Monday, December 5, 2016

Nicolas Pesce's THE EYES OF MY MOTHER: horror often viewed at a discreet distance

Beginning with a scene on a country road in which the driver of a truck sees something untoward just ahead of him, and then taking us into the lives of one of the strangest families to be found on film, this new pristine, black-and-white movie makes Norman Bates look like a piker and shows up the Austrian oddity, Goodnight Mommy, as the artsy piece of schlock it is. THE EYES OF MY MOTHER will not be to everyone's taste (not even to all horror aficionados) but it ought to quickly take its place in the annals of quietly creepy, one-of-a-kind movies.

Its writer/director, Nicolas Pesce (shown at left), spares us much of the gore quotient possible here but none of the ghastly realizations of exactly what has been, is now, or soon will be going on. Believe me, these are lulus. And because they are often seen at a discreet distance, with music that quietly foments rather than knocks our eardrums silly, the result is often as breathtaking as it is horrifying. This is a film, no matter how "good" it may be, that you will not want to recommend to those who have trouble with the transgressive.

Eyes, surgery, cattle, obsession and a whole lot more make themselves felt in ways major and minor throughout the film, along with the bizarre behavior of not just the three principals in the family -- dad, mom and little girl -- but in the smiling interloper who sets into play the awful plot and then pays for it, bigtime, in a manner that may put you in mind of The Secret in Their Eyes.

You do not need plot details for a movie like this. Best, I think, if you're a horror fan, to simply approach it as tabula rasa as possible. The little girl (above) grows up into a young woman (below) who proves both one of the great horror villains and a characters who, given her fraught history, remains somehow vulnerable and (almost) sympathetic.

The cinematography (Zach Kuperstein) is stunning throughout, and the performances of every cast member on the nose. The logic of the film may leave something to be desired, but because The Eyes of My Mother has the strong, dark feel of a waking nightmare, you will probably forgive this (or not even notice) -- so simple yet propulsive is this relatively short (only 76 minutes) tale.

The behavior of our "leading lady -- the unusual but very fine Kika Magalhaes --  is so keyed to need, parenting (that's dad, being bathed, above), and socialization (the latter achieved, it would seem, via old movies, mostly noir, seen on TV) that whatever happens here seems somehow less over-the-top than the manner in which our "heroine" has most likely been raised.

From Magnolia's Magnet division, in mostly English and a little Portuguese with English subtitles, the movie opened this past weekend, December 2, in five cities and will hit another 14 this coming Friday, December 9, and even more over the weeks to come. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. Simultaneously, The Eyes of My Mother is available via VOD, Amazon Video and iTunes.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

ME, MYSELF & HER: Lesbian rom-com-dramedy fluff from Italy's Maria Sole Tognazzi

TrustMovies moves up and down re the work of Italian filmmaker Maria Sole Tognazzi (he's quite high on A Five-Star Life, somewhat lower on The Man Who Loves, and maybe in the middle regarding her newest movie, ME, MYSELF & HER (a much simpler and more intelligently worded Io e lei, in the original Italian). Though there have been a number of Italian movies with full-out gay themes, this is said to be the first relatively mainstream Italian movie to tackle a lesbian relationship.

Ms Tognazzi, shown at right, casts her movies expertly, with some of Italy's finest actors in leading roles. Here she uses that always wonderful, multi-Donatello-winning Margherita Buy in one role and a quite beautiful and talented actress (from The Great Beauty), Sabrina Ferilli, in the other. The two play off each other with skill, precision and great believability, as they take us into the shoals of a five-year-old relationship that appears to be badly fraying.

As is her wont, Ms Tognazzi deals with the upscale bourgeoisie -- this time, an architect named Federica (Ms Buy, above) and her lover, an ex-actress and now-restaurateur, Marina (Ms Ferilli, below), who appear to have a relatively placid relationship -- except that Federica wants her sexual preference to remain private, while Marina could give a good god-damn about all that. When the opportunity arises for Marina to act again in an upcoming movie, the pair's relationship is put to the test.

The two actresses, as well as the rest of the supporting cast, are all first-rate, but the scenario itself seems second-hand and lacking in much depth. Everything hinges upon the relationship here, and what we see of it, despite the good work of the actresses involved, seems awfully, well, typical. There's an indiscretion, followed by anger, separation, sorrow and resolution. And all of it is just a little too easy.

All this surprises me a bit because the film was co-written by the writer and director, Ivan Cotroneo, of one my my favorite Italian films of the past decade, Kryptonite! (click and scroll down to view particulars). Still, we have the beauty and talent of Buy and Ferilli, and some gorgeous locations in which to bask (though nothing like those in A Five-Star Life), and a nice serving of Italian rom-com fluff. So the time is spent painlessly and pleasantly.

Just don't expect much depth or surprise -- which is too bad. If indeed this is the first lesbian rom-com-drama from Italy, the gals deserve a little more interesting scenario than we get here. (There is, however, a terrific looking cat, above, to help bide our time.) Even Federica's relationships with her son, ex-husband and new/old man-in-her-life (Fausto Maria Sciarappa, below) are shown so lightly that they seem to skip along a surface of what must have more interesting stuff roiling beneath it.

Ditto the relationship between Marina and her business associate, which looks as if it could have been given a scene or two all to itself. But if you're looking for something pretty and classy and nicely acted by some of Italy's finest, Me, Myself & Her should adequately fill the bill.

From Wolfe Video, In Italian with English subtitles, and running 102 minutes, the movie goes straight to VOD and DVD here in the USA this Tuesday, December 6 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

DVDebut: Food waste gets its comeuppance in Baldwin/Rustemeyer's doc, JUST EAT IT

How much perfectly edible and nutritious food do the "haves" of the world waste yearly? The answer will stop you in your tracks, as will so much else in this new, highly entertaining and quite thought-provoking documentary, JUST EAT IT: A Food Waste Story. From filmmakers/participants Grant Baldwin (he directed, edited, photographed, handled the music and co-stars) and Jenny Rustemeyer (she produced and also co-stars in the doc), the movie shows us what these two filmmakers (shown below) feel, think and then tackle -- once they're made aware of just how much food the world wastes.

After explaining how most of the world's wasted food is both safe and nutritious, Grant and Jenny decide to try to live for six months entirely on discarded food, and they bring us along for the ride. This could prove too cute and silly by far, but we spend only part of our time on this experiment. The rest of the film is filled with smart and timely interviews with food-and-its-waste experts who talk about everything from the huge quantities of fruit and vegetables (these are the most wasted foods) constantly tossed away (that's Tristram Stuart, below, with a busload of wasted bananas)... the results of dairy and livestock on this waste, as well as waste's impact on our energy sources. At one point we are told that "The water embedded in the food we throw out could meet the household needs of 500 million people." Just watch what happens to a full stalk of celery as it is prepared for 'market' and you'll cringe.

We learn about how appearance counts for so much more than nutrition in the buying habits of most consumers (whether shopping at supermarkets or farmers' markets) and how it has been a very long time since there were any public service announcements about food waste (we watch popular 1940s-50s actor Jack Carson make a Don't-Waste-Food plea during World War II).

And yes, we also watch as our couple takes to dumpster-diving to find food to keep them going over those six months. What they find is as eye-opening as all else. I think it was Jen (or maybe Grant) who tells us, "If you could see the quality of the food we find, we've been eating pretty well!" The problems with landfills and waste, how food scraps can make for a productive business (pigs love 'em!), what sell-by dates really mean, and a special kind of grocery store and how it serves its specific public (the fellow shown below is a proud worker in that store) -- all of this and more is included in a documentary that rarely loses momentum nor importance as it gets its message out.

Best of all are the many ways the movie shows us how we, too, can make a difference via our own "food" behavior: using what's in our refrigerators rather than eventually tossing it all out, shopping more sensibly, and choosing those not-so-pretty fruits and veggies that most consumers have already bypassed in their shopping.

From Bullfrog Films, distributed here in the USA by Icarus Home Video and available to view in two formats on the disc -- the 73-minute theatrical version, as well as a 50-minute classroom cut -- Just Eat It hits the street on DVD this coming Tuesday, December 6, for purchase and/or rental.

Friday, December 2, 2016

HOWARD'S END on Blu-ray: the 25th anniversary of a genuine and enduring classic

"Only connect" -- as in, That's what we must do: simply connect with each other -- has become one of the prime themes associated with the famous British author E.M. Forster. His novel, Howard's End, was the book in which that phrase first appeared, I believe, and if the 1992 movie version of HOWARD'S END (releasing to Blu-ray this coming week via the Cohen Film Collection) managed to leave the famous phrase out of the film literally, Forster's plea (maybe command) remains present in every way imaginable -- intellectually, philosophically, visually, artfully -- throughout this splendid movie. TrustMovies loved the film at the time of its initial theatrical release, and he appreciates it even more viewing it this second time around -- having gone from middle age to old age and a perhaps more thoughtful stance.

What the film's director, James Ivory (shown at right), producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have accomplished is to telescope the novel into filmic form without losing too much of its complexity while keeping those much vaunted connections -- between people and classes -- ever at the ready in ways large and small, obvious and not so. They have also, via their wonderful selection of actors, brought to rich life all these hugely constrained but also minutely detailed and highly complex characters.

Chief among these are the members of two families: the well-off but not wealthy Schlegels (two sisters, a brother, and an aging aunt) and the very rich Wilcoxes, a husband and wife and their several children and grandchildren. The two are connected by what at first appears to be a love match (soon aborted) and then a kind of deep and surprising friendship between the sickly Ruth Wilcox (the Oscar-nominated Vanessa Redgrave, above) and the elder sister Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson, below, who won a Best Actress "Oscar" for this role).

Their friendship leads to an unusual real estate transaction, a family's disregarding their dying mother's wish, and beyond this to love, commitment and revelations of past misdeeds -- all of which bring to light Forster's admonition but in ways that prove this connecting to be vastly more complicated than simple. This is what gives both the novel and the film their marvelous sense of encompassing life that spans age and class, gender and behavior with equal acuity and a kind of non-judgmental understanding of human need.

Other major roles are played by Anthony Hopkins (above), as the Wilcox paterfamilias; James Wilby as his thoughtless, entitled son; and especially Samuel West (below, left, with Helena Bonham Carter, riled and radiant as the younger Schlegel sister) in the pivotal role of Leonard Bast, surely one of Forster's most poignant characters -- a man who strives mightily against class force and his own servile nature to succeed in ways material and spiritual that he himself can barely imagine.

There is such deeply buried emotion roiling throughout the story, bubbling to the surface only often enough to carry us along, that the result you may feel post-viewing is something akin to marvel and near-shock as to how very much has been accomplished in terms of story, character and theme within a mere two hours and 22 minutes.

One of Ivory's great strengths as a filmmaker has always been his attention to detail without ever pushing it on us in any "Oooh, look at this!" manner. His film is spectacularly beautiful, but in a kind of "Well, there it is" style in which beauty, sadness, humor, character, performance and theme all blend seamlessly. (If you bypassed, due to the rather stupid critical drubbing it received upon its 2010 theatrical release, the man's most recent film -- a rich and wonderful concoction titled The City of Your Final Destination -- do try to grab a viewing. I hope Cohen eventually gives this one the 4K treatment, too.)

Ivory's oeuvre is so much better and more important that many of our critics have let on over the years -- often lumping the man in with the Masterpiece Theater ilk -- that the Cohen Film Collection's restorations in its ongoing Merchant Ivory Library should prove a gift beyond measure for film buffs worldwide. Meanwhile, Howard's End, after a limited, nationwide theatrical re-release, hits the street on DVD and Blu-ray this coming Tuesday, December 6, for sale and/or rental. In this new, two-disc set, there are plenty of fine Bonus Features, as well, that should keep you busy for extra hours. These include a Collector's Booklet with essays and stills; new interviews with director and cast; Behind-the-Scenes featurettes and documentaries; a 2016 On-Stage Q&A; the original theatrical trailer and the 2016 re-release trailer; and a new audio commentary track.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Talk-back to an Oscar winner: Keiko Yagi's doc, BEHIND THE COVE, opens in Los Angeles

A "whale" of a tale that, unfortunately, should have been about dolphins instead -- if only the movie-maker here, a certain young woman named Keiko Yagi, had even a remote clue as to what she was doing -- BEHIND THE COVE supposedly sets out to get at the truth behind the Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove, which, according to just about all the folk interviewed in this film, is a lie. And why is it a lie? Mostly because one of the Japanese gentlemen interviewed in The Cove was said to have been fired, but, lo, it indeed appears that he is still working at his job. Wow. That's some major undercover work, Ms Yagi!

The filmmaker of this embarrassing endeavor, shown at left, makes her exposé all about whaling. But The Cove was all about dolphin slaughter. Sure, there's a connection between the two, but Yagi doesn't bother to make much of it in her documentary, which is rambling, all-over-the-place, and will have you consistently asking, why-in-hell-is-she-showing us-these-boring-and-unimportant-shots (as below)?  In fact, she practically leaves dolphins out of her film altogether. Did she not actually even bother to see The Cove?  Sure, there are major cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan, but was it that impossible for Yagi to address the actual issues raised by The Cove?

There is an increasingly anti-American slant to Yagi's movie, which comes to its conclusion by showing us the havoc wreaked upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki by America's use of the Atomic bombs. She'll get no argument from me as to America's horrific misuse of its power, back then, as ever. (Iraq, anyone?) But what major power, east or west, does not misuse its strength to gain further power?

Yes, America has helped level on Japan heavy-duty sanctions against the latter's whaling industry, and Yagi rightly shows how Japan's history and whaling have been joined at the hip for centuries. This is indeed unfair, but it has little to do with the veracity of The Cove. (Nor does the fact that the U.S. has persecuted filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin -- but, yes, we are told that, here, too.) Paranoia, conspiracy and hypocrisy reign, probably with some good reason. But they do not provide much help for Yagi's case.

The problem here is that this young filmmaker is utterly sloppy about everything from organization to statistics to subtitling. Charts that we are shown appear to contradict what we are simultaneously being told, and the subtitles have either been very poorly translated (or maybe just atrociously proofread). And while you may come away from this movie feeling that, yes, the Japanese ought to be able to eat their whale meat -- just as U.S. citizens eat their pork, chicken and beef --  you will not be convinced that The Cove was in any way wrong regarding its view of the dolphin slaughter in that Japanese seaside city.

After opening in New York City last week (to only one review -- a dreadful one, too -- in the Village Voice),  Beyond The Cove opens in Los Angeles tomorrow, Friday, December 2, for a week's run at Laemmle's Music Hall 3.  Trust Movies is all for considering alternate viewpoints to conventional wisdom. But this "alternate" is one of the worst and least professional documentaries I've seen in years. In the press release, it is noted that Ms Yagi is often told that she doesn't look and think like a Japanese. I would add that she doesn't think like an authentic filmmaker, either.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

SiREN: the nifty new horror/thriller from Gregg Biship and David Bruckner

Stealing (or maybe homaging) from all sorts of earlier efforts in the horror genre -- most noticeably in the lead creature's special effects via Vincenzo Natali's Splice -- the new monster/horror/ Satanist/boys-behaving-badly movie, SiREN (and, yes, that lower case "i" is intentional) turns out to be a very nice example of what can be done in the fantasy genre when you couple a low budget to some free-wheeling and creative minds. We may have seen all these various pieces previously, but the manner in which screenwriter David Bruckner and director Gregg Bishop have assembled them works like gangbusters.

Misters Bishop, shown at left, and Bruckner hand us two very different situations/ scenarios -- the Satanic calling-up of some sort of evil creature (first seen as a frightening little girl, and then as a sexy, scary adult) and the bachelor party of a nice young man (Chase Williamson, below) about to be married to a nice young woman -- and then jam the two together into a fast-paced, frightening 83 minutes in which the now grown SiREN of the title sets her sights on that hunky young man, making his and his mates' lives more than a little miserable in the process.

If that were all, it would be plenty, but the movie offers some other nice treats (well, treats for fans of horror films, at least): subsidiary characters imagined with more than the usual, run-of-the-mill motives and visuals. First there is a fellow named Mr. Nyx, played by Justin Welborn, below, who seems to best understand what is going on here and also to be able to control it. Then there is Nyx's assistant, Ash, played with sly relish by Brittany S. Hall, a looker in a blue wig. (What we get when that wig is removed proves one of the more creative special effects.)

The bachelor party bros are also well cast and characterized, with each registering swiftly and strongly in his role. (That's Michael Aaron Milligan, below, as our hero's extremely stupid-but-caring brother.)

SiREN's special effects, in fact, are surprisingly good, given the film's relatively low budget. These are not offered non-stop -- as in so many of our current Marvel (and other) blockbuster schlock  -- but are dished out quite selectively. They are also well-chosen, often surprising, and done with imagination and skill.

In the title role is an actress -- Hannah Fierman (above and below) -- whom I first saw in the segment of the horror anthology, V/H/S, from which the current film has been expanded. That short segment was impressive, all right, and the full-length movie that has resulted from it is, too. (This is not a case, as often happens, of an expansion outstaying its welcome.) Ms Fierman is as impressive here as she was in short form: weird and weirdly beautiful, she'll sweep you off your feet, just as she does, quite literally, our hero.

For a film that takes you places you've already been, SiREN manages this with unusual flair and even some surprise. Its fast pace seldom lessens, right up to the climax that, while it paves the way for a sequel, offers a perfectly fine and fixating finale all its own.

From Chiller Films, the movie opens in New York (at the Cinema Village) and Los Angeles (and the Arena Cinelounge) this Friday, December 2. For anyone not located in these two cultural capitals, SiREN will hit VOD, DVD and Digital HD this coming Tuesday, December 6th. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

China laid bare (once again) in Johnny Ma's stinging do-the-right-thing movie, OLD STONE

Making the correct choice -- as best you can determine, at least -- is given quite the workout in a new Chinese-Canadian movie that starts off like a heavy-duty social-justice melodrama before turning into a very weird kind of revenge (against society) quasi-thriller. That OLD STONE, written and directed by first-timer Johnny Ma (shown below), works as well as it does is due in large part to the quietly riveting performance from its lead actor, Chen Gang (shown on poster, left, and further below), who brings such self-effacing honesty and troubling kindness to his role of protagonist, that he will keep you hooked through some very odd twists and turns, a little sentimentality and a full-out character descent into... well, you'll see.

Mr. Ma, born in China but raised from age ten in Canada, offers up past, present, and even a little future in his film, which tells its story of enormous social injustice via his leading character: a not especially smart but essentially decent and honorable taxi driver involved in a traffic accident that sends a young motorcyclist to the hospital and our protagonist into the hell-on-earth that is apparently Chinese society today. Those, like myself, unfamiliar with the ins and out of China's health care, policing and insurance systems, will have to take what Ma dishes out as gospel. Given what we, along with our hero, experience here, this is not difficult to do.

Initially, you may imagine that the movie is something akin to the recent Mexican melodrama that indicted that country's horrid health-care/insurance system, A Monster With A Thousand Heads. But, no: it lacks that film's momentum, swift pacing and single-mindedness. Instead Ma goes a bit too heavily for "art," opening with and returning time and again to a view of a forest and its rolling trees.

We learn of the accident (above), along with what led up to this, in small doses, spending time with our taxi driver, his family, his boss, the police, and the hospital, not to mention the comatose victim and his family (the latter via cell phone), and the drunk skunk who actually caused the accident. All of this is woven pretty well into the unfurling scenario, with most of the puzzle pieces fitting together by the time we reach the finale.

Most effective as an indictment of a society that seems every bit as venal, uncaring and incompetent as our hero is caring and kind, the movie actually misses its mark as strong drama mostly by trying a little too hard for the artsy and/or noirish.

But Old Stone is worth seeing as a first step in what might be a productive career for the filmmaker, and especially for the award-calibre performance from the terrific Mr. Chen.

From Zeitgeist Films, in Mandarin with English subtitles, and running a short 81 minutes, the movie opens in New York (at the IFC Center) tomorrow, Wednesday, November 30; in Seattle (at the Grand Illusion Cinema) on December 2; and Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Ahrya Fine Arts) on December 9. For a look at all the dozen currently-scheduled playdates -- with theaters and cities included -- simply click  here  and then scroll down.