Tuesday, August 11, 2020

What's new from Jeremiah Kipp? Three little videos in the midst of our Covid pandemic.


TrustMovies
tries to follow the work of (mostly) experimental filmmaker Jeremiah Kipp (shown at right) from time to time and is usually happy to have seen whatever Mr. Kipp is giving us. This is true once again, as the filmmaker produces three new videos designed for our current Covid-19 times. 

It appears that Kipp has not directed this time out, as each of these little videos have been filmed by the participants themselves during the lockdown -- though I would suspect Kipp has given all his casts some tips for fast and fundamental filmmaking.

In any case, the results are very worth watching -- particularly two of the three. Two videos are filmed poetry; one works beautifully, the other not so much. 

The first six-minute outing offers 14 actors -- some very good, a couple not so -- tackling Edgar Allan Poe's The Bells, which turns out to make quite a fine symbol and example of what we're all currently going through. Further, Poe's sonorous, repetitive, often quite beautiful words prove fine fodder for these actors, each of whom brings her or his own special voice and ability to the poem. If you've forgotten about Mr. Poe and his often in-critical-favor-then-out-of-favor work, this will remind you again how lovely and moving -- hell, even timely -- he can be.

The second poem (and three-minute film) is Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda, a poet I much admire but whose work -- based on what we see here, at least -- I would rather read on my own. While Poe really lends himself to actors and acting, Neruda, I think, does not, and the result actually breaks up the poetry, along with its meaning and its beauty.

The third and longest (eight minutes) movie is called JUMPER and it's something of a lulu. Written by Susannah Nolan, it describes the time of a birth of a baby and the few days that follow, as the babe's mother, father, relatives and friends all join in to recall this fraught period. A slow-burn horror told and acted exceedingly well by all involved and expertly edited by Jessica Green, Jumper's a strange and memorable little trip.

You can view all three of these films at their Vimeo link (no password required) by clicking on each title below: 

The Bells 

Jumper

Neruda's Sonnet XVII 


Monday, August 10, 2020

Blu-ray debut for Phil Goldstone and Frances Hyland's pre-code trailblazer, THE SIN OF NORA MORAN


You have to try to put yourself back in time close to 90 years in order, I think, to fully appreciate how unusual THE SIN OF NORA MORAN must have seemed to audiences of the time. Everything this odd little movie (it lasts but 65 minutes) does has now been done a thousand times over. But in 1933, the style, cinematography, editing and just about all else (aside from the somewhat soap-opera plotting) was quite new to cinema. As was (and actually still is) the tale's conclusion -- which I'll leave you to learn on your own. In any case, the film is certainly worth viewing, particularly for fans of old/classic cinema and/or its mildly famous star, Zita Johann (below, who also starred in the original Mummy movie from 1932).

The most iconic thing about the movie, actually, is its original poster -- the artwork and lettering of which is shown at top -- designed by the famous Alberto Vargas, creator of those hot-to-trot Vargas Girls for the purpose of getting most of the men aroused and most of the women envious or annoyed. Most ironically, the poster has absolutely nothing to do with the movie at hand. The luscious and ample body of that blond with long, curly hair looks nothing at all like the brunette and petite Ms Johann, or like anyone at all in the film, and there is no scene in this movie that remotely resembles what's shown here. But, hey, that's one red-hot momma whose submissive stance and scantily-clad, feel-me-up body is iconic, all right!

The Sin of Nora Moran
tells the tale of a young woman on death row who could but won't defend herself and so is certain to be electrocuted soon. Nora's story is slowly revealed to us via flashback (nothing unusual there) but also by using everything from fantasy and dreams to memories and various film techniques not only not seen so often at this time but used here sometimes near simultaneously so that we are placed more firmly than expected into the fraying mind of our heroine, as well as that of her love interest, a would-be governor played by Paul Cavanagh (below).

The new limited edition Blu-ray transfer is from an excellent 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative, and while there is but a single Bonus Feature on the new disc, it's a very interesting one: An appreciation of the film and Ms Johann and her career by producer and film historian Samuel M. Sherman, who was a big fan of both the film and Johann. In fact, he got to know the actress in later years and even used her in a movie he was making at the time. 

You can't quite call this film feminist, as far too many of the usual male attitudes toward women are present here. And if too much sentimentality overpowers the film's message of true morality and doing-the-right-thing-out-of-genuine-love, that message remains worthwhile and one we hear just about never anymore -- where politics, Presidents, or personal relationships are concerned.

From The Film Detective, with the DVD in Dolby Stereo and the Blu-ray in DTS, with an aspect ratio of 1:37 pillar boxed, this is by far the best overall transfer I've yet seen from this particular distributor. Both DVD and Blu-ray hit the street this past July 29 -- for purchase (and I hope somewhere for rental, too).

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The glorious Brian Cox brings János Edelényi's THE CARER to pulsating and delightful life


A love letter from Hungarian film to British actors, acting and Shakespeare himself (whoever the hell he actually was), THE CARER is also the second film I've seen in as many weeks to star that great actor Brian Cox in yet another role of a dying old man.

Again, as in The Etruscan Smile, Cox is a treasure, and the movie itself, even as it proves filled with many of the usual dying-senior-citizen tropes, is so specifically designed around Cox and his (along with director and co-writer János Edelényi's) love of acting, in particular the Shakespearean variety, that this movie immediately becomes a gift and a treat for anyone who shares these affections.

Hungarian filmmaker Edelényi (shown at right), along with his co-writers Gilbert Adair and Tom Kinninmont, tells the story of a once hugely popular (if not hugely loved) stage and screen actor Sir Michael Gifford (played by Cox, above and below), now suffering from Parkinson's disease, mostly reclusive, and given to firing one caregiver after another, to the frustration of his daughter (Emilia Fox), his driver-and-ex-dresser (Andor Lukáts), and his nurse and ex-lover (Anna Chancellor). Into this unhappy little hothouse comes a possible new caregiver (played sweetly/feistily by an alliterative newcomer named Coco König), a pretty young woman who brings along her own agenda.

How all these characters bounce around and off each other -- in ways that often go differently than you'll expect -- helps make the movie a lot more enjoyable that it might initially seem. And the acting ensemble, led by Cox, is both ultra-talented and eminently watchable.

Additionally, the script, direction and performances do not play fast and loose with senior years or end-of-life situations, so there is a certain verisimilitude to the proceedings that makes whatever feel-good you take away from the film unsaddled with guilt.

Shakespeare lovers will revel in both how much of the Bard they'll enjoy during the course of the film, and Mr. Cox does such a fine job with it all that you'll wonder why he has not been tapped to play all these roles already.

The Carer is one of those well-made, old-fashioned films that should resonate both with older audiences (for obvious reasons) and younger ones willing to take an interest in what maybe lies ahead. As for the lovely, intelligent and deeply felt speech that Sir Michael makes at the film's conclusion, if you are not already aboard this very special slice of entertainment, this should fully wrap you in its wonders.

From Corinth Films and running a just-right 89 minutes, The Carer hit home video last month -- for purchase and rental. Amazon Prime members can view it now free of charge it as part of their membership.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Tim Slade's doc THE DESTRUCTION OF MEMORY visits cultural annihilation


If what we now mostly call genocide -- the intentional action to destroy a people in whole or in part, usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group -- is the nadir of the "civilized" world, close to this in terrible acts is something we might call cultural genocide whereby anything that reminds one of these people (their art, monuments, places of worship, even their very graves) are also destroyed. It's worth remembering, as the 2016 documentary THE DESTRUCTION OF MEMORY (now in its home video debut via DVD and VOD) makes clear, that the destruction of synagogues in Nazi Germany, as well as synagogues and mosques elewhere in the world, were happening before, as well as during and after the Jews and the Muslims in question were exterminated.

As directed and adapted (from the book by Robert Bevan) by Australian filmmaker Tim Slade (shown at left), the documentary begins by defining some of the reasons why cultural genocide is so important with the main one being that the removal of all cultural artifacts also eventually removes the memory of the people, and along with this any proof that they ever existed.

Mr. Slade and his crew move all over the world, from Sarajevo to Mosul and back again, as we hear about Raphael Lemkin and his campaign to halt cultural genocide (it was Lemkin, I believe, who first used the term genocide as a description of the act). Further, one genocide does seem to help pave the way for another, as did Turkey's of the Armenians lead to that by the Nazis of the Jews.

While some of what you see and hear in the film may be familiar, there are a number of things that arise here that were new to TrustMovies: for instance, the reason why the small amount of German Jews remaining in Dresden managed to survive the Holocaust, and the fact that Russia wanted the inclusion of cultural genocide in the post-WWII declaration, while the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand actively campaigned to have this cultural dimension removed -- due to their own history and treatment of aboriginal people and their culture.

While the documentary -- full of talking heads, history and ideas about the circumvention of cultural genocide --  tends at times toward the repetitive, its message is certainly vital, and its information often provocative. Regarding how these seemingly sudden genocides can happen, one speaker suggests that we try to imagine the USA had the KKK in control of its media for a full ten years, so that we had nothing to see and hear but the message of David Duke. Then we, too, might have civil war. At the rate things are progressing -- or devolving -- in America, this scenario seems less and less out of the question.

Occasionally the documentary approaches poetry, especially in its ruminations about a particular bridge in the former Yugoslavia. At other times, it forces us to consider the huge danger present in giving any political leader -- say, Milosevic (or Donald Trump) -- unlimited power. There are even a few moments of surprising good will that help counteract much of what we've seen and heard: the tale of how the small village of Baljvine (in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina) resisted the military and managed to save its mosque -- the only one in over 600 that kept its minaret intact.

By the time we get to the worst-case-scenario of Syria, how military necessity has most always been used to camouflage intent, and of ISIS using cultural destruction as both intimidation and a wretched funding source for terrorism, we're convinced -- and then some. The Destruction of Memory might be a bit drier and more talkative than necessary, but its message remains vital and increasingly dire.

From Icarus Home Video and running 85 minutes, the documentary arrived on home video -- via DVD and VOD -- this past Tuesday, August 4, for purchase or rental via IcarusVimeo On Demand and Ovid.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Family, food, art and renovation fuel a sweet/ sad story in James D'Arcy's MADE IN ITALY


One of those feel-good movies that boasts a beautiful location (Tuscany), a big star (Liam Neeson) surrounded by excellent supporting players, and an estranged father/son story (with a deceased mother right out of the Disney cannon).

If you can't quickly figure out where MADE IN ITALY is going, you are probably somewhat new to the notion of the motion picture experience.

On the other, more productive hand, if you'd be interested in something to take you away from the threat of Covid-19, the idiocy of Donald Trump, and wherever the next big hurricane/tropical storm might be headed, this just might be the best medicine currently available.

As written and directed by noted actor James D'Arcy (shown at right, this is his first full-length film), Made in Italy  proves consistently lovely to look at, with dialog that -- if it doesn't exactly sparkle -- has at least enough intelligence and wit to keep your ears open and willing to continue, and it offers enough back story, incident and momentum to bring its tale home with a few mini-surprises that hold boredom at bay.

If all of the above sounds like "damning with faint praise," it is not. The experience of watching Made in Italy is probably as close as one can come these days to taking a gorgeous, enjoyable and safe vacation.

D'Arcy's plot has to do with the fractured relationship between Robert, a blocked-artist father (Neeson, above), and his son Jack (Micheál Richardson, shown below), who runs a London art gallery which is about to be sold out from under his control. The two still own a villa in Italy that, were they to fix it up and then sell it, could help Jack buy that gallery. Complications ensue.

Along the way to fixing up what is indeed a gorgeous villa in dire need of repair, dad and son encounter a couple of local women who prove invaluable to them and to the story. Lindsay Duncan (below, right) plays her usual strong, smart, classy character as the local real estate agent who helps the pair ready the house for sale,

while the beautiful Italian actress Valeria Bilello (below, from Honey and Sense8) takes the plum role of the local chef and restaurateur who provides some good food, romance and design suggestions for our boys.

It's all, if not quite paint-by-numbers, close enough for you to figure out most of it. But as you'll be sitting there enjoying the scenery and fine performances, TrustMovies suspects you won't mind much at all. Neeson is, as ever, very good, and it is particularly nice to see him in something other than an action film again. The whole shebang proves a thoroughly professional job, so I'll look forward to the next movie that Mr. D'Arcy writes and/or directs.

From IFC Films, running 93 minutes and in mostly English (with a few lines of English-subtitled Italian now and again), Made in Italy opens in theaters and via VOD this Friday, August 7 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Tom Ratcliffe/Becky Paige's THE STAND: HOW ONE GESTURE SHOOK THE WORLD is a magnificent and model documentary on history and black lives in sports


Anyone interested in (the entire United States of American ought to be at this point in time) the provenance of that still-resonating "knee" that Colin Kaepernick first took back in 2016 must see the new and exemplary documentary about the protest of black athletes during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

THE STAND: HOW ONE GESTURE SHOOK THE WORLD is only the second film directed by Tom Ratcliffe (shown at left, he also directed Bannister: Everest on the Track) and by Becky Paige (her first), but to TrustMovies' mind both Ratcliffe and Paige have done an extraordinary job of combining history, politics, black activism, student activism (Mexican variety), sports, the Vietnam War and so much more into a single 70-minute documentary that proves as riveting as it is important to every one of those subjects mentioned above.

Colin Kaepernick is still paying for his actions -- his professional sports career seems broken -- and it turns out that the Black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos (shown below) who took that stand back in 1968 paid an all-too-similar price.

The doc begins with but a brief look at "the stand" and then circles round to address all of the history and issues that informed the actions of the Black American Olympic winners who took that "stand" -- along with the Australian athlete and champion Peter Norman, who stood with Smith and Carlos and wore that blue-and-white button in solidarity with his Black compatriots, thus destroying his own career in the process. Australia's own racism regarding its Aborigines is all too similar to the USA's history of slavery and Black dis-empowerment, while the powers-that-were on the Olympics committee back then do more than presage and mimic the crass and venal stupidity of the NFL today.

The filmmakers are fortunate to have been able to interview for the film a number of the athletes involved back then and still alive today, as well as other folk including journalists and members of the Harvard Rowing Team, whose surprising contribution was a help to the cause. If the devil is in the details, so is the glory, and Ratcliffe and Paige (she is shown at right) have marshaled quite an array of detail that builds to make this documentary so special. They have also been able to connect the visuals and verbiage just about perfectly to keep our eyes and ears primed. Early on, one team member recalls his growing up in America's South, against a shot of black and white kids playing together. "The white kids wanted to play with us, but their parents wouldn't let them. When I asked my momma why this was, she told me -- It's just the way it is."

The movie credits long-time and still-going activist Harry Edwards (above) with helping to educate the players, both black and white and organizing the anger into worthwhile protest. Mr. Edwards was and is a marvel to see and hear. And to listen Tommie Smith (below) recall and speak out about his muscle and groin injury during that memorable day is to find yourself as close to being in his shoes (and shorts) as would seem possible.

The way the documentary handles Vietnam and these black men's attitudes about coming back home after fighting for the USA -- to find the racism not merely unchanged but maybe even worse -- puts to utter shame a piece of sloppy dreck like the current Spike Lee fiasco, Da 5 Bloods, which manages to reduce all this to schlocky, protracted, would-be entertainment that goes on for over two-and-one-half hours. The Stand lasts 70 minutes, and there's not a wasted moment. This is one magnificent, necessary, timely documentary -- the best I've seen so far this year.

From 1091 Pictures, The Stand: How One Gesture Shook the World hits streaming tomorrow, Tuesday, August 4 -- for purchase and/or rental.
Do not miss it.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Blu-ray debut for Zhang Yimou's gorgeous and dark period piece, SHANGHAI TRIAD


Don't know how I happened to miss SHANGHAI TRIAD when it was released theatrically in the USA during the turn-of-the year holiday season of 1995-96. Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou and his star Gong Li were at the height of their critical and arthouse/ mainstream success around then, and the film itself -- a beautiful and quite dark costume/ gangster melodrama set in Shanghai in the 1930s -- holds up exceedingly well.

In any case, it's great to be able to catch up with the film in its new and very fine Blu-ray transfer from Film Movement. Visually, this is one of  the more beautiful movies you're likely to encounter, even if you will wonder if and why Zhang (shown at left) decided not (or simply neglected) to bother with any day-for-night effects. Nighttime has never looked this bright or sunny.

The initially-simple-but-soon-grows-more-complicated story involves an adolescent Tang family member (Wang Xiaoxiao, below, right) from the provinces who has come to Shanghai to work for the boss of an upper-echelon crime family, more specifically for that boss' spoiled and nasty showgirl mistress (played by Ms Gong, below, left).

Betrayals of many types soon follow, and characters (some of them, at least) grow and change. By the end of this breathtakingly gorgeous and quite dark movie, the lessons learned have come at a huge cost. If Shanghai Triad does not have the obvious political and emotional heft of To Live, nor the historical/political/feminist framework of something like Raise the Red Lantern, all of these things remain essential to the film nonetheless. They may seem buried under the melodrama, but in a sense this makes them register all the more oddly yet strongly

There is only a single Bonus Features on the disc, but it's a whopping good one: a video essay by Grady Hendrix entitled "Trouble in Shanghai" that goes to town on all the ways one can view Shanghai Triad -- including as a kind of unintentional biopic/biography of both Zhang and Gong and the filmmaking process itself. This is a witty, funny, hugely intelligent piece of criticism/provocation, but do wait until you've seen the film to watch and listen to it.

From Film Movement Classics, in Mandarin with English subtitles and running 108 minutes, the film makes its Blu-ray debut this Tuesday, August 4 -- for purchase (and eventually, I would hope, for rental, too).

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Mitchell Altieri & Lee Cummings' STAR LIGHT proves a pretty strange 'n scary genre jumper


A rock star, her hunky/sweet fan, and his several good friends come together oddly and violently in the new slow-burn (for awhile), what's-going-on-here? survival thriller, STAR LIGHT.

As genre jumpers/genre mashers go, this one proves quite watchable, thanks to smart co-direction (on a tight but well-used budget), decent writing and nice performances all around.

The film's two directors (Mitchell Altieri, below, who also co-wrote) and Lee Cummings (shown at right) have clearly watched and learned from a whole mess of movies. Still, what they juggle and rearrange in Star Light is clever and different enough, TrustMovies surmises, to keep fans of survival thrillers, slasher movies, and extraterrestrial/ otherworldly motifs at least semi-on their toes.

We open at a rock concert of a famous and quite popular singer named Bebe, and then we're watching her through the eyes of that
heavy-duty, handsome young fan -- who, though he's smitten beyond belief, has no hope or expectations of ever meeting this woman. Funny how things work out.

How they work out is put together with enough skill and pizzazz by Altieri and his co-writers (Jamal M. Jennings and Adam Weis), then brought to fruition via the relatively swift and nicely focused direction and performances that combine to bring the fairly clichéd characters (with the exception of the rock star, her "handler," and her number-one fan) to brisk, if utilitarian, life -- so far as this tale's immediate needs are concerned.

Bebe, the star singer, is played by Scout Taylor-Compton (above, right), and that fan by Cameron Johnson (above, left). Mr. Johnson gets the juicier role, and he handles it with aplomb, while that very queasy-making handler, played by Bret Roberts (below), delivers the film's villainous role equally well.

The movie gets plenty gory (hence my inclusion of the slasher genre) but certainly not beyond the pale, and its consistent and near constant mashing of genres creates its own interesting and thankfully not over-explanatory little sub-genre.

So if  you're in the mood to try something a bit different, remember the name Star Light -- from 1091 and running 90 minutes -- when you're combing the streaming sites for the evening's (what the hell, afternoon's or morning's, too) entertainment. It becomes available this Tuesday, August 4 -- for purchase and/or rental.