Friday, October 23, 2020

Streaming premiere for GLBT festival favorite, Jonah Greenstein's visually compelling puzzle, DEDALUS (aka DADDY)

Can a movie be interesting enough merely for its attractive visuals (not to mention its many sex scenes), even if the manner in which its three sections (barely) hang together is more than a tad confusing? On the basis of the 2018 movie DEDALUS (aka DADDY), it can. But at a cost. The press materials offer one explanation: The triptych portrays community, love and loss. Uh-huh, but you could say almost the same thing about maybe half the movies -- single, dip- or triptych -- currently making the rounds, and audiences might nod their assent, followed by: So what?

In any case, Dedalus is indeed a triptych, the writer/director/editor/co-cinematopher/colorist of which is Jonah Greenstein (shown at right). The first part of his film deals with a young woman in Iowa who is gang-raped, and the offspring she produces out of this situation. Part two finds an attractive male hustler -- who might or might not be the young-man version of that boy in part one -- and the older tricks he turns in order to get through winter in New York City. The final segment follows an old man in Los Angeles coming to terms with aging and failing.

(which for some of us can't help but bring to mind the myth of Daedalus and Icarus) is, from the outset, visually enticing as it moves in all-over-the-place fashion from a jogger to a quiet man in his study to fireworks to bedtime. The first section contains little dialog, the second (by far the longest) offers much more, with the third somewhere between the first two, while the visuals -- color, composition and framing -- remain impressive in each.

The acting impresses, as well. Greenstein evidently used a combination of professionals and amateurs and has managed to nicely blur the line between them. (He also unfortnately declines to list which actor played which character in the credits, so attribution is rather difficult.) Most famous of these would be Thomas Jay Ryan (of Henry Fool, shown above, left), here playing one of our Part Two hero's sugar daddies who, much as he may want to, cannot commit to this young man who seems to love him so much. Mr. Ryan is, as always, fully commited to whatever performance he is giving and riveting to watch. The film's original Daddy title is certainly appropriate, as our young hustler does have plenty of daddy issues, just as the johns who hire him have their own themselves-as-daddy issues. 

The sex scenes are hot and graphic (one is full-frontal), and it pretty clear that, via its length and the interest that Greenstein shows in his subject and characters, this hustler-in-New-York section is the reason for the film's existence. Consequently the first and the third divisions/tales appear somewhat tacked-on. 

In addition to the aforementioned themes of  "community, love and loss," the movie might as easily be said to be built around childhood, young manhood and old age (or any number of other ideas tossed into the mix by th filmmaker).

So what is Dedalus, really? Thanks to its crisp and interesting visuals, not to mention the sex involved, those of us who appreciate these will be hooked. But what is this movie trying to say? I either haven't a clue or, thanks to the director's dropping so damned many of these, choosing among them seems arbitrary enough not to even matter all that much.

From First Run Features and lasting 92 minutes, the movie premiered earlier this week on streaming platforms including Apple TV, Amazon Prime, & Kanopy. Click here to link to some of those streaming options.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Wayne Wang's COMING HOME AGAIN: Life and death in the Korean-American community

For those of us who've wondered why the career of Wayne Wang (Chan Is Missing, The Joy Luck Club) has never taken off the way we imagined it might (his two films preceding this one were never released theatrically here in the USA), look no further than his latest and, for my money, one of his worst, a tiresome downer entitled COMING HOME AGAIN. If that moniker sounds a tad generic, it's part and parcel of this slow-moving and obvious "art" film. 

Wang is said to prefer quiet films (hey, TrustMovies does, too!) but that is hardly an excuse for making one that seems to revel in the predictable, giving us a tale taking place in the Korean-American community of San Francisco that deals with biggies such as family dynamics, death, religion and, yes, food and cooking.

As a director, Mr. Wang (shown at left) has usually proven serviceable enough, though one might occasionally question, as here, his use choice of long shots, medium shots and close-ups. It's as a writer (with Chang-rae Lee, based on Mr. Lee's article for The New Yorker magazine) that Wang stumbles badly, offering up little more than a series of cliched incidents with dialog to match that give us the usual -- over and over again: distanced and angry mother, son, and daughter; barely-there father; and the usual death-and-dying routine (complete with vomiting, of course) that we've experienced on film time and again. The fact that these are Korean-Americans does not add much to the overall deal. Worst of all is the incredibly ridiculous exposition consistently ladled into the dialog.

Really: Would this son only now, at death's doorstep for his mom, be questioning her Korean history. Give us a break. Even given that the son was absent from the family for schooling, would he never have seen nor asked about those basketball trophies? Everything here seems too easy, too "planned." There is practically no character, let alone character development. After being with this "family" awhile, you really feel you need to introduce these people to each other. All is artsy/fartsy long takes with much staring sadly/angrily/meaningfully into the distance (by both the characters and the camera), until you just want to goose this movie into something, anything. 

The single surprising scene arrives as a kind of climax, and it is creepy, crazy and near-hilarious. It certainly gives, at last, an outlet for what seems to be the unending, everlasting guilt with which these folk are evidently dealing. I am certain I am being way too hard on this little film which, given its depressing subject matter, won't be packing in the crowds (even virtually). But as a near-perfect example of a bad movie trying for some kind of art, Coming Home Again shines. 

From Outsider Pictures, in English and Korean with English subtitles, and running 86 minutes, the movie premieres October 23 through Virtual Cinema and theater bookings in the U.S. and Canada, in partnership with Strand Releasing. Coming Home Again will not be on other streaming platforms until 2021.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The breakdown of a problemed man in Peter Mackie Burns and Mark O'Halloran's RIALTO

One's forties is a difficult time to come out of the closet. This is hardly your coming-of-age period, after all, particularly when you've already got a life, a wife, kids, career, house and all the rest. In the case of a fellow named Colm, the leading character in RIALTO, we don't even know if he has ever realized until now that he had strong homosexual leanings. 

Colm's angry, abusive and controlling dad has recently died, leaving him maybe grief-stricken, more likely just hugely confused. His mom's bereft and needy, and Colm has now gone so far into himself that he can barely communicate with his wife or with his nearly-grown son. Only his daughter seems still close to the guy.

As well directed by Peter Mackie Burns (shown at right) with a very fine screenplay by Mark O'Halloran (Viva), Rialto places you inside the falling-apart life of Colm in such a strong and true manner that, as much as you might want him to make other choices along the way, nothing he does registers as unbelievable. Stupid maybe, but so clearly caused by anger, uncertainty and fear that you cannot help but empathize, even as you cringe. Oh, and did I mention that our "hero" is about to face unemployment, having been made redundant to his job?

As played exceedingly well by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (above, of Maze), Colm has recently found himself semi-stalking a pretty young man named Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney, shown above and below, right, of Tolkien). Though their first assignation is rather a disaster, Colm is smitten, while Jay appears to see something perhaps kinder and needier than he has found in some other clients (Jay's a part-time prostitute, you see, raising money to help take care of his girlfriend and newborn baby).

Jay offers Colm what he wants and needs -- jacking off and undressing for him, and finally giving him a good, hard ass-fucking -- yet it's clear that he cannot and will not be able to commit to Colm. (The sex scenes are graphic but not full-frontal, and there's a lovely, tender scene of Jay caring for his infant baby midway along.) Meanwhile, Colm's behavior grows more unhinged until we wonder what could finally be in store.

Because we really don't know much about Colm's background, other than dad, his death, and Colm's distancing from his wife and son, we're not in any position to figure him out on much of a psychological level. 

For some this might detract from the film's enjoyment, and god knows filmmakers Burns and O'Halloran are clearly folk who do not believe in happy endings, nor maybe even happy middles. 

Yet in terms to providing a look at a grown man's breakdown -- mental, emotional, sexual -- Rialto works quite well. From Breaking Glass Pictures and running 90 minutes, the film had its Virtual Theatrical Release last month and will hit VOD & DVD today, Tuesday, October 20 -- available via Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Fandango, Xbox and InDemand.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

A rare and much appreciated good B-movie: Christy/Brown/Sizemore's BLUE RIDGE

Surprisingly well-written and -acted, and directed with enough verve and intelligence to keep viewers watching, BLUE RIDGE turns out to be one of those rare finds among the countless B movies being released in these days of our current pandemic. It's smart and thoughtful and has a fleet and lovely grasp of everything from character to situation and setting -- the gorgeous Blue Ridge mountains of Appalachia.

As directed by Michigan native Brent Christy and co-wrriten by Caleb G. Brown and Shea Sizemore, the movie is also that rare bird in today's let's-make-it-as-bloody-and-violent-as-possible context that deliberately chooses, as does the film's hero (the new-to-town sheriff played by Johnathon Schaech), to prevent that blood and violence from taking place. 

Director Christy (shown at right) knows how to create suspense without over-milking anything and he draws fine performances from every actor on screen, leads to smallest speaking parts. This is the best role Mr. Schaech (shown above and below) has had in some time, and he does a terrific job with everything from the action scenes to the abashed romantic moments. He is helped enormously by the excellent script that draws character from quick, smart flashes of dialog that are often witty, charming or nasty -- as needed -- and never over-does anything. The exposition, too, is an integral part of the investigation here, as the screenplay allows our newcomer sheriff to learn things at the same time as does the audience.

The movie begins as the sheriff and his young daughter (he has taken this particular job in order to be in closer proximity to that daughter and to his estranged-but-still-loving wife) make a quick stop at a local convenience store only to find that something is going wrong there. The film's biggest coincidence -- fortunately, it's one that comes at the beginning so it's over with quickly -- is that this sleepy little town has two major criminal events happen on the same day. But even this comes together nicely via the smart screenplay by the film's finale.

The clever, off-the-cuff dialog is most apparent between the sheriff's two friendly-feuding deputies (Ben Esler and Lara Silva, above, left and right respectively) and his wife and daughter (Sarah Lancaster and Taegen Burns, right and left, respectively, below). The former's are fun and funny, the latter's more emotional, and both are always brief and believable.

Supporting cast includes some fine actors giving their brief scenes exactly the right oomph and gravitas: Graham Greene (below, seen earlier this week in the crappy horror film, Tar) plays the father of the first victim, 

while an excellent Tom Proctor (below) handles the role of the Greene character's major adversary with a resonant anger that's both surface and buried. This proves a kind of local Hatfield/Mc Coy situation, and it's the major thing that our sheriff must keep from exploding.

Even the husband of the initial victim is written and portrayed (by Kevin L. Johnson, below) with enough trenchant and specific detail to make this guy register more strongly that you'd expect. The solution to the crimes is a surprise but one that, given the situation and information we've learned, makes good, sad sense.

TrustMovies does not want to overstate the case for Blue Ridge. It's nothing great, but as decent B-movies go, it's one of the better examples of late and should provide a good evening's entertainment without making you sorry you watched. The movie's a pleasure. And not at all a guilty one.

From Imagicomm Entertainment and running a just-right 88 minutes, the movie hits DVD and digital HD this Tuesday, October 20 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Friday, October 16, 2020

In Aaron's Wolf's TAR, an L.A. landmark is fodder for some foolish, would-be horror

The idea of using Los Angeles' semi-famous La Brea Tar Pits as the sort-of setting and theme for a modern monster movie sounds promising. If only. The resulting misfire, TAR, proves a way-overlong slough through one genre cliché after another, with a script that offers dialog ranging from adequate to stupid and thus provides a decent cast with a nowhere-near-decent opportunity to even look good, let alone shine. 

I'm afraid there is but one person to blame for most of this, actor/writer/director Aaron Wolf (shown below) who appears to be a  triple threat -- but in the negative, rather than positive, meaning of that word. If TrustMovies had not agreed to review this one, he likely would have stopped watching midway, if not sooner.

Mr. Wolf (shown above) is an attractive enough performer but as co-writer (with Timothy Nuttall) and director, he allows for snail-like pacing until one wants to scream, Get on with it!, while some of the inane dialog -- particularly that involving the usual dumb, overweight and over-sexed best friend (played by poor Sandy Danto, below) -- becomes cringe-inducingly obvious and expected

The movie posits a seen-better-days business located in the area of the Pits that is now forced to close and must move out completely by the following morning or face a huge monetary payment. Simultaneously, a long gestating Tar Pitts monster is somehow unleashed and of course wreaks havoc on our gang of employees, family, lovers and friends. (Below is Timothy Bottoms as the uber-controlling paterfamilias.) 

Far too early on the electricity goes out (not simply at the location but in the writing, direction and performances, too), leaving us viewers in the usual gray, muddy semi-darkness that soon becomes boring to view but does provide the chance to fudge on any sharp, easily-seen visual effects. (The monster himself proves no big deal visually, in any case.)

Above is Tiffany Shepis, playing the employee with "psychic powers" who's not nearly as good at predicting as she imagines, and below is our old and always fun-to-watch friend Graham Greene as the local indigenous storyteller who knows the history of the "monster."

In films like this, there is sometimes fun to be had in guessing the order of who-will-survive?, but Tar doesn't generate enough interest to even manage that. Maybe 20 minutes too long, it's repetitive and tiresome: another pretty good idea for a scary movie wasted in mediocrity. But then, maybe younger folk who have not yet seen a lifetime of this kind of thing might find some fright and/or amusement here. (That's the movie's zaftig and relatively charming sex symbol, played by Nicole Alexandra Shipley, below.)

From 1091 Pictures and running 99 minutes, Tar hits digital streaming, available to purchase this coming Tuesday, October 20, and for rental the following Tuesday, October 27. To maybe find a theater or drive-in near you, click here then click on the various embedded links.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

South Korean mystery FORGOTTEN proves a twisty, fascinating and moving "must-see"

Got to hand it to Netflix, which keeps coming up with terrific movies (along with plenty of duds), some of which you will have never heard. A good friend of mine recommended FORGOTTEN, a what-the fuck-is-going-on-here? thriller from 2017 that packs, at last, an almost unbearable sadness regarding family and loss, along with the socio-economic relevance of Parasite. It's from South Korea, of course, slipping into view almost completely under the critical radar.

Written and directed by Hang-jun Jang (aka Hang-jun Zhang), the movie is a veritable model of smart plotting and pacing, featuring a "mystery" that, as it unravels, keeps us absolutely hooked. Best of all, the explanation, rather than disappoint as so many mystery/thrillers do (the problem is always so much more interesting and fun than the solution), simply explodes here into something that hooks the heart as much as the mind, and results in as damning an indictment of dog-eat-dog Capitalism as you'll have seen.

It helps to know something of South Korean history and its financial crisis that left so much of the population in a horrible state. Forgotten never underscores anything too heavily and so glides easily along on its genre credentials alone. All the rest is gravy -- incredibly tasty and nourishing gravy, at that.

A young man (lovely actor Ha-Neul Kang, shown on poster, top, and above) and his family move into a house that, to him, looks oddly familiar. Strange things begin happening and we question for a bit if these are real, hallucinations or supernatural. Quickly, all this changes into something quite other, then changes again and again, as we race along with the thriller conventions to keep up as, all the while, Forgotten grows ever stranger and darker.

Performances are as expert as usual in South Korean cinema, while the technical aspects of the film are also first-rate. Dark as it is -- literally and metaphorically -- Forgotten is always a pleasure to view. And the final scene, which arrives just after the end credit title is shown, is maybe as glowingly beautiful as anything I've seen in a long while. This finale posits the question, What is it that defines our character? The film does not provide the answer, but the manner in which it does the asking is exemplary. 
This one's a keeper.

Streaming now via Netflix, the film runs 108 minutes, relatively short by South Korean standards, every one of which pleases (those minutes and those standards).

Monday, October 12, 2020

Cooper Raiff's new indie, SHITHOUSE, offers college life from the view of the shy outsider


As has been duly noted elsewhere, SHITHOUSE -- the movie named for a college fraternity that hosts particularly popular parties -- deals with the sort of student, a young man named Alex, whom we've not seen as the center of attention in most examples of this genre. 

He's male, all right, but he's also very close to unhealthily shy and uncertain. Frightened, really -- about leaving his warm and loving family, as well as encountering and interacting with the rest of the college students. His stupid and somewhat abusive roommate clearly thinks Alex is a needless nerd and, other than because we audiences usually root for the underdog, we come pretty close to agreeing with that assessment.

As written, directed, co-edited by and also starring Cooper Raiff (at left) in the lead role, Shithouse, were it not as good a film as it is, would probably be pegged as a vanity production. It's still smacks somewhat of the vain, but it's worth seeing, and Mr Raiff at least has qualities that might indeed produce some degree of vanity.

He's handsome, intelligent and possesses a view of humanity -- concerning the circumscribed world of family and college shown here -- that proves to be encompassing enough yet less typical and judgmental than first glance might indicate. And in his two leading characters, Alex and Maggie, the odd girl he meets with whom he becomes quickly entangled, he's given us two people worth knowing.

Maggie is played by Dylan Gelula (above, left), an actress who is fine match for Raiff in terms of nicely offsetting his aw-shucks charm and rectitude. She's acerbic, witty, a little nasty and, of course, as it turns out, a lot needy. Yes, Shithouse deals in some of the usual youth cliches, but it is smart enough to disguise them for awhile.

We also get those frat parties, perhaps the single most boring, repetitive and tiring iteration of "youthful fun" movies have yet given us, and that are not, it must be said, any more interesting here than elsewhere. (Animal House has much to atone for.) But as the film slowly centers around this main relationship and how it builds then falters and builds again, its strengths becomes more apparent.

Amy Landecker 
does a lovely job playing Alex's caring, somewhat hovering mom, while Logan Miller (above, left) has the even more difficult task of turning obnoxious roommate Sam into someone maybe worth caring about -- which he manages quite well. 

Overall, there's nothing here to set the world aflame, and at 102 minutes, the movie does seem overlong for what it has to say. Yet considering what it does accomplish -- and well -- we'll be eager to view the next step for Mr. Raiff.  From IFC Films, Shithouse opens this Friday, October 16, in theaters and via digital and VOD. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Boy, do we need it now! Hans Pool's BELLINGCAT: TRUTH IN A POST-TRUTH WORLD

In this time when dictators everywhere from Russia, China, Brazil and the Philippines to Eastern Europe (and of course, right here in the USA: that asshole and would-be dictator we'll call Ronald Rump) are doing their best to cow their people into not being able -- and finally not even caring -- to tell the true from the false, what a joy it is to find out about a little group of online investigative journalists collectively know as Bellingcat. Yes: as in "belling the cat," whch is, not coincidentally, how and why this group first got its name. BELLINGCAT: TRUTH IN A POST-TRUTH WORLD, written, directed and shot by Hans Pool, a filmmaker from The Netherlands, is as important a documentary for these fraught times as any I've seen of late.

Mr. Pool, shown at right, has put together such a necessary document here, especially since, at this time, so much of what the world sees and accepts as news is often and deliberately fake. How to tell the difference between what's real and what is not is of ever more vital importance. Consequently, to have a group such as Bellingcat dedicated to ferreting out truth from lies becomes a necessity. And the fact that the group is made up of citizen journalists using mostly what they've been able to find online (and then find evidence of its veracity) makes them ever more valuable.

The filmmaker introduces us to the various people involved in Bellingcat, beginning with its founder, Britisher Eliot Higgins (above, right), then moving on to other major figures Christiaan Triebert (below) and Timmi Allen whose abilities and personal situations have made them vital to the organization. We learn some of the ways in which their forensic skills help determine truth from lies online, and we are shown how and why all this can and is being used as verifiable evidence. We also hear from various social media and journalism experts from academia who offer thoughtful, precise explanations of what's going on in our current times. 

Claire Wardle
 (shown below), for instance, notes that in our earlier technology times, we seemed to most fear things like robots, when what might bring us down instead is technology that simply reflects back on us our own worst aspects. Later, Ms Wardle adds, regarding the internet, "If you see information that reinforces your world view, you have no interest in checking its veracity." Which is exactly why we need and now have Bellingcat -- which has grown from a one-man operation to these days having a much larger crew.

The subjects of investigation the documentary focuses on most are the downing of MH17 (Malaysia Airlines Flight 17) in 2014, the Syria Market Bombing, and to a much less extent some of ISIS's beheadings. Regarding MH17, everything from a video of the Russian convoy with a missile missing to fuel prices of the day comes into play, and the documentary combines the thrust of a forensic thriller with the too-timely urgency for a constant search for truth. 

You will worry that Bellingcat's lives are in danger, and while they well may be, one member (whose sudden disappearance causes consternation for the others) tells us that the organization is now too big for this to be so easily managed. If you, like TrustMovies, knew almost nothing about Bellingcat going into this film, you will come out of it with a huge appreciation for all this amazing organization has done and continues to do. In terms of investigative reporting, it has shown much more storied and monolithic news media, such as The New York Times and the BBC, how to better do their job. (Christiaan Triebert, in fact, now works for The NYT!)

From First Run Features and lasting 89 minutes, the documentary arrives for U.S. viewing via DVD this Tuesday, October 13 -- for purchase and I hope rental. Expect it to stream eventually, too. When I learn how and when, I'll post that here.