Monday, August 31, 2020

Maite Alberdi's THE MOLE AGENT: a sneaky hybrid doc that will amuse and move you

No one seems more surprised about the Chilean newspaper ad requesting the services of an elderly male between the age of 80 and 90 -- independent, discrete and competent with technology -- than the elderly males who answer this ad, shocked that, for a change, someone wants a fellow their age rather than immediately saying no to him because of his age. The detective agency hiring needs to place the man selected inside a senior retirement home at the behest of a client who suspects her aged mother is being mistreated there.

So begins a most unusual movie that TrustMovies imagined was a narrative film (he prefers not to read all of the press release sent him about a new movie so that he can experience it without too many spoilers) but is instead said to be a documentary. If so, this film is, at the very least one of those hybrid docs that keep you on your toes and maybe cheats just a little now and then. For me, and for most of the its running time, THE MOLE AGENT -- written and directed by a young woman named Maite Alberdi (shown at right) -- appeared to be a narrative film done in strong documentary style that grows even stronger as the movie moves along.

Ms Alberdi handles the set-up, recruitment (below) and selection of the elderly spy in quick, clever fashion which anyone who has ever worked with us aged folk regarding technology will easily appreciate and enjoy. (That's Sergio, the fellow finally chosen to be the spy, above left, and his agency boss Rómulo, at right.)

At the retirement home there are, as usual below, mostly women who, worldwide it seems, live longer than us guys. So Sergio is immediately in great demand simply by being a living male, and also because he happens to be such a kindly, intelligent and empathetic gentleman. The various women, maybe a half dozen of whom we get to know fairly well, are brought to life by being, well, those same real-life characters. You will be thinking probably even saying aloud to yourself, "This is so real, it must be a documentary!" And so it is, even if certain things appears to be either fudged or left out of our purview.

Sergio is still grieving over his late wife (who died fairly recently) and so welcomes this change of venue and this job to take his mind off his grief. And his own family members are clearly concerned for his well-being and for the legality of what is going on here. Still, the ease of Sergio's spying and the laxity of the retirement home toward what is happening with Sergio takes a certain suspension of disbelief. 

What happens as Sergio adjusts to his new home and its occupants to him, as well as how the relationship between him and his boss begins to change combine to make the movie quite special. Plus, what he and we learn about the travails of even a senior retirement residence as pleasant is this one is enough to turn your head and make you think and think again -- about your own life and those of others less fortunate.

By the conclusion of The Mole Agent, you'll have smiled a lot, been surprisingly moved and very pleased that you took the chance on this lovely little movie. From Gravitas Ventures and running just 90 minutes, the doc hits digital VOD and Blu-ray/DVD this Tuesday, September 1 -- for rental or purchase.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Two re-releases from Roger Nygard: used-car salesmen comedy SUCKERS and hoped-for alien abduction doc, SIX DAYS IN ROSWELL

As a fan (of at least two) of the films of Roger Nygard (shown at right) -- The Nature of Existence and The Truth About Marriage -- I was primed to take a look at two of his earlier movies now able to be streamed during our current-and-who-knows-how-long? stay-at-home-please! Covid-19 period. 

Turns out, both films are fun, funny and worth a look.

lets us spend those fortunately very telescoped six days in the famous (maybe infamous) New Mexico town where, back in 1947, strange sightings and more are said to have taken place. The year 1997 marked the 50th anniversary of this "event," so director Timothy B. Johnson and Nygard, who acted as editor and producer on this film, follow the meanderings of a fellow named Rich Kronfeld (at left and below), who desperately wants to be abducted by those aliens and so has come from his home state ("We just don't have alien abductions in Minnesota," he explains) to New Mexico in hopes of at least learning something new and maybe even meeting one of those outer-space bad boys.

He doesn't, but he and we do discover a whole bunch of locals and visitors to Roswell celebrating whatever happened a half-century back. The movie refuses to make fun of these folk (that's really not Nygard's style) but simply allows them to present their views -- which are more often than not plenty ridiculous and funny enough to make the movie as good a comedy as was probably released that year (1999).

Kronfeld proves a goofy/silly/even-kind-of-sexy host and narrator, as he leads us through days of oddball meals (a spaceship-shaped pizza and green alien cookies), true believers (there are plenty of these), a parade (above) and even a space-alien musical, below, whose producer tells us may indeed be headed for Broadway! (It wasn't.)

As to that original Roswell event and subsequent government cover-up (the movie will put you in mind of our current idiot President and his nonsensical take on the "deep state"), we hear one after another hilarious theory and explanation, my favorite of which comes as one very thoughful, questing woman tells us, "What might have happened might have happened." And there, my friend, is simply the finest, most succinct explanation of the Roswell story I've yet to hear.

offers the chance to spend some time with folk you might have imagined as America's lowest-of-the-low -- used car salesmen -- and their prey. 

Here we have Mr. Nygard, who co-wrote (with Joe Yannetty, who also plays a supporting role) and directed, in a much more negative, very nearly vicious mode than we are used to experiencing from him. And TrustMovies must say that this suits the guy pretty damned well. The movie is nasty and funny in just about equal measure, and most of its characters are sexist, racist and generally misanthropic (or merely stupid).

Most of them are losers, too, including even the would-be hero, played by Louis Mandylor (shown at right on poster two photos up). The movie's best performance -- it's sensational -- comes from Daniel Benzali, above, as the dealership's almost boss, and the rest of the cast does a fine job, too, with Eli Danker (below, right) especially good at providing a bit of moral ballast against the rest of the sleazeballs on hand.

The humor is often dark but bracing -- the movie's funniest line, "There you go again, setting off the lie detector," which against the visual occurring at that moment provides juicy/ugly fun -- and Nygard's ability to move from comedy/satire to violent heist melodrama and barely missing a beat is commendable. Nothing groundbreaking/shaking here, but Suckers certainly has its share of good, dirty fun.

Both movies are being re-released via Nygard in restored versions that look good and play well. You can view either or both SUCKERS and SIX DAYS IN ROSWELL by clicking on the appropriate link on the titles, just above.  

Thursday, August 27, 2020

In Jay Baruchel's ugly-as-sin RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE, slashing is touted then trashed

You've got to hand it to co-writer/director Jay Baruchel (an actor I've much enjoyed over the years): He has given us a slasher movie riddled with guts 'n gore and then made that movie about as ugly as it could be -- in everything from its story and theme to its sets and cinematography. 

Best of all, while RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE offers a comic-book series of bloody, brutal killings based on supposedly-real-life-but-actually-fictional events that drenches its readers in horror, while delivering the same thing in the movie itself, it also manages to target the comic book artist and his business partner/producer as damnable agents of this horror. No one here gets out unscathed. In fact, just about no one here gets out -- period.

Baruchel's star is that hunky actor Jesse Williams, as Todd (below, second from left), a successful comic book artist having some trouble finding the correct conclusion for his final issue. He and his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster, below, left) are off to Comic-Con, along with his partner/producer (played by Baruchel, shown in directing mode at right) and artist/assistant (Niamh Wilson, below, right), the latter of whom, when she sees anything disturbing, must then draw it on paper to help get it out of her conscious mind.

Turns out that Kathy is currently writing a book about all the victims of this slasher/killer, and at each stop along their road trip, something increasingly horrible happens that apes far too closely what has earlier appeared in Todd's comic, which is  turn is based on those even earlier real-life murders.

So here we have art imitating life, and life (or in this case death) imitating art, with events moving from ghastlier to gorier in no time flat. Normally TrustMovies is not a big fan of either slasher movies or gore-fests like this one. Even now, I can't really call myself a fan of Random Acts of Violence. Yet the movie did hold the attention of both my spouse and me because of its sheer ugliness and refusal to make things easy on the audience.

And if you accuse the film of glamorizing the violence, Baruchel and crew make certain that everyone pays for their part in it all, including, I believe, us viewers. And certainly it does not excuse or in any way champion comic book violence nor the nitwit movie shit that this violence engenders. 

Everything about the film -- from its writing and direction to the colors, costumes, sets, cinematography, editing and special effects -- simply reeks of ugliness, horror and decay.  I almost think that Random Acts of Violence just might put viewers off slasher films in perpetuity. And though this may not sound like it, I mean that statement as a compliment.

We should be so lucky. Meanwhile, the movie, from AMC's SHUDDER, the subscription service for horror, thriller and suspense genres, and running just 80 minutes, is available now for viewing. Click here for more info and how to watch. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Character and conversation as you've seldom seen 'em: Jonás Trueba's THE AUGUST VIRGIN


I suspect you'd have to go back to early Eric Rohmer to even vaguely approximate what you'll get in the new film from Madrid-born writer/director Jonás Trueba entitled THE AUGUST VIRGIN. And yet this Rohmer-esque outing is so overlayed with Spanish culture, character and language that --- other than realizing that the movie is basically all character-building via conversation -- even the low-key, ironic, philosophical and very French M. Rohmer may seem awfully far away. 

From the first scene and onward, there is such radiant warmth to this new movie, as an about-to-be-33-year-old woman meets the older man from whom she is subletting an apartment for a couple of hot August weeks -- the usual time when most Spaniards hightail it out of Madrid to let the tourists deal with the heat. Senor Trueba (shown at left) introduces us to his heroine, Eva (played by Itsaso Arana (shown above and below), who co-wrote the very good screenplay) as she meets and converses with man whose apartment she'll be living in for two weeks.

There is so much warmth and kindness expressed here that, from the outset, the movie emanates a sense of safety and good will so rare in films these days -- even in supposed comedies -- that you may not quite know what has hit you. If you're someone who demands action and adventure, you've already stopped reading. To set the record straight for the rest of you, let me not overpraise this little movie.

The August Virgin is a bit too long, and the first half is better than the second, though the latter is still quite good. But Trueba and Ms Arana have set up such an interesting character in Eva -- questioning, questing, intelligent, thoughtful, honest and hopeful -- that they don't quite deliver as fully as you may expect. Yet compared to much of what passes for adult entertainment today, they still succeed quite mightily.

The movie is full of small incident, as we follow Eva over her two-week period and meet all kinds of new characters, some of whom she already knows, others who are new to her. And though we don't come to know any of them nearly as well as we do Eva herself, each person we meet seems well worth our time and hers. 

Trueba captures the essence and enjoyment of companionship, of simply being together and savoring the moment as beautifully as few filmmakers have managed. The movie is cast exceedingly well, and every performer comes through in terms of creating a full-bodied character in the short time allotted, while entertaining us, too. Past loves appear -- one a definite "ex," the other maybe a wanna-be -- along with a slightly estranged friend and her new baby, a couple of British/Welsh ex-pats, a Reiki massage therapist who makes your period less painful, and finally a broodingly attractive fellow who seems to interest Eva in a way that is different from all the rest.

The filmmaker uses Madrid in a manner that should greatly benefit tourism (if the world ever opens up to all that once again) -- even in the heat of August. And if we leave the movie maybe wishing we'd learned just a little more about this special young woman, I think you will still be quite grateful for what you've experienced. From Outsider Pictures, in Spanish with English subtitles and running 129 minutes, The August Virgin hit virtual cinemas across the USA and Canada this past weekend. Click here for more information and to learn how and where you can view it now.

Monday, August 24, 2020

In his new documentary, NOMAD, Werner Herzog explores the late Bruce Chatwin

TrustMovies has long been fascinated by the traveler/journalist/ novelist Bruce Chatwin. I've read every book he'd written, each of which I'd loved and been mystified by in about equal measure. Reading him is being marvelously transported then suddenly going either over the top or under the rug to the point that I would usually stop and start over from some past sentence, paragraph or even entire page. His subjects were as diverse as you could wish but his themes seemed fairly consistent to me: restlessness and the other. I would call both the man and his work ineffable -- in the sense of being somehow indescribable and also not-to-be-uttered, the latter of which was how he handled the disease that killed him. Chatwin, shown below, was one of the early victims of AIDS. Married to a woman, he kept his homosexuality and/or bisexuality tightly closeted.

If you were to pick a moviemaker to also describe as ineffable, I can't imagine a better candidate than Werner Herzog, a director and documentarian whose field of interest is every bit as diverse as Chatwin's and whose approach to it all is equally memorable, as well as over the top and under the rug. 

Before viewing Herzog's new film, NOMAD: In the Footstep of Bruce Chatwin, I didn't realize how very close these two men were. No wonder the film that Herzog has made captures so well the personality and strangeness of his most unusual subject. In a number of ways, these two oddball artists were made for each other.

As usual in his films, Herr Herzog hops all over the place, and if we may have trouble keeping up, at least he does not bore us. The filmmaker, shown at right, begins with some dinosaur skin -- or at least that's what Chatwin's grandmother told the kid this strange pre-historic object was (it turns out, I believe, to be part of a giant sloth). From there Herzog takes us into Chatwin's life and love of wandering, his varied interests, his writings and how some of these came about, the people he knew and loved (we meet his wife, Elizabeth, shown below, from the rear, though we do also see her face), and eventually even something of his sexuality: a horny little guy, he is said to have bedded any and every one he could, men and women alike.

As you might expect, Herzog spends much of the movie's time on Chatwin's famous work The Songlines and speaks with various Aborigines and white Australians about this unusual book. Though a best-seller in several countries in the non-fiction category, Chatwin later called the book fiction, some of which it clearly was (turns out that Bruce "made stuff up" when it served his purpose and theme). Well, that's part of what makes the guy "ineffable" (or, as some might call it, "precious"). I've long felt that Herr Herzog does the same thing in many of his films; that's part of their charm and their craziness.

What we learn of The Viceroy of Ouidah (and Herzog's film adaptation of it) is also fascinating, in particular the information about its star, Klaus Kinski (this film proved the last collaboration between Kinski and Herzog). Some of the archival photos enrich our understanding, as well (below are the director and his subject in their earlier days).

The most moving section of the film involves Chatwin's impending death and Herzog's part in it. It's difficult to watch this and not feel, all over again, how AIDS so decimated the world's artistic community. For Herzog fans, as well as Chatwin's, the movie is a must, and I suspect it may ensnare some newcomers, too, who will then seek out this unusual writer and his work.

From Music Box Films and running 85 minutes, NOMAD: In the Footstep of Bruce Chatwin will open in virtual (and even a few actual) theaters, beginning this Wednesday, August 26. To view all currently scheduled theatrical and streaming playdates, click here and then scroll down to click on Theatrical Engagements.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

August Sunday Corner With Lee Liberman HAMILTON: History Has Its Eyes on Us .…

This post is written by our monthly correspondent, Lee Liberman  

"It was simply the best form of art of any kind 
that I have ever seen in my life." ...Michelle Obama

They were a bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists(*) 
And if you’re living on your knees you gotta rise up; 
Tell your brother tell your sister you gotta rise up; 
These colonies gotta rise up... time to take a shot. 

"Isn’t HAMILTON just a bunch of people of color telling white people’s story again?" A fan put that question to Leslie Odom Jr., Aaron Burr in the original cast. Odom said: The founders were locals disenfranchised, they had been shut out of their story...they protested. I have hope we can get that right. Daveed Diggs (Jefferson): We are watching the genesis of America. These historical figures are being embodied by a multiethnic cast...; [we assume] that the virtues of being American should be given to all Americans, right?...the show is an example of how to hold your country accountable. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton’s author and star (above), is an empathic, witty, librettist, composer, thinker, artist— hip hop’s Shakespeare. This rap/jazz/ballad cum revolution of his will stand longer than any other of our classics; it’s more — more fun, meaningful, important: He says: “it’s the story of America then told by America now; people of color…under attack from emboldened white supremacy, police brutality, and centuries of systemic anti-black racism; it’s up to us to...lay claim to the story of our origins. Our labor built America…..[the same] debates have been there since our founding..…’ 

The musical (2015) has already proved ageless — in harmony with today’s BLM (dubbed a racial reckoning by Mayor, Murial Bowser, WDC) and millennia of minority struggle. The latter was Miranda’s personal entree to the story. Hamilton (1757-1804) a brilliant orphan from the tiny island of Nevis, was the proto-immigrant (‘immigrants — we get the job done’) a journey Miranda’s father took in leaving Puerto Rico for New York. Boot-strapper Hamilton was the only immigrant founder; the others were professionals, slave owners. Hamilton rose through sheer perpetual motion and brilliance detailed in Ron Chernow’s biography.    

Above, Aaron Burr leads the cast in rapping Alexander’s bio: 
How does a bastard orphan dropped in the middle 
of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, impoverished, in squalor, 
grow up to be a hero and a scholar? 
 The ten-dollar founding father without a father; 
got a lot farther by working a lot harder, 
by being a lot smarter; by being a self starter…  
Scamming for every book he could get his hands on... 
 now…[he’s] headed to New New York you can be a new man. 

Above, Alexander raps 
‘Not throwing away My shot’: 
I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal; 
I’m just like my country, young, scrappy and hot; 
I’m not throwing away my shot….. 

Burr, a wealthy aristocrat and lifelong competitor of Hamilton, was more opportunist than patriot. The two were friends turned vicious enemies; Hamilton’s rage was fueled by Burr’s lack of principles (‘You stand only for yourself’)—the Lindsay Graham of the 1700’s: ( ‘King George runs a spending spree; He ain't never gonna set us free. Why should a tiny nation across the sea tax our tea?) Hamilton connived with purpose for the revolution (‘I will lay down my life if it sets us free’). Their warring lasted till Burr stopped it with a bullet. (‘and me? I’m the damn fool that shot him.’) 

King George III (the pastiest white cast member, Jonathan Groff) minces on stage (above) doing his best sour grapes, spoiled Trump routine (Do authoritarians look alike?): 
When push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion 
To remind you of my love...I will kill your friends and family 
To remind you of my love. I will love you til my dying days; 
When you’re gone I’ll go mad. Da da da dat da, dat da da da dai ah 

We witness the founding political fights in so precipitous an avalanche of rapped words/song that Hamilton’s story should take half a day not under three hours. There’s a poignant bit of Burr’s romantic life, Hamilton’s courtship of Eliza Schuyler (above, left, Philippa Soo), his bond with her beautiful, brilliant older sister Angelica (the exceptional Renée Elise Goldsberry) with whom he had a mind meld, the Maria Reynolds’ scam (below, Jasmine Cephas-Jones as the temptress involved in the first US political sex scandal), Washington’s refusal to claim a third term (beautiful-voiced Chris Jackson). Strung together with domestic detail, the story of war, Constitution, and founder conflict is eternal — noble, ignoble —Shakespearean. 

There’s plenty delight in song/story/dance here, but to follow the politicking, dense exposition, and history, having the words cc’d on your screen is fine help. So too the closeups that director Thomas Kail provides — Georgie’s spittle, the sweat, the grief, the camaraderie on faces, clever choreography, staging — the sticks and stones of 13 disparate colonies that matures brick by brick into a nation.

And it is half-remembered and such surprise that it was Hamilton who designed the structure that holds our states together, while Jefferson wrote down its principles and got more credit. We watch the sausage being made in ‘The room where it happened’ (John Bolton swiped the song title for his book) among the federalists who favored a federal bank, single currency, shared debt, vs southern states righters who insisted on slave economics.

Jefferson (above, the adorable, irresistible Mr. Diggs, who dandies Jeff up more than history did): 
Our debts are paid; don’t tax the south 
cause we got it made; we plant seeds in the ground...
You just want to move our money around. 

Thomas, welcome to the present we are running a real nation. 
Would you like to join or stay mellow 
doing whatever it is you do in Monticello? (shown below.) 
If we assume the debts, the union gets a new line of credit, 
a financial diuretic, how do you not get it? 

Hamilton, backed by Washington, defends his economic scheme in the new media of the 1700’s, printed pamphlets, known to us as the Federalist Papers— in 1788, the new constitution got approved with a stunning trade. Hamilton gets his bank and financial plan by giving up New York as capitol for the Potomac. Bless them, the plantationers gave ground on policy for a shorter commute. Now that was a deal Hamilton devised (below) to avoid the bad results of Europe’s warring states with a scheme to prevent the colonies from descending into fiefdoms. This was the era of Enlightenment and John Locke liberalism, with Hamilton a disciple of Locke’s monetary principles. (It is noteworthy that the young EU has only just instituted a similar scheme.) 

Hamilton was not rewarded in his lifetime. News of a sexual dalliance in the early 90’s, in which he was blackmailed by the unscrupulous Reynolds couple, was about to hit print at Burr’s instigation; it ruined his political career and almost his happy marriage; his outrage at Burr led to their duel and Hamilton’s death at 47. The public was shocked and Burr forever reviled. (‘I was the villain in your history’). Eliza Schuyler died 50 years later at 97, having championed her husband’s legacy and begun the first private orphanage in NYC (it provides family services today). Hamilton, the overlooked founder, may have been the greatest, “the technician behind [our] rise to economic, political, and martial greatness,” says historian Alexander Rose. 

Hamilton is now on film via Disney+.

*1. History vs fact addressing some discrepancies.
2. History Channel: a documentary on the life of Hamilton filling in the blanks.
3. Hamilton: History Has Its Eyes On Us At Disney+; Robin Roberts led hour-long discussion with Miranda, cast members, his creative team, a noted historian, clips from the film, and children performing bits from Hamilton including a British teen chorus and a 3 year old singing George III. Worth it to see the kids. 
4. Eduham; created to disseminate materials for kids, teachers,grades 6-12, to reenact Hamilton/learn history.

Friday, August 21, 2020

A late--and very slght--coming-of-age tale in Simon Amstell's melodramedy, BENJAMIN


A subset of what you might call the "comedy of embarrassment," BENJAMIN, the 2018 film written and directed by Simon Amstell (shown below), features a lead character, a filmmaker about to have his second feature unspooled, who is always uncomfortable. TrustMovies has seen down the decades a lot of filmmakers introduce their film to an audience but never seen anything quite as embarrassed and embarrassing as the manner in which the title character, Benjamin, manages this. Whew. Initially rather endearing, by the end of this thankfully short trek, Benjamin -- the fellow and his film -- proves mostly annoying.

Granted, all artists are heavily narcissistic (hell, some people -- our current President, for example -- are complete narcissists without possessing a single artistic bone in their fat 'n flabby body), but Benjamin so excels in this regard that more patience than you may possess is required to fully embrace the guy. 

It helps that the role is taken by a most attractive-of-both-body-and-face actor, Colin Morgan (Bosie in the 2018 Oscar Wilde biopic, The Happy Prince). Mr. Morgan, shown below and above, right, is certainly game, and his wit, charm, and looks combine to help make the journey as pleasing as possible, for awhile at least.

We meet Benjamin's helpful publicist and a few of his friends, especially his bestie, Stephen (played by Joel Fry (below, right, and so good as the would-be manager in Yesterday), as a not-very-funny, hang-dog comedian. And finally Benjamin (and we) meet his soon-to-be new boyfriend, a would-be singer and cute little hottie from France (Phénix Brossard, at center, two photos below).

Benjamin dithers and dodges and acts like a douche for most of the movie because, of course, he's trying to find himself or accept himself or maybe just grow the fuck up a little. And while the film-making background may be a bit new to this genre, the situation itself certainly isn't. 

Filmmaker Amstell gets reasonably good performances from his cast, though the only person he seems really interested in is his screen self, Benjamin. And so we wait and wait to finally see even a remote bit of genuine interest in or understanding of the world or the people around him on Benjamin's part. It arrives, but too little too late to save this supposedly personal and autobiographical endeavor from being way too narcissistic for its (and our) own good. Now that Mr. Amstell has gotten this film out of his system, perhaps he'll move on to new and more interesting challenges.

From Artspoitation Films and running 85 minutes, Benjamin has its American home video debut via digital/VOD this coming Tuesday, August 25 -- for purchase and/or rental. Click here to proceed with a viewing.