorts of fun and games and even, at the finale, more genuine suspense than you might have imagined possible in this kind of movie.

The ubiquitous Mr. Sim (shown at center on poster, top) plays the very funny, sunny, and near-camp writer of the comic book's story, who must be cajoled and then finally threatened into helping the kids. He is delightful, as usual, but it is Mr. Crichton's wonderful use of the so-recently bombed-out Britain (Hue and Cry was filmed only two years after the end of World War II) that both startles and rather amazes.

He and writer Clarke know how to plot and pace, so their movie bubbles along with charm and wit, from the funny and original opening credits right through the amusing and thrilling finish. The rest of the cast, of kids and polished British actors, are as delightful as is Mr. Sim. There's not a false step in the entire enterprise.

With this month's release of these classic Sim comedies, along with last month's offering of fine British war films -- both partnered by Film Movement and Studio Canal -- viewers are getting a very nice taste of British classics along with some wonderful accompanying Bonus Features. More please! (But consider including the SDH subtitles next time, OK?)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

April's Sunday Corner With Lee Liberman: MY BRILLIANT FRIEND -- a quiet tale of violence

The following post is written by our 
monthly correspondent, Lee Liberman

This heart-full Italian series, co-produced by HBO, is so absorbing that the woes of present-day pandemic drift imperceptibly down the grimy byways of poor suburban mid-century Italy on breath of air. Based on much-loved and admired novels by pseudonymous writer, Elena Ferrante, the story explores the challenging, adoring, quietly violent bond between two girls, Lila and Elena (Lenu), whose lives are yoked to a neighborhood of drab low-rises outside Naples. Series one begins in childhood and lasts through adolescence; their young adult relationship unfolds in the second, episodes dropping Monday evenings, now more than half concluded.

In the opener we glimpse storyteller Lenu, age 60, tapping out the story on an Apple computer. Tinged with bitterness, her tale paints pictures of dominance, machismo, submission, self-abnegation that will unfold in four series — one per novel.

The set (left) is described as one of the largest in Europe, an entire neighborhood recreated including apartments, shops, dusty streets and island vistas (Ischia, below) described in the novels.

The sets and locales are magnets for tourists, creating a boom not unlike what ‘Outlander’ inspired in Scotland. The difference is that “My Brilliant Friend” is true literary and film beauty; ‘Outlander’, despite its Jacobite history attracting genuine interest in Scotland’s clan past and wars with the English, does not climb out of the paperback fantasy/romance genre.

‘Brilliant’s’ director, 43 year old Saverio Costanzo, manages to burn into your mind the waste inherent in post-WWll poverty, emotional and physical violence nurtured in a small neighborhood governed by petty extortion and the secrets everyone knows. (Below, Costanzo, center left, above young Elena, “Lenu” with her parents, far l, siblings, and crew members.)

Costanzo is quoted in the Guardian: “It’s a story that somehow belongs to everyone. I found myself…in Elena’s and Lila’s shoes. It’s like a mirror...a kind of miracle that happens very rarely…..”. Michelle Obama is an admirer; Hillary Clinton is quoted: “...hypnotic... I could not stop reading or stop thinking about it.”

Both girls are brilliant —differently. Lila is an instinctive philosopher and didact; she sponges up everything there is to know on all subjects, a strangely exceptional child for whom the very young actress, Ludovica Nasti, is a perfect fit. (Nasti, is like a giant...a genius… says Costanzo.) Lenu, played in childhood by Elisa del Genio, is smart but must work to achieve. When she does, she is number one, but her winning is the product of dogged effort not genius. In their poor household, Lenu’s mother, grudgingly, cruelly, goes along with her advancing in school at the urging of an empathic teacher (Dora Romano, below).

Lila’s father, the gnarly owner of a shoe repair shop, dismisses education beyond elementary school for his daughter; her defiance and his brutality are the outcomes. It is the dis-affirmation of her sharp little mind, her right to succeed using her intelligence, that undergirds Lila’s perpetual spite and later self-destructive life-choices. Later you hear her father’s cruelty in Lila’s young adult voice as she forewarns Lenu: Don’t listen — the witch inside me is talking. Lenu has been positioned as the submissive, like Lila’s brow-beaten mother.

It is hard to convey how engrossing the story of these two little girls becomes. You float through childhood with them, pushing boundaries, daring, competing, yet supporting each other, recalling your own neighborhood confrontations, games and escapes as you share in theirs, likely more violent than your own.

Then come the bully-cum-mobsters, the flirtations, the books, the rain deluges, the parental shoutings, the ignored violence (even killings) the street peddler’s calls, streets fogged with dust. They sit on a bench reading and reciting ‘Little Women’ to each other, the pages of their shared copy increasingly tattered. The genteel poverty of Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ was lovely beauty to these waifs in their homely world; Jo, the writer, is their goddess.

By the third episode, rightly called ‘the Metamorphoses’, the girls are adolescent, and Lenu (Margherita Mazzucco) is mortified by the blood between her legs — is she dying? The sharply-dressed Solara brothers (they look like light is ‘shining down on them’) flatter and cajole a shy girl into their new car. ‘Those guys don’t just kiss, they bite like mad dogs’, says Lila (Gaia Girace). Sure enough, the shy girl is dropped off bruised, devoured.

Lenu discovers the power her body has over boys, even with her acne-spotted face, and secretly savors Lila’s defiance. Suddenly the fights in the street aren’t the noise of adults swirling overhead, but involve themselves.

The girls’ relationship waxes and wanes. Lila resents Lenu’s being in school; she proves her superiority by teaching herself Latin and Greek in secret. At other times, Lila teaches Lenu how to analyze text, prodding her to improve, living through Lenu’s success. To Lenu, her life is flat without the dynamite of Lila.

Lila’s defiant marriage to the thuggish Stefano (Giovanni Amura, below) steps her up from poverty into comparative luxury and offers a new target for her anger. She provokes his repeated beatings (boasting they make her stronger) and more drama is injected into the girls’ friendship.

Lila buys Lenu her high school books — her mother weeps with gratitude — our first shred of sympathy for the desperately angry woman. Then, in the chapter called ‘Erasure’, Lila turns on her friend, mocking her cruelly, transferring her rage on to Lenu who is climbing out of the neighborhood milieu into a more socially-conscious one.

As the girls mature, Lila continues to sharpen her claws on Lenu, and we imagine their adult friendship uneasily. (Ferrante describes the feral Lila as acting with “a hiss, a dart, a lethal bite.”) Lenu pines for Nino, Francesco Serpico, (below); the married Lila gets between them.

Still we watch, our own youth and dashed dreams immersed in theirs as Lenu’s passivity and Lila’s betrayals mount up. The story-telling is so dreamily fine, the atmosphere so reminiscent of one’s own despite all its differences in time and place, it will transport you there from the view of deserted streets out your windows.

View the series trailer here.

Note: If you would like to see more about epidemics, superstition, masks, and handwashing, check out the following:
Downton Abbey, Season 2, episode 6 for the 1918 Spanish flu (PBS, passport; Amazon Prime).
Outlander, Season 3, episode 10 for a shipboard typhoid outbreak in the 1700’s (Starz, Netflix).
The Physician, lovely film with Ben Kingsley and Stellan Skarsgård, for a battle with the black death in 11th century Persia (Netflix).
Ken Follett’s World Without End episode 106 for arrival of the black death in 1341, in which ancient Persian texts are used to guide the treatment of the plague (Starz).

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Grief and its variations in Hlynur Palmason's Icelandic genre-jumper: A WHITE, WHITE DAY

If we don't know by this time, via its movies at least, that the Nordic island country of Iceland has a culture and character pretty damned different from all others, even those of Scandinavia, to which it most probably closely compares, then the new film, A WHITE, WHITE DAY, should bring that point home all over again. It's surprisingly quiet (especially for a movie in which a kidnapping and a likely suicide occur) and somewhat repetitive, yet days after viewing it, the film keeps coming back to mind at odd times and in odd ways. It's sneakily memorable.

As written and directed by Hylnur Palmason (shown at right; this is his second full-length feature), the film begins as we follow a car traveling down a lonely, snow-surrounded highway in a lot of fog. After the first "event," we move to a shot of a field with a house under construction in the distance, as horses graze, day changes to night and then one season becomes another.

All this (below) is both repetitive and time-consuming, and yet it holds us via its very obstinacy: We haven't even seen a human face as yet.

When we finally do, the faces belong to three generations of a family who've now lost their matriarch, leaving a grieving widower, a local policeman named Ingimundur (played by a very impressive actor, Ingvar Sigurdsson, below), as well as other family members in various states of disarray.

The character who seems for awhile in the least disarray is Ingimundur's granddaughter, Salka (below), played with amazing skill and utter honesty by newcomer Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir. This young actress is so good in so many ways that it's no surprise she's already won an acting award.

Ingimundur and Salka make quite the team; they easily put in the shade the rest of the supporting cast, all of whom are excellent, even as the support circles around these two protagonists, as satellites who job it is to help guide the pair to some kind of fruition.

The plot, which I will not much go into, involves everything from caring and betrayal to crackerbarrel therapy, soccer games, anger and revenge. What makes the movie work so very well, aside from the excellent performances and smart, less-is-more writing and direction, is that particular, maybe even peculiar, Icelandic character.

Perhaps because of its wintry locale and sparse population, citizens seem to be allowed to make mistakes -- some of these real doozies -- without the kind of constant supervision, reprimands, penalties and whatnot that so many countries (western or eastern) seem to inflict. There's a kind of trust implicit here that a person can and will arrive at his own place at his own pace. Call it built-in forgiveness, maybe? Along with the ability of citizens to take some real responsibility for themselves.

Whatever: These cultural "traits," for lack of better word, imbue this work with the kind of substance and oddball grace that many would-be-more-important movies never get near. Another fine and interesting film from Film Movement, A White, White Day will have its "virtual cinema" premiere tomorrow, Friday, April 17, in locations across the country. Click here to view venues and learn more information.