Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Depression brought to life in Craig Roberts' one-of-a-kind "comedy," ETERNAL BEAUTY

Yes, it's being billed as a comedy, but anyone who suffers from depression or is in close contact with one of those sufferers will probably see ETERNAL BEAUTY as real a movie about this subject as has yet come to pass. Oh, it has its very funny moments (any movie that stars the great Sally Hawkins would have to), but overall the film's exploration of this particular world of Jane, its depressive main character, is equal parts shockingly unsentimental and carefully, artfully conceived and executed.

Writer/director Craig Roberts, shown at left and better known perhaps as an actor (Submarine, Becoming Human), has taken his tale at least in part from the life of a good friend of his (his dedication during the end credits is to "the real Calamity Jane"), and this real-life situation seems to have inspired Roberts to create something unlike anything TrustMovies can recall seeing on this subject, filmwise. 

Mr. Roberts refuses to revel in the usual; instead he looks at the life of Jane (Ms Hawkins, below) from as many angles and in as many different situations as are manageable in a 95-minute running time. We begin with therapy and a flashback to her wedding then move on to dysfunctional family, fantasy, what socializing she can manage, a major love interest and more.

To my eye and mind, nothing here is played for comedy, though some of it is indeed darkly humorous. But it is unfailing real and all too believable. Roberts and Hawkins capture incredibly well the mindset of the depressive and the skewed perspective from which this person views so many events.

At the same time, the filmmaker explores what Jane's parents -- uber controlling and somewhat vicious mother (the fine Penelope Wilton, second from left, above) and weak father (a vulnerable, sad Robert Pugh, above, left) -- have taken and/or added to her life, how her conniving, narcissistic sister (Billie Piper, below and second from right, above) plays and betrays her; 

and even how her most "normal" relative (married sister Alice played by Alice Lowe, at right, two photos above, and below) does seem, as Jane describes her, a bit "boring." Yet next to Jane herself, Alice is someone you'd want to hang onto for dear life. 

Eternal Beauty
portions out blame (if you can call it that: more likely just reasons) for Jane's behavior in a manner that seems to me pretty fair and square. Therapy, too, takes its licks here. The point, in any case, is to somehow get through it all. For a time, it seems as if the man Jane meets (or re-meets) in the waiting room might just do the trick, as he seems equally disturbed and somehow a good match for our heroine.

As brought to amazing/funny/scary life by the wonderful David Thewlis (above, left, and on poster, top), one of the few actors who can actually steal a sene from Ms Hawkins (or anybody else), this oddball character actually fits into and helps expand Jane's own delusional world.

So thoroughly does Roberts and his cast engulf us in Jane's strange mindset that the experience quickly becomes sui generis, one-of-a-kind. How different (and so much less mainstream/feel-good) is this depiction of schizophrenia from that which we viewed just last month in Words on Bathroom Walls. Eternal Beauty won't be for every taste, but once it grabs you, you're hooked.

From Samuel Goldwyn Films and running just 95 minutes, the movie makes its VOD and digital debut this Friday, October 2 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Paris as a haven for American Blacks: Alan Govenar's MYTH OF A COLORBLIND FRANCE

The not-so-aptly titled documentary MYTH OF A COLORBLIND FRANCE -- which makes this storied country of hoped-for Liberté, égalité, fraternité seem more negative than it is (or at least was) -- actually offers viewers the opportunity to discover or maybe remind themselves of just how welcoming France became for African-Americans starting with World War I and continuing very nearly through present-day rise of nasty white nationalism in far too many countries worldwide, including the USA (which hardly needs more of this shit).  No country is really colorblind unless its populace is actually blind, a condition that maybe exists in an old Star Trek episode or a nice aphorism ("In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king"). Racism might exist everywhere, one speaker points out, "but in France, I could do something about it."

As co-writer (with Jason Johnson-Spinos) and director of this fine new documentary, Alan Govenar (The Beat Hotel, You Don't Need Feet to Dance), shown at right, offers us viewers a wonderful and rich contribution to the history of African-American culture and the part that France (well, mostly Paris) played in all this.

While the filmmaker hits the expected high points -- Josephine Baker (below), James Baldwin (further below), Richard Wright -- he also includes a lot more examples of lesser lights whose interesting stories and thoughtful musings add much to this history of Black ex-pats in Paris. 

And, yes, as certain reviews have pointed out, the documentary jumps all over the place, back and forth from person to person, time period to time period. Yet what it has to tell us is so worth hearing (and seeing) that TrustMovies certainly did not mind these travels. 

My least favorite sections are given to some music-and-poetry improvisations that seemed to me a bit puerile, yet whenever that poet speaks of his experiences and philosophy, the movie immediately gets back on track. (That's poet James Emanuel, left, with saxophonist Chansse Evans, below.) 

We learn about everyone from famous 19th Century playwright Victor Séjour to jazz musician Sidney Bechet, the famous Bricktop club, mystery writer Chester Himes and especially the still-going-strong sculptor/poet/novelist Barbara Chase-Riboud (below), whose novel Sally Hemings became a kind of touchstone for the continuing American hypocrisy regarding slavery and its history. 

Of special note (among a lot that's already pretty special) is famous subway graffiti artist known as Quik (below), who tells us of his first trip to Europe and what happened on his first morning out and about in (I think it was) Amsterdam. 

Even if there is information you will already have known present in the documentary, much of this is well worth recalling, and what and who you will not have known about should make the film a must-see for anyone interested in Paris, history, and Black lives and culture -- then and now.

From First Run Features and running 86 minutes, Myth of a Colorblnd France opened this weekend in virtual theaters across the country.  Click here to see where and how you can view the film.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Charm and goofy fun from New Zealand in Hayden J. Weal/Thomas Sainsbury's DEAD

Other than Canada, TrustMovies would say it's New Zealand whose films overall have a distinct enough feel and attitude that they can, whatever genre in which they might appear, be pretty quickly identified as to their home country. (Of course, with New Zealand the accent certainly helps.)  DEAD -- a most aptly titled otherworldly rom-com, murder, mayhem and mama movie -- proves another such film, one that builds slowly but significantly toward its low-key giggles, slight-but-effective scares, and a number of very nice surprises along the way. I  do not want to oversell this little oddball, but if you stick with it, the rewards are plenteous and lovely.

From the outset as one of our heroes (the dead one, a former cop) comes back as a ghost -- dressed only in a vest, shirt and skivvies -- this bizarre and quirky gem gathers steam and smarts. Our other hero (the live one), a pothead who likes to indulge, has the ability to see ghosts and then try to unite them with their loved ones, thanks to a combination of a certain medicine and other drugs to which he's partial. (Yes, you either suspend your disbelief and accept this or move along to your next movie.)

As co-written and directed by Hayden J. Weal (shown above and at left below), who also plays the dead hero, and co-written by Thomas Sainsbury (below, right), who plays the live one, their movie is in one sense similar to a whole lot of others you've seen, while in another sense proving to be utterly original via its own witty style, charm and, yes,  that specific New Zealand "attitude."

This is a kind of buddy/bromance in which our live hero also begins to bond with the dead's one's very living sister (the gorgeous and funny Tomai Ihaia, below, right), even as he is trying to work out his problems with others (his drug dealer, his mother, and his various bereaved clients).

In addition to our dead cop, a number of other ghosts populate the film and are often nearly as funny as the living characters. On top of all this, the movie deals with another important subject/theme which I am going to refrain from even naming because the way in which Dead handles this one is exemplary: subtle, witty and with increasing humor that reaches its delightful zenith during the end credits, set in a heaven where one's genitalia is covered in, well, the most adorable manner.

This movie is simultaneously dark, dirty, endearing and often off-the-wall hilarious. It also takes its oddball place amongst memorable "mother" movies, for reasons I will also not go into here. Dear reader, you deserve all the goofy surprises in store. (That's Jennifer Ward-Leland, below, as our live hero's mater dearest.) 

I was so thoroughly enjoying this film that I forgot to take any notes. So this review may be shorter than usual.  But I would not be surprised to find Dead ending up on my best-of-year list -- not because it is anything approaching great but simply due to its being such an original: an eccentric, satisfying little bit of the unexpected.

From 1091 Pictures and running 91 minutes, Dead hits certain theaters and virtual cinema today, Friday, September 25, and will reach home video -- for purchase or rental -- on October 6.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Another fine French courtroon drama exploring the way we live now: Stéphane Demoustier's THE GIRL WITH A BRACELET

When it rains, it pours. Here's the second post in a row to feature a good French film dealing with a murder trial: This time it's director/co-writer Stéphane Demoustier's THE GIRL WITH A BRACELET.

Instead of trying a husband for his wife's murder, we have a teenager accused of killing her best friend. As the facts/ suppositions of the case unfold, the question of guilt (about a lot of things other than the murder itself) begins to taint more than merely the defendant herself.

Parental responsibility, social media, sibling rivalry, teen friendship and (very) casual sex -- all of this and more is woven into this unusual and unusually dark and unsettling tale brought to fine life by M. Demoustier (shown at right), his co-writers and the excellent cast assembled here. 

The actors are particularly well cast. The pivotal role of Lise, the defendant in the case, is played by newcomer Melissa Guers (above and below), and Ms Guers captures so much about the difficult life of today's teenager. Sure, the teen years have always been hard (raging hormones, breaking away from parental control, peer pressure, etc.), but toss in our current and ever-more-crappy social media, and how much worse can it possibly get?

As for the parents, well, dad's too controlling, while mom perhaps is not stern enough. (That's Roschdy Zem and Chiara Mastroianni, respectively left and center, below, as Lise's father and mother.) There plenty of blame here to go around, but the filmmaker does not pile the weight on too heavily or unfairly, TrustMovies thinks. Instead he makes us think. And that's one of the points of this intelligent, questioning movie.

While much of the dialog is of the expected "courtroom" sort, the film cleverly catches you off-guard at numerous times, among these when Lise's mom levels a dead-on accusation at the prosecutor, and Lise herself questions why the court seems to so easily accept the testimony of a young male witness over that of her own. 

That prosecutor (above) is played by the excellent actress Anaïs Demoustier, who brings the right degree of professionalism and strength to the role, while Annie Mercier (below) as Lise's lawyer proves equally so on the opposite end -- even as the movie itself (as do so many French films) seems to come down on the side of "innocent until clearly proven guilty." 

Yet, by the very quiet and non-melodramatic conclusion, enough doubt remains to make you question everything all over again. Especially the manner in which children are being adapted into society in our current ever-more-fraught times.

From Icarus Home Video and Distrib Films US, in French with English subtitles and running a fast 95 minutes, The Girl With a Bracelet hit the street yesterday, Tuesday, September 22, on DVD and is available now digitally at virtual cinemas. Click here and then follow instructions to access a virtual viewing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Virtual debut for Antoine Raimbault's crackerjack courtroom procedural, CONVICTION

Not merely clever -- in its editing, dialog, direction and performances -- the 2018 movie CONVICTION, directed and co-written by Antoine Raimbault, is actually smart. If you're a fan of courtroom procedurals, here's one you ought not miss. Based on an actual murder trial in which the defendant was found innocent (and the subsequent trial for the very same offense: French law clearly differs from ours here in the USA), the film gives us a defense case built in good part around transcripts of legally recorded phone calls that the prosecution had in its possession but didn't really bother much about. 

As we learn when the end credits roll, filmmaker Raimbault (shown at left; this is his first full-length feature) based much of his tale on the facts of the trial(s), yet one extremely important character here turns out to be entirely fictional. If this sounds like a major flaw, it is not. Who this is and how this character fits into the whole work surprisingly well in terms of the story told, the suspense engendered, the pacing and much else. 

In retrospect,  you may realize that there are actually two complete tales being told here -- one reality-based, the other fictional. Yet Raimbault has managed to elide them convincingly enough to approach something pretty seamless.

In the leading role is one of France's finest actresses, Marina Foïs (above, left, of The Workshop and Polisse), who excels once again as a juror on that first trial who convinces a crack defense attorney to take on the case for the second trial. Co-starring, and as good as he has ever been, is Belgium-born Olivier Gourmet (above, right) as the attorney. Their scenes together crackle with high energy and utter conviction (and not the kind these two hope to prevent).

In the unusual role of the somewhat questionable defendant is an actor I've long admired, Laurent Lucas (above) -- who can play everything from a creepy murderer (Who Killed Bambi?) to dark comedy (With a Friend Like Harry) with equal aplomb. Here, Lucas barely changes expression throughout the movie yet creates something oddly indelible anyway. He's got a face you just want to watch.

Ms Foïs has a hunky love interest and a needy offspring, while the Lucas character has three kids of his own (above) who are missing their disappeared mom and their imprisoned dad, but all the supporting characters pretty much pale next to the three leads, who keep us -- along with the smart, tight tale told here -- riveted throughout. If you enjoy courtroom sagas, legal eagles and the often difficult task of serving justice, Conviction should certainly do the trick.

From Distrib Films US, in French with English subtitles and running a just-right 110 minutes, the movie opens in virtual theaters this weekend, including Laemmle Theaters in the Los Angeles area. Click here and scroll down to learn how to view it. In South Florida, click here for virtual viewing via The Movies of Delray and Lake Worth. (Remember: you do not have to be anywhere near the particular virtual theater to be able to see the movie in question.)

Sunday, September 20, 2020

September Sunday Corner With Lee Liberman: HBO’s PERRY MASON

Raymond Burr’s burly, dignified Perry Mason, (on TV: 1957-66, 80-90’s), is a far cry from Matthew Rhys’ (The Americans) down-‘n-out, hang-dog version, set in 1930 noirish LA (that ‘has disgraced itself as a Gomorrah where truth is bought and sold like the head of...a-rutabaga’--per E.B. Jonathan, Perry’s mentor). This was written as a prequel to the Mason of courtroom lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner’s over 80 Perry Mason novels penned 1933 on. Oddly it offers a thankless distortion, a morose and self-defeating private investigator Perry. Other changes worked. Instead of a case per episode, the entire series is about a baby’s kidnap and murder (plus some delicious side-shows).The dirty cops and officials that look the other way are pitted against a 99%’er, the baby’s mother, charged with the murder. Below, little Charlie Dodson’s eyes are sewn open to persuade his parents that their baby is fine before they let go their suitcase of $100k.

This new Mason reminded me for a second of Lt. Columbo, police detective, who trademarked a rumpled coat, run-down roadster, and the phrase ‘just one more thing’ off and on from 1968-2003 (now on Peacock and Amazon Prime), pestering his suspect (a narcissistic biz mogul, movie star, etc.), a 1%-er, living in what my mother would call a Bronx Renaissance or Hollywood Baroque style penthouse/mansion — with annoying questions until the frumpy detective could pounce — no police-forcing needed. Wily Columbo (below) with that smart brain was more in keeping with the old Perry Mason. 

No — the 2020 version of pre-courtroom maestro Mason lacks Columbo’s kindliness and in fact can’t get out of his own way, needs therapy for his PTSD. Haunted by the trenches of WWI, he’s losing his family dairy farm, now a shabby house and two scrawny cows surrounded by a small airfield. He shops for neckties at the city morgue (like Columbo, his own is stained with tomato — or is it mustard?), where the coroner says he’s got a stabbing victim with a three-piece suit if that would suit. 

Although fans of Raymond Burr's Mason are taunted by this new back-story, other pointed departures from the old show work better. Hamilton Berger, his former courtroom opposition, is now a (gay) colleague/advisor to Perry as he argues his first case; Berger insists that criminals never confess on the stand—oh no —confessions were signature moments in the old tv series. Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) is not a PI but a young black policeman, a good person, trying to do an honest job while being manipulated by crooked white cops who have seniority he can’t aspire to: an excellent 2020 update. (Below, the past -- William Hopper, left -- and present Paul Drake). 

In a further inversion of the gay facts, actor Raymond Burr was in the closet, while 2020 Mason’s secretary, Della Street, (Juliet Rylance, daughter of Mark), is a gay woman whose girlfriend is around and about. And class-act Della is a quietly determined example of a woman forging ahead in a man’s world — marvelous. 

Altogether this mystery series is fun, its satire and irony stirring the pot of 2020’s inequality mess. Check out Perry’s PI sidekick Strickland (Shea Whigham), master of worthy asides (below). 

Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) charms as the guiding angel of the Radiant Assembly of God even if you hate the holy roller thing. She and her devoted, abusive mother, Birdy (Lili Taylor), earnestly stage their own flamboyant sideshows while board members rob church coffers. (Below Sister Alice, left, with the period’s real radio evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson.) 

Perry’s mentor, EB Jonathan, John Lithgow, is irresistable no matter what he does (below). And Stephen Root is the perfect, sneering, leering district attorney.  

But I remain stumped at the anti-heroic Perry drawn for this reboot. Creators thumbed their noses at (now old-to-very old) TV Mason fans, rather than building a character that plausibly merges new and old. True it’s is a harder problem to solve — requiring less egoism, less exploitation of a durable icon and its fans.

Perry is already on the road to civility by the time he begins to lawyer the case late in the series, but the enterprise is off-key because of this unlikely origin story for sharp-witted Mason.

It’s not a bad story, it’s just a different character’s story. Rhys, a lovely Welsh actor, makes you care about the dour, blank-eyed, slovenly fellow who shouts at people, but he belongs in a series not called Perry Mason. On the plus side, it’s a splendid, artistic production, with similarities to the graphic Boardwalk Empire of HBO rather than the Perry Mason template for Law & Order and many current legal procedurals. Here is on offer every inch of 1930’s LA topsy-turvied by the depression and the evolution of silent film into talking pictures. 

Below is the ‘Angel’s Flight’ cable car ride where the crooks display the Dodson baby through the windows. (Angel’s Flight also appeared in a 1966 episode of the old Perry Mason.)

LA is a star here, a glowy, steamy mecca — 30’s crowds of fedora-topped gentlemen cascading down courthouse steps, boxy grumbling autos, ecstatic swooning parishioners, dusty roads, mountains, and a mournful trumpet — fitting replacement for a jangly series theme. What both Perry’s have in common is a desire to see more justice in the world, to do the right thing, i.e.: where bad cops are punished by the legal system rather than knocked off by each other. The series, overall a fine ride, especially the tension-filled second half, has been renewed. Next time, please, integrate more confident Perry into the whole to put hang-dog Perry in the rear-view mirror.