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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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    Jul 2002
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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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    THE PAINTED BIRD (Petr Kotlar (2019)



    The boy who saw too much

    Czech director Václav Marhoul's remarkable adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski's controversial Sixties work The Painted Bird is a devastating WWII version of a picaresque novel. It follows a boy from 1939 to 1945, ages six to twelve in an "inter-slavic" invented language to avoid saddling any one Eastern European country with the horrors that occur - too horrible to be taken literally, but how can they be taken otherwise? Through it all the mostly mute boy (Petr Kotlar) is impassive, while seeing eyes gauged out, being beaten, buried up to the neck to be pecked at by crows, be the object of rural sex perverts and a sadistic pedophile, dumped in a manure pit, taught revenge by an ace sniper, and after numerous other awful events placed in an orphanage. Then, at last, he is retrieved by his father, whom he may not want to forgive.

    In fact the last scene is redeeming. But can the source from which Marhoul has adapted the film be redeemed? When I originally read the Kozinski paperback, it seemed like a kind of pornography. In fact it had overt sexual passages for a young boy to read with urgent shame, but mostly it's a stream of violence porn - or, alternately, Holocaust porn: in fact, Norman Soloman includes The Painted Bird in his "Holocaust industry" list and points out that by the time the novel appeared, the author was already a well-known fraudster. If Kosinski (whose real name was Józef Lewinkopf) claimed the book was autobiographical, that was preposterous. The incidents are too spectacular to happen to a single person. It seems they may not only be cribbed from other experiences but from other authors. But still, Václav Marhoul has made his own movie.

    Since we see the experiences not only through the boy but looking at the boy, often peering into his vividly impassive face, seeing a healthy glow return despite ordeals, we get a feel for a single experience, anyway. The non-stop stream of incidents conveys a sense, typical of the picaresque narrative, of a malleable, passive ego. Typical also, he has little to say and the trauma of events is signaled by his becoming mute.

    The boy gets different surroundings, which he manages to cast off, as the action jumps to a new locale. There is a lot of wood and straw. If this is Holocaust porn, it is so only distantly. It's more often village and rural porn, delivering an impressionistic, Eastern European art movie sense of what rural life is, crude, monstrous, yet somehow vital and indestructible.

    We have to admit that even here, a picaresque tale is fun. The hero - or heroine, Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders being a key example - undergoes a diverting series of ordeals and transformations we are able to enjoy because we don't have to undergo them. They slip by too fast to get deep into. It's always on to the next one. A lot of this would be fun for a slightly kinky 12-year-old boy, the kind I was, who likes to fantasize about torture, lacking any real sense yet of what it is.

    A key moment comes with the "Mirta" segment. This is after the boy finally enters a city, is "rescued" by Harvey Keitel's priest, turned over by him to Garvos, Julian Sands' sadistic pedophile, then. after crossing a snowy waste and falling into a frozen lake, falls into the hands of a busty blonde peasant woman who makes him her sex toy. When bestiality and incest crop up, he bolts. This leads into the savage rape and siege of a village by Kalmuks - a sequence as lively as anything by Takashi Miike. The Soviet soldiers who come to clean things up are the first positive force the boy has encountered. Gavrila (Aleksey Kravchenko) is an ardent communist and his friend Mirta (Barry Pepper) is a skilled sniper. They take the boy in hand and put him in a soviet uniform. They protect him and make him one of them. A memorable sequence shows Mirta sniping the village in revenge while the boy watches through his binoculars, and he will use the pistol Mirta gives him for his own revenge later.

    This sequence suggests a kind of WWII survival that has truth in it, however fanciful is the sequence of adventures and tests. The logical final chapter is the boy's resettlement in an orphanage, which he escapes from and finds to be as violent and brutal as anywhere else.

    And yet after all this, the concept of wrong has not perished. Hence the boy's anger when his father comes to the orphanage to reclaim him. His parents had sent him to a remote part of the country at the story's outset to be "safe." Instead they have abandoned him to the worst of horrors. Yet when, sitting in the bus next to his father, the boy writes his name, Joska, on the humid window glass, it's a hint that he will return, somehow, to speech and to life. In its muted way, it's a moving affirmation.

    The gorgeous 35mm. black and white cinematography of Vladimír Smutný helps distance us from the ugliness of all that happens in this visually remarkable, challenging film, and also gives it a memorable unity. The source may have been plagiarized, but Marhoul has made it his own. With Udo Kier as "the Miller," who gouges out the eyes; Harvey Keitel, Julian Sands, Barry Popper, and ‧Stellan Skarsgård as a German officer who is kind; and many others.

    The Painted Bird, 169 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2019, when reportedly 14 people stumbled out in shock and protest. It was included in 14 other international festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, Warsaw, and Chicago.

    It was to be released in the UK in March 2020. It was scheduled to be distributed in the US by IFC Films starting (in NYC and LA) April 17, 2020. That has now been changed to July 17. The Painted Bird will also become available On Demand and Digital Streaming the same day, July 17, 2020. Metascore 75%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-27-2020 at 01:24 PM.

  7. #22
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    Jul 2002
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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 release was delayed to July 17, 2020. Its Metascore is 82%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 09:36 AM.

  8. #23
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area




    From chronic fatigue to visions of the cosmos

    Howard Bloom is not to be confused withHarold Bloom, the venerable Yale professor of English and literary critic, who has written such luminous and inspiring works as The Visionary Company, The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life and The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible. Howard Bloom is someone we've never heard of, and even after watching this little documentary he remains a mystery, part of which is why this short documentary came to be made about him. True, he is a pundit, a sage, and an amateur scientist with lifelong interests in cosmology and microbiology, who talks about sweeping aspects of nature and the cosmos. But this film doesn't prove that what he says is necessary.

    This Bloom's books, of which there are seven, include The Lucifer Principle (the first), Genius of the Beast, and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. His last two books show a shift to more popular subjects but no increase in modesty. They are How I Accidentally Started The Sixties (2017) and Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me (2020).

    But a title that jumps out at me is The Muhammad Code: How a Desert Prophet Brought You ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram. According to the Wikipedia bio, an article he published in Omni magazine focused on "The importance of hugging", suggested that "Islamic cultures treat their children harshly, they despise open displays of affection ... the result is violent adults", and as a consequence, "An entire people may have turned barbaric for the simple lack of a hug." This led the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to stage a sit-in at Omni's New York main office. It's reported that Blioom expressed similarly racist and Islamophobic prejudices in his first book, The Lucifer Principle. Charlie Hoxie's short documentary doesn't allude to this troubling aspect of Boom's thinking.

    This is a life of contrasts. After a youth that showed serious scientific interests, Bloom was led astray by disco music and pop and this led him became a publicist for a raft of highly successful performers, including Michael Jackson, Prince and others including Run DMC and Aerosmith (he shows framed awards) who all had No. 1 hit songs while he was doing their PR. Joan Jet, Kyle McLaughlin and Jeff Bridges address the camera.

    In 1988 Bloom contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He had to give up his PR work and the punditry gradually began. Several scientific persons speak, acknowledging Bloom's being "ahead of the curve" in his first book and being scientifically knowledgeable and well read though "totally an outsider." But some years were spent housebound and helpless, and it wasn't till 1995 that The Lucifer Principle was published, by the Atlantic Monthly Press. By his report Bloom still combats the disease. He takes upwards of thirty pills at moments in the day, and an injection of something he self-administers. He credits exercising with enabling him to get out of bed, though his idea of what a push-up is, jiggling up and down a bit with arms outstretched, seems at best peculiar. At any rate, we see him up and about and walking around in New York, outside his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where he owns the building, and smooching with randomly encountered dogs on the sidewalk and in the park. Later we follow him to Indiana to give a lecture at the arrangement of a tall young man, a student, who says he immediately thought of Bloom when the topic of "paradign shifts" arose.

    The film disappoints by its failure to probe, question, or identify. It has silly, pretentious (or playful) divisions with titles like "Chapter 2,384. Attention is the Oxygen of the Soul." What that means is we need attention. Bloom, who reports he had a lonely childhood, acknowledges that he has found his best source of positive feedback in hugging dogs. He is divorced, and still friendly with the lawyer, who comes to his 74th birthday party. He keeps saying he is "looking for a new girlfriend," and has found a "wonderful, astonishing" online relationship with a lady in South Africa. He hugs and nuzzles every dog he comes across, if its owner allows.

    An example of Bloomo's oddity, if more were needed, is his (unexplained) relationship with a burly, bearded giant of a personal trainer called Amir Siddiqui, who runs Symmetry, the self-declared most expensive personal training gymn in Dubai. When we first hear of Siddiqui the two have never met, yet Bloom plans to leave his building to this gentleman so the latter can establish a foundation to carry on his, Bloom's, ideas. These we could get a better idea of. We know that he is a space travel advocate, connected with several related international organizations. We know he thinks nature means to shock us. Comments he makes elsewhere indicate he may not consider global warming a problem, or not our problem. At the Indiana lecture, Bloom reads a lot of his talk, which may be why, by his report, he isn't invited to lecture very often. On arriving in town he is surprised by an Indie 400 vehicle on display, then declares it to be worthless because it's sport.

    We get a glimpse of the 74th birthday party at Bloom's cluttered apartment, with a table appearing to bear at least a dozen mismatched bottles of peanut butter. There are a dozen people who don't know each other seated around, and Bloom introduces them one by one. It might be a scene from a "High Maintenance" episode, though sadly lacking a visit from "The Guy." In the background is Bloom's African American secretary-manager, who wishes he would give up using AOL and adopt gmail. After five years, she plans on quitting.

    After the lecture on "paradigm shifts," there arrives another big event in Howard Bloom's life: Amir Siddiqui comes to New York to "sign the deposition for his remains." And so at last they meet. They hug. They sign the papers. Some more dog hugging follows as Bloom sits alone on a bench. When last glimpsed, he's disappearing down a tunnel in the park.

    The Grand Unified Theory of Howard Bloom, 67 mins., debuted at DOC NYC Nov. 10, 2019. It will be released on digital and on-demand Jul. 21, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 12:23 AM.

  9. #24
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    NOSE TO TAIL ( Jesse Zigelstein 2018)



    A tasty meltdown, slowly savored

    "Nose to Tail Is a fascinating portrait of toxic masculinity," notes Now Toronto. Writing of the film, now newly available online in the US, Stephen Farber in Hollywood Reporter review supplies that "One of the hottest fantasy jobs for millennials is to become a high-end chef, and a number of movies have expressed that fantasy, with actors like Jon Favreau (Chef), Bradley Cooper (Burnt) and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart (No Reservations) portraying temperamental cooks." This Canadian version features Aaron Abrams (Hannibal, Blindspot) as Daniel, the chef of a fancy Toronto restaurant in trouble, and Salvatore Antonio as Steven, his beleaguered sommelier. Both received awards or nominations for their thespian efforts. The film additionally highlights Lara Jean Chorostecki (also of Hannibal) as Chloe, Daniel's uncomfortable maître d' and sometime bedmate, who stands up to his sexual harassment and general boorishness, but remains loyal to the restaurant. Good people play lesser roles in a movie whose unique strength is that that it maintains one powerful note of disfunction continually to the end.

    Daniel, the chef, is in arrears in every area. Back debts are numerous. Suppliers and landlord (Robert B. Kennedy) alike are not taking promises anymore and want cash up front pronto. Tonight Mark (Ennis Esmer), a special VIP customer, is coming, an old classmate now a wealthy financier who if he's pleased, may invest significant money and pull the restaurant out of the hole. But much is going wrong today, bad news Daniel only makes worse by his extreme abrasiveness. Daniel's French ex-wife (Carolina Bartczak) comes by and tells him she's going back to live in Paris with their young son to be with family. Early in the day he self-destructively kicks out his talented and charismatic second in command, Keith (Brandon McKnight), whom he's trained for years, when he's angry to discover from a food blogger (Lauren Collins) that Keith is moving to a new job as chef of another restaurant and will be paid a lavish salary by a wealthy corporation. Daniel is forced reluctantly to follow Chloe's advice and replace Keith with the next in line, Angela (Genevieve Kang), whose disciplined but obsequious constant "Yes, Chefs" annoy him. (But what doesn't?)

    A high pressure restaurant kitchen is a place that pushes easily into extremes - of exhaustion, tension, indulgence. Daniel is quaffing coffee, smoking, drinking, and popping pills from when he first wakes up - and most dangerously, indulging in that most dangerous and intoxicating stimulant, rage. He is, moment to moment, clearly an asshole. But maybe he is very good at what he does. Maybe he'd have to be to get away even for a minute with behaving this way. And somehow - this is the beauty of this high-pitched but carefully modulated film - he pushes the edge from minute to minute without the walls crashing down on him. There a teasing pleasure in watching this balancing act constantly performed.

    Tensions go up a notch an hour into this eighty-minute film as dinnertime approaches and the restaurant goes into action. Daniel releases his menu, with its rigorous simplicity and mystery, and Chloe writes it large on a blackboard. In his severe personal instructions to the servers, Daniel strictly forbids them to embellish its minimal details with any further explanations for inquisitive diners. These customers come in, the restaurant is soon full, and dinner begins.

    But what a shock that amid all the bad news, not only is Mark seated upstairs with his party in a private room, but prominently downstairs ordering the full seven-course dégustation menu, is the infamous food blogger who has infuriated Daniel by reporting bad things about him. Daniel goes over for some intense verbal sparring with this young lady. For hours a big gourmet food truck has been parked across the street with a line of customers, symbolizing younger generations of foodies, different ways of enjoying fine cuisine, and there are voices, echoed by Beth (the food blogger) , that say Daniel has been passed by and no longer has "buzz." He ferociously rebukes her for using this word. But when she compares him to the dinosaurs, he, for once, is left speechless. Beth is a tough cookie. Her resilience again defers meltdown. But what next?

    This film works in part because the harsh flavors of the combative dialogue are mellowed out and pulled together by the butter sauce of a surprising, yet successful, warm, energetic musical score, which calms us down with a firm hand. Abrams, as Daniel, who stirs his simmering temper tantrums with a steady hand, is consistently believable, steering a delicate but fim line between desperation and mad courage. The meltdown is kept at bay. The annoying blogger, who's quoted other chefs saying he's lost his "buzz," and who shows up that over-packed night, seems a kind of snobbish upstart and devotee of faux trendiness who adds to Daniel's credibility and our faith in him. We ordinary diners don't buy trendiness as the desideratum in good food.

    What's further unique here is that this is a rigorously unsympathetic protagonist without any redeeming features - except the single one - that he doesn't deserve to go down in flames. Moreover, somehow the whole setting and situation, though heightened theatrically with every disaster focused into a single day, seems authentic. The kitchen staff action, the food preparation glimpsed, feel and look like those of a top restaurant. If it's one whose chef is terrifying and dangerous, that's hardly unusual. Readers of Kitchen Confidential will even find this a slightly sanitized environment - except for tension so thick, it makes you want to throw up. Aaron Abrams' performance is bracing without ever seeming strained. There are intense, distinctive flavors, but nothing over-seasoned or overcooked - until everything goes stale.

    Bon appetit!

    Nose to Tail, 82 mins., debuted at the Whistler Film Festival (British Columbia) Nov. 30, 2018, then Feb. 2, 2019 at Santa Barbara (reviewed there in Hollywood Reporter by Stephen Farber) and played in 11 mostly food film festivals in late 2019, winning a number of nominations and awards, with subsequent Canadian theatrical and internet releases Feb. 14 and Apr. 28 2020, respectively. It is scheduled for US internet release Jul. 29, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 04:01 PM.

  10. #25
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    CRSHD (Emily Cohn 2019)

    EMILY COHN: CRSHD (2019)

    "Your mileage may vary on the visual barrage of Facebook and emoji jokes and the use of words like 'obvi' in dialogue, but the aggressive Generation Z trappings don’t make the writer-director Emily Cohn’s college raunch-com any less winning or sweet," wrote BEn Konigsberg in his 2019 New York Times Tribeca blurb. But what may lower the viewer excitement is the utter familiarity of the story line here: girl sets out to get laid at big semester shindig, distracting things happen. Izzy (Isabelle Barbier), the ditsy, putatively adorable college freshman (I found her pretty douchey at first, for a girl), sets aside her prep for the astro exam tomorrow to attend a "crush party" in which guests must all be invited anonymously by someone who has a"crush" on them. Definitions may be loose. What's firm, is the filmmaker's reliance on digitalized visuals using emojis, social media lingo, and other current figments of the smartphone world, what the Times writer calls "agressive Generation-Z trappings."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 04:30 PM.

  11. #26
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    STAR LIGHT ( Mitchell Altieri, Lee Cummings 2020)


    A Film by Mitchell Altieri (The Night Watchmen, Holy Ghost People) and Lee Cummings
    Starring Scout Taylor-Compton (The Runaways, Halloween), Rahart Adams (Pacific Rim: Uprising), Cameron Johnson (The Wrong Crush, The Mick), Liana Ramirez (Power Rangers Beast Morphers)
    and Tiffany Shepis (12 Monkeys)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 04:36 PM.

  12. #27
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE FIGHT ( Eli B. Despres, Josh Kriegman 2020)



    The work of the attorneys of the ACLU

    The ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, the country's most important independent organization protecting people's rights, has boomed since Trump became President. His swearing in opens this film. It has more to do, and it received more donor funds. It has taken over the whole building it occupies that has a view of the Statue of Liberty. They love their work, and we see why. I also love their work and consider it the most important charity I support. If you care about civil liberties, these dedicated people are your heroes. Without rights, nothing else much matters. This documentary isn't for the benefit of those who, for some perverse reason, oppose the ACLU. (It does support the rights of Nazis and white supremacists.) Despres and Kriegman simply aim to present a primer on what the ACLU does, its main issues, and the lawyers who do the work.

    They have specialties. We meet Dale Ho: his focus is voting rights. Lee Gelert's is immigrant rights. Josh Block focuses on LGBT rights. Chase Strangio, a young ACLU lawyer who's a trans man, focuses on trans rights working with Joshua Block. Briditte Amiri is the Deputy Director of the ACLU's reproductive rights project.

    Trump has revealed himself to be a white supremacist. He hates immigrants and wants to oust them and punish them. He hates abortion. Though this isn't the focus of this film, he also does all he can to promote his own reelection.

    He hates trans people. The issue Chase and Josh are focused on now is the push to ban trans people from the military. The case they're focused on is "Stone v. Trump," in which the litigant is Brock Stone, a Petty Officer First Class in the United States Navy who has served over twelve years. On this and related cases rest the project of outlawing the Trump attempt to ban trans people from the military. Those opposint Bock in the military want to "erase trans people from public life," an ACLU lawyer says.

    Dale Ho's concern in the film is the Department of Commerce. Trump's Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross, an old multi-millionaire known as "the King of Bankruptcy," heads a Trump Administration effort to introduce a key question - the "citizenship question" - into the census questionnaire. We see Ross harshly questioned at a Congressional hearing by, among others, the distinguished longtime Baltimore representative , the late Elijah Cummings. This would be a major Republican electoral victory because non-US citizens would be afraid to participate for fear of being persecuted, and the rights and needs of districts with a large undocumented population - 6.5 million is the number mentioned - would be unrepresented. Six states stand the risk of losing representatives in Congress. "Is another more important?" asks Dale Ho. Trump says in speeches that only citizens vote, but this is clearly not the issue. The census is not just for citizens. It's for the US population, which includes many non-citizens. The film points the census was used in WWII to intern thousands of Japanese.

    An extremely poignant issue concerning Lee Gelert is "Ms L v. ICE," about separation of non-citizens from their children on arrival. Ms L and her daughter were fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and upon arrival here, were held for five months 2,000 miles apart from each other. Even small children have been systematically taken from their parents and sent into detention elsewhere, causing permanent psychological damage. Rachel Maddow on MSNBC breaks down talking abut this. Such cruelty has given rise to a movement. Incidentally the film points out many issues are "cyclical" - voting rights, racial equality, and other issues championed and won decades ago are back in the news, issues that must be fought for again. A demonstrator's sigh reads: "No Ban No Wall No Separations No detentions No Raids No ICE NO HATE NO FEAR." 1,995 minors are separated from 1,940 adults, at this point in the film. Gelert is also concerned with Trump's various efforts from his first days in office to ban whole countries and religions - Muslims - from entry into the US.

    The "Zero Tolerance" policy of Trump's administration with its Draconian separation of parents and their children, such an evidently cruel action, has sparked a backlash.

    From time to time we see Trump speaking to his base, spewing hate for foreigners, for immigrants, and speaking about the "very fine people" on both sides in the Charlottesville demonstrations and riot. The ACLU took the case of "Unite the Right" when they were denied the right to demonstrate by the Charlottesville city council. We see David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan leader, saying: "We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump." Since there were many serious injuries and one death resulting from this provocative demonstration and its liberal opponents, this has been a difficult moment for the ACLU.

    Current ACLU Legal Director David Cole (2016- ) points out that the organization doesn't just defend people they like. The far right provocateur Milo Yannopoulis is a client. So is Westboro Baptist Church, which marches with signs saying "God Hates Fags." So is Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Muslim cleric. And so were the Nazis at Skokie, Illinois.

    The ACLU gets a lot of hate mail, cards, letters, calls, and other messages accusing the lawyers individually of being - lots of nasty things. They're shown listening and reading: they think they need to know about their opposition and not live in "a bubble." The ACLU is dealing with bigots. Fear and hate and bigotry are often behind the issues ACLU lawyers fight for. It just happens that currently there is a blatant bigot in the White House.

    All this, and we have not heard anything about the US Supreme Court. We see (indirectly) Brigitte Amiri and others arguing with three judges in a court about the "Garza v. Hagan" with success; they learn that "Jane Doe" has been given freedom to seek an abortion, and they drink "train wine" while riding on the train to celebrate. But this is only only one case, of many pregnant women ICE is seeking to prevent from having abortions. The ACLU must, and it does, pursue a class action suit in the matter.

    Thus a big issue covered in this film is the makeup of the Supreme Court. The crisis comes with Judge Anthony Kennedy's June 2018 announcement of his retirement. Brigitte Amiri tells her daughter what it means: "This just made mommie's work much harder." Judge Kennedy is the pivotal liberal vote on the Court. He is replaced by Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

    Later, this film follows the various ACLU lawyers as they conduct "moot" practice pleading and argue the big actual cases and see them set fourth to argue key issues, including Dale Hio's embarking on his first appearance before the Supreme Court on the Census Question issue; Lee Gelert in San Diego to argue on "child separation, Josh Bock in Baltimore to argue the new anti-trans policy in the military; Brigitte Amiri in Washington, DC to argue for the right to an abortion for women held by ICE. The interwoven scenes show their loneliness, their nervousness, and their passion. Lee Gelert must address MSNBC just at the moment when he learns the court has uphold Trump's Muslim ban. Later, he looks much happier when he learns, despite a battery-depleted phone, that a federal judge has ruled strongly on his side in the "Family Separation" case. The class action for abortion rights in custody wins, and the district court blocks the Transgender Military ban. Hugs and smiles all around, above all of little kids reunited with their parents: we see a lot of them captured on camera. But the battle goes on. The Trump Administration issues a new order that transgender people may continue to serve in the military, but no new ones may enlist.

    These issues are tremendously important and seeing these lawyers fight their cases and win them is an amazing feeling; it gives one hope. The film takes too long making its way from bland to exciting. It ought to have delved deeper into history beyond the Nazis in Skokie and the Japanese internment camps during the War. The presentation of lawyers and cases also shifts around a lot from project to project, from lawyer to lawyer, and sometimes it's hard to follow as it does so. There might also have been deeper focus on one case and lawyer at a time. The film follows the lawyers in key moments of their work, but it could have delved more into their lives and who they are. Bit despite these quibbles, this is nonetheless a most welcome and essential film.

    These fights go on. The battle to defend democracy never ends. Noting is sure, nothing is sacred. In 2019 (after most of this film was made) the Trump administration argued in the Supreme Court that anti-discrimination laws should not apply to LGBT people. At least 1.300 children remain separated from their parents by ICE. The persecution of trans people goes on. All of these fights must be pursued in the streets, as well as in the courts. In fact we see Chase Strangio speaking before a cheering crowd in Washington Square.

    The Fight, 96 mins., produced by Kerry Washington, debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020, and showed in the fests at Miami and Wisconsin. Its pandemic online-only release by Magnolia is July 31, 2020. Metascore 67%.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-05-2020 at 02:10 AM.

  13. #28
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    DECADE OF FIRE (Gretchen Hildebran, Vivian Vazquez 2018)



    A personal film about the death and life of New York's South Bronx

    In the blighted South Bronx borough of New York City in the 1970's, empty and partly occupied apartment buildings were destroyed by fire on a weekly basis, rendering an estimated quarter of a million residents homeless and leaving the area looking like WWII fire-bombed Dresden. The fires, this personal account says, were not set by residents; "we are the ones who saved" the neighborhood, she says. Racist and dismissive outsiders like Nixon advisor Sen. Pat Moynahan, the prophet of "benign neglect," blamed it on locals and called it a sign of "social pathology."

    This doc, Joshua Minsoo Kim of Slant wrote, "feels like a film fit for classrooms" (John DeFore of Hollywood Reportersays rather "the technically polished result of a college research project") because indeed it was originally made "for ninth graders at a social justice-focused high school" aimed to show links between the Bronx fires, "cultural resistance" by means of graffiti and hop-hop, and community organizing that "saved the borough." This is the corrective provided by Vivian Vázquez Irizarry, who narrates, drawing on her experiences growing up in the Longwood section of the South Bronx with her Puerto Rican immigrant family and witnessing the destruction.She also did plenty of research, and collected much vivid visual documentation. Those descriptions, while superficially true, are misleading, because if you're interested in urban decay and urban revival, this is a little gem.

    The fires were often set by local youths but paid by absentee landlords to collect insurance money, it's reported. Destruction of the borough was furthered by Draconian city planner Robert Moses’s partitioning of the Bronx with the Cross Bronx Expressway or and "redlining" of which Irizarry's father was a victim: he was denied loans that would have permitted the family to move to the suburbs. We also learn NYC Mayor John Lindsay (1966-73) followed a computer analysis by the Rand Corporation and pulled fire departments out of the blighted borough, when they should have been augmented. Joe Flood, author of The Fires, talks about this. "Urban renewal," James Baldwin is seen saying, really meant "Negro removal." In the devastation of the abandoned neighborhood, the youth gangs became protectors who helped start a girls softball team.

    This film is a strong, personal vehicle for Irizarry's experiences and opinions, not a detached, scientific account, and some points aren't backed up by fact. But the strength of her story, enlivened by vibrant archival film footage, is how she depicts the warm, uniquely multicultural Bronx population's efforts to fight back and survive in the face of institutional racism from the outside, forming small volunteer groups that learned building trades. Further ravages came - crack in the eighties, mass incarceration in the nineties - as well as misguided government policy and rampant exploitation of real estate. The new threat is an influx of "luxury" apartments for those escaping the cost of life in Manhattan. Irizarry appears at the end as a busy current community activist. The fight goes on and people stay in a revived and still multicultural Bronx.

    As Manuel Betencourt wrote in Remezela, Decade of Fire is "a call to arms, a family memoir, and a history lesson," ad even more importantly, "a love letter to the Bronx and its inhabitants." This is a lively and inspiring little film.

    Decade of Fire, 76 mins., debuted at Full Frame (Durham), Apr. 2019, with limited theatrical release and broadcast on PBS Independent Lens in May 2019. Screened for this review as part of a pandemic VOD virtual theater release coming July 14, 2020.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-06-2020 at 01:52 AM.

  14. #29
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area



    Something may be needed to make us look more closely at the photographs of Helmut Newton, and this may be just the right time (he died in 2004, at 84). Those photographs look provocative in an almost stereotypical way. But he may have invented the stereotype, and transcended it. And the stereotypes and the provocation may have kept us from noticing how exceptionally beautiful and also original these photographs are. They are mostly of women, very often naked, photographed with great elegance, always with a frisson of kink. This documentary is worthy of the work.

    Newton hated working in the studio. He liked location shots. Those women are walking down the street, in a policeman's jacket with nothing on below the waist, or in a glamorous old world hotel, or overlooking a vast city. The black and white is contrasty, brilliant, immaculate. (The other photographer whose "look" but not subject matter this work most resembles is Ralph Gibson. Both photographers are surrealists.) Sometimes the photographs are done for a fashion magazine. He was already so famous when young Anna Wintour was asked to work with him in England she was afraid, and called in sick. He is such a stylist that though his work is highly commercial, it never bows to fashion or commerce. When we look more closely, the images are works of art full of fantasy, mystery and humor, and above all celebrations of the art of photography. He would have been a master, whatever "look" or subject he had chosen.

    This documentary is worthy because it's good looking, even chic. It's a celebration that's never ponderous, - important, because, we learn, the man, though obsessed, always kept his sense of humor. And it's populated by glamorous, handsomely photographed women (clothed, however) who talk about Newton: Isabella Rossellini, Charlotte Rampling, Anna Wintour, Marianne Faithful, Grace Jones, Claudia Schiffer. Anna Wintour worked with Newton, when she gathered the courage to do so, for Vogue. The other ladies posed for him. June Newton, whom we hear from but don't see, is his Australian wife, married to him for 56 years. To her we're indebted for some of the films of him at work.

    Even Susan Sontag, who calls Helmut Newton a "misogynist", arguing with him in French on Barnard Pivot's famous TV show, is stylish and beautiful as she does so. Newton replies that he "adores women," and Sontag ripostes that misogynists often say that. Indirectly the film makes the point: Helmut Newton's work is confusing - provocative, but also chic, beautiful, but perhaps a debasement. Is Susan Sontag being humorless or is she right? Is he a misogynist? Don't his photographs use women as toys, dolls, slaves? Or are his images slyly calling attention to the fact that other men do this, to mock and critique men's ambivalent treatment of women, their way of wavering between worship and condescension, protection and abuse?

    He was born in 1920 Berlin, which he always loved, and Marianne Faithful says he was always truly a creature of the free, brilliant Weimar Berlin of Bertolt Brecht and Georg Grosz. But his father, who owned a button factory, was Jewish. Their name was Neustädter. And in the Thirties they had to flee Germany. Helmut grew up in comfort, fond of his parents, and went to private schools, including an American school he was kicked out of at 12 because his grades were so poor. He went to work for a woman photographer (this isn't in this film). After the war he came back and changed is name to Newton.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 10:53 PM.

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