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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 60%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-08-2021 at 01:08 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

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



    Old song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



    Not just another Cannes mistake?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  5. #20
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    ZOMBI CHILD (Bertrand Bonello 2019)



    Voodoo comes to Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  6. #21
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    WASP NETWORK (Olivier Assayas 2019)



    Spies nearby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  7. #22
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    BERGMAN ISLAND (Mia Hansen-Løve 2021)



    A misfire for the director, despite the critical admiration

    In Hansen-Love's new film she more directly than before references her former relationship with the much older director Olivier Assayas in a frame tale of an "American" couple (actually Tim Roth is English and Vicky Krieps is German) who go to Farö, the island that became the Swedish director's refuge, on a kind of double artist residency. It seems like a terrible idea, and it makes the marriage go wrong, apparently. The film seems to avoid becoming too obviously autobiographical by taking refuge in fourth-wall games. It's a filmmaker's film about filmmakers writing films about filmmakers writing films - in the shadow of one of the 20th century's most admired filmmakers. If that sounds cool to you, this is the film for you.

    Critics have gushed and waxed lyrical about this film since its debut in Competition at Cannes this year. They are right to admire Hansen-Løve; she's made some lovely films. This isn't one of them. Despite its intended complexity, it's both lightweight and cloying. And lightweight not in the way of displaying, as Hansen-Løve's other films do, a light touch, but by beating around the bush and rarely getting to the point.

    The man, Tony (Roth) is a successful writer-director and his wife Chris (Krieps) is a fledgling one. She sets up uneasily to write in a nearby mill, while Tony sets up shop and blithely moves rapidly ahead working in the very bedroom where Bergman shot "Scenes from a Marriage," the work that a local employee says launched a thousand divorces. While reviewers are thrilled about the multi-layered screenplay here, they overlook what a bore it tends to be from the start. Much time is wasted getting the couple from point A to point B, with every detail of the ferry and the programmed-in GPS, and then once they're settled - uneasily in Chris's case - on Farö, we are bombarded with tourist lectures about the place in relation to its famous Swedish theater director, filmmaker, and serial philanderer who, we learn (in case we have no access to Wikipedia), had nine children by six different women and produced a prodigious amount of work by never changing any diapers.

    The "Bergman Safari" that Tony goes on, a bus trip around the island, is avoided by Chris, who gets a private tour from a tall young man with Prince Valiant hair called Hampus (Hampus Nordenson), who, except for the hair, looks a bit like the Norwegian actor Anders Danielsen Lie, who appears later, in the film "The White Dress," which Chris will summarize to Tony while in progress as she agonizes, you may be surprised to learn, over how to end it. Tony is somewhat inattentive. So was I.

    The Bergman Safari is presumably a sendup of such affairs, especially their male-dominated artist-worship aspects, and so is the event where Tony's film is shown and he gives a lengthy Q&A that causes Chris to wander off, just as he will excuse himself to take phone calls while she's summarizing her scenario. It seems they are both bored with each other's careers - though while Chris is moody all the time, Tony seems perpetually cheery. This is one indication of the fact that while there is a superficial complexity in the film-within-film structure, all the effort expended on the layering of characters with versions of themselves makes them wind up relatively one-dimensional.

    By the time Bergman Island gets to Chris's summary of her scenario, which we see (partially) enacted in rich detail, the texture has finally become interesting, especially with the introduction of Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie. But all the schlepping to and around the island and tourist information about Ingmar Bergman has gone on so long it's too late. There is a lot of play with flash-forward and flashback, of characters suddenly replaced by their avatars. But by that time though I hate to say this about anything, especially a Hansen-Løve film, what's happening on screen has become too boring to care. Please rent instead copies of her other films like All Is Forgiven, THe Father of My Children, or, speaking of Anders Danielsen Lie, by all means watch the two superb Joachim Trier features he stars in, Repriseand Oslo, Aug. 22. Stay off that island.

    Bergman Island 112 mins., debuted at Cannes and showed also at Telluride, Toronto, New York, Vancouver, London, and other international film festivals. It opened in US theaters Oct. 15, 2021. Metscaore: 81%.


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-16-2021 at 08:54 PM.

  8. #23
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    WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY 偶然と想像 (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi 2021)



    As with the rest of his oeuvre, duplication and mirroring of female characters once again inform Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s latest work, Guzen to sozo. It would not be out of place to make a literary analogy and, if one were to regard his two previous films (Happy Hour and Asako I & II) as novels, this new work could be described as a collection of short stories. The film’s recurring rhythm amplifies this effect. The three episodes, which each revolve around a woman, are in turn divided into three movements, like a piece of music. They tell stories of an unexpected love triangle, a failed seduction trap, and an encounter that results from a misunderstanding. The fragmentation serves to emphasize rather than undermine the exquisitely organic storytelling and mise en scène. Although most of the action takes place in a single space and involves just two actors, not once does it feel like filmed theatre. The secret lies not only in the writing, but also in the notion of a more complex temporality in each episode that flirts with science fiction in the final installment. The moments we witness are crystallized into touching universal destinies marked by choices, regrets, deception and coincidences. They are the film’s true protagonists. - BERLINALE blurb.

    The Berlinale's glowing description fits with its recent selection of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy for its no. 2 award, the Grand Jury Prize. Recognition of quality that is not undeserved. It seems like the Hamaguchi feature of the year to see isn't this one, though, but his Haruki Murakami adaptation Drive My Car, which won Best Screenplay and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury this year at Cannes. The New York Film Festival has added to its custom lately of including two Hong Sang-soos in its Main Slate and included both Hamaguchis as well. (Due to missing the NYFf I have to wait a while longer to see Drive My Car.)

    The Japanese director, who has been A-List for five years since his over-five-hour compendium Happy Hour (ND/NF 2016) brought him to international attention, shows a knack for understated, exquisitely modulated social dramas and here provides elegant arthouse entertainment. He goes for doubling women - or men. His 2018 Asako I & II (NYFF) was a disappointment; it suffered from a familiar high concept and seemed like a Young Adult novel for tired grownups. This time also he has a tall, very good-looking young man, though it's the two women who fight over him in the first segment that get the attention. In the second one, there is a really embarrassing attempt to titillate. A married, slightly older girlfriend (Katsuki Mori) reads an absurdly overt sexual passage from his new prize-winning novel to her sex buddy (Shouma Kai)'s professor ( (Kiyohiko Shibukawa)) who has flunked him, at the sex-buddy's request to stage a "honey pot" incident, and mire the prof in scandal. It backfires in more ways than one, and she meets the sex buddy five years later on a bus and they update each other. While the first segment sparkles, despite its superficiality, the second goes dead in the middle.

    The third segment is by far the most emotionally resonant. In it two women 20 years out of high school meet on the Sendai station escalator and stage a one-on-one reunion, only to discover that they are not the two other women they'd wanted to meet, not classmates at all. But having realized this, and due perhaps to the mixture off boredom and politeness of the woman who plays hostess at her beautiful house (Fusako Urabe), they salvage the situation movingly by role-playing and thus letting out the feelings they have long had bottled up toward the other, missing, woman. That one of the two, the guest in the house (Aoba Kawai), is lesbian may help make the sequence more convincingly resonant. But the real, if slightly clichéd, hidden truth is that the woman with the husband and child and lovely house feels as empty as the lovelorn lesbian who has never replaced her high school sweetheart.

    Hamaguchi works out all these - except for the uncomfortable sex passage-reading in segment 2 - with delicacy and exquisite tact. I liked the first segment, especially the first of its scenes in the back of a taxicab when a beautiful woman (Hyunri) tells her cute Dutch-boy bob-haired model "best friend" (Kotone Furukawa) all about the wonderful new man she has just met (Ayumu Nakajima), not knowing he's her friend's ex. We are so charmed we don't ask for a while how come she doesn't know he's her friend's ex, if they're besties. It is also fun to see the - tall, slender, handsome - young man fight over which woman he's going to choose, and not knowing how it's going to turn out. It's artificial, but it's entertaining and nicely done. It seems like a modern Japanese version of some period Hollywood romantic comedy.

    Except for the reading of the testicle-mouthing passage from his own novel to the blank-faced professor, which seemed interminable from the first minute, these three "short stories" (if you like) are enjoyable and never drag. Still, this whole film seems like treading water on Hamaguchi's part between more important work. I'm beginning not to be sure that Hamaguchi is ever really going to thrill me the way, in the 2018 NYFF, Koreeda's Shoplifters and even more, Lee Chang-dong's Burning did. But I haven't seen Drive My Car.

    Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy 偶然と想像(Guzen to sozo), 121 mins., debuted Buenos Aires (BAFICI) Mar. 23, 2021, showing also at Hong Kong,, Moscow, Berlin, Udie, showing at at least 20 other international festivals. US release Oct. 29, 2021. Metacriic rating: 84%.


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-15-2021 at 10:14 PM.

  9. #24
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    KILLING ELEANOR (Rich Newey 2020)




    The addict and the dying lady

    This is a set of rough topics to deal with, a terminally ill old lady who uses an old IOU to persuade a now 30-ish woman to help her end her life. Ostensibly it's in exchange for clean urine, so the younger woman, a drug addict, can con her parents into letting her go on staying with them. But in the end it's the friendship that develops, and the desire of the young woman, whose painkiller addiction has made her become a habitual liar, to do one true and honest thing.

    I would be reluctant to say this story is implausible; anything can happen. The aim is to hold up the issue of assisted suicide. And from early on the elderly woman strongly reminded me of a friend of mine I met in a studio class when I was forty and she was just turning seventy. We remained best of friends till she passed at the age of eighty-two. Z. was so strong-willed, it seems quite likely she had willed herself to die in the hospital, once she was told that now her studio days would be over and so life would not be interesting. This old lady is feisty, but she has to have help.

    There are things I don't like, and the drug addict and assisted suicide material makes the filmmakers' initial plan of this being a comedy with some drama seem clueless. As they progressed, they switched to seeing it as drama with some comedy. Maybe in the world of today's television it passes as a dry dramedy. Though the director, an editor by training, takes pride in his transitions and in his score (by friends he admires), I take issue with both. However the circumstances of this film are propitious and it comes through in touching and poignant scenes between two excellent actors who have fine rapport. The screenplay is by Annika Marks, who plays the role of the thirtyish addict Natalie Gallo. She wrote the piece for her costar, veteran actress Jenny O'Hara, who plays the elderly heart patient Eleanor Magno, and director Rich Newey, making his feature debut, is Annika's husband. He also is the editor and he and Annika collaborated at times on that. (Details in a Filmmaker interview.)

    A personal touch is the use of a little powder blue Chevvy chosen as an exact match for a car Annika used to own. The fact that Natalie has an accomplished and loving family corresponds to things I've heard about addicts. There is a politically ambitious sister, Anya (Betsy Brandt) present in an early intervention scene, where it's clear her only concern is her own reputation and that too is plausible. Natalie's mother's loving attention and her doctor father's looking the other way have been enabling her for years through several failed rehabs, one of which is in progress as the action begins. All this is plausible. Natalie is attending 12-step meetings and lying about being clean, which is a trope that seemed over-familiar to me.

    All is saved and objections begin to fade away when Eleanor appears at the spa where Natalie is working to persuade her to help her die. This certainly is not a familiar trope. Killing Eleanor turns into a road movie-buddy picture, a right-to-die Thelma and Louise, as Natalie must spring Eleanor from the dreadful nursing home where she is housed and they go off to a rural part of Michigan. From here on what makes this work is simply the spark and authenticity Annika Marks and Jenny O'Hara both bring to all their scenes. Special mention is due to excellent newcomer Jordan Arredondo as Dillon, the 19-year-old kid Natalie picks up in a bar for painkillers his father didn't use, and an uncomfortable bedroom scene whose contradictions concentrate all the confusion and falsity of Natalie's life very well.

    Over a drugged Dillan, Natalie has a moment of realization and resolve. It's clear - and this too is plausible and true of addicts - that what she must do is stop lying. Any changes must start from there.

    This is a flawed first film but one with many good ingredients and a story that may make it of special interest as concerning subjects people need to stop ignoring - the painful, useless extension of life by the medical industry and worthwhileness of being allowed to die on one's own terms.

    Killing Eleanor, 104 mins., debuted at Savanah Oct. 29, 2020, showing at other virtual fests and playing in the Port Townsend Women & Film festival Apr. 2021 where it was the Audience Choice feature. It will be available to buy or rent from Oct. 12, 2021 through 1091 Pictures.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-23-2021 at 11:24 AM.

  10. #25
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    Jul 2002
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    BECOMING COUSTEAU (Liz Garbus 2021)

    capsule for Mill Valley:


    From adventurer to ecologist to prescient profit of doom

    Liz Garbus is a frantically productive doc maker known for among others Bobby Fisher Against the World (2011) and What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) Made in collaboration with the Cousteau Society and co-produced by Cousteau’s widow Francine and children Diane and Pierre-Yves, this documentary could risk feeling like a whitewashed, official version of Cousteau’s life, a work that aims "to burnish a legend" rather than "explore ... personal depths" (The Wrap;"). But his failings are here, and this is, however conventional, a richly illustrated depiction of an immensely important man in his time whose clarion cries are more relevant than ever today.

    Why do I feel sometimes, though, that I've been fed most of this information before? Because I saw it thoroughly rehearsed in dramatized form in Paris in the film L'odyssée (Jérôme Salle 2016), starring the excellent Lambert Wilson and Pierre Niney, which I saw a second time in the Rendez-Vous at Lincoln Center in 2017. No matter: this is the authoritative, authorized documentary version, with access to the wealth of lifelong film documentation that's available. "Je m'amuse," Cousteau says in one of the many recordings. "I'm having fun." And it is fun and inspiring to watch him, even when he is saddened and his vision turns dark.

    Cousteau got a Pathé camera at age 12; it helped conquer his shyness. Later a very bad car accident that broke 12 bones led him to swim: it helped him heal. Then he started to dive, and to photograph, and the rest is history.

    He was a naval officer, hence "Captain Cousteau." At first he began diving with two others. The "three musketeers of the sea" ("Les Mousqemers") fellow naval officer, Philippe Tailliez, Maurice Fargues. they were reduced to two when they started going deep and Sept. 17 1947 one of them, Fargues died going down 120 meters, using the new aqualung to set a world record for diving depth; they had not yet learned (one would have liked more about this whole process) that at such depths consciousness is affected and a diver can endanger himself without knowing it (undersea high).

    His documentary film The Silent World (1957) was immensely popular. His show on ABC "The Undersea world of Jacques Cousteau" (1966-1976) became one of the most popular television shows of all time. An important aspect of the success was this quintessentially French guy's and his sons' ability to function fluently in English. `The show, which was managed to be both popular and urgently important, unveiled the wonders of the sea, and, gradually, its unmaking. The Cousteau family were and are formidable defenders of this huge underwater part of planet Earth. Jacques was early in recognizing that the sea had been trashed; the fragility and importance of coral reefs; the disintegration of icebergs. He saw how the planet's climate hinges on the condition of Antarctica: he saw it all, forty years ago, global warming, droughts in the United States, famine in Africa.

    Calypso (rechristened no doubt) was "basically a mine-sweeper;" they got it in 1950 art a bargain price with a grant from a wealthy conservative British supporter, Thomas Loel Guinness. "It's a person not a boat," Cousteau said. It became the heart of his world as an explorer, impresario, filmmaker: The Life Aquatic with Jacques Cousteau. Their first voyage had "le partum de l'aventure, de la nouveauté, l'iréel" (the fragrance of adventure novelty, the unreal).

    Calypso was an empire, Jacques-Yves the king. His sons Jean-Michel (more a manager) and Philippe (an explorer like their father) were also part of the world. His wife Simone was a manager, wedded not to the sea but to the boat, always on board, Jeanne-Claude to his Christo, the only women on board, avoiding being in the films, but in photographs plainly having a good time, and said to have been a good diver.

    Cousteau seemed about to sell out to the petroleum industry - he did discover major oil in the Persian Gulf - but he saved himself from such a sellout by beginning his ABC television show "The Underwater World," in 1968. "On January 8, 1968, "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" debuted on ABC. The show is vintage Cousteau, featuring the French adventurer-slash-scientist wearing a red cap, a skimpy bathing suit, and smoking like a chimney." (He and his two sons wore red caps and black outfits, their uniform. He had lean dash and dazzle, pearl-gray swept-back hair, flashing teeth.) Chris Higgins: "If you've seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and you haven't seen the Cousteau films, you're in for a treat."

    When Cousteau began on American television he was 58, and he did not look young. Who was this old French guy? The audience soon learned. And then Cousteau became a crusader for ecology, for saving the ruined, trashed sea. And he founded The Cousteau Society. He claimed 160,000 members in the late seventies; now it has 50,000. Perhaps it is outstripped by son Jean-Michel in 1999.

    He was devastated by the death in a private seaplane crash of his son Philippe at 39 in 1979. He blamed himself for allowing his son to fly, and declared that his punishment would be that he would work to the end. It's said he aged ten years, and became more pessimistic about the future of the sea. We learn that ABC dropped Cousteau's specials in the late seventies "because he was getting too dark."

    He was fed up with the cult of his own personality and more and more hopeless about saving the planet, which he thought was too late. "We spoil the planet every day, more and more."

    At this point the film introduces Cousteau's second wife, Francine, a 41-year-old French woman diver who married him when he was 80, a year after his wife Simone died of cancer at 71. But wait! His two children with Francine were born in 1980 and 1980, long before his wife Simone died. The relationship with Francine was not talked about, but everyone knew about it. On board. But Simone kept secret how sick she was and went on a last Calypso voyage when she was dying, with widespread cancer. She said theCalypso was the reason why she was alive. The young kids whom Francine had when Cousteau was 70 may have revived his smile. They are vibrant kids - divers, of course.

    The film ends on a triumphal note against the odds. Cousteau is successful in getting a multi-nation treaty to leave Antarctica intact for 50 years. He is a major figure at Rio 1992, the earth conference, the only one standing as an equal of heads of state. He is heard expressing optimism about mankind's ability to learn. And he gets a funeral at Notre Dame cathedral. His eighties were spectacular. he had an impressive old age. Let's hope his optimism is validated, not his pessimism. The film ought to have ended on a stronger, more honest note; it would have been fairer to the man's legacy of intense eco-awareness to do that. But he wouldn't even have liked the title. He was insistent that his work was not about him.

    Becoming Cousteau 91 mins., debuted at Telluride Sept. 2, 2021, showing also at Toronto Sept. 11, Camden, Hamptons ,London and Mill Valley in October. Us release Oct. 22, 2o21.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-29-2021 at 07:46 PM.

  11. #26
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    SPEER GOES TO HOLLYWOOD (Vanessa Lapa 2020)

    For release Oct. 29:



    An attempt to expose the slickest Nazi that fizzles

    How did the most powerful Nazi in the Nuremberg trials become "the good Nazi"? This documentary delves into the details of his successful post-prison life. Well, sort of. In fact this documentary seems ineffectual and even an out-and-out mistake. Its ironies are at once too subtle and too obvious to be of much interest.

    Vanessa Lapa made a previous documentary about Heinrich Himmler, The Decent One. When she was approached by Stanley Cohen, a man who was originally going to promote a film dramatizing the memoir of Albert Speer, the architect of the Third Reich, she has recounted that she couldn't face more exposure to the mind of evil, but eventually she was drawn into it.

    The pretext for this film is 40 hours of tapes recording discussions between Andrew Birkin and Albert Speer in the early seventies. Cohen had bought the film rights of Speer's memoir. Paramount was interested. Hence these discussions.

    Speer never went to Hollywood. The Birkin-Speer talks took place at Speer's home in Germany. Speer had evaded hanging at the Nuremberg trials and served 20 years at Spandau for his war crimes, then become famous and financially successful as "the good Nazi" for his books about the Third Reich whitewashing his role in it. Andrew Birkin, brother of Jane, then 25, was a protégé of Stanley Kubrick and cousin of Carol Reed, and Birkin was a young screenwriter. On the tapes they are going over the screenplay Birkin had composed dramatizing Speer's memoirs.

    Lapa's idea was to recreate these discussions - degraded quality required that they be dubbed by other voices - and provide visuals that alternately illustrate and contradict Speer's claims as they go through a screenplay outline.

    Lapa uses a wealth of archival material for this that shows Speer and his wife in their comfortable home alternating with images of Germany before and during the war and images of the Nuremberg trials, with special emphasis in the latter on Speer's behavior.

    As before, at Nuremberg and in his memoirs, Speer dodges issues constantly. He tries to persuade Birkin to present him in a more innocent light, the man who claimed not to have known about the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews, not to know about the death camps.

    We get the outlines of Speer's remarkable rise to power from being a young, minor architect to a favorite of Hitler, and then when the chief or armaments Fritz Todt died in a plane crash, being chosen to replace him and thus become one of the most powerful figures in the Third Reich. It is now believed that Speer's falsification of his armament production and artificial increase of it, through slave labor of prisoners, was effective in extending the war and causing the deaths of millions of additional war victims when Speer knew early on, which he partially admits in these talks, that the war was lost and Germany would only be further destroyed. He acknowledges knowing horrible things were happening in the camps. He says he approved their introduction though, because the jails weren't big enough.

    But Speer doesn't dramatically admit such a thing. On the contrary he smoothly covers it over, as was his way. There are some stunning admissions. He says, for instance, that he wasn't anti-Semitic; he just was disgusted by Jews and their money-grubbing ways. He had claimed not to have been present when Himmler made his notorious speech announcing that the Jews must be exterminated, claiming that he left the dinner early. But in the tapes he asks Birkin if it would be better for the movie if he was shown to have been there. The truth clearly is to be tweaked as the situation requires. He wavers on whether he was involved in the plot to kill Hitler. He describes visiting a shabby, worn down Hitler in the bunker to say goodbye and disapproves of his coldness on this occasion.

    But so what? Some of this is mildly shocking; a surprise only if you're thoroughly ignorant of the Third Reich ;and of Speer. Tergiversations don't make very good dialogue. Birkin is mild, accommodating. His wishy-washiness is a strong hint that this project is doomed. He reminded me vaguely of Truffaut in the famous tapes interviewing Hitchcock, except that Speer, unlike Hitch, has nothing illuminating to say, nor does Birkin have truly penetrating questions. At some point both Kubrick and Reed are cited as warning Birkin that his screenplay supports Speer's lies or tergiversations and that if Speer doesn't admit his culpability this movie won't work. Indeed so.

    Where is the illumination here? What we get is another, more suave and dodgy version of "the banality of evil" famously delineated in Hannah Arendt's famous 1963 New Yorker profile, "Eichmann in Jerusalem." Only Vanessa Lapa, dedicated and sincere though she clearly is, is no Hannah Arendt.

    In her Variety review Jessica Kiang points out that the sound, the basic foreground of the film, is weakened in two major ways: by the stilted performances of Anno Koehler and Jeremy Portnoi, who voice the dialogue of Speer and Birkin, respectively; and by the unnecessary added sound effects to accompany historical footage, which creates an artificial "over-foleyed" effect. These things undermine the fine job Lapa has done in unearthing rare Third Reich-period footage of Speer in action. Kiang believes that this film is a good idea, but has failed in the execution. I am doubtful that it was even such a good idea. People who admire it seem to be seeing what they want to see - as they can because one can read different meanings into the ambiguous material.

    Speer Goes to Hollywood, 97 mins., debuted at the Berlinale, as did Lapa's 2014 Himmler film The Decent One. It also showed at Moscow, Jerusalem and Telluride in Apr., Aug., and Sept. 2021 respectively. It opens theatrically Opens at Film Forum, New York, Oct. 29, 2021; at Laemmle Royal & Town Center, LA, Nov. 5.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-25-2021 at 12:21 PM.

  12. #27
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    BERNSTEIN'S WALL (Douglas Tirola 2021)



    A film that satisfies and frustrates in equal measure

    On the one hand there is urgent need for documentary films about one of the greatest figures in 20th-century classical music and so Bernstein's Wall, with its wealth of visual information and its constant running narration in the voice (or voices) of Leonard Bernstein himself, is very welcome. On the other hand, what is needed is not just a very good movie, which this is, but a searching, original, brilliant, and beautiful one, which this is not. Evidence of a certain lack of real depth, or bravery, is revealed in the relatively timid treatment of the subject's homosexuality. The lack of beauty is shown in the ugly, out of focus, badly exposed image of the man talking to the camera that starts things off. This is not what Todd Haynes would do, as his exquisite Velvet Underground film shows: it is beautiful from the first; it cares how it looks. Wouldn't Lenny?

    That treatment (of the homosexuality) subtly and rather cleverly begins - but unfortunately also ends - with unvoiced on-screen printouts. They show excerpts from letters - from and to Aaron Copeland and to and from Bernstein's Chilean wife Felicia. There is delicacy in this. After all he was, essentially, closeted, and the topic and the behavior were taboo in the forties and fifties, when our story begins. But The film stops there, with nothing ever on the sound track, treating gayness by implication, now in the 21st century, like Wilde's "love that dare not speak its name": the facts are never voiced, and details readily found in books and the Wikipedia article on Bernstein are omitted.

    Okay, maybe Lenny never spoke on film or tape about this topic.( Or did he?) In any case there could have been lots more printouts, and other images. There was a gay mafia of music just as there was a Jewish mafia of music, and therein doubtless lie many tales worth telling, and material for other documentaries.

    The complexity of Bernstein's immense being, and contribution, lie in his embodying the ultimate mainstream American celebrity of his time, one who could kiss Jackie Kennedy dramatically on a stage in Washington and hobnob (to great notoriety and exploitation by the malicious right wing wit Tom Wolfe) with Black Panthers in his Park Avenue apartment. He could further the anti-Vietnam War cause simply by landing his celebrated name. He could conduct Beethoven's Ninth in West Berlin and East Berlin on successive days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he could write a musical about Latinos and a radical, controversial, epic mass (discussed with disgust by Haldeman and Nixon on a White House tape; the film's other villain is Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg, who attacked Bernstein mercilessly). He could conduct beloved televised Young People's Concerts and quibble amicably but firmly in public with Glenn Gould about tempos in a Brahms concerto (this is omitted from the film but important to me, as it was to them). He could be a full-on gay man (as Wikipedia says; Tirola doesn't) and have a wife and three kids. (The wife died young; the marriage is fraught; the kids give their blessing to this film, but the film tells us too little about them or their mother.)

    All this could happen in one man because he was essentially an outsider, a Jew (and a gay man) who knew Hebrew, whose father, an emigrant from a Russian shtetl, wanted him to enter his successful beauty supply business - after he graduated from Harvard; because he was a genius, but had a common touch, recognized by construction workers on his passing. He was a man who lived intensely, who felt a lot, emoted a lot, smoked so constantly his whole life that it killed him, probably ate and drank too much and undoubtedly loved too much; Owen Gleiberman in Variety calls him "a fierce hedonist." All (or most) of this is mentioned, illustrated by this film, and recounted by Lenny, but needs the extra depth that would probe the full richness of irony, contradiction, and excess that define this man whose greatest gift is how he made these qualities accessible to millions by becoming the dominant superstar of American high culture.

    Instead, there is so much (enjoyable, astonishing) information that little emerges profoundly and one wishes for a film that focused and went into depth. Possible films doing that might zero in on, to name a few topics for specialized films: Lenny the conductor (a topic blurred here by "feverish" editing); Lenny the composer; Lenny the celebrity; Lenny & Beethoven, Lenny & Vienna - and last but not least, gay Lenny.

    To anyone who grew up in the fifties and sixties Leonard Bernstein was an inevitable figure, first associated with the New York Philharmonic, though one learns here that he resigned from that and became free-floating, never going back to being the official conductor or music director of any one orchestra (unless of Tanglewood? Another topic underrepresented here). What emerged to me later through Seiji Ozawa, whom he influenced (as he did several other San Francisco Symphony leaders), was the fluent, joyous, showy, dance-y conducting style. And there was something schmaltzy and kitsch about him. But not too much for him to give the prestigious Norton Lectures at Harvard. Those of us who dreamed or fantasized about being a conductor, were probably thinking primarily of Lenny, the joyous, hammy celebrant, or of Von Karajan, the forbidding, exultant commander.

    A must-see, if you're interested in classical music and half a dozen other subjects. It's a place to start.

    Bernstein's Wall, 100 mins., previewed at Tribeca Jun. 2021 and had its premiere at Telluride Sept. 2021, showing at Mill Valley, the Hamptons and San Diego in Oct.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-23-2021 at 09:07 PM.

  13. #28
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    FREELAND (: Mario Furloni, Kate McLean 2021)



    Going out of style: a counterculture elegy

    Fun fact: Well, not fun at all for some. The spreading "legalization" of marijuana is a mixed blessing for folks long in the business of working under the table to make a living as illegal pot growers. It's going to go legal, it's going to be highly regulated, high profit and corporate, and the old growers are going to have to adjust or get out. Where this is particularly a factor may be Humboldt County, California, a longtime haven for counterculture people and for some of the better strains of weed. The chief raison d'être of Freeland, starring Krisha Fairchild, is to make very real for us this vanishing way of life. The settings here - the real pot farms at harvest time, the magnificent redwood-studded landscapes - are nonpareil, the storyline touching but relatively thin and sometimes low energy, like it had smoked a lot of weed.

    Devi (Fairchild) may not mind so much growing old; but what she can't help minding is becoming irrelevant. Her years of halcyon commune life, and presumably love, relationships, even family are mostly long ago: The details of her past are something writer-directors Furloni and McLean don't bother with so much, while they do provide real pot farm settings and appropriate-looking people and homemade, cozy, woodland-style houses that are highly atmospheric.

    Devi has three young seasonal workers for the harvest, Josh (Frank Moseley), Casey (Cameron Matthews) and Mara (Lily Gladstone). They get to sample the product freely as they work, and it all seems laid back and like family. But they're held at a safe distance, since they sleep in trailers away from her house. They are a totally different generation, and how wide the gap is will come back to haunt Devi later. But for now, she suddenly feels the new bureaucracy closing in when she gets hit with a fine, and her failure to comply with the complicated new growers' permit requirements is in the local paper. A consult with her lawyer isn't too encouraging.

    This means she loses her big customer come by truck from Nebraska (Robert Parsons), whose boss tells him he can't deal with her any more because she has now become too visible. In Nebraska pot still ain't legal - yet - but Josh assures Devi it will be, like everywhere else. She doesn't want to believe that. What to do? An old friend who's got the permits and is going legal refuses to help her move her product; he can't. Now she hasn't the cash to pay Josh, Casey, and Mara weekly, and asks them to agree to wait till the harvest is done. What we are beginning to grasp is that Devi is deceiving herself because she doesn't want to see how dire things are about to become.

    In a touching moment, Devi accompanies fellow grower Ray (John Craven), who's decided to pull up his plants and movie East, to visit the abandoned commune they both lived and loved and idealistically dreamed in when they were very young, perhaps fifty years ago. But this isn't exactly a high energy sequence, nor is one where Devi goes out to the middle of nowhere, taking a risk to meet a new buyer, and he never even shows up. She visits a Cannabis Business Summit and Expo (real thing) and it's a big turnoff for her.

    This is rampant capitalism. Greedy, overambitious, insensitive, impersonal. Everything the counterculture was against, is coming back, and it's called "cannabis." An ugly name. "Pot" and "weed" and "ganja" were so cosy. And of course Big Pharma and the tobacco industry are not far away, and all the dubious, profitable claims of miracle treatment poetntial for something that used to be just a natural way to get high. Devi flees from the convention, drives home and smokes a bowl. And things go haywire.

    Eric Kohn of IndieWire, while praising this film, has called its thriller-ish finale "pecduliar," and Dennis Harvey of Variety thinks it "disappointing" - and clearly unnecessary. We can all agree that this is a powerful character study for which Krisha Fairchild, in a kind of new variation or outgrowth of her central role in Trey Edward Shults' Krisha , is a rich and essential contributor where the script falls way short of where it could have provided a meaningful arc and more three-dimensional storylines. But while the violent finale is disturbing, and obviously a bit forced, I found it also satisfying after so many moments when the movie seemed becalmed. Probably "High Maintenance" - Kohn is right that this could be condensed into one of that great HBO series' sub-episodes - would not have any use for the violence, but to fill out a small feature, it works. The filmmakers, ably helped by the composer William Ryan Fritch, have used their documentary experience to fit in a lot of new-to-us real-life material. The result still feels very indie and very small - if right for SXSW, where Krisha shone and this was to have done. But while I hated Krisha, this provided much to ponder for an old pothead like me and a much more sympathetic role for Krisha Fairchild that shows this seasoned actress' uncanny ability to inhabit a role.

    Freeland, 80 mins., debuted in the virtual only May 2020 SXSW, appearing in at least fourteen other mostly local US festivals, and releases in theaters by Dark Star Picdtures Oct. 15, 2021, and on demand Nov. 19.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-11-2021 at 01:36 AM.

  14. #29
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    Oct. 15 & 19 DARK STAR PICTURES, audience award Tribeca

    CAO JINLING: ANIMA - 莫爾道嘎 (2021)
    ANIMA New York Asian Film Festival 2021
    West Coast premiere Mill Valley Film Festival - HOLD REVIEW
    But it was in the NYAFF. . . . See review there.

    ANN HUI: LOVE AFTER LOVE 第一爐香(2020)



    Not the marrying kind

    This is a dreamy, visually luscious period drama about money and morality drawn from an Eileen Chang story, Hui's third. Wikipedia calls it an "erotic romance drama," whatever that means; it's erotic in the mid-section, alright; the last scenes have a bittersweet Douglas Sirk mood. It becomes a musing melodrama that makes being married to an irresponsible seducer as a husband seem not so bad at all. This is likely to seem a guilty pleasure, but a very posh one given that it sports stars like Sandra Ma as Ge Weilong, who begins to look more and more like an Asian Léa Seydoux; Faye Yu as Madame Liang; and Eddie Peng, the linchpin and maybe the real star of the piece, who plays the young sensuous playboy George Chiao. The poshness also includes the cinematography by the dp central to Wong Kar-wai's iconic films, Christopher Doyle, and the score by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

    Weilong is Madame Liang's neice, and shows up at her posh door when her family has returned to Shanghai, asking to be supported to finish her education in Hong Kong. She is demure, poor, and even a little dumpy, but that will change.

    It's implied LIang is some kind of high-class courtesan, part of the household of her older friend 'Uncle' Situ (Fan Wei), and Weilong is to become a part of this household in some fashion. . We don't see much of her transacctional activities. The focus isn't on Weilong's studies, either; we never see her crack a book. What we see is the two pert housemaids Didi (Karlina Zhang) and Ni’er (Ning Chang) who meet Weilong when she arrives. George (pronounced "Joe-sheh," which makes all the difference) has doubtless enjoyed their favors.

    But now he turns his attentions to Weilong, who is bashful, retiring, and utterly smitten. George likes Weilong so much he makes it a rule never to lie to her - a theme of the piece. He tells her that he will never marry, that he will not love her, but that he can make her happy. Weilong is saddened, horrified, and flustered - and still more smitten.

    This is set in a pretty strictly Asian Hong Kong (that is we almost never see white people) of the forties, or late thirties, though some of the beautiful antique cars are even earlier, and the Asian women's styles are a bit hard for us to date. The period is a bit fluid, and Eddie Peng wears loose, floppy designer outfits that could be from right now, which never fail to show off his hunky torso. He moves around in them as if he's quite at ease and having a very good time being this sort of updated F. Scott Fitzgerald hedonist. Joe-sheh is narcissistic ("I like my face," he tells a mirror) but a fabulous charmer.

    So they sleep together, and it's great, and Weilong is ruined. Except here's the surprise: Madame Liang and Weilong and George's distant dad (who hasn't much money or hasn't earmarked much for George) work something out that persuades George to marry Weilong. Through all this Sandra Ma, whose transformation is maybe a little too complete, starts acquiring her Léa Seydoux look, dressing sexier, smoking sometimes, and developing some spunk. They go through a dreary period when he sleeps around, she gets depressed, and that depresses him. But together, apparently, they now work something out. Neither has anywhere else to go, or maybe anywhere either of them would rather be, for long.

    As has been pointed out, this is a world in which everything revolves around money, but people don't work particularly, as such. Whoever's footing the bills, this is the kind of comfort rich people used to refer to as "pre-war." Even the cat eats from an elegant china service.

    A key scene is one where Weilong receives a request from her father to come to Shanghai to do some translating for some important transaction and she insists she must go. George behaves like a child (a big impossibly cute one) wanting to go, then when she refuses not wanting to let her go. The relationship is growing new layers.

    One of the two main American trade reviewers called this beautiful but basically shallow; the other one began with how gorgeous it is and how finely appointed, then suggested the writing makes us read between the lines, creating those layers. This is a sleeper, one of those films that may only seem a guilty pleasure until you realize it's really an offbeat gem. I could watch Eddie Pang sensuously sashaying around and Sandra Ma changing into Léa Seydoux for days, and Christopher Doyle and the production designer Zhao Hai and costume designer Emi Wada, collaborating with Doye, provide images that will never grow old.

    Love After LOve第一爐香,144 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2020, and was featured also at Busan and Tokyo in Oct. 2020. Watched on a screener provided by Fortissimo. US online release Oct. 21, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-05-2021 at 09:56 PM.

  15. #30
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THINGS WE DARE NOT DO/COSAS QUE NO HACEMOS (Bruno Santamaría Razo 2020)



    Loving rural intimacy that makes self-revelation possible

    This is a Mexican documentary shot over a three-year period in the small, impoverished Atlantic coastal fishing town of El Roblito, focused most significantly, but notably not at all only, upon a sixteen-year-old boy already out as gay to his family since age twelve who wishes to become a girl and ends by asking his simple parents, in front of his siblings, for permission to dress in women's clothes. But this is a film that impresses you not so much, or not only, for its subject matter, as for its intensity and a style that links it with the boldest recent Latin American directors, Carlos Reygadas, Lisandro Alfonso. Filmmakers who bring us into a haunted, magical, wild world, with a sense of danger and excitement (the title itself declares it) that draws on native vigor and on the unpredictability and violence of the environment, a sense of immanence, that anything can happen. And here there is a sweet family intimacy that becomes beautiful, enhanced by glowing light and radiant brown skin.

    The filmmaker introduces us so casually to his story at first we don't at all know what it is. It relies on the viewer's ability to connect the dots, an apt way to approach someone who is still in process of discovering or making known to others their own story.

    In the mangroves of Nayarit, a paramotor operated by a man dressed as Santa Claus drops bags of candy to eager children. At first the camera is up there with him. The kids run to catch the candy, but are they the protagonists? Is the film about their festival? Moments later, a group of them are learning a dance with the help of the smiling, longhaired teenager his family call Noño, who "he" prefers to be called Arturo, and we may also call Dayanara and see as a young trans girl still playing the birth-assigned role of (gay) boy but preferring to be referred to as "she." After this introduction, she travels to an isolated, secluded location with the cameraman-photographer to put on makeup and don a dress and snap herself and be photographed thus.

    Eventually it becomes clear that, if the documentary has a protagonist, it is indeed Arturo, because she is the one to whom it always ends up returning. But there are also numerous tangents, from the preparations for the local festivities, to the many children's games and activities - so intimately and kinetically photographed it's almost a tour de force - to a pool of dried blood that's the aftermath of a shooting on the basketball court that serves as a village plaza.

    These are moments captured poetically and without explanation. As the children run through the streets, the camera follows them at their eye level, as if to play with them. Photographs with interviews show the filmmaker practically became a member of Arturo's family, and he says he played with the camera like a child to capture the spirit of the children's playing. The town loudspeaker broadcasts announcing in archaic exalted tones the showing of a film or the availability of water, become an authoritative, disembodied voice that dominates the town. Narration is reserved for moments, when Arturo shares something intimate.

    Things We Dare Not Do forces its story in abrupt directions. When Arturo finally "comes out" to her parents about wanting to wear dresses, the atmosphere is more tense than hostile; Arturo's parents are trying to process something about a child they have always loved. Arturo sheds tears, and waits for his Papá's decision. It is slow in cominbg.

    Like many of the best documentaries this one found its subject by chance and in a process. The filmmaker was in the town working with the children teaching them video, and Arturo appeared, they instantly felt a common bond, and Bruno knew somehow Arturo would be central to the film he was making, whose subject he couldn't yet state to crew and friends.

    An interview article from The Queer Review reveals that the director was inspired or felt obligated by Arturo’s bravery to come out as gay to his own parents before the film premiere. This, his second documentary feature and fourteenth outing as a cinematographer, is a display of both courage and loving intimacy.

    Things We Dare Not Do/Cosas que no hacemos, 75 mins., debuted at Toronto (Hot Docs) May 2020, and was featured at Lima in Aug., at DMZ (Korea) Sept., Chicago Oct., DOC NYC and Amsterdam Nov. 2020, Helsinki Jan., Mexico City (FICUNAM) and Ukraine Mar. 2021, Munich (DOK) May 2021, and the list goes on. This second Santamaiía Razo documentary, which was preceded by his 2016 portrait of a street prostitute Margarita, will be shown on PBS in its distinguished POV documentary series on Oct. 25, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2021 at 12:35 AM.

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