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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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    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.

  7. #22
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    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, and it will be shown, among others, under the auspices of the Roxie in San Francisco. Metascore 67%.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-17-2020 at 06:31 PM.

  8. #23
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE STAND: HOW ONE GESTURE SHOOK THE WORLD (Tom Ratcliffe , Becky Paige 2018)



    Iconic gestures and unsung heroes at Mexico City 1968

    There is a recent made-for-TV documentary 1968 – A Mexico City Documentary I NBC Olympics narrated by Serena Williams. It was broadcast in February 2018 and is available on YouTube. This provides coverage of the Tommie Smith-John Carlos raised fist salute during the American anthem after winning the gold and bronze medals in the 200 meter race - along with more about the the whole context of the Mexico City Olympics. It is a good film, and I recommend it for anyone interested in this dramatic moment in Olympic history - and one of the most thrilling and memorable Olympic Games in modern times.

    The documentary I'm discussing here, The Stand, is also useful viewing for the more specific angle it provides, focused on the politics and not only the black American athletes but particularly also the white athletes who supported them. There is another film, Geoff Small's The Black Power Salute (2008), which heralds the Smith/Carlos gesture as "one of the most iconic images of the 20th century." And there are doubtless various other films.

    All these films begin and end with Tommie Smith, the six-foot-four sprinter from San Jose State who picked cotton in the fields with his father as a youth. The Stand focuses on Harry Edwards and the Olympic Project for Human Rights he established earlier, so we see the planning and events that led up to Smith and Carlos' legendary symbolic gesture. Originally a boycott of the Olympics was planned by the black athletes, but Tommie Smith, a stanch supporter of Edwards from the start, agreed with the others that they wanted to compete.

    This was a thrilling Olympics for its track and field talent, especially the American athletes. Mexico City was also a controversial choice, and student demonstrations in Tlatelolco plaza prior to the Games was put down brutally, with police shooting and killing hundreds. This brutal political repression was to be echoed in a more muted way later in the Olympics themselves.

    As we learn in more detail here, he black athletes were not alone; they had a surprising white Ivy League faction. In The Stand we get to hear more about the support of the Harvard rowing team, who, when in California for the Olympic trials, went to meet with Professor Edwards at San Jose State and after Edwards came to Cambridge and they issued statement of support, wrote letters to other US Olympic team members urging them to join. This was meet with silence, and so the rowing crew's support of the OPHR became important. Speaking here, rowing team member Cleve Livingston declares the black power salute "one of the most powerful pieces of performance art that has ever been created." Harvard rowing team coxwain Paul Hoffman, apparently the leader of the crew's support, is also heard from here at length. Crew member Jack Fechter is seen at Mexico City eloquently supporting political statements.

    When the team met to consider the black boycott with Harry Edwards in Cambridge at the time, in "his finest hour," Hoffman thinks, Coach Harry Parker did not object to the idea. Captain Curt Canning signed on; only three members of the crew of eight abstained. The Harvard crew's Olympic support, made public at a press conference, got tremendous local coverage and is still honored by Harry Edwards today as "special" and playing "a fundamental role in this movement." (For more detail see Rick Maese's article in the Washington Post.)

    The image is iconic, and such a rich one that perhaps no documentary can ever quite do it justice. Perhaps a novel, or a fiction feature - but the people, though larger than life are still smaller than the moment, no matter how it is approached. An article by Alex Billingham for announcing the release of this film gets several things wrong. He calls the raised arms "a gesture of defiance." It was meant as a gesture of solidarityy. He says the Olympic committee took Smith's and Carlos' medals away. It sent them home, but did not take away their medals. And he calls Australian Peter Noonan who shared the platform "the third place guy." In fact Noonan - extraordinary for "a white guy" though it may have been, as Carlos says in the NBC doc,* was the silver medal winner; Carlos was the "third place guy." (Norman is an unsung, misunderstood hero, and there's a book about him: 50 years on, his 200 meters time is still the Australian record.) Billingham also says, "This seems to be a bit of an opportunistic release, considering the #BlackLivesMatter revolution happening now in the Us."

    This is not an "opportunistic" but a timely release, and presenting the famous gesture more fully in the context of the struggle for African American rights and the specific activities led by San Jose State Sociology professor Harry Edwards is welcome at this time of the worldwide response to the killing of George Floyd, the wide dissemination of Black Lives Matter, and athletes' widespread "taking the knee" led by Colin Kaepernick.

    The gesture of Smith and Carlos was carefully fitted with symbolic gestures, including going barefoot in black socks to symbolize black poverty, and a scarf and necklace to stand for lynchings. They also had on OPHR pins, and Peter Norman had borrowed one - from the Harvard coxwain - in solidarity - which led to his being ostracized with them, honorably. (The bond remained lifelong.) Though they were sent home, subsequent black athletes in this Olympics who won medals, Bob Beamon, Ralph Boston Lee Edwards, Mel Pender, and others, used their own gestures, of brotherhood just not as dramatic or as visible as the raised fists.

    One would like The Stand to include more - as I said nothing can be enough on this complex moment - and this film would be richer - if it did more to explore the gesture as symbol and the ramifications of response to it in America and throughout the world - not to mention the ostracism and deprivation Smith and Carlos suffered as a result of their being excluded from international competition after that day in October 1968 in Mexico City. (For a recent account in honor, like this film, of the fiftieth anniversary of the event, see Tik Root's article in the October 2019 Atlantic.)

    An element of redundancy is inevitable because this moment has been so much explored already. Harry Edwards, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos have in some degree lived their whole lives in the half century since in the shadow of the riveting, unforgettable moment they shaped and created. They have new things to say as their perspective matures. Here, we hear more from the Harvard rowing team than ever before. What they have to say is a valuable corrective to the bigotry of the criticism of Smith's and Carlos' gesture, notably that of Olympics head Avery Brundage, who we learn here wanted to respond by disqualifying the entire US Olympic team. Sending the two men home was a compromise to placate Brundage and keep the US team in competition.

    The Stand spells out Brundage's racist history, how he pushed through the US participation in the 1936 Nazi Olympics with a meeting at the NYAC, where no Jewish Olympic Committee members could enter. Brundage was a major stickler for the separation of politics and sport - in other words, athletes not allowed to think - not so easy to sell in 1968. But the cox, Hoffman's lending his button to Noonan almost got him expelled and the US out of rowing. (His little gesture of solidarity locked Noonan too out of future world competition.)

    The initiative of the Harvard rowing team wasn't so easy as it had looked. But it showed there were white athletes who supported and understood - despite the widespread disapproval and incomprehension. Sports reporter Howard Cosell, famous for Monday Night Football and his longtime bond with Muhammad Ali, also notably gave Tommie Smith a sympathetic interview allowing him to explain what the Black Power salute meant on the platform that day. We are still learning.

    Tom Radcliffe, who co-directed here, also worked on and coproduced Bannister: Everest on the Track, which IndieWire named one of the thirteen best sports documentaries of all time.

    The Stand, 69 mins., was presented by GlobeDocs, Dec. 4, 2018. Now to be offered Aug. 4 online on 1091 Film Room.
    *I ain't never seen no white guy run like that," says Carlos in the NBC film. Noonan was very fast.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-15-2020 at 11:26 PM.

  9. #24
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    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 was delayed to -- an indefinite date as of July 2020. Its Metascore is 82%. Released in France July 29, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.6).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-29-2020 at 10:29 AM.

  10. #25
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    CUT THROAT CITY (by RZA 2020)



    Forgivable criminals

    This is an action heist movie with a social conscience - at first, anyway. Written by P.G. Cuschieri, it's focused on a set of historic wrongs set way back in 2005. Its four central young black men return to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans then, after Katrina, finding their houses destroyed and their prospects nil. Disaster capitalism is in motion. Naomi Klein, who coined that term, isn't invoked; her book wasn't out yet. But the four brohs, Blink, Miracle, Junior and Andre, "Dre" (the charismatic and handsome Shameik Moore, with Demitrius Shipp, Keean Johnson, and Denzel Wittiker), hip to the injustice, talk about how the destruction is just going to speed up gentrification. Stingingly, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has nothing to offer them or theirs at all. So, social injustice drives these young man to crime. And we have a colorful setting for the action of this handsomely produced movie, which arrives as a heady rush of color-drenched chiaroscuro. Does the social significance carry through? What the filmmakers have in mind may owe a nod to Mario Van Peebles' 1991 New Jack City - a flamboyant, but well-researched gangster movie, genre with a sense of time and place. But this iteration, in the current vein, is a bit overstuffed, more eager to satisfy than to achieve logic, and considerably longer than its forebear.

    The leader of the four, Blink (aka James), recently married to Demyra (Kat Graham) and already
    with a small boy, has artistic talent. He is a cartoon artist, whose portfolio is brushed off by Peter Felton (Joel David Moore), an editor. Presumably the other three have all been looking around for jobs too. But they find a hopeless situation, and so they submit themselves to the #1 local gangster "Cousin" Bass (rapper T.I.), admitting to themselves on the way that maybe they're gangsters themselves (can't anybody swing either way?) Cousin sets them up to rob a big local business, a casino, for cash. The operation, executed in fetching but not very disguising stocking masks, falters, ending with them running off from police in a storm of bullets, with only a little of the cash and some chips, chased by police cars. Later, it seems they may have been set up.

    In the aftermath "Dre" dies and the others threaten a crooked-seeming funeral home "reverend" to make him deal with the body as the victim of a car accident. Enter seedy, drunken "N.O" Councilman Jackson Symms (Ethan Hawke), who threatens Detective Lucinda Valencia (Elza Gonzalez) to straighten this out, because it seems the cop cars were not real cops. For a while the movie takes on a police procedural side as the remaining three young "gangsters", pressured by Cousin Bass to pay him lost money from the casino heist, continue crime. And then, when forgiven somehow, they pause to pursue their hobbies, then return to rob the people they're most angry at.

    Somehow, they appear blest. Though the crooked cop Courtney (Rob Morgan) is hostile to Lucinda, she, the drunken Symms, and the weird "religious" top drug dealer "The Saint" (Terrence Howard) all seem disposed to forgive Bllink and his two "boys" and give him a second chance. (The plot is so forgiving, it's surprising "Dre" doesn't get a chance to come back to life.) This focus on redemption, loyalty to the unsung, untouristy parts of the Lower Ninth, and a critique of the system validates Cut Throat City's intentions to be something more than a violent heist flick.

    However, length was mentioned. Dante James of Film Threat, whose review was one of the first pieces on the movie to appear, already pointed to "pacing problems" - places where unlike so many hyperactive thrillers "this scene or that moment didn’t need that much room to breathe." And this also always means both lack of momentum and weak structure. Nonetheless there is lapidary richness in the wedding of music and image and the colorful performances, in which the young guys and the confident Ms. Gonzalez hold their own with the big names, who include Wesley Snipes in a minor but pungent role as an elder whose wisdom the young fellows don't have much time for.

    This is a satisfyingly glamorous new film to watch at a time of lock-down deprivation from movie house glamour. It leaves you sated and then some. Here, enough is never enough. The three youths get away with robbery and murder - and then - apparently - go out and do it again, this time choosing their own more worthy target and self-immolation. Speaking of repeats, the reunion of Blink and Demyra after the boys return from their time in hiding with Blink's hideaway dad (Snypes) is so rich and ritualistic it feels like a second marriage ceremony - with a lushly scored romantic make-out sequence as a bonus. Everything is a bonus here. With all the wish-fulfillment, it's almost surprising "Dre" doesn't come back to life and rejoin his brohs. And then, for Blink there's - apparently - another, happier, much happier, finale, with his artwork celebrated and glorified as only Hollywood can celebrate and glorify a young unknown's artwork. Which one is the wish-fulfillment fantasy? Take your pick. This isn't logic, it's entertainment. And thoroughly enjoyable if you don't mind its being structurally ramshackle, the social conscience getting a little lost in the fantasy.

    Cut Throat City, 139 mins., was set to debut at the South by Southwest Festival, whose main real space form was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is Wu-Tang Clan mastermind RZA’s third film — following his 2012 kung fu movie The Man With the Iron Fists and 2017’s Love Beats Rhymes. Its original theatrical release was to be April 10. That was postponed to July 17, and then to July 31.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-30-2020 at 10:18 AM.

  11. #26
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    MARTIN MARGIELA IN HIS OWN WORDS ( Reiner Holzemer 2019)



    Secret stylist speaks

    Clothing designers are strange people, but some are stranger than others. This one chose to be the Banksy of couture, never seen, always hiding. That in a field about the look of things must be rather extraordinary. It's easier to operate this way for Banksy. He can come and produce his artworks in secret, departing disguised on the Tube. Fashion is made with assistants, models, and the branch of an industry requiring fabrics and distribution. But besides protecting him for his work, Margiela's secrecy added excitement to his name and the glamour of inaccessibility.

    The first thing we see is a stunning "défilé," a designer fashion show, where all the women are masked, their heads wrapped in cloth. Another file of models come out with long wigs over their faces, so they look as if they're walking backwards. It is very surreal, and very arresting. The powerful first impression has been made. I was unfamiliar with Margiela, or as most of his fans clients and colleagues call him, Martin. If this film is true, he became a powerful figure in Paris design, a designer's designer, perhaps one of the ten most important couturiers of the century. It is evident his shows were revolutionary and attention-getting. The French Wikipedia article calls him "un des plus atypiques et les plus avant-gardistes" of his generation. He carried on the spirit of Rei Kawakubo's avant-gard Japanese fashion label Comme des Garçons in a more "deconstructed" style.

    Margiela is notable for the surreal look ("a surrealistic eye" was his "first thing," and the "veiled face"), also for designs utilizing second-hand fabrics and dresses ("objets trouvés," Peter Bradshaw calls them); for cloven-toe Tabi boots with tall fat heels; for jabots; and for distinctive small shoulder pads. His artisinal, conceptual clothes rejected luxury design, focusing on garments of oversized proportions such as long arms, and with linings, seams and hems on the outside, sometimes with plastic wrapping, even tape. He made designs from fabrics on which dresses were photographically reproduced in black and white for a trompe l’oeil effect (see photo above). His label was blank, with four white stitches showing through onto the back, which eventually became an instantly recognized signature. Shoulders and shoes were his focus, he says.

    Yes, he says - because the elusive Martin Margiela himself, heard but not seen, personally narrates much of this film. The result has been criticized as promotional and is certainly not neutral, but its unique value comes because Banksy, that is Margiela, comes forth, speaking in English in a pleasant, mellow voice in a sort of French accent - though Flemish may have been his native tongue. And thus while he may be invisible, we get to know him speaking about himself in his own voice and in his own words.

    From 1985 to 1987 Margiela went to work for Jean Paul Gautier, one of the hippest designers in Paris fashion and "the idol of the younger generation." His own first show was held in a large old Paris cinema. Another was far out, at an abandoned children's playground in the 19e or 20e arrondissement, a poor neighborhood, and ghetto kids were encouraged to run around and play amid the parading models. A party atmosphere was created. Models, with messy hair and heavy makeup and drenched in patchouli scent, were encouraged to smile, breaking the stone cold mannequin look, to, he says, excellent effect: viewers, who included locals, had a good time, but also were challenged, given no place to sit, or chaired first-come-first-served. He used "street-casting" of models too as a general policy.

    Margiela's revolutionary, provocative style as a designer was a big reason for his never giving interviews or showing himself to the public. He says that unlike Gautier, he had no gift for addressing the public, and having to explain and justify his innovations to insensitive, uncomprehending journalists would have disturbed and exhausted him and used up energy he preferred to devote to doing the work.

    His eponymous fashion house, cofounded with Jenny Meirens, dates from 1988. From 1996 to 2004 Margiela was also in charge of the women's line of Hermès. In 2009 it was revealed that he hadn't been actively involved in the creative work of the House of Margiela for some time. He faded away without any formal farewells. A "faceless" team was continuing to create provocative work in his spirit, and Margiela withdrew to paint and sculpt, as he has done since. Five years later, John Galliano was appointed the head of the house, apparently with Margiela's blessing (replacing his shattered career at Dior). But some of those administrative details are omitted from Holzemer's film.

    Margin Margiela was born and grew up in Louvain, Belgium and later studied design at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Art, graduating in 1979, a year before the group of important colleagues who became known as the Antwerp Six. His father was a hairdresser, his grandmother a dressmaker. He learned from both, but the grandmother was the mentor and inspiration. She helped him with his first drawings and designs when, as a boy, he made sketches and sewed clothes for his Barbie and Ken dolls.

    Unusual among designer films this one shows its subject's early work, preserved by his mother (who may also have been an important influence, it's suggested in another film). Thanks to her we get to see how precocious he was: we see the Kens and Barbies, a knowingly sewn little jacket, and colored costume designs reminiscent of the gleaming gems Leon Bakst panted and drew for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe de Monte-Carle in the thirties.

    Though the film may seem to rush as well as gush, it's also exciting. Its narration in person by the mystery man and the presentation of earliest works make it stand out among films about designers. It's not as dramatic and powerful a designer film as McQUeen, about the brilliant English designer Alexander McQueen who hanged himself at the age of forty. Here, one misses the workshops with skilled seamstresses, the precise, exhaustive work of sculpting exquisite fabrics, that one sees in the films about Yves Saint Laurent and other major French couturiers of the dying breed. We do hear that Margiela had nice hands, and the models liked the gentleness, skill and respect with which he arranged clothes on their bodies.

    For additional factual aspects of this film I recommend Meredith Taylor's review for Filmuforia, to which I have added a little of my own here. She notes that the rock atmosphere of some of Margiela's shows is echoed by using the Belgian rock band dEus for this film's score. When he himself isn't speaking there are various associates, friends, admirers who speak of him. - as they may have done already, since this is the third Margiela film, with a twelve-minute one called The Artist Is Absent: A Short Film On Martin Margiela by Alison Chernick from 2015; Menna Laura Meijer's 99-minute We, Margiela from 2017 coming before.

    Twelve years have passed since Margiela pulled away from his Paris fashion house and ready-to-wear business at the age of fifty. When another unseen voice asks him at the end if he is done with designing, however, after a pause he firmly says "No."

    Martin Margiela in His Own Words, 90 mins., debuted in DOC NYC Nov. 2019. It will be released on virtual cinemas by Oscilloscope August 15, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-23-2020 at 01:53 AM.

  12. #27
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    A THOUSAND CUTS (Ramona S. Diaz 2020)



    "A warning letter to nations that embrace thuggish leaders"

    (So wrote John DeFore of A Thousand Cuts in his Hollywood Reporter review.)

    This is a story that makes you feel full of admiration - and sick.

    After a youth spent in the US, Maria Ressa returned home to the Philippines by choice. A small, compact, tough woman, she is fiercely intelligent, effortlessly articulate, and calm and unfailingly good humored in the face of adversity. This is her story, the equally nauseating and inspiring story of journalistic freedoms progressively trampled in a vanishing democracy.

    Maria Ressa is the Philippines' leading independent journalist,, one of the four "Guardians" (who included Jamal Khashoggi) named as Time's Person of the Year for 2018. She was inspired by the 1986 People Power Revolution that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos and brought democracy back to the country. She eventually became CNN's Manila bureau chief in 1995. Then in 2012 she cofounded and became the head of Rappeler, the country's leading online news site. In the past five years, with the unexpected rise of outsider Manila mayor Rodrigo Duterte to the office of president of the Philippines, things have gone back again to the bad old days with the election of a violent political outsider whose "war on drugs" has meant Within hours of his taking office the dead bodies of poor addicts piling up in the streets of Manila Within hours of taking office while rich dealers go free. As this film begins, Maria Ressa remains more dedicated than ever. This documentary is a picture of strong journalism in a world where the leader hates the free press and does all he can to block its function. This is a "war on drugs" that means killing drug users. It's insane and horribly real.

    In an attempt to suppress independent reporting, Duterte set loose a powerful disinformation campaign that spread like wildfire throughout social media. This film shows some diagrams about bots and influencing. We see that 26 fake accounts can rapidly influence 3 million real individuals. And this is especially significant because Filipinos are the highest social media users in the world, spending ten hours a day online.

    In the film, we follow Maria Ressa, who's a model of coolness, calm, and good sense. But everywhere we go we feel ugliness and fear in the air. From the podium at large rallies, Duterte and his chief minions openly admit to killing people and threaten to kill many more. The air alll around them is full of violence, menace, and vulgarity. All that comes out of the mouths of Duterte and his lieutenants is full of misogyny and threats. He jokes about his penis and the odor of the female sex. You thought Trump was bad? Here is how it could get much, much worse. But Maria Ressa is not unaware of the relationship and points out America has a similar leader. She says poorer countries are testing grounds for an undermining of democracy that can be tried later in the first world.

    Director Ramona S. Diaz follows key players on both sides of an increasingly dangerous war between the press and government. Maria Ressa and her staff continue to make the lawless regime accountable. On the other side, influencers such as pop-star-turned-government-secretary Mocha Uson start social media movements and the thuggish, Mussolini-like General Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa spearheads a public execution campaign against addicts. Obviously everybody doesn't believe this grotesque nonsense, but the opposition is afraid to speak up.

    Maria Ressa repeatedly meets with and interviews Duterte, but meanwhile, he and his team accuse Rappeler of being the agent of a foreign government and taking money to accuse enemies. Rappeler's rising star Pia Ranada is also individually targeted by Duterte for his disinformation campaign. Maria Ressa is much in demand overseas, with invitations to speak in New York, Glasgow, Geneva. She is arrested, and gets out on bail. Later after a foreign trip, she is arrested a second time within five weeks when she arrives back in the country. She is accused of a media libel violation involving a law that is being invoked retroactively.

    The film alternately, breathtakingly, follows the key players, Rappeler's leadng female journalists Duterte and General Della Rosa, Duterte's daughter Sara, now a mayor, and pop-star blogger "Mocha" Uson, who serves in the administration and has been nicknamed the "Queen of Fake News."

    Maria Ressa says in a public address that what we are witnessing is a "death by a thousand cuts" of democracy. She returns after another foreign trip where she has been encouraged in a public speech by George Clooney. Throughout the period covered in this film Maria Ressa increases to be increasingly known and admired overseas as a champion of free speech and model of journalistic integrity.

    There is a national election and we see opposition candidates speak out. They say they do not feel safer, and that the drug situation has only grown worse since the "war on drugs." But as they speak, "Bato" stands at a bigger podium than theirs in the hall and yells at them. A woman moderator tries ineffectually to calm "Bato" down. But he is a mad dog given free reign. Some of the public meetings have a Hitlerian atmosphere. In the election, the opposition candidates don't do well enough to gain power in the senate. Duterte's power grows stronger. Maria Ressa points out the "checks and balances are "bending to the man" (Duterte).

    In 2020, with the pandemic on and Maria Ressa wearing a mask, she is convicted of cyber libel charges, with a sentence of six years. We have seen her declare to an intimate friend earlier that she is ready for the fate suffered by journalists in Egypt and other countries. As the film ends, she is appealing the conviction. She has seven more cases pending.

    This is a sickening, disturbing, and essential film. As Jessica Kiang wrote in her Variety review, it feels "more like a political thriller" than an "off-the-cuff investigation" of "embattled journalism." And it is impeccably made: for what you might expect to be rough-looking news footage, DPs Gabriel Goodenough and Jeffrey Johnson instead provide astonishing, crystal-clear images throughout this film. As for Diaz, Kiang comments she herself has an "intelligence coupled to intense compassion" that strongly suggests she and Ressa are "kindred spirits."

    A Thousand Cuts, 110 mins., debuted at Sundance in Jan. 2020. It was to have been shown at a dozen other festivals, including SXSW at Austin and the Maryland Film Festival (Diaz lives in northwest Baltimore), but all were cancelled due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. PBS Distribution and FRONTLINE will distribute the film for online pay-for-viewing from August 7, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-23-2020 at 09:54 AM.

  13. #28
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY (Bert Stern 1958) - reissue by Kino Lorber



    A historic jazz festival film to be watched with caution

    It's an unfortunate habit of mainstream media to treat any older film that's revived with fanfare as a masterpiece. This is a historic musical film, one of the greatest, some say. And maybe it is, as a skillful melding of music and images based around a festival (Jazz at Newport, 1958). And there are some absolutely sublime little bits of editing - of what looks like a beautiful moment in time. But "greatest film of jazz ever made"? No way. The greatest films of jazz are the short ones emceed by Ralph J. Gleason for the San Francisco "Jazz Casual" show in black and white, in particular the one of John Coltrane, because Coltrane is the greatest jazz musician who has ever lived, and this gives us a rare and wonderful uninterrupted performance of the mature Coltrane on film.

    I'm more or less in agreement with The New Yorker's, Richard Brody, on Bert Stern's film. His stand is summed up in the title of his 2016 piece about it: "A Classic Jazz Documentary That Honors and Insults the Art Form." Several performances shown in the film (a few; not so many), he says, are "among the treasures of filmed music." Yet Bert Stern and his editors leave "an impression of misprogramming, condescension, and even willful omission." Brody says Stern's film is a great document of the art form but one that "distorts, exalts and diminishes" and even sometimes "unintentionally insults."
    I'm not sure it's all that unintentional. It can be observed from the first minute that something is wrong here.

    Brody's analysis of the early segment I also agree with. The extended film strip of Jimmy Giuffre that opens with the credits is dull - a bad start, a strange choice for the film's longest single strip of a performance. Next the film virtually trashes one of the undisputed greats of jazz piano and composition, Thelonious Monk, not only cutting his one song, "Blue Monk," to a bare minimum, but intercutting it with views of the America's Cup sailing yacht races going on at the same time - but irrelevant to the jazz festival in just about every way. The film fails to explain the reason why Henry Grimes and Roy Haynes stayed on the stage to play with Monk. It was because they'd just played with saxophonist Sonny Rollins - a jazz giant whose omission from the film is inexplicable. Maybe he didn't fit well with the yachts.

    Worse than that is the way Anita O'Day, probably the greatest white female jazz singer, is treated. On the one hand, two of her songs are allowed to play all through. O'Day is beyond impressive, though her subtlety is seriously undercut by the visual interruptions, this time by views of the audience. At first the cameras show people looking bored, chatting, smoking cigarettes, munching on ice cream on a stick. You would not know that this was an audience of jazz lovers. Of course not everyone was one, but the applause at the end of O'Day's "Tea for Two" (and of her set) is enthusiastic. The performance was a triumph. It's said to have marked a peak of her career and to have led to her international reputation.

    Not only that, but O'Day's outfit is sublime, high heels, a svelte black dress with elaborate white border at the hem, a wide-brimmed black hat with white feathers, and white gloves: a jazz singer impeccably, but festively, dressed as for a midsummer lawn party, or for New England, where things are a bit more formal. She looks great. She is glamorous, she sparkles, she is right for a summer's day at Newport.

    So actually is the audience. This is a stunning record of how very much better Americans dressed, casually, in the late fifties than at any time since. It's dressier, yet summery, chic but comfortable. In fact, I could look at the clothes of the audience members, even the kids, with more unadulterated pleasure than any other aspect of the film - than the undercut performances, or the pretty, but irrelevant shots from the yacht race or other locales.

    Things get better after George Shearing (shown too close up, and in an undercut performance) with Dinah Washington, fully celebrated in what seems a complete performance of "All of Me," glorious, buoyant, happy; and the shots of the audience, at night now, moving as Dinah moves, are less obtrusive and more harmonious. Gerry Mulligan next, also goes well.

    Numerous other musicians are included; this only describes half the film. We get to see Chuck Berry (in a jazz setting); Chico Hamilton, with Eric Dolphy (perhaps the most advanced and fresh performer); Louis Armstrong, with Jack Teagarden the least challenging). Also appearing are Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, Armando Peraza, and Eli's Chosen Six, a Yale College student ensemble that happened to include trombonist Roswell Rudd,seen playing Dixzieland here, who was to go the other way, and join Archie Shepp.

    But as Brody points out, not only does this film make it look like the audience of jazz is predominantly white, but the most challenging aspects of jazz are downplayed, even though they were present at the festival - so that bebop was omitted. Not only does the film omit Sonny Rollins, but, even worse, it leaves out Miles Davis performing with his sextet in a new iteration of that year made up of Miles with Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), John Coltrane (tenor), Bill Evans (piano, replacing Red Garland), and Paul Chambers (bass). Bert Stern & company have erased one of the most important small groups in jazz history.

    Also omitted is pianist Mary Lou Williams (playing solo), Max Roach with a quintet including Booker Little (trumpet, replacing the tragically lost great Clifford Brown, who died in two years earlier). All these were the cutting edge of jazz, included in the festival but not the film. The black artists who were provocative and brilliant - left out. The safer ones - included. And that's not right. Jazz is challenging. Jazz is ever fresh. And jazz is African American classical music made very largely for a black audience.

    So if you love jazz, if you love concert films, watch this one by all means - but watch it with caution, skepticism, and an awareness that for all its sparkle, it's seriously flawed.

    Jazz on a Summer Afternoon, 85 mins., debuted at Venice, Aug. 1959; theatrical US release New York Mar. 1960. other festival showings 2005 and 2009. New IndieCollect 4K Restoration debuted Glasgow Mar. 2020. Starting Aug. 12, 2020 in Virtual Cinemas in a rerelease by Kino Lorber.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 08:42 PM.

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