Thursday, July 30, 2020

A new kind of "Jonestown," still a cult: Cara Jones' family documentary, BLESSED CHILD

Wouldn't you know? Yes, it's love that fuels the new documentary BLESSED CHILD -- all about a young woman (now middle-aged) who, thanks to her family, became a member of yet another infamous religious cult, this one featuring those "Moonies," led by the South Korean crackpot, "Reverend" Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church.

When TrustMovies calls what fuels this movie love, he's referring to all kinds of that popular condition, from romantic love (which simply was never there for our heroine in the arranged marriage she accepted via Reverend Moon), family love (her entire family was part of and rather high up in the hierarchy of Moon's major shell game), and especially of course, love of god -- however one might define his/her obeisance to the divine s/he/it. Or simply shit, as I sometimes refer to the deity. (Ooops: My atheism is popping out again.)

What makes Blessed Child more unusual than other documentaries that try to unmask and/or hold up to scrutiny one or another religious cult (as with so many docs that tackle Scientology) is that Ms Jones (shown at left) and her whole family, after decades now, still seem to be trying to come to terms with what they have done, who they actually are, and how to deal with that fraud and false messiah, Reverend Moon. From the looks of things, it ain't easy.

Thanks to quite a wealth of archival footage, the cooperation of family members (that's Cara and her brother Bow, above), and her pretty good organizational skills, Ms Jones gives us her own, her family's and Moon's church's histories, which are rather strongly bound together. Fairly early on, we learn that brother Bow is gay -- a huge no-no in the church. (The Reverend was overheard at one point exclaiming how he would love to line up the homosexuals and just gun them all down!)

Cara's dad (shown above with mom, in the early days of their religious fealty, and with the Reverend, below) is most responsible for the family's entry into the church. He is said to have been extremely bright, cautious and questioning. Yet the explanation he gives of why he was so impressed with Moon's teaching (something about the love of a man and a woman for god being able to change the world) seems so simple minded and non-specific that this does make you roll your eyes concerning dad's much-vaunted intelligence.

From what I could gather, the other brothers, including Bow, have left the church by now -- Cara, too (mom and dad are still struggling with it) -- yet again and again, no one seems completely able to quite shake it all off. That sense of disappointing dad and mom hovers over everything here. This clearly was and is a very tight-knit family, so, yes, it would be hugely difficult to give up that.

Meanwhile, the film offers some interesting history and politics, showing how our right-wing Presidents long supported that Reverend, who was always mouthing his God Bless America schlock. (Seeing that right-wing cartoonist icon Al Capp proselytizing for Moon will set your teeth on edge.) And returning to those crazy "weddings" in which hundred of couples -- here, in South Korea and elsewhere -- simultaneously got hitched remains flabbergasting all over again.

For Cara, romantic love seems most important, and though we don't learn specifics about the South Korea guy (above, with face blocked out) that Moon chose for her, it's clear this did not work out. Fortunately, there's someone perhaps more suitable now, as this strangely ambiguous and unsettling little movie makes clear. Good luck to all the Jones family. From the looks of things, they'll need it.

Distributed by Obscured Pictures and running 77 minutes, Blessed Child opened for streaming earlier this month and is now available via iTunes, Amazon and Google.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Home-vid debut for old-fashioned, don't-miss, highly collaborative film, THE ETRUSCAN SMILE

One of those rare examples of a huge international collaboration -- an Israeli directing duo (Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis, shown below, with Ms Brezis on the left), five screen-writers adapting a popular Spanish novel by José Luis Sampedro, filmed in Scotland and San Francisco and featuring actors from both sides of the Atlantic -- THE ETRUSCAN SMILE works better than you could possibly imagine, thanks to the skill, talent and sheer love gifted by everyone involved. Sure, the plot is probably as recycled as anything you've lately (or formerly) seen, yet every would-be cliche is either turned a tad askew or simply brought to such pulsating and believable life that you don't simply go along with it, you fucking embrace it.

Let's start with the movie's star, Brian Cox (at top and below): If this versatile and amazing actor is not considered one of England's "national treasures," along with the likes of Maggie Smith or Judi Dench, it must only be because he has fought so long and hard for Scottish independence from Britain. Here he plays an aging fellow named Rory, diagnosed with a disease for which he must travel from his home on the beautiful coast of Scotland to the USA for proper treatment, and to the San Francisco home of his estranged son, his daughter-in-law and his new grandson. Yes, you can easily predict the outcome, but getting there is so filled with beauty, fun, small surprises and spot-on performances that it's the journey, as they say, and not destination that proves most important.

Mr. Cox, utterly penetrating, specific and aglow -- whether he's the star bad guy, as in the current series Succession; a mere supporting player, as in the recent what's-going-on-here? thriller Last Moment of Clarity; or merely the best Winston Churchill I've yet seen -- adds luster to anything in which he appears. He's also a gracious, giving actor who never seems to "hog" the screen. Consequently, all the supporting performers shine, too, including the very fine JJ Feild (below, right, one of the great movie villains in the delightful and under-rated thriller, Not Safe for Work) and Thora Birch (below, left) as, respectively, the son and daughter-in-law.

Rosanna Arquette (below, left) is lovely, too, as a museum official and unexpected romantic interest, while actors like Peter Coyote (at center, two photos below) and Treat Williams (three photos below) bring the necessary professional-polish-plus to their roles.

Sub-plots such as the son's wanna-be chef career, the protection and survival of original Scots languages, and the too-helicopter parenting of that grandson are nicely woven into the whole, so the movie bounces along beautifully throughout.

Speaking of that grandson, TrustMovies does not usually have all that much to say about performances by very young children, but the little boy in The Etruscan Smile (shown at bottom and played by two youngsters, Oliver Epps and Elliot Epps) is as adorable as any kid this age I've seen on film.

My spouse noted that the filmmakers must have spent literally days and days getting all this amazing footage of the child. Either that, or those Epps toddlers are just naturally happy little scene stealers.

A word also must be said the for the sparkling and often gorgeous widescreen cinematography (by the great Javier Aguirresarobe) whose exteriors or Scotland (above) and interiors of lush apartments and/or museums (below) help make this a don't-want-to-take-your-eyes-off-it movie experience.

It is also a very moving one. We were not dried-eyed by the finale, nor do I suspect you will be. But all your attention here, as well as your smiles and tears, are well earned. This is old-fashioned, classy, story-well-told moviemaking at its finest.

From Lightyear Entertainment, running 107 minutes and distributed in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group, The Etruscan Smile, after a virtual theatrical release in April and May, is available now on home video via DVD, Blu-ray and digital streaming

Monday, July 27, 2020

Yet another asshole chef on view in Jesse Zigelstein's Canadian meller, NOSE TO TAIL

For proof of the little phrase Nothing lasts, you needn't turn to the likes of Shelley's Ozymandias. Just consider the restaurant industry in most western culture, where even the best examples have but a limited life span. The 2018 Canadian melodrama NOSE TO TAIL (just arriving on digital streaming in North America), rather than describing your dog's special ability, instead I believe refers to the philosophy of using every part of the animal in food preparation, letting nothing go to waste.
TrustMovies is not certain why the film's writer and director Jesse Zigelstein (shown left), whose first full-length film this is, decided on that as his title -- unless he means it ironically -- since our restaurant's chef and leading character in the film, Daniel (played exceedingly well by Aaron Abrams, above and below), seems bent on wasting if not downright destroying everything and everyone around him.

While giving one's lead character a problem or two to surmount is how drama takes shape, you may question just why Mr. Zigelstein had to load them on to this extent. Daniel has money problems, staffing problems, health problems and love/relationship problems. So by the time his family (ex-wife and child) problems surface, you're ready to cry uncle times ten.

Plus, Daniel handles each one of his problems in the worst possible way, over and over again. Which brings up some simple questions of logic and credibility: Given who this guy is, how could he ever possibly have succeeded (or even imagined success)? Worse, how can literally everyone around him not know by now that his restaurant is failing, bigtime?

Mr. Abrams' committed, stops-out performance does help matters considerably. Every performance is first-rate here -- that's Lara Jean Chorostecki, as Daniel's employee/lover, above, and Ennis Esmer as his maybe business partner, below -- so Zigelstein clearly knows how to get the best from his actors. But by piling on misery to the max the filmmaker very nearly approaches black comedy, if not outright camp. By the time we meet Dan's family, "Oh, come on now!" is likely to be your initial response.

All we are ever given as the reason for our chef's quest is, as the film's IMDB description explains, "to serve excellent food without compromising."  From what we see (not that much), the meals look OK (their presentation, at least), and folk describe them as tasting very, very good. Yet given Daniel's terrible predicament and asshole attitude, every meal served here becomes at best a kind of pyrrhic victory. Perhaps that is the filmmaker's point. Does no compromise insure no success?

From 1091 and running a relatively quick 82 minutes, Nose to Tail hits digital streaming and VOD tomorrow, Tuesday, July 28 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Zap yourself silly with fab colors and naughty transgressions in Molly Hewitt's HOLY TRINITY

The character played by Hayley Joel Osment sees dead people in The Sixth Sense, but the title character played by Molly Hewitt -- who also wrote and directed the weird new LBGT nitwit extravaganza, HOLY TRINITY -- mostly hears the dead talking, though now and then she sees 'em, too. Hewitt's movie opens on what looks like one of those ultra-dumb "reality" TV shows featuring a would-be medium putting her clients in touch with their dead loved ones.

Our Trinity (Hewitt is pictured below) will soon be doing this, too, though not intentionally. Instead, after inhaling some oddball room-deodorant manufactured by Glamhag, the company that appears to pretty much own the entire LBGT universe (perhaps an "alternate" one?) pictured in the film, these voices of the dead come at Trinity continually, like it or not.

TrustMovies is tempted to call Hewitt a triple threat, since the performer wrote, directed and stars in this sweet mess of a movie. And if Holy Trinity were a better film, he would. It's not a bad one; but it's not good enough to quite warrant its running time. Unless you are willing to count as necessary content, the often amazing visuals -- brim-filled with the kind of colors (cinematography by Greg Stephen Reigh), costumes (no credit for this that I could find) and production design (by a newbie named Mood Killer) you don't see that much in movies: at once eye-popping and breath-taking.

The visuals here are often so much fun to view that they actually do make up for some content lack, but not, I'm afraid, for the entire too-long 97 minutes. In this alternative universe, it seems that many participants have decided to assume the role of either master or pet. Trinity is a dominatrix with a sweet/cute pet named Baby (Theo Germaine, below, left, whom you'll recognize from Netflix's The Politician series), and we meet some other master/pet couples, too, brought to life via these fun costumes and visuals. (I believe that, above, is shown someone called Imp Queen, playing him/herself.)

Along the way there's a fun riff on Glamhag's "customer service" department,  some so-so religious satire featuring a Madonna-loving priest (Alex Grelle, below left), a church service (above) like few others you'll have attended, more of the age-old/cheapjack daddy issues ("I am the smartest man you know!"), and a would-be happy ending in which Trinity supposedly finds herself.

You'll accept this last one only if you can also accept that simply changing one role for another shows any kind of progress. Well, maybe. Just a little. What the hell: they're all very young here -- the characters and the performers -- so they deserve their learning experiences, right?

Distributed via Full Spectrum Features, Holy Trinity hit digital streaming this past Tuesday, July 21 -- for purchase or rental. Click here for more information on how to view. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Fundamentalist Christianity takes a good kickin' and lickin' in Karen Maine's comedy, YES, GOD, YES

The fundamental hypocrisy embedded in fundamentalist Christianity (yes, in all fundamentalist sects) has been on full display for... what? The past few centuries maybe? So the absolute and often appallingly stupid examples delivered up in the new sex-and-religion comedy YES, GOD, YES ought not come as a surprise to any but the youngest and/or most naive viewers.

This does not mean, however, that these examples do not remain amusing and fun -- even for some of us more aged/jaded audience members.

As written and directed by Karen Maine (shown at left), whose first full-length feature this is, the movie manages to entertain a lot, while provoking just a bit, thanks to the casting of actress Natalia Dyer (shown above and below) in the lead role of a very naive teen named Alice who, thanks to an earlier iteration of the internet (the film takes place maybe 15-20 years ago), is suddenly awakened to sex and its accompanying pleasures -- particularly that of masturbation.

As James Rado informed theater- and movie-goers a few decades back, via his lyrics for the musical Hair, "masturbation can be fun." So can so much else to do with sex (all of which can be problematic, too), yet the restrictive rules placed upon humanity by religion preclude our growth, enjoyment, autonomy and much else where sex is concerned.

Ms Maine and her movie mean to combat this, and they do via a situation which may by now be a bit tired but still engages, and by means of a well-chosen cast which, in addition to the charming, sweet and ill-used character played by Ms Dyer, includes the likes of Donna Lynne Champlin (above, right, of Crazy Ex Girlfriend), Wolfgang Novogratz (below, of The Half of It), and

Timothy Simons (Jonah on Veep), shown at far right below. Though mostly used in one-note fashion, these actors still deliver the necessary goods and keep the ball rolling along in pleasant if standard fashion. The film's best scene, because it veers just a bit from the expected, takes place toward the finale in a local lesbian bar during which our heroine finally gets some advice from an adult that she can actually use and run with.

One might also wish for less obvious coincidence: Would a priest in charge of a school really watch pornography on his office computer with his door wide open for anyone to see? Would the supposedly goody-goody girl go down on her boyfriend on school grounds where they can easily be caught? (TrustMovies could handle only one out of two; you might manage both.)

Still, the sweet, dorky and always believable Ms Dyer quickly becomes the centerpiece that holds it all together, demonstrating once again how, when fundamentalism comes up against inquiring minds and raging hormones, the battle is likely to be funny, silly and a little sad.

From Vertical Entertainment and running just 78 minutes, Yes, God, Yes opens July 24 at Virtual Cinemas and Drive-ins then hits Digital and VOD on Tuesday, July 28.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lara Gallagher's lesbian love, loss and lust tale -- CLEMENTINE -- hits home video

In the first few minutes of CLEMENTINE (it's a fruit-based title, rather than anything Darling or eponymously named for a character), we are treated to enormous love and attraction, followed by a sharp heartbreak and then fleeing and/or escape -- all conveyed with quick, efficient and most attractive visuals.

The first full-lengther from writer/director Lara Gallagher, the film demonstrates promise but is finally too slow-paced with too-little content to warrant its not long (but still a tad too long) 94-minute running time.

Ms. Gallagher (shown at right) has cast her movie well, with leading actress Otmara Marrero (at left, above and below) particularly compelling to watch. Possessing a wonderfully expressive and beautiful face, Ms Marrero easily conveys the various stages of attraction, anger, despair and enticement that our heroine, Karen, is currently experiencing.

Her co-star Sydney Sweeney (above and below, right) however, has the more difficult role and seems somewhat miscast (particularly in terms of age range) as the mysterious maybe-femme-fatale, Lana, who appears out of nowhere at the country home where Karen is -- without the permission of its owner -- currently ensconced.

Most of the plot, such as it is, derives from the question of just who this Lana person is and what she really wants. The answer we finally learn is underwhelming and takes an awfully long time to arrive. Meanwhile, Gallagher vamps us via a local Mr. Fix It fellow (Will Brittain), who might have the hots for Karen or maybe Lana or maybe neither, as our heroine tries to come to grips with the loss of her former lover and how she might move ahead.

Art has its place in the tale (Karen is a budding artist, while her ex is a successful one), and so does acting, auditioning and some questionable video -- which may bring to mind the recent movie, Tape,(among others). The very nice cinematography is from Andres Karu, and other technical credits are on target, as well.

From Oscilloscope Films, Clementine, after hitting virtual theaters this past May, is now available on home video via VOD and various digital platforms.

Monday, July 20, 2020

L'INNOCENTE: Beautiful Blu-ray transfer highlights Luchino Visconti's final film

Said to have been filmed while its director was wheelchair-bound and making its debut at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival just two days before he died, L'INNOCENTE, the final movie from Luchino Visconti, arrives on Blu-ray in a lovely transfer that offers up quite an array of splendors that those of us who loved the filmmaker's work will certainly appreciate.

Gorgeous interiors, eye-popping in their sumptuous detail, compete with soulful performances from the three beautiful actors in leading roles, while lushly-shot, highly sensual sex scenes plus some full-frontal, male and female nudity keep the eyes from ever being tempted to look away from the Panavision-size screen.

With an intelligent screenplay by Visconti (shown at left) and two of his usual collaborator -- Suso Cecchi D'Amico and Enrico Medioli -- adapted from the novel by Gabriele D'Annuzio, the movie tackles some of this filmmaker's favorite themes, from love, trust, jealousy and betrayal to the entitlement of the elite and the uses/abuses of guilt.

The plot involves an atypically randy and straying husband (he's honest with his wife about his affairs), played by Giancarlo Giannini (below, at the height of his sexual attraction and prowess), his wife (Laura Antonelli, an Italian beauty also at the height of her own), and in an odd casting choice that pays off ten-fold, Jennifer O'Neill in the role of hubby's beautiful, wealthy, take-no-prisoners mistress.

When that wife (below) appears to have taken a lover of her own, the husband's world is turned upside down -- never more so than when said lover, after showering at the fencing club in which the husband is a member, steps out of the shower in front of that husband with his ample cock displayed, as if to ask, "Can you top this, buddy?" And, yes, for hubby, it's all downhill from there.

Tropical sickness, pregnancy, parentage and more enter into things but both Visconti and D'Annuzio are clearly more interested in the philosophical aspects of the story than they are in the sometimes heavily melodramatic events on view. This helps steady the movie from going overboard. As awful as circumstances get (do they ever!), Visconti's patience, cool calm and eye for beauty keep it all on course.

As fine as is each of the performances, however, the major surprise is Ms O'Neill (at left). This is by far the best performance TrustMovies has seen from this actress.

Yes, her Italian has been dubbed (and very well) but her keen intelligence, as well as an unusual power and strength, come through in fine fashion.

Perhaps this shows what a smart and talented filmmaker like Visconti could bring out of an actress, or maybe simply what the actress herself is capable of that no director/writer had yet tapped into near fully enough.

As usual, with the Blu-rays from Film Movement, bonus material is on the slim side, but there is a very nice video essay, Reframing L'Innocente by Ivo Blom that shows the amazing detail and research Visconti demanded regarding the film's sets, costumes and production design, as well as a 16-page booklet of photos and an essay from author Dan Callahan.

From Film Movement Classics, in Italian with English subtitles and running 129 minutes, L'Innocente hit the street last week -- on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital -- for purchase and/or rental.