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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

  1. #16
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    Jul 2002
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    PARASITE (Bong Joon-ho 2019)

    BONG JOON-HO: PARASITE 기생충 (Gisaengchung) (2019)


    Crime thriller as social commentary? Maybe not.

    I've reviewed Bong's 2006 The Host ("a monster movie with a populist heart and political overtones that's great fun to watch") and his 2009 Mother which I commented had "too many surprises." (I also reviewed his 2013 Snowpiercer.) Nothing is different here except this seems to be being taken more seriously as social commentary, though it's primarily an elaborately plotted and cunningly realized violent triller, as well a monster movie where the monsters are human. It's also marred by being over long and over-plotted, making its high praise seem a bit excessive.

    This new film, Bong's first in a while made at home and playing with national social issues, is about a deceitful poor family that infiltrates a rich one. It won the top award at Cannes in May 2019, just a year after the Japanese Koreeda's (more subtle and more humanistic) Palm winner about the related theme of a crooked poor family. Parasite has led to different comparisons, such as Losey's The Servant and Pasolini's Theorem. In accepting the prize, Bong himself gave a nod to Hitchcock and Chabrol. Parasite has met with nearly universal acclaim, though some critics feel it is longer and more complicated than necessary and crude in its social commentary, if its contrasting families really adds up to that. The film is brilliantly done and exquisitely entertaining half the way. Then it runs on too long and acquires an unwieldiness that makes it surprisingly flawed for a film so heaped with praise.

    It's strange to compare Parasite with Losey's The Servant, in which Dick Bogarde and James Fox deliver immensely rich performances. Losey's film is a thrillingly slow-burn, subtle depiction of class interpenetration, really a psychological study that works with class, not a pointed statement about class itself. It's impossible to speak of The Servant and Parasite in the same breath.

    In Parasite one can't help but enjoy the ultra-rich family's museum-piece modernist house, the score, and the way the actors are handled, but one keeps coming back to the fact that as Steven Dalton simply puts it in his Cannes Hollywood Reporter review, Parasite is "cumbersomely plotted" and "heavy-handed in its social commentary." Yet I had to go to that extremist and contrarian Armond White in National Review for a real voice of dissent. I don't agree with White's politics or his belief that Stephen Chow is a master filmmaker, but I do sympathize with being out-of-tune, like him, with all the praise of Boon's new film.

    The contrast between the poor and rich family is blunt indeed, but the posh Park family doesn't seem unsubtly depicted: they're absurdly overprivileged, but don't come off as bad people. Note the con-artist Kim family's acknowledgement of this, and the mother's claim that being rich allows you to be nice, that money is like an iron that smooths out the wrinkles. This doesn't seem to be about that, mainly. It's an ingeniously twisted story of a dangerous game, and a very wicked one. Planting panties in the car to mark the chauffeur as a sexual miscreant and get him fired: not nice. Stimulating the existing housekeeper's allergy and then claiming she has TB so she'll be asked to leave: dirty pool. Not to mention before that, bringing in the sister as somebody else's highly trained art therapist relative, when all the documents are forged and the "expertise" is cribbed off the internet: standard con artistry.

    The point is that the whole Kim family makes its way into the Park family's employ and intimate lives, but it is essential that they conceal that they are in any way related to each other. What Bong and his co-writer Jin Won Han are after is the depiction of a dangerous con game, motivated by poverty and greed, that titillates us with the growing risk of exposure. The film's scene-setting of the house and family is exquisite. The extraordinary house is allowed to do most of the talking. The rich family and the housekeeper are sketched in with a few deft stokes. One's only problem is first, the notion that this embodies socioeconomic commentary, and second, the overreach of the way the situation is played out, with one unnecessary coda after another till every possibility is exhausted. This is watchable and entertaining (till it's not), but it's not the stuff of a top award.

    Parasite 기생충 (Gisaengchung), 132 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, winning the Palme d'Or best picture award. Twenty-eight other festivals followed as listed on IMDb, including New York, for which it was screened (at IFC Center Oct. 11, 2019) for the present review. Current Metascore 95%. It has opened in various countries including France, where the AlloCiné press rating soared to 4.8.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2020 at 12:49 AM.

  2. #17
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    MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (Edward Norton 2019)



    Edward Norton's passion project complicates the Jonathan Lethem novel

    The NYFF Closing Night film is the premiere of Edwards Norton's adaptation, a triumph over many creative obstacles through a nine-year development time, of Jonathan Lethem's 1999 eponymous novel. It concerns Lionel Essrog (played by Norton), a man with Tourette's Syndrome who gets entangled in a police investigation using the obsessive and retentive mind that comes with his condition to solve the mystery. Much of the film, especially the first half, is dominated by Lionel's jerky motions and odd repetitive outbursts, for which he continually apologizes. Strange hero, but Lethem's creation. To go with the novel's evocation of Maltese Falcon style noir flavor, Norton has recast it from modern times to the Fifties.

    Leading cast members, besides Norton himself, are Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In his recasting of the novel, as Peter Debruge explains in his Variety review, Norton makes as much use of Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about the manipulative city planner Robert Moses, a "visionary" insensitive to minorities and the poor, as of Lethem's book. Alec Baldwn's "Moses Randolph" role represents the film's Robert Moses character, who is added into the world of the original novel.

    Some of the plot line may become obscure in the alternating sources of the film. But clearly Lionel Essrog, whose nervous sensibility hovers over things in Norton's voiceover, is a handicapped man with an extra ability who's one of four orphans from Saint Vincent's Orphanage in Brooklyn saved by Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), who runs a detective agency. When Minna is offed by the Mob in the opening minutes of the movie, Lionel goes chasing. Then he learns city bosses had a hand, and want to repress his efforts.

    Gugu Mbatha-Raw's character, Laura Rose, who becomes a kind of love interest for Lionel Essrog, and likewise willem Dafoe's, Paul Randolph, Moses' brother and opponent, are additional key characters in the film not in the Johathan Lethem book. The cinematography is by the Mike Leigh regular (who produced the exquisite Turner), Dick Pope. He provides a lush, classic look.

    Viewers will have to decide if this mixture of novel, non-fiction book and period recasting works for them or not. For many the problem is inherent in the Lethem novel, that it's a detective story where, as the original Times reviewer Albert Mobilio said, "solving the crime is beside the point." Certainly Norton has created a rich mixture, and this is a "labour of love," "as loving as it is laborious, maybe," is how the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw put it, writing (generally quite favorably) from Toronto. In her intro piece for the first part of the New York Film Festival for the Times Manohla Dargis linked it with the difficult Albert Serra'S Liberté with a one-word reaction: "oof," though she complemented these two as "choices rather than just opportunistically checked boxes." Motherless Brooklyn has many reasons for wanting to be in the New York Film Festival, and for the honor of Closing Night Film, notably the personal passion, but also the persistent rootedness in New York itself through these permutations.

    Motherless Brooklyn, 144 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 30, 2019, showing at eight other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, Mill Valley, and New York, where it was screened at the NYFF OCT. 11, 2019 as the Closing Night film. It opens theatrically in the US Nov. 1, 2019. Current Metascore 62%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2019 at 04:38 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

    [Found also in Filmleaf's Festival Coverage section for the 2019 NYFF]



    Old song

    From Martin Scorsese, who is in his late seventies, comes a major feature that is an old man's film. It's told by an old man, about old men, with old actors digitized (indifferently) to look like and play their younger selves as well. It's logical that The Irishman, about Teamsters loyalist and mob hit man Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who became the bodyguard and then (as he tells it) the assassin of Union kingpin Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) should have been chosen as Opening Night Film of the New York Film Festival. Scorsese is very New York, even if the film is set in Detroit. He is also a good friend of Film at Lincoln Center. And a great American director with an impressive body of work behind him.

    To be honest, I am not a fan of Scorsese's feature films. I do not like them. They are unpleasant, humorless, laborious and cold. I admire his responsible passion for cinema and incestuous knowledge of it. I do like his documentaries. From Fran Lebowitz's talk about the one he made about her, I understand what a meticulous, obsessive craftsman he is in all his work. He also does have a sense of humor. See how he enjoys Fran's New York wit in Public Speaking. And there is much deadpan humor in The Irishman at the expense of the dimwitted, uncultured gangsters it depicts. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian's script based on Charles Brandt's book about Sheeran concocts numerous droll deadpan exchanges. It's a treat belatedly to see De Niro and Pacino acting together for the first time in extended scenes.

    The Irishman is finely crafted and full of ideas and inspires many thoughts. But I found it monotonous and overlong - and frankly overrated. American film critics are loyal. Scorsese is an icon, and they feel obligated, I must assume, to worship it. He has made a big new film in his classic gangster vein, so it must be great. The Metascore, 94%, nonetheless is an astonishment. Review aggregating is not a science, but the makers of these scores seem to have tipped the scales. At least I hope more critics have found fault with The Irishman than that. They assign 80% ratings to some reviews that find serious fault, and supply only one negative one (Austin Chronicle, Richard Whittaker). Of course Armond White trashes the movie magnificently in National Review ("Déjà Vu Gangsterism"), but that's outside the mainstream mediocre media pale.

    Other Scorsese stars join De Niro and Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel. This is a movie of old, ugly men. Even in meticulously staged crowd scenes, there is not one young or handsome face. Women are not a factor, not remotely featured as in Jonathan Demme's delightful Married to the Mob. There are two wives often seen, in the middle distance, made up and coiffed to the kitsch nines, in expensive pants suits, taking a cigarette break on car trips - it's a thing. But they don't come forward as characters. Note also that out of loyalty to his regulars, Scorsese uses an Italo-American actor to play an Irish-American. There's a far-fetched explanation of Frank's knowledge of Italian, but his Irishness doesn't emerge - just another indication of how monochromatic this movie is.

    It's a movie though, ready to serve a loyal audience with ritual storytelling and violence, providing pleasures in its $140 million worth of production values in period feel, costumes, and snazzy old cars (though I still long for a period movie whose vehicles aren't all intact and shiny). This is not just a remake. Its very relentlessness in showing Frank's steady increments of slow progress up the second-tier Teamsters and mafia outsider functionary ladders is something new. But it reflects Scorsese's old worship of toughs and wise guys and seeming admiration for their violence.

    I balk at Scorsese's representing union goons and gangsters as somehow heroic and tragic. Metacritic's only critic of the film, Richard Whittiker of the Austen Chronicle, seems alone in recognizing that this is not inevitable. He points out that while not "lionizing" mobsters, Scorsese still "romanticizes" them as "flawed yet still glamorous, undone by their own hubris." Whittiker - apparently alone in this - compares this indulgent touch with how the mafia is shown in "the Italian poliziotteschi," Italian Years of Lead gang films that showed them as "boors, bullies, and murderers, rather than genteel gentlemen who must occasionally get their hands dirty and do so oh-so-begrudgingly." Whittiker calls Scorsese's appeal to us to feel Sheeran's "angst" when he's being flown in to kill "his supposed friend" (Hoffa) "a demand too far."

    All this reminded me of a richer 2019 New York Film Festival mafia experience, Marco Bellocchio's The Traitor/Il traditore, the epic, multi-continent story of Tommaso Buscetta, the first big Italian mafia figure who chose to turn state's witness. This is a gangster tale that has perspective, both morally and historically. And I was impressed that Pierfrancesco Favino, the star of the film, who gives a career-best performance as Buscetta, strongly urged us both before and after the NYFF public screening to bear in mind that these mafiosi are small, evil, stupid men. Coppola doesn't see that, but he made a glorious American gangster epic with range and perspective. In another format, so did David Chase om the 2000-2007 HBO epic, "The Sopranos." Scprsese has not done so. Monotonously, and at overblown length, he has once again depicted Italo-Americans as gangsters, and (this time) unions as gangs of thugs.

    The Irishman, 209 mins,. debuted at New York as Opening Night Film; 15 other international festivals, US theatrical release Nov. 1, wide release in many countries online by Netflix Nov. 27. Metascore 94%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2019 at 07:49 PM.

  4. #19
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    BACURAU (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles 2019)



    Not just another Cannes mistake?

    This is a bold film for an arthouse filmmaker to produce, and it has moments of rawness and unpredictability that are admirable. But it seems at first hand to be possibly a misstep both for the previously much subtler chronicler of social and political unease as seen in the 2011 Neighboring Sopunds and 2016 Aquarius, Kleber Mendonça Filho, and for Cannes, which may have awarded novelty rather than mastery in giving it half of the 2019 Jury Prize. It's a movie that excites and then delivers a series of scenes of growing disappointment and repugnance. But I'm not saying it won't surprise and awe you.

    Let's begin with where we are, which is the Brazilian boonies. Bacurau was filmed in the village of Barra in the municipality of Parelhas and in the rural area of the municipality of Acari, at the Sertão do Seridó region, in Rio Grande do Norte. Mendonça Filho shares credit this time with his regular production designer Juliano Dornelles. (They both came originally from this general region, is one reason.) The Wikipedia article introduces it as a "Brazilian weird western film" and its rural shootout, its rush of horses, its showdowns, and its truckload of coffins may indeed befit that peculiar genre.

    How are we to take the action? In his Hollywood Reporter review, Stephen Dalton surprises me by asserting that this third narrative feature "strikes a lighter tone" than the first two and combines "sunny small-town comedy with a fable-like plot" along with "a sprinkle of magic realism." This seems an absurdly watered down description, but the film is many things to many people because it embodies many things. In an interview with Emily Buder, Mendoça Filho himself describes it as a mix of "spaghetti Western, '70's sci-fi, social realist drama, and political satire."

    The film feels real enough to be horrifying, but it enters risky sci-fi horror territory with its futuristic human hunting game topic, which has been mostly an area for schlock. (See a list of ten, with the 1932 Most Dangerous Game given as the trailblazer.) However, we have to acknowledge that Mendonca Filho is smart enough to know all this and may want to use the schlock format for his own sophisticated purpose. But despite Mike D'Angelo's conclusion on Letterboxd that the film may "require a second viewing following extensive reading" due to its rootedness in Brazilian politics, the focus on American imperialists and brutal outside exploiters from the extreme right isn't all that hard to grasp.

    Bacurau starts off as if it means to be an entertainment, with conventional opening credits and a pleasant pop song celebrating Brazil, but that is surely ironic. A big water truck rides in rough, arriving with three bullet holes spewing agua that its driver hasn't noticed. (The road was bumpy.) There is a stupid, corrupt politician, mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), who is complicit in robbing local areas of their water supply and who gets a final comeuppance. The focus is on Bacurau, a little semi-abandoned town in the north whose 94-year-old matriarch Carmelita dies and gets a funeral observation in which the whole town participates, though apart the ceremony's strange magic realist aspects Sonia Braga, as a local doctor called Domingas, stages a loud scene because she insists that the deceased woman was evil. Then, with some, including Carmelita's granddaughter Teresa (Barbara Colen), returned to town from elsewhere, along with the handsome Pacote (Tomaso Aquinas) and a useful psychotic local killer and protector of water rights called Lunga (Silvero Pereira), hostile outsiders arrive, though as yet unseen. Their forerunners are a colorfully costumed Brazilian couple in clownish spandex suits on dustrider motorcycles who come through the town. When they're gone, it's discovered seven people have been shot.

    They were an advance crew for a gang of mostly American white people headed by Michael (Udo Kier), whose awkward, combative, and finally murderous conference we visit. This is a bad scene in more ways than one: it's not only sinister and racist, but clumsy, destroying the air of menace and unpredictability maintained in the depiction of Bacurau scenes. But we learn the cell phone coverage of the town has been blocked, it is somehow not included on maps, and communications between northern and southern Brazil are temporarily suspended, so the setting is perfect for this ugly group to do what they've come for, kill locals for sport using collectible automatic weapons. Overhead there is a flying-saucer-shaped drone rumbling in English. How it functions isn't quite clear, but symbolically it refers to American manipulation from higher up. The way the rural area is being choked off requires no mention of Brazil's new right wing strong man Jair Bolsonaro and the Amazonian rain forest.

    "They're not going to kill a kid," I said as a group of local children gather, the most normal, best dressed Bacurauans on screen so far, and play a game of dare as night falls to tease us, one by one creeping as far as they can into the dark. But sure enough, a kid gets shot. At least even the bad guys agree this was foul play. And the bad guys get theirs, just as in a good Western. But after a while, the action seems almost too symbolically satisfying - though this is achieved with good staging and classic visual flair through zooms, split diopter effects, Cinemascope, and other old fashioned techniques.

    I'm not the only one finding Bacurau intriguing yet fearing that it winds up being confused and all over the place. It would work much better if it were dramatically tighter. Peter DeBruge in Variety notes that the filmakers "haven’t figured out how to create that hair-bristling anticipation of imminent violence that comes so naturally to someone like Quentin Tarantino." Mere vague unexpectedness isn't scary, and all the danger and killing aren't wielded as effectively as they should be to hold our attention and manipulate our emotions.

    Bacurau, 131 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, where it tied for the Jury Prize with the French film, Ladj Ly's Les misérables. Many other awards and at least 31 other festivals including the NYFF. Metascore 74%. AlloCiné press rating 3.8, with a rare rave from Cahiers du Cinéma. US theatrical distribution by Kino Lorber began Mar. 13, 2020, but due to general theater closings caused by the coronavirus pandemic the company launched a "virtual theatrical exhibition initiative," Kino Marquee, with this film from Mar. 19.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-05-2020 at 12:24 PM.

  5. #20
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    ZOMBI CHILD (Bertrand Bonello 2019)



    Voodoo comes to Paris

    If you said Betrand Bonello's films are beautiful, sexy, and provocative you would not be wrong. This new, officially fifth feature (I've still not seen his first one, the 2008 On War), has those elements. Its imagery, full of deep contrasts, can only be described as lush. Its intertwined narrative is puzzling as well.

    We're taken right away to Haiti and plunged into the world of voodoo and zombies. Ground powder from the cut-up body of a blowfish is dropped, unbeknownst to him, into a man's shoes. Walking in them, he soon falters and falls. Later, he's aroused from death to the half-alive state of a zombie - and pushed into a numb, helpless labor in the hell of a a sugar cane field with other victims of the same cruel enchantment. In time however something arouses him to enough life to escape.

    Some of the Haitian sequences center around a moonlit cemetery whose large tombs seem airy and haunted and astonishingly grand for what we know as the poorest country in the hemisphere.

    From the thumping, vibrant ceremonies of Haitian voodoo (Bonello's command of music is always fresh and astonishing as his images are lush and beautiful) we're rushed to the grandest private boarding school you've ever seen, housed in vast stone government buildings. This noble domaine was established by Napoleon Bonaparte on the edge of Paris, in Saint Denis, for the education of children of recipients of the Legion of Honor. It really exists, and attendance there is still on an honorary basis.

    Zombi Child oscillates between girls in this very posh Parisian school and people in Haiti. But these are not wholly separate places. A story about a Haitian grandfather (the zombie victim, granted a second life) and his descendants links the two strains. It turns out one of those descendants, Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat), is a new student at the school. A white schoolgirl, Fanny (the dreamy Louise Labeque), who's Mélissa's friend and sponsors her for membership in a sorority, while increasingly possessed by a perhaps imaginary love, also bridges the gap. For the sorority admission Mélissa confesses the family secret of a zombi and voodoo knowledge in her background.

    Thierry Méranger of Cahiers du Cinéma calls this screenplay "eminently Bonellian in its double orientation," its "interplay of echoes" between "radically different" worlds designed to "stimulate the spectator's reflection." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times bluntly declares that it's meant to "interrogate the bitter legacy of French colonialism."

    But how so? And if so, this could be a tricky proposition. On NPR Andrew Lapin was partly admiring of how "cerebral and slippery" the film is, but suggests that since voodoo and zombies are all most white people "already know" about Haitian culture, a director coming from Haiti's former colonizing nation (France) must do "a lot of legwork to use these elements successfully in a "fable" where "the real horror is colonialism." The posh school comes from Napoleon, who coopted the French revolution, and class scenes include a history professor lecturing on this and how "liberalism obscures liberty."

    I'm more inclined to agree with Glenn Kenny's more delicately worded praise in his short New York Times review of the film where he asserts that the movie’s inconclusiveness is the source of its appeal. Zombi Child, he says, is fueled by insinuation and fascination. The fascination, the potent power, of the occult, that's what Haiti has that the first wold lacks.

    One moment made me authentically jump, but Bonello isn't offering a conventional horror movie. He's more interested in making his hints of voodoo's power and attraction, even for the white lovelorn schoolgirl, seem as convincing as his voodoo ceremonies, both abroad and back in Haiti, feel thoroughly attractive, or scary, and real. These are some of the best voodoo scenes in a movie. This still may seem like a concoction to you. Its enchantments were more those of the luxuriant imagery, the flowing camerawork, the delicious use of moon- and candle-light, the beautiful people, of whatever color. This is world-class filmmaking even if it's not Bonello's best work.

    Bonello stages things, gets his actors to live them completely, then steps back and lets it happen. Glenn Kenny says his "hallmark" is his "dreamy detachment." My first look at that was the 2011 House of Tolerence (L'Apollonide - mémoires de la maison close), which I saw in Paris, a languorous immersion in a turn-of-the-century Parisian brothel, intoxicating, sexy, slightly repugnant. Next came his most ambitious project, Saint Laurent(2014), focused on a very druggy period in the designer's career and a final moment of decline. He has said this became a kind of matching panel for Apollonide. (You'll find that in an excellent long Q&A after the NYFF screening.) Saint Laurent's "forbidden" (unsanctioned) picture of the fashion house is as intoxicating, vibrant, and cloying as the maison close, with its opium, champagne, disfigurement and syphilis. No one can say Gaspard Ulliel wasn't totally immersed in his performance. Nocturama (2016) takes a group of wild young people who stage a terrorist act in Paris, who seem to run aground in a posh department store at the end, Bonello again getting intense action going and then seeming to leave it to its own devices, foundering. Those who saw the result as "shallow cynicism" (like A.O. Scott) missed how exciting and powerful it was. (Mike D'Angelo didn't.)

    Zombi Child is exciting at times too. But despite its gorgeous imagery and sound, its back and forth dialectic seems more artificial and calculating than Bonello's previous films.

    Zombi Child, mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2019, included in 13 other international festivals, including Toronto and New York. It released theatrically in France Jun. 12, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.7m 75%) and in the US Jan. 24, 2020 (Metascore 75%). Now available in "virtual theater" through Film Movement (Mar. 23-May 1, 2020), which benefits the theater of your choice.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2020 at 07:36 PM.

  6. #21
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    WASP NETWORK (Olivier Assayas 2019)



    Spies nearby

    The is a movie about the Cuban spies sent to Miami to combat anti-Castro Cuban-American groups, and their capture. They are part of what the Cubans called La Red Avispa (The Wasp Network). The screenplay is based on the book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Fernando Morais, and it's mainly from the Wasp, Cuban point of view, not the FBI point of view. Unlike the disastrous Seberg, no time is spent looking over the shoulders of G-men, nor will this story give any pleasure to right wing Miami Cubans. But it won't delight leftists much either, or champions of the Cuban Five. The issues of why one might leave Cuba and why one might choose not to are treated only superficially. There's no analysis of US behavior toward Cuba since the revolution.

    On the plus side, the film is made in an impeccable, clear style (with one big qualification: see below) and there's an excellent cast with as leads Edgar Ramirez (of the director's riveting miniseries Carlos), Penelope Cruz (Almodóvar's muse), Walter Moura (Escobar in the Netflix series "Narcos"), Ana de Armas (an up-and-comer who's actually Cuban but lives in Hollywood now), and Gael García Bernal (he of course is Mexican, Moura is Brazilian originally, and Ramirez is Venezuelan). They're all terrific, and other cast members shine. Even a baby is so amazing I thought she must be the actress' real baby.

    Nothing really makes sense for the first hour. We don't get the whole picture, and we never do, really. We focus on René Gonzalez (Édgar Ramirez), a Puerto Rican-born pilot living in Castro’s Cuba and fed up with it, or the brutal embargo against Castro by the US and resulting shortage of essential goods and services, who suddenly steals a little plane and flies it to Miami, leaving behind his wife Olga and young daughter. Olga is deeply shocked and disappointed to learn her husband is a traitor. He has left without a word to her. Born in Chicago, he was already a US citizen and adapts easily, celebrated as an anti-Castro figure.

    We also follow another guy, Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura) who escapes Havana by donning snorkel gear and swimming to Guantanamo, not only a physical challenge but riskier because prison guards almost shoot him dead when he comes out of the water. Roque and Gonzalez are a big contrast. René is modest, content with small earnings, and starts flying for a group that rescues Cuban defectors arriving by water. Juan Pablo immediately woos and marries the beautiful Ana Marguerita Martinez (Ana de Armas) and, as revealed by an $8,000 Rolex, is earning big bucks but won't tell Ana how. This was the first time I'd seen Wagner Moura, an impressively sly actor who as Glenn Kenny says, "can shift from boyish to sinister in the space of a single frame" - and that's not the half of it.

    This is interesting enough to keep us occupied but it's not till an hour into the movie, with a flashback to four years earlier focused on Cuban Gerardo Hernandez (Garcia Bernal) that we start to understand something of what is going on. We learn about the CANF and Luis Posada Carriles (Tony Plana), and a young man's single-handed effort to plant enough bombs to undermine the entire Cuban tourist business. This late-arriving exposition for me had a deflating and confounding effect. There were still many good scenes to follow. Unfortunately despite them, and the good acting, there is so much exposition it's hard to get close to any of the individual characters or relationships.

    At the moment I'm an enthusiastic follower of the FX series "The Americans." It teaches us that in matters of espionage, it's good to have a firm notion of where the main characters - in that case "Phillip" and "Elizabeth" - place their real, virtually unshakable loyalties, before moving on. Another example of which I'm a longtime fan is the spy novels of John le Carré. You may not be sure who's loyal, but you always know who's working for British Intelligence, even in the latest novel the remarkable le Carré, who at 88, has just produced (Agent Running in the Field - for which he's performed the audio version, and no one does that better). To be too long unclear about these basics in spydom is fatal.

    It's said that Assayas had a lot of trouble making Wasp Network, which has scenes shot in Cuba in it. At least the effort doesn't show. We get a glimpse of Clinton (this happened when he was President) and Fidel, who, in a hushed voice, emphatically, asserts his confidence that the Red Avispa was doing the right thing and that the Americans should see that. Whose side do you take?

    Wasp Network, 123 mins., debuted at Venice and showed at about ten other international festivals including Toronto, New York, London and Rio. It was released on Netflix Jun. 19, 2019, and that applies to many countries (13 listed on IMDb). Metascore 54%
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-15-2020 at 11:53 PM.

  7. #22
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    THE CLIMB (Michael Angelo Covino 2019)



    Virtuoso film about a bad bromance

    A triumphant American toxic bromance comedy, The Climb is studded with chuckles and wows. It understandably won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes last year. The French should have liked it - besides being so good reviewers keep calling it "brilliant," it's dotted throughout with references to France and French culture. It's made up of intricate long takes to delight the cinephile. It revels in the complicated game of making a movie. At 94 minutes, it's admirably succinct. No wonder it was included in other big international festivals. It's fun, but also tailor-made for lovingly close study in film classes. It heralds the start of a distinguished career for Covino and maybe his chief collaborator here, real-life BFF Kyle Marvin, who co-wrote and costars as Kyle, Covino playing Kyle's toxic BFF, beloved yet a sort of unshakable parasite in his up-and-down life.

    Notably, at the beginning and near the end are sequences where Mike announces he's slept with the woman Kyle is about to marry. The first signal and symbolic long sequence (lensed as they all are by deft dp Zach Kuperstein), titled 1 I'M SORRY, unreels in summer on a hilly winding road in the south of France. Mike is leading Kyle on a long bike ride, mostly uphill, while they talk. Indeed, this relationship is an uphill battle. Mike, a cycling enthusiast, is fit. Kyle is overweight and wheezing behind. Kyle is at a disadvantage in other ways. He is about to marry a French woman named Ava (Judith Godrèche), but at a certain moment Mike confesses he has slept with Ava, has been sleeping with her all along. The whole bike ride has been to tell Kyle this, going uphill so Mike is in control, and can coach Kyle on his "cadence." Kyle says "I'll kill you!" but he can't.

    The next long take is at a French hospital: Mike was beaten up by some Frenchmen he insulted during the cycle ride. Ava, now present, beautiful and svelte, talks to Mike, with Kyle wandering around in the background. The sequence is a hint of ones to come, skillfully juggling rooms and people. Ava tells Mike their relationship never mattered, yet when he moves to kiss her, she responds. Kyle sees, and is furious.

    Jump to 2 LET GO and a hilarious cemetery sequence whose humor makes I'M SORRY grow funnier in retrospect. Mike, it appears, has been married to Ava for a while - her wedding to Kyle didn't happen - but she has suddenly died. This time it's the bereaved Mike who loses it, to comic effect; Kyle intervenes to prevent a total fracas. This is the first example of a Covino thing: complicated scenes full of people who the principals ignore, while having a shout-fest or knockdown fight as if the others weren't even there. Transition: cue close harmony a cappella rendition by cemetery workers of "I shall not be moved."

    Maybe Michael-Kyle are a vaudevillian duo à la Beckett, two dominant-submission losers who switch roles while stumbling on. By the next sequence 3 THANKS anyway, role reversal has definitely taken place. Kyle has lost weight and is fit and happy and Michael has become a potbellied alcoholic mess. THANKS announces a full-on Thanksgiving sequence, with a hop forward to Christmas. Both offer excellent opportunities, confidently seized, for virtuoso companion-piece collective scenes. What's come before has been great and satisfyingly accomplished and fun, but is bettered by these Thanksgiving and Christmas scenes, both, again, in long single takes.

    Wouldn't we begin Thanksgiving Day in the basement? Of course we would! Down there, the new winner-Kyle is with his high school girlfriend Marissa (Gayle Rankin) whom his mom Suzi (Talia Balsam), upstairs, doesn't seem to like. Marissa gives Kyle an intensive in saying "NO!" tailored for rejecting mom's control. This goes for dad Jim (George Wendt) too. The "yes" is that Kyle announces he and Marissa are getting married, after the "No" lesson has turned them both on and led to making out. Upstairs, meanwhile ("Is something wrong down there?" asks mom), the movie delights in weaving in an out of holiday disasters, to the turkey here, shortly after to the Christmas tree. In between the camera flows out of the house over into a car where the now alcoholic and overweight Michael sits, in darkness, seamlessly linking the two episodes.

    All that, from bike ride to holiday drunk, happens in the first 30 minutes, perhaps the compactness related to The Climb's development out of a collaborative Marvin-Covino short film. While sometimes the feel of this material is like Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, it's more economical.

    Thus the whole new Mike situation is described in seconds as, in the dark car, he rapidly guzzles a bottle of booze and burps, undresses down to his wife-beater, cleans up with a shapeless pullover and goes to the house for the Christmas party. He's sent for an armful of firewood, which he drops in the basement, pouring, drunk, over faded mementos of his own history as a high school football star with no real family other than Kyle's. Pathetically, he dons an old helmet, then crashes into the upstairs under the Christmas tree, as family and guests gather round.

    Dialogue can be epigrammatic, but scene atmosphere sometimes has the vernacular feel of HBO's "High Maintenance," like the moment where guests admire a TV ad Kyle penned for female Viagra. Kyle was against his mom's inviting Mike. Someone gives Mike a cigarette and lights it for him. No words are spoken, an eloquent declaration of Mike's dubious status here. An exchange between Mike and Suzi: "How are things?" "Great," says Mike. "What's great?" "Peeky Blinders." "what else?" "That's about it."

    Scene shifts are aided by music, like Gary Stewart's honky-tonk dirge "I've got this drinkin' thing/to keep from thinkin' things" over Mike's booze-guzzling in the car, and a dance-like ski-park sequence introducing 4 IT'S BROKE where Mike is back in Kyle's life, causing him to drink more. He's upstairs bouncing naked on the bed, but before he can have great sex with Marissa, he passes out. This is the third big holiday, New Year's Eve. Mike ruins it further downstairs by himself banging on pots and pans to announce midnight. Of course Mike tries to make it with Marissa next day and she eggs him on, saying this won't alienate Kyle from her, but from Michael, and get rid of him.

    5 STOP IT: Now comes a well conceived sequence of Kyle's bachelor party prior to his wedding to Marissa, with a kidnapping, ice fishing, and a near-drowning. Mike is more toxic than ever, yet the BFF relation indelibly survives. This ends with three exotic musicians on the ice, violin, accordion, and guitarist-singer doing a hearty Russian song - transplanted to upstate New York. Another musical transition, this, to a new chapter, 6 GROW UP. This is a francophile cinematic homage and portrait of Mike's loneliness. On the street of a small town, Mike leaves a wistful phone message inviting Kyle to a movie to celebrate his birthday. He enters Quirino's Crandell Cinema, in Chatham, New York, where "a French Film Retrospective" is going on. Outside is a poster for César et Rosalie, a Claude Sautet film about two men competing for the same woman. Mike talks his way in, unable to prove it's his birthday for the free entree because he has no photo ID. There he sits pensive, the camera and light angle showing his face gaunt, pock marks visible. The film isn't César et Rosalie - that was a teaser - but Le grand amour by the more obscure Pierre Étaix.

    This leads to a virtuoso transition when the camera goes up to the screen, seemingly to show the film switched to technicolor: but it is Kyle at the altar with Marissa, for their wedding. Sisters Bianca (Eden Malyn) and Dani (Daniella Covino) come up for readings. (Scholars may comment on their content!) It's a large, modern church with spectacular high stained glass windows. The camera backs up and exits, slipping out the church door showing its name, "Our Lady of Life." Behind, as yet unseen, a car roars up, the brakes screeching. It's Mike, in wedding attire, late. The music playing now is Isabelle Pierre's "Les enfants de l'avenir se feront l'amour à l'infini."

    MIke rushes into the church, down the isle to "object." He has already claimed Marissa isn't good enough for Kyle. As at the cemetery, a violent encounter takes place followed by an intense dialogue with the wedding guests around, a tableau of spectators. After Mike's disturbance of the ceremony, despite Marissa and Kyle's declaring their desire to wed, and Marissa's dramatic, "I'm pregnant! I'm getting married!", the minister refuses to complete the ceremony, saying they must think it over - and come back, after the child is born.

    The next scene shows Mike doing better: he's running a bike shop called Vélo Domestique, which also has an espresso bar. He serves Marissa, but her aim is to get Mike to come in to retrieve her credit card, a pretext to reunite Mike with Kyle. She has reversed now, and wants them together again. This time the camera pan to a car leads to Kyle - playing with his and Marissa's happy baby boy.

    Is this just like life, the back and forth and up and down? But the unique tragicomic twist is how Kyle, the weak, good guy, self destructively cleaves to Mike, the tough admitted asshole. And there is more: a final section with the ambiguous moniker, 7 FINE. I recommend you watch it, and all this remarkable movie.

    Not every minute of The Climb works. The two men's voices are too alike. The contrivances are delightful but so self-conscious they shrivel the emotional impact to a slither of ornamental touches. But it's a special and continual pleasure to savor the glissando takes, the ingenious scene liaisons, the funny-awful twists and turns of Kyle-Mike, the varied musical linking interludes. And the loving French touches, which declare this to be not only raucous nuttiness, highly wrought technique, but no mere Sundance indie special. There are two more French songs to come before it's all over: one Sinatra sang to signal a breakup originally by Gilbert Bécaud and Pierre Delaroe, with a background of Ravel's "Bolero," then, as an envoi, Bécaud with Mac David, "With your eyes you smile hello, gracias addios." Much to think about, much to rewatch and rethink here, much to admire and much to enjoy.

    The Climb, 94 mins., debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard May 2019 and won the Jury Prize. It subsequently showed in 15 international festivals including Munich, Telluride, Toronto, Deauville and Vienna. It was scheduled for release March 20, 2020 but due to the coronavirus outbreak the US release gas been repeatedly delayed, now set for November 13, 2020. Its Metascore is 82%. Released in France July 29, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.6).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-23-2020 at 05:01 PM.

  8. #23
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    Jul 2002
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    MY NAME IS PEDRO (Lillian LaSalale 2017)


    When he was principal of Middle School 391 in the South Bronx and raised the academic performance and the lifestyle tehre, the New York Times heard about him and did a story.

    Lillian LaSalle's award-winning, powerful documentary MY NAME IS PEDRO explores what public education meant to South Bronx Latino maverick educator, Pedro Santana, and what he, in turn, meant to public education.**

    [Filmleaf review coming]

  9. #24
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area




    Magical quest for self-acceptance

    You cannot hate a movie as goodhearted as this one. It is gentle with everyone. Sometimes nature is cruel. So it was in afflicting a sweet boy like Paul (Jaeden Martell of Knives Out and It), who's approaching his thirteenth birthday, with the abnormality called Hypertrichosis. That word is not mentioned here, but thanks to Mark Garbarino the "prosthetics whiz" Martell has been provided with what Peter Debruge in his Variety review calls "a rather fetching face of fur." He also has furry hair all over his body. Unfriendly schoolmates call Paul "dog boy" or "fur ball," and he has no friends. Paul has a simple, working class father (Chris Messina), a garbage collector, who first takes him to a carnival and suggests he take off the head-warmer ski mask he usually wars and stand tall and be proud. It does not work. He is badly taunted and abused by classmates.

    At home Denny, the dad, brings out a new idea: Paul can go to a boarding school for kids who are "different."

    We know that's not what Paul wants because we've been hearing him saying over and over to himself "I'm a regular kid, I'm normal! I'm a regular kid, I'm normal!" He wants to be accepted among ordinary boys and girls. And he wants to know what happened to his mother. There are some things he's always wanted to ask her.

    Paul tries on the school uniform, but runs away in it, having received a present from his mother with an address in Pennsylvania. He gets momentarily waylaid by the slick, untrustworthy carnival master called Mr. Silk (John Turturro) to whom he goes for directions - the first sign that this film has a fairytale lilt to it. Mr. Silk, of course proposes making Paul a freak show wolfboy and the fantasy is shown us.

    Paul runs off, causing a disaster. Mr. Silk pursues him. Paul finds a sort-of-freak for a companion, a singer called Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore), whose mother knows her as "Kevin," and who is trans. (The writer Olivia Dufault is trans). Aristiana takes Paul to a wild bar where he is not noticed. They join up with the eye-patch-wearing Rose (Irish actress Eve Hewson), on the road, where Rose, it turns out, likes to hold up convenience stores, but has lately switched to gas stations (more lucrative). They seem largely to go for snack food. But Paul declares this to be "fun." He has begun to smile. That is the main thing. We look through the "rather fetching face of fur" for the smile. Along the way, the storybook quality of this road movie is underlined by the frequent very pretty chapter cards, which look like illustrations from a children's book like, Debruge explains, Dragon's Dilemma and The Pirate queen. This teen-friendly YA coming-of-age story is tinged with the magic of childhood.

    The facades of the shops robbed by Rose - and Paul too now - are priceless examples or urban-primitive Americana; there is a side of giddy caricature to this movie as well as the YA feel-good empowerment, the kindness, and the fantasy-magic. This trip doesn't get Paul to his mother. But he is being tracked by a diligent policewoman (the road trip is accompanied by a police chase) who eventually finds him and reunites him with Denny, who takes him to Jen (Chloë Sevigny), his glum, contrite mom, who has a surprise for him upstairs and whom he forgives but will not agree to hug.

    All this takes a little while to get started - until the magic starts; but once it does, it flies as light as a breeze. Jaeden Martell wears his prosthetic fur with confidence. His quiet, sometimes plaintive sweetness is the essential constant of the story. Like so many tales, this one ends when its lonely protagonist knows he, or she, has a friend.

    The True Adventures of Wolfboy, 88 mins., debuted at Karlovy Vary after, Debruge says, a two-year search for a festival home; it also showed at Lublin-Warsaw (Splat!FilmFest Horror Film Festival). The director is Czech. It will be released on demand and digital by Vertical Entertainment Oct. 30, 2020.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-17-2020 at 08:49 PM.

  10. #25
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN 空山靈雨 (King Hu 1979) new restoratin

    KING HU: RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN 空山靈雨; (1979) - restoration virtual release


    An abbot chooses a successor while his friends scheme over an old scroll

    In 2016 I reported on the rerelease of two earlier King Hu films, Dragon Inn and A Touch of Zen. Now Film Forum continues its ongoing series of restored Wuxia classics from King Hu, this time Raining in the Mountain from 1979. An exclusive engagement of Film Forum, presented online, begins Friday, October 30, 2020.

    The action, all set in the Ming Dynasty (16th century), isn't too heavy on the fights this time, more on the scheming and intrigue and what makes a good Buddhist, and with more humor than in King Hu's other Wuxia hits. It does have some good martial arts sequences - scored more for movement than combat, notably involving a team of predominantly yellow-clad women "attendants" for lay Buddhist master Wu Wai (Wu Chia-hsiang), who turn out to be great at jumping, especially in rocky mountainous settings where no sane person or human would jump. These ladies come in handy to defend an extremely valuable if deteriorating Tripitaka (ancient Buddhist) scroll stored at a grand, remote monastery in the mountains. Also arriving as the story begins are district governor General Wang (Tien Feng) and wealthy merchant Esquire Wen (Sun Yueh), each with his own stealthy henchmen aimed at nabbing the scroll. The lay sage, the general, and the merchant have all been summoned by the abbot to help him decide on a successor. Two of these have other motives; and the lay sage seems to delight in distracting the young (and older) monks with his bevy of maidens. In one amusing scene the maidens are all bathing in a stream while the monks try in vain to focus on their prayers.

    The long-bearded abbot (Su Han) is in his nineties and ready to retire: hence the invitations. (As is noted and he shows, he still has his wits about him, and he has more than one surprise in store for us and his devious "guests." ) Three power hungry monks, believing themselves to be best qualified for their knowledge of Buddhist scripture, in which they are duly tested, is each eagerly hoping to be chosen. In the event, they are all equally flabbergasted when the abbot, to avoid internal conflict and choose someone without involvement in local politics, decides to select an outsider, Chiu Ming (Tung Lin), a man charged (but unjustly) with theft, who's bought into the monastery to avoid forced military service. He's got evident characteristics they lack: humility, an honest face, an imposing physique and a mastery of martial arts which he demonstrates defending the scroll from a wood-be thief. He also turns out after his appointment to be a decisive administrator ready with innovations such as sending the monks to do farming work when they complain of the poor quality of the food.

    The story is set at a monastery, and it was all filmed in and around the beautiful and imposing eighth-century Bulguksa Buddhist temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site in south-eastern South Korea. This magnificent location, which I hope was not harmed in the making of the film - is in itself reason to watch Raining in the Mountain.

    As has been complained sometimes before of King Hu, he isn't great at character development. This is more about action and scenery - and philosophy, since there are obvious moral lessons here. It meanders a bit. There is pleasure in seeing some of the most manipulative and conniving characters get outfoxed. And though the choice seems odd and provocative, the new abbot does seem the man for the job. The martial arts, though it always seems on the verge of happening, comes more as an occasional gesture - till the last segment, when the lay sage's yellow-clad ladies come forth in a troop like giant dragonflies in the mountains dropping colorfully from ledge to ledge, and it's quietly jaw-dropping.

    This is one of two films (with Legend of the Mountain) that King Hu made in 1979 in South Korea starring Taiwan/Hong Kong female 'superstar' Hsu Feng (A Touch of Zen), here cast as the cunning "White Fox." In this film she comes accompanied by Gold Lock, Played by the film's martial arts choreographer Ng Ming-Choi, their two characters masquerading as Esquire Wen's concubine and servant, respectively.

    This film was submitted by Hong Kong as its Best Foreign Oscar nominee, but was not accepted; however, it won numerous awards and nominations at the Taipei Golden Horse event. Hollywood was wrong to reject it. I particularly was impressed by the score by Ng Tai Kong, which in certain passages has a striking abstract, musique concrète style that's timeless, yet also modern. I concur with Jamie Havlin of "Louder Than War," who wrote, of the February 2020-released Blu-ray/DVD, that the film as a whole is "beautifully crafted," the editing "brilliantly rhythmic," the Peking Opera-inspired fight scenes "a joy to watch," the cinematography "immaculate," and the film as a whole evidence of an epic Wuxia "master at work."

    Raining in the Mountain 空山靈雨, 120 mins., premiered in Hong Kong July 11, 1979. At Taipen it won best director, best art direction, best cinematography, best score and best sound recording. It also showed at Mannheim-Heidelberg, Chicago, and Pesaro. The 2K restoration by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute from the original 35mm. reels was released in a Blu-ray/DVD duel format Feb. 2020. Now a Film Movement Classics release, it opens in Film Forum's virtual cinema Oct. 30, 2020.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-18-2020 at 08:17 PM.

  11. #26
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    18 TO PARTY (Jeff Roda 2019)

    JEFF RODA: 18 TO PARTY (2019)


    The tremendous trifles of eighth graders waiting

    In writer/producer Jeff Roda's quiet directorial debut he captures the quintessence of middle school life, waiting. These eight or ten boys and girl, schoolmates who know each other, have gathered early to wait - at the end of any line - to get into a local nightclub in a warehouse covered with graffiti. When the door opens, they'll have to wait for everybody else to get in, but they've been promised, one of them says. that everybody will get in. John Hughes and Richard Linklater are guiding spirits, but what makes Roda's film uniquely real is that much of it is lame and flat, though it's nonetheless heartrending and sweet and frightening. There's also a slight aura of sci-fi. Some of their parents are at a "UFO meeting." There's been some stuff that hangs over the kids - deaths and suicides. There's really a little more than Roda can handle: a favorable reference to Our Town suggests that old warhorse is another model, even if its longings and visions of generations are a bit beyond the power or need of this writing. This is upstate New York in 1984, time of "fucking Ronald Reagan," so the glamor of iPhones is far off. And the absence of that distraction is a big plus. It enables the dialogue to cover more of the bases.

    Most of the characters are well drawn. The actors are young, and seem inexperienced, but that's deceptive. They are not. We see plenty of experience in the subtle nuances and bashful sweetness of Shel (Tanner Flood), a boy with a shy smile who is central, if anybody is. He's got a pack on his back. Why does he need all this stuff? He goes back and forth between his mom and stepdad and his real dad; maybe he lacks a sense of home. He's carrying the daypack because he's spending overnight with the hotshot of the group, the best athlete and artist, tall, handsome Brad (Oliver Gifford), who however reveals anger and frustration later. There's wise-guy "rich" kid Dean (Nolan Lyons), and a nerd who talks computers, Peter (am McCarthy). On the fringe, dramatic, is the bad boy with problems who's in therapy or juvie or something, Lanky (James Freedson-Jackson) whose refrain is "What! None o' you faggots want to get high!? Lanky's brother killed himself not too long ago. It's left a mark on Lanky he hasn't begun to deal with. On the side are a couple of current misfits, Kira (Ivy Miller), who reads about 21 shot in a Macdonald's in a paper: her interest in the news is taken as weird. Next to her is James (Erich Schuett), whose pencil-drawing of the faces of everybody, which he tacks on the wall, is also taken as weird.

    Shel plays soccer, but not "select" like Brad, he wants to go out for drama, he doesn't want to get a three-out-of-five, he wants "to do everything." This is his burst of enthusiasm when he kisses Amy (Alivia Clark) after he has gone to the "construction site" with her to "talk." Amy insists in going through his bag, and finds several tings. Shel disappoints himself and Brad by not succeeding in "messing around" with her as Brad urged him to. But later, after she goes off with Lanky for a while and comes back, he spontaneously, awkwardly, kisses her, and it means a lot to both.

    There's drama from Lanky and Brad, and color from Kira and James, and arguments from Peter and Dean and Missy (Taylor Richardson). But it's when Roda is carving on his little piece of ivory in sketching the achingly trivial and yet momentarily monumental conversation by the construction site between Shel and Amy that this little movie truly shines. Roda covers many bases and plays many tunes, but the tiniest moments are the most important.

    18 to Party, 80 mins., debuted at Woodstock Oct. 4, 2019 and played also at Big Apple Nov. 21, 2019 and Florida (virtual) Aug. 14, 2020. Screened for this review before its online release in virtual cinemas Nov. 6, 2020 in Los Angeles, New York, and major cities; North American VOD release to follow. with North American VOD Release to follow.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-20-2020 at 01:33 PM.

  12. #27
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    RECON (Robert David Port 2019)



    Moral doubts and physical peril

    Recon, which its distributors are introducing to the public with a one-night special event for Veterans Day in major US chain theaters on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, is a new movie adapted from Richard Bausch's 2008 World War II novel Peace. "Based on a true event," the book is "a dense, lyrical meditation on human nature and war, its prose pared back to the quotidian bone and then crafted into something resonant and piercing," as a powerful Guardian review by A.L. Kennedy describes it.* As that review points out, Bausch is a contemporary of Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford and was a friend of Raymond Carver. The story recounts the ordeal of four American soldiers in the mountains near Casino in Italy on a single long day in the grim winter of 1944.

    At the outset these soldiers suddenly witness a deeply troubling event. As a peasant's cart approaches on the road the platoon sergeant, Reece (Tyler Hynes), has it turned over and this reveals a German soldier who shoots and kills two of the men, Hopewell (Mitch Ainley) and Walberg (Chris Crema), before he is in turn shot and killed by platoon member Robert Marson (Alexander Ludwig). There is also his German whore, who is unarmed. Without a thought, Reece coldly executes her. When the platoon returns to base camp the soldiers show outrage and confusion at Reese's murder of an innocent civilian, and know his claim to the company commander, Captain Rogers (Lochlyn Munro) that she was killed in the crossfire is a lie. One of the men, Asch, a "cynical Jew," asks if it's really the Nazis who are crazy, or their commanding officer. (As Asch, with his edge and teasing banter, Chris Brochu winds up effortlessly engaging our deepest sympathy. The others are harder to like.)

    Capt. Rogers tells the sergeant to get out and get him some intelligence. In the circumstances, Reece breaks up the platoon, sending four men, whom we follow hereafter (with partly dreamlike flashbacks evoking the men's troubled memories), on a punitive and likely suicidal reconnaissance mission up on snowy roads into the mountains. As their guide he sends with them an elderly local partisan called Angelo (Franco Nero) whose loyalties they cannot be sure of, while they seem to be followed and picked off by an enemy sniper.

    In this grim setting the first thing that strikes us is how hostile the soldiers are toward each other (and how childish; but they are very young) - behavior and mindsets infinitely more dangerous in the treacherous setting. While there is some of the poetry and philosophical voiceover pondering of Malick's Thin Red Line, this is also a war film without the genre's usual drama and explosiveness. It delivers its shocks and killings with stunningly unembellished coldness.

    With Angelo as their not very trusted location advisor, now Corporal Marson, who has an earnest and rather detached quality and a bad blister (or worse) on his foot, is the man in charge of the reconnaissance unit, and the protagonist: it's his musings we hear in voiceover from time to time throughout the film. With him are the redneck bigot, Joyner (Sam Keeley), the athletic Heisman (RJ Fetherstonhaugh), and the clumsy, wise-cracking Boston-area Jew, Asch (Chris Brochu). Reese keeps the radioman, Troutman (Chase Sander) for himself. "A nice long walk has a way of settling things for a man," he says. Frightened, cold, and exhausted, the four are predestined to come into conflict. Asch and Joyner's squabbling and taunting of each other, which keep them occupied and infuriate Angelo, continue as they have to cross a very long, single-file suspension bridge that would be scary at any time, and now is obviously an excellent target for snipers. The old Italian is forced to go first, and then the others, very gingerly, follow. It goes well. Or, it does till a taunt from Asch is answered with a gross gesture by Heisman.

    After that the trajectory of the action is more and more teasing, painful, and oppressive. This sometimes verges on being a horror movie. There tends to be more physicality and less musing than there would be in a novel whose ostensible focus is the moral complexity of war and the impossibility of resolving it; but for those in search of an actioner, this is not the film to watch. For sheer Beckettian last-ditch grimness, though, it's not bad at all - and certainly not without a satisfying, if niggling, final element of redemption.

    Asch and Joyner each go through a transformation, in which Chris Brochu and Sam Keeley both shine. The job is harder for Keeley. Franco Nero is perfect in his somehow undemanding role: he hasn't much to do but seem decent and put upon, then angry, then desperate. His role seems largely passive. It's never quite clear if he's pretending to understand less English than he really does, or perhaps just reluctant to enter into dialogue that is already so contentious among the Americans. His unsubtitled musings in Italian are thrown away on the anglophone audience, but the damned complexity of war is embodied in the young Americans' suspicions of a man who seems so decent. Nero, now 79, was discovered by John Huston and has worked for Luis Buñuel, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Claude Chabrol, and Quentin Tarantino. He's still out there in the cold. . .

    The film was shot in British Columbia in wintertime in chilly desaturated color, almost blue-gray. The director, helming his first feature here, for which he also wrote the screenplay adaptation, was co-director with Bill Guttentag of the Oscar-winning 2003 short film Twin Towers about two brothers, a firefighter and a policeman, who perished in 9/11. This is serious stuff, but it is too harsh and minimalist to satisfy Veterans Day celebrants in search of simple uplift.

    Recon, 95 mins., debuted in the Oct. 2019 Austin Film Festival. On Nov. 10 the film is currently scheduled to play on almost 350 screens, but the presenters are planning to add smaller theater chains to the list and expect 500 on the night of the event.

    *See also the New York Times review by Ben Ben MacIntyre.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-25-2020 at 09:10 PM.

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