Saturday, June 24, 2017

Keith Boynton's SEVEN LOVERS tackles "woman" -- from several angles (and genres)


An interesting idea -- tracking a woman through what looks like her relationships with different men at different times, with each shown as its own distinct movie "genre" -- is given a fairly interesting execution in the 2014 film, SEVEN LOVERS, written and directed by Keith Boynton and finally receiving a belated release digitally. The genres include everything from a seemingly standard light-rom-com to a European art film that's dialog-free; a full-out, old-fashioned black-and-white musical; a comedy of missed opportunity, and even an animated film.

This is a clever idea of Mr. Boynton (the filmmaker is shown at left), and for awhile, at least, he carries it off with some elegance and charm. His leading actors are Erin Darke (as the woman, Laura) and Fran Kranz as the man who seems, among her various lovers, to possess the most possibilities. Ms Darke, shown above and below, is better in some scenes/genres than others. She pushes a bit hard at times and lacks the more genuine, off-the-cuff bubble that actresses like Meg Ryan or Diane Keaton had at the height of their careers. Still, Ms Darke, who comes off at her most attractive in the musical mode, at least fills the bill and is sometimes even better than that.

Leading man Kranz (below), on the other hand, is (as almost always) quietly, delightfully spectacular. Possessing a handsome face and a great body, along with a nice range of acting ability, Kranz combines the goofy and the sexy to near-perfect effect. Why this young actor has not hit the big-time is a mystery to me. The usual answer, I guess: Luck coupled to the choice of roles at hand, along with the lack of a blockbuster to put him on the movie map. In any case, he could hardly be better -- more attractive and full of life, zing and chemistry -- than he is here.

A number of other good actors plays supporting roles, as the satellites that revolve around Laura -- among them, Max von Essen as a musical Mr. Right (below) and Peter Mark Kendall as a friendly Brit in the missed-connection scenario.

Gia Crovatin (below, left) plays Laura's best friend, a woman who's a little bit too over-the-top for comfort. It is in her character, and especially in that of Laura's herself, where the movie falls the most flat. It's odd that, in a film in which a female is given the major role -- and one taking in several genres, too -- that it is this character that feels the most empty. Laura is needy, ditsy and confused. And that's about all. Seven Lovers proves much heavier on situation and genre than on depth of character.

For all we see of our Laura, she never really expands, and everything we learn about her seems awfully surface, if not second-hand. When, at one point her character announces, "Well, that's me," I felt like asking, "But just what is that." This is not Darke's fault -- she does what she can with these role(s) -- but more the filmmaker's.

Boynton's juggling genres is handled effectively, with the animated sequences (as above) -- involving a princess, a knight in shining armor, and a dragon -- simple but cleverly done. Eventually, though, the overall pacing seems a good deal slower than necessary (the movie could lose ten minutes with no problem at all), given the quantity and quality of its content. Still, this idea of combining/splitting a movie into genres is unusual enough to merit a look. And eventually a more productive execution of that idea.

From Premiere Digital Services and running 108 minutes, Seven Lovers is currently available to rent or buy on the following digital platforms: Amazon, iTunes, Microsoft, VUDU Vubiquity, Dish and Google. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Streaming debut: Brian Knappenberger's doc, NOBODY SPEAK: Trials of the Free Press


Brian Knappenberger is the guy who gave us one of 2014's best documentaries, The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. He's back again this year with an equally important and worthwhile doc, NOBODY SPEAK: Trials of the Free Press, which is a warning about how and why one of the (always problematic) pillars of our (less and less) free society continues to crumble beneath us.

The approach of Mr. Knappenberger (shown below) is three-pronged: He shows us

the trial involving Hulk Hogan's sex tape and the news/scandal site, Gawker (and what lay beneath it), the sudden take-over the Nevada's foremost newspaper by billionaire Sheldon Adelson; and finally Donald Trump's ongoing war against the press, truth and facts.

The result of this trio of events points clearly to the increase in danger to a free press in this country, with the filmmaker marshaling his evidence well and presenting it in a focused, meaningful fashion. The result should leave you further aware and frightened.

How you may feel about the late Gawker, its owner Nick Denton (shown below) or Hulk Hogan (shown further below) does not matter here (I was a fan of neither), but the threat to a free society by a billionaire bankrolling a lawsuit he had absolutely nothing to do with (as we learn most definitely happened here) in order to put a news source out of business does indeed matter -- and in fact sets a bad precedent.

Knappenberger lets us meet a number of the fine journalists, as well as the editor, who worked for that Las Vegas newspaper and have now had to depart, due to its utterly compromised position in terms of journalism, and the filmmaker's round-up of Trump's various lies involving the press all add up to a depressing view of these current times and the disappearance of former standards. What's to be done? As we continue to see, in both narrative films and documentaries, no easy answers -- hell, any answers, save the violent overthrow of government, since honest elections are now a thing of the past thanks to gerrymandering, voter restriction, and probable vote tampering -- are forthcoming. Good luck to us all.

Distributed via Netflix and now streaming on that site, as well as opening today in theatrically in New York City (at the IFC Center) and the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica Film Center, the documentary is worth your time, energy and discussion. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bertrand Tavernier's MY JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA opens in L.A. and New York


As its title decrees, the trip that French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier takes in his new documentary, MY JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA, is a very personal one. Some film buffs may quibble -- perhaps even become a bit appalled -- at what has been left out here, yet so enjoyable, rich and often quite moving is Tavernier's account of his own life and the ways in which film has filled it that I can't imagine anyone who appreciates this man's work not being immediately and continuously swept away by his movie.

The 76-year-old M. Tavernier, shown at right, was a "war baby," born during the occupation of France by Nazi Germany. From an early age, film was a kind of escape and, finally, a hugely important part of his teenage and adult life. He communicates all this via his remembrances in his thoughtful, moving narration, and with film clips of (by my count) just over 100 different movies! Granted, these are mostly snippets, but if you've seen many of the films (as most buffs will have) they'll resonate strongly, and even when you haven't, thanks to his fine narration, the reasons why they and their directors are important will shine through.

Our host begins (and devotes a good deal of time) to the work of Jacques Becker, a filmmaker -- Le trou, (below), Casque d'Or (above, with Simone Signoret), Touchez pas au grisbi -- not as well known to Americans as many other French directors but (in Tavernier's and my own view) just as important. After this segment, you'll definitely want to bone up on Becker. From there we move to another great filmmaker, Jean Renoir, about whom we learn, among other things, that he was, according to the great actor Jean Gabin: "As a filmmaker, a genius; as a person, a whore." You'll understand better just why, once you've experienced Tavernier's quietly thoughtful, honest and encompassing view.

Gabin (shown at bottom,with Jeanne Moreau) gets his own wonderful section, too, as does actor Eddie Constantine (below), who provides some of the doc's funniest, wittiest moments, before which we get a very interesting section devoted to Marcel Carné, a noted director about whom Tavernier tells us, "Few filmmakers have been attacked by their colleagues as much as has Carné."

Along the way composers such as Maurice Jaubert are given their due, as are much lesser known directors like Jean Sasha (though the IMDB spells it Sacha, it's Sasha in the doc's subtitles). We see and hear a bit from early Truffaut, and learn quite a lot about the work of an interesting journeyman director, Edmond Gréville, who made both French- and English-language films.

As Tavernier's adult life takes off, we're made privy to all sorts of fun and interesting anecdotes, especially regarding his time as an assistant to filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. an asshole extraordinaire who was also supremely talented, about whom we learn a lot here, including Tavernier's assessment (correct, I think) of Melville's lesser capabilities as screenwriter. And did you know that Tavernier first encountered Melville's movie, Bob le flambeur, at a theater that offered a burlesque show between screenings? It's this sort of diversion that adds to the documentary's fun.

From the much-appreciated Melville, we move to the less-so Claude Sautet -- this section will make you want to take another look at Sautet's work,such as Max and the Junkmen, above -- and to Tavernier's time doing PR at Rome-Paris Films.

Here we encounter everyone from Chabrol to Varda (that's Corinne Marchand in Cleo from 5 to 7, above) to, yes, Godard, And we learn (very briefly) how our host then went on to a career as a writer and director. Mostly, though, it's other people's films that matter more to Tavernier. And once you've experienced this lovely documentary, they're going to matter more to you, too.

From Cohen Media Group, in French with English subtitles and running, yes, three hours and 20 minutes (not a one of them I would want to give up), the documentary opens tomorrow, Friday, June 23, in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal) and New York City (at the Quad Cinema) and in the weeks to come in at least another half dozen cities. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On Home Video: Daniel Espinosa's LIFE proves to be everything the latest Alien movie wasn't


This is just a quick heads-up that if you're looking for a genuinely scary, suspenseful, smart and swift sci-fi thriller featuring an extraterrestrial who makes the recent "alien" look like the rather dumb-and-ugly monster it is, take a gamble on LIFE, from Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa (don't worry, the film's in English), which is definitely this up-and-down director's best work to date.

Cleverly written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the movie pays good attention to everything from plotting, pacing and surprise to creating characters you care about while filling you in on (some of) the science of what's possible (or not) regarding space travel.

The movie's not perfect but it is so much better than anything else like it in a long while (particularly the recent and execrable Alien: Covenant, which offered Michael Fassbender and very little else) that the fact that it was so lukewarmly embraced by both critics and audiences seems a pretty clear statement of how dumb and undeserving both have now become.

I won't go into plot, except to say that, yes, the movie does the very same thing as the Alien franchsie and other space-travel-cum-monster movies: maroon a crew with the monster on board and then let things "work out." Yet how Life works them out is so much better than the other examples (save for the original Alien) that you'll be alternately on the edge of your seat and actually moved and amazed by it all. (And surprised and shaken by the ending.)

With Jake Gyllenhaal (three photos up) in fine form, Rebecca Ferguson (two photos above) supporting and Ryan Reynolds (above and below) again choosing to do a role that surprises in several ways, the entire cast is first-rate. And, yes, we lose some of them along the way, but how and why they expire is done with such novelty and feeling that this makes most other films in the genre look paltry indeed.

From Columbia Pictures/Sony and running a just-about-right 104 minutes, the movie hit Netflix DVDs yesterday (and is now -- this update comes two days later -- available on Redbox). In any case, if you're an intelligent fan of this genre, don't miss it. Click here and scroll down to view options for purchase or rental.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hot man-on-man sex, loopy Christianity and Amazons-on-horseback converge on João Pedro Rodrigues' juicy THE ORNITHOLOGIST


Portuguese writer/ director João Pedro Rodrigues is not a guy who, moviemaking-wise, repeats himself -- except in the sense that every movie he makes turns out to be something of a what-the-fuck? experience.

From his early O Fantasma through Two Drifters and To Die Like a Man right up to his latest endeavor to reach our shore, THE ORNITHOLOGIST, the viewer (and just as often the main character) may imagine that he is on somewhat stable ground. Oh, honey: You're not.

The filmmaker, shown at left, does love to surprise us and so it is again here. He even (sort of) co-stars in his own film, turning it in the process into a kind of meta-moviemaking, as he portrays the older or maybe wiser or maybe just the alter ego of his protagonist, played by French actor Paul Hamy (shown below).

M. Hamy is blessed with a tall, muscular and rather amazing body, together with a slightly-Neanderthal face that's also sexy as hell. This is quite a combination, and the actor has what is, so far, his most major role. He inhabits every scene in the film and is, well, wonderfully watchable as he negotiates his journey from what begins as a rather typical, if long-distance and picturesque, bird-watching trip into something very much different and hugely bizarre.

The plot is actually a mere series of run-ins with new characters, yet each grows stranger as the movie rolls out. From a rescue by two lost and oddly religious Chinese girls, our "hero" finds himself trussed up and threatened with castration (below), suddenly involved with a very hot and naked young man (Xelo Cagiao, further below, at right) with whom he bird-watches prior to sex (it's always better in that order, don't you think?), is set upon by a group of Amazons on horseback (even further below), and finally encounters the twin of his former hook-up, even as he turns into... what? Wow. A religious figure? Or maybe the filmmaker himself.

Rodrigues' work is nothing if not mystifying. But it's also difficult to pull yourself away from, particularly if you're attracted to same-sex couplings, philosophy-cum-religion, mysticism, and stories so bizarre that they seem more like waking dreams than most movies you'll have witnessed (a second viewing of this guy's films is very nearly a requirement).

When, toward the finale, a character notes,"There are certain things you shouldn't try to understand," you will probably agree, muttering, "Yes. Like this movie." But I suspect you'll want to finish it nonetheless. Visually, it's a non-stop treat -- from the birds at the film's beginning to the gorgeous location photography (who knew Portugal had such lovely, verdant areas?), to the whoppingly watchable Hamy.

Saint Anthony of Padua figures into all this, too, but since I am not a scholar of religion, I can't offer much guidance there, except to say that the movie finally seems like some sort of journey of the soul (and body: thank goodness for M. Hamy!) that culminate in a rather sweet and surprising scene, especially given all that's occurred previously.

Seeing The Ornithologist made me revisit my earlier posts on João Pedro Rodrigues, during which I found my round-up of his earlier films plus an interview I'd done with the filmmaker back in 2010, in which he proved a most delightful explorer of his own work, of Portugal, and lots else. (You can read that interview by clicking here.)

Meanwhile, Rodrigues' latest work -- via Strand Releasing, in English and Portuguese with English subtitles, and running just under two full hours (you'll get your money's worth in mystification) -- arrives in theaters this Friday, June 23, in New York City, where it plays the IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It then hits Los Angeles (at the Landmark NuArt) and Chicago (at the Music Box) the following Friday, June 30. To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then click on Screenings.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sam Elliott proves heroic in Brett Haley's pretty-good aging-actor drama, THE HERO


When isn't Sam Elliott good? Just about never, so far as TrustMovies can recall. This guy reliably turns in a relaxed, believable performance -- from the old days of Lifeguard and Mask to the new ones of I'll See You in My Dreams, Netflix's Grace and Frankie and the movie now opening around the country, THE HERO. Elliott may not be particularly versatile nor able/willing (or ever given the chance) to tackle heavy-duty dramatic roles, yet he is always a pleasure to view and listen to, given that deep, dark, delicious, can't-get-enough-of-it voice. In the new film from director and co-writer (with Marc Basch), Brett Haley -- the duo also collaborated on the above "Dreams" -- Mr. Elliott gets perhaps the role of his career so far: that of an aging actor facing the end of the road, career-wise and, considering his recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, living-wise, as well.

Haley (pictured at right) and Elliott (shown above and below, right) make good, smart fun of that voice, too -- from the opening scene as the actor does vocal take after unnecessary vocal take for a barbecue-sauce commercial right through to the finale. And yet, this role also allows the actor to stretch in new and unusual ways. Note the wonderful scene in which he and his drug-dealer/ex-actor pal, played with all sorts of fond, funny/sad notes by Nick Offerman (shown below, left) run lines for our hero's upcoming audition. You'll suddenly see, hear and be amazed at what that voice can actually achieve.

The movie itself, though perfectly entertaining and reasonably moving, is not quite up to the level of I'll See You in My Dreams, however. It bites off more than it can properly chew within its short time frame. The Hero gives Elliott's characters not just an ex-wife (Katherine Ross) and a new girlfriend (Laura Prepon, shown below, left) to deal with, as well as his dimming career and his newly discovered death sentence, but it also saddles him with an estranged daughter (played by the always capable Krysten Ritter). This last bit of baggage is simply too much.

The daughter character manages to get simultaneously too much time in the film and yet not enough to bring the character and situation to anything approaching real, non-clichéd importance. This is too bad because, with a little less, the movie might have been much more. (Another misstep is the manner in which Prepon's character excuses herself for using Elliott as fodder for her stand-up comedy routine: The use itself is certainly believable, but its too-easy aftermath is awfully "iffy.")

Still, along the way there are plenty of small but very juicy bits that build Elliott's character into someone real and troubled and certainly worth empathizing with. The actor inhabits this role with such easy-going relish and authority that he doesn't miss a trick. Nor is he -- not for a single moment -- unbelievable.

The filmmakers' use of the internet as a smart plot device works well, too, as does the character Mr. Offerman portrays. Despite some missteps, in all The Hero offers us intelligent entertainment while giving Mr. Elliott a role and a character, the likes of which he and we may not see soon, maybe ever, again.

From The Orchard and running just 96 minutes, after opening on both coasts last week the film will hit other markets this Friday, June 23. Here in South Florida, look for it to screen in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale at Regal's South Beach 18, CMX Brickell City Centre and the Cinepolis Grove 14 (with AMC's Aventura 24 and Sunset Place adding on the following Friday, June 30); in Broward County it will play The Classic Gateway on 6/23, with with Regal's Oakwood 18 adding on June 30; in Palm Beach County on 6/23 at the Regal Shadowood, Cinemark Palace 20 and Cinepolis Jupiter 14, with AMC's CityPlace 20, Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth, Regal Royal Palm, Indian River 24 and Regal Treasure Coast Mall 16 adding on June 30. Wherever you live throughout the USA, to find the theater nearest you, simply click here.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

THEY LIVE BY NIGHT: Nicholas Ray's "little" classic hits Blu-ray via The Criterion Collection


Who'd have thought that a relatively small, kids-on-the-run movie, with leading actors who were newcomers (or nearly so) and a first-time director with no reputation to speak of, would down the decades quietly burn itself into the canon, ending up as a Blu-ray disc as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection? Back in 1948, when THEY LIVE BY NIGHT was released, Nicholas Ray (shown below) had made none of the several groundbreaking movies -- from In a Lonely Place and Johnny Guitar to Rebel Without a Cause -- that would put him permanently, if always a bit bizarrely, on the map.

Watching today this fascinating, moving and entertaining melodrama that broke new ground visually and aurally at the time of its release is a rather grand experience. In addition to viewing the Oscar-caliber supporting performances from Howard Da Silva and Jay C. Flippen (shown left and center left, respectively, two photos below), we are also treated to two wonderful and memorable lead performances from Farley Granger (below, left, who would go on to make Hitchcock's Rope the same year) and Cathy O'Donnell (below, right, from The Best Years of Our Lives), who are as exceptional here and as they would ever be.

Ray combines bank robbery, thriller, romance, film noir and social justice into one unusual genre-jumping movie that, if it's no outright masterpiece, remains one of the most impressive directing debuts of its own time and even now (up there with the likes of The Usual Suspects), while the filmmaker's genuine concern for all his characters shines through, as always.

While it is now indeed a "period piece," the movie simultaneously seems to exist in its own special time and place: something that critic Imogen Sara Smith notes in her excellent critical appreciation of the film, which is part of the Criterion disc's Bonus Features and is "must" viewing. Ray's film is -- by turns -- exciting, sweet, charming, moving and surprising, even featuring, toward the finale, a first-rate musical number that exists beautifully on its own, while commenting on a number of themes to which we're being treated.

They Live By Night is first of all a romance between two genuinely nice-but-problemed kids, neither of whom have had anything approaching a helpful or normal childhood. We root for them both and especially as a unit because they work together so well. Mr. Ray allows us to understand this without piling on the sentimentality. If the finale must end in a kind of tragedy, even the character who betrays these two is given a measure of understanding and respect.

The new Blu-ray transfer is very good, as you would expect from Criterion, with new 2K digital restoration and uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The audio commentary is from a decade ago and features Farley Granger and film historian Eddie Muller, and the remaining "extras" include a new essay from film scholar Bernard Eisenschitz and just so-so audio excerpts from a 1956 interview with producer John Houseman.

The new Blu-ray, running 95 minutes, in black-and-white with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, hits the street this Tuesday, June 20, as part of The Criterion Collection and will be available for purchase and rental.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Blu-ray debut for Dario Argento's first fright film, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE


If TrustMovies is not mistaken Dario Argento's debut effort THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE was among, if not the first film to introduce international audiences to the Italian Giallo genre. That, together with the fact this this was Argento's initial crack at directing (after helping write a number of movies) --  the filmmaker is shown below -- should push his film into into near-classic "slasher" status.

If the new Blu-ray disc, via Arrow Video, does not look as good as a number of other of its ilk and time frame, that may be because the movie never did look all that great -- even at the time of its 1970 release. Though the cinematography is by Italian master Vittorio Storaro (who followed this film with the much-better-on-every-level The Conformist), it is not as sharp and precise as you might expect (a relatively small budget might account for this). The composition and use of color is quite interesting, however. I saw the original theatrical release of the movie, and can verify that it looked no better then -- in terms of sharpness and clarity -- than it does now. Neither did its further transitions to tape or DVD.

So Arrow's claim that the movie has never looked nor sounded better is most likely quite true. And since we are getting it here in a 4K restoration from the camera negative in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, this, too, is a first -- at least since its theatrical debut. As to that sound, it is excellently produced, all right, but the much-vaunted score by Ennio Morricone is not among the composer's better works. Look to Once Upon a Time in the West, Fraulein Doktor (and a raft of others) for that.

The film itself is a veritable grab-bag-cum-definition of Signore Argento's craft, style, smarts and faults. The plot has do to do with an American writer (Tony Musante, above, left), on a kind of vacation/work project in Italy, along with his model girlfriend (Suzy Kendall, above, right) just as a series of grizzly murders is taking place -- one of which (below) he appears to catch in the very act, as he wanders by the glass window of a posh art gallery late at night.

The plotting, while fun and sometime fascinating (look for the usual Argento "surprise" finale), also completely lacks any believable human dimension. Our hero and heroine refuse to behave like any actually human beings you will have ever encountered (except those who appear in bad movies). Musante's character puts not only his own life in danger time and again, he does the same with that of his girlfriend. And after very bad things happen, such as our heroine being stalked and nearly killed by the murderer, she is able to recover in no time flat and also get a great night's sleep in the process. There is also very little logic in Argento's plotting. The one person (out of two) left alive in the penultimate climax is the very last person that this particular killer would have let off the hook.

Argento's use of color (lots of red, of course) is also fun. There's one lengthy, silly scene of an assassin in a yellow slicker jacket that leads to the film's funniest surprise. Watching this landmark "slasher" film today also points up the enormous advance (well, debasement) in the audience's appetite for violence, blood and gore. This "Bird" seem almost pristine: all lead-up and then suggestion, with merely a small slash and splash here and there. The film's forensic investigation, using the latest technology of its time, provides some fun, but I do wish we'd have been able to see more of that titular bird. This exotic "looker" receives only a single moment of screen time.

There is a rumor (probably apocryphal) that, with the international success of this film, no less than Alfred Hitchcock was said to be worried about this new Italian kid's intrusion into his suspense-thriller territory. Watching Argento's entertaining trifle now merely points out the vast difference between the work of a master and a would-be. The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, via MVD Entertainment Group, arrives on limited edition Blu-ray + DVD this coming Tuesday, June 20, for purchase and/or (I would hope) rental. Click here for further details.

As usual, with the releases of Arrow Video, the disc offers a wealth of Bonus Features, including new interviews with Argento and Gildo Di Marco (who plays Garullo, the garrulous pimp); a new analysis of the film by Kat Ellinger; new audio commentary by Troy Howarth; a new visual essay on the cinema of Argento, The Power of Perception, by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; English subtitles for both the English- and Italian-language versions; high-def Blu-ray and standard-def DVD presentations; reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp; and a limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie and new writing by Howard Hughes (no, not that one) and Jack Seabrook.