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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

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

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


    LEE SON-KYUN AND JO YEO-JEONG IN PARASITE

    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.


    PARK SO-DAM AND CHOI WOO-SIK IN PARASITE
    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: MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (2019)


    GUGU MBATHA-RAW AND EDWARD NORTON IN MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

    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]

    MARTIN SCORSESE: THE IRISHMAN (2019)


    AL PACINO AND ROBERT DE NIRO IN THE IRISHMAN

    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)

    KLEBER MENDOÇA FILHO, JULIANO DORNELLES: BACURAU (2019)


    SONIA BRAGA (CENTER) IN BACURAU

    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)

    BERTRAND BONELLO: ZOMBI CHILD (2019)


    LOUISE LABEQUE AND WISLANDA LOUIMAT (FAR RIGHT) IN ZOMBI CHILD

    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. https://www.filmmovement.com/zombi-child
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2020 at 07:36 PM.

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    THE PAINTED BIRD (Petr Kotlar (2019)

    VACLAV MARNOUL: THE PAINTED BIRD (2019)


    PETR KOTLAR IN THE PAINTED BIRD

    The boy who saw too much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    THE CLIMB (Michael Angelo Covino 2019)

    MICHAEL ANGELO COVINO: THE CLIMB (2019)


    KYLE MARVIN AND GAYLE RANKIN IN THE CLIMB

    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 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 him 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 the 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; Kyle's wedding to her 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-switching definitely takes 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) who 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. 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 out, slipping out the church door showing it's name "Our Lady of Life." Behind, as yet unseen, a car roars up, the brakes screeching. It's Mike, in wedding attire, late. The music playing now is Isabelle Pierre's "Les enfants de l'avenir se feront l'amour à l'infini."

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

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

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

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

    The Climb, 94 mins., debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard May 2019 and won the Jury Prize. It subsequently showed in 15 international festivals including Munich, Telluride, Toronto, Deauville and Vienna. It was scheduled for release March 20, 2020 but due to the coronavirus outbreak release was delayed to July 17, 2020. Its Metascore is 82%.

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    TOMMASO (Abel Ferrara 2019)

    ABEL FERRARA: TOMMASO (2019)


    WILLEM DAFOE IN TOMMASO

    Himself perceived

    As Owen Gleiberman notes in his Variety review of Tommaso, at 67 Abel Ferrara is still the "poster boy" for a "bohemian shaggy-dog school" of filmmaking that (as he adds, somewhat unnecessarily) is "without discipline." Material, usually on a slim budget, is thrown down somewhat randomly. Individual scenes give every appearance of having been made up on the spur of the moment. Moral and mental breakdown is often Ferrara's subject. This time the focus seems to shift to the difficulty of living sober. Turning directly autobiographical, Ferrara depicts the Cadillac problems of a leisurely life in Rome in a posh apartment with a beautiful, much younger wife and a cute three-year-old daughter after getting clean from drugs and alcohol but not taming his rage as the marriage seems to unravel.

    What was appealing about Ferrara's direct-to-internet 2014 film Welcome to New York, which starred a well cast Gérard Depardieu in a reenactment of the Dominique Stauss-Kahn scandal, was the way it simply reproduced the events and their locations with precision, and in chronological order. The focus is vaguer in Tommaso, though unities of time and place generally seem to be observed. It features Willem Dafoe again, who played in the director's Pasolini. The latter was an assemblage or brief events, the last in the writer and filmmaker's life, but not in a very orderly fashion.

    Tommaso is a shoestring effort, economizing by being not only set in Ferrara's own Rome apartment but using his exotic looking Romanian wife Cristina Chiriac as Tommaso's spouse Nikki and his, and Chiriac's, young daughter Anna Ferrara as Tommaso's daughter DeeDee. There are no other name characters, only neighbors, barmen, mothers in the park, or the like.

    We follow Tommaso around as he goes through his typical days. He has Italian lessons, teaches movement classes for actors, takes DeeDee to the park and for a strawberry gelato, goes to AA meetings (presented at length, not very interestingly), practices yoga and ponders scenes for a screenplay set in the far north and involving Inuit people and a bear. He even changes a light bulb, a frustrating experience: it's the lamp itself that's broken. He also is jealous, and gets hurt and angry easily at Nikki for apparently neglecting him. He's furious when she prepares dinner for herself and DeeDee without thinking to include him, and for walking on ahead when he nips into a bar for a quick coffee. A conversation between Tommaso and a fellow recovering addict suggests that while the child has come decisively between him and his wife, the underlying issue is that he's full of unexpressed rage that seizes any pretext; nothing makes him angrier than the broken lamp.

    Tommaso's difficult time is caused by his being what in AA they call a "dry drunk." He has quit drinking, and in his case also using heroin and crack cocaine, but has yet to deal with the emotional baggage those substances were used to repress. The occasional meeting and daily yoga sessions aren't enough. Unfortunately, this is not early recovery, either: Tommaso (like the filmmaker) has been clean and sober for over six years. He obviously has not been doing the work he needs to do to learn to cope with what in AA they call "life on life's terms." This version of Ferrara, one may add, isn't as productive as the director himself is. Tommaso's daily work on the screenplay just looks like tinkering.

    As the film unfolds, Tommaso's rages get worse. The action is interspersed with surreal passages. Several times the protagonist is served in a bar by a naked woman, one of whom he makes out with. (Presumably it's a dream, unless Rome bars have become livelier than formerly.) On another occasion he is mysteriously arrested, handcuffed and brought to a man for questioning. In a symbolic sequence, he spits out his heart and offers it to a circle of African men sitting around a fire . Later, in what seems like real time, he goes out to confront a loud, drunken man but the altercation morphs into a friendly chat. After a second movement class he hears a young woman tell about her estrangement from her father, and then he kisses and fondles her. It's an icky moment at best. But other scenes, like a trip on the Metropolitana, the Rome subway, to surprise his wife and DeeDee at the Borghese Gardens, just seem like filler.

    The sequence of scenes seems haphazard at best. Trimming them down might bring the film closer to the kind of rigorous order one finds in the work of masters of emotional and mental meltdown like Ingmar Bergman.

    Willem Dafoe is always interesting to watch at work. The action is fresh and personal; as Gleiberman says, it "feels alive." The settings are beautiful, not only the spacious Roman apartment on the Piazza Vittoria, but above all the streets of Rome, which are often seen in the evening, tinged with orange light. But it all goes on far too long. Nonetheless for fans of Abel Ferrara and of Willem Dafoe, Tommaso is not to be missed.

    Tommaso, 155 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2019 at a special screening. It showed at seven other international festivals. Distributed by Kino Marquee, it opens in virtual cinemas on the internet starting Fri. June 5, 2020 in New York at Film at Lincoln Center, Los Angeles at Laemmle, Acropolis Cinema & Lumiere Cinema and others, which the renter chooses. Metascore 54%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-20-2020 at 01:37 AM.

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    CLASSE TOUS RISQUES (Claude Sautet 1960)

    CLAUDE SAUTET: CLASSE TOUS RISQUES (1960)


    LINO VENTURA AND JEAN-PAUL BELMONDO IN CLASSE TOUS RISQUES


    Honor among thieves

    Claude Sautet is the French director remembered for the wonderful Un Coeur en Hiver (one of the triumphs of Daniel Auteuil), from 1992; the well-loved Nelly and M. Arnaud, from 1995; earlier, The Things of Life, from 1970, a vehicle for the late lamented Michel Piccoli. With Piccoli, and the not inconsiderable help of Yves Montand, Serge Reggiani, Gérard Depardieu and Stéphane Audran, in 1974, Sautet made a favorite of mine, the midlife-crisis movie Vincent, François, Paul and the Others. I haven't even mentioned César and Rosalie, with Yves Montand and Romy Schneider, which Pauline Keel called "a wry ode on the fluky, imperfect nature of romantic love."

    But before all these, in this filmmaker's long career, there is the moody French gangster classic, Classe Tous Risques. It stars Lino Ventura, of The Army of Shadows,as well as a hot young actor called Jean-Paul Belmondo. It was 1960, the same year as Belmondo's most famous film, Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. For a recent revival, Peter Bradshaw described Classe Tous Risques as a bridge between postwar neorealism and the Nouvelle Vague. That in-between-ness has made it tend to get lost, but its inclusion in the Film Forum virtual theater roster brings a gem back to light.

    Belmondo looks younger and fresher here and has less swagger than in Breathless, but he has a couple pairs of boxing gloves in his room and he's still an utterly cool and original new star. Ventura is, as always, tough and world-weary and he has a lot to deal with. He plays Abel, a gangster who has been hiding out in Italy for a decade. He and another man, and their wives, and his two little kids, Pierrot and Daniel. There seems to be no quiet way for Abel and his accomplice to make it back to Paris. After two shootouts, there's no one left but Abel and the two boys. The violence is in the news, and it turns out some of Abel's former close allies, notably Farbier and Riton, won't go near him. Luckily, a young thief, Eric Stark (Belmondo) steps forward and is willing to go down with a DeSoto ambulance the others have purchased and drive Abel into France disguised as a patient with a cracked skull. Along the way Eric rescues a pretty young actress called Liliane (Sandra Milo) from an abusive agent and she agrees to dress up as a nurse, making the front more complete. Pierrot hides in a compartment of the vehicle when necessary. Pierrot, though only 8 or 9, is a real French child, perfectly disciplined and grownup.

    Those other films seem to embody a world-weary, wise outlook on life, and that outlook isn't missing just because Classe Tous Risques. French noirs, gangster pictures from this period are pessimistic, jaded views of life. This film is typically about born loserz who, nonetheless, at best act by a firm code. At one moment Eric tells Abel he had better forget Farbier and Riton and he says, "I've already forgotten them." Who can you trust? There are lots of betrayals in these pictures, but they're about sifting out the trustworthy ones. This is as much about friendship and learning to be a grownup as Vincent, François, Paul and the Others. Here, it's much starker, though, an atmosphere of simmering resentment and betrayal and a new friendship with a young man who gives his new girlfriend his occupation as "thief," but for Abel, proves true-blue. Only Abel faces a state of existential emptiness. "Il y a plus d'Abel," he says, "There's no Abel anymore." His elegance is his acceptance of doom.

    Classe Tous Risques, 103 mins., is adapted from a novel by writer and scenarist José Giovanni. It debuted Mar. 23, 1960 in Paris. It had rereleases in the US in 2005 and the UK in 2013. There is a Criterion edition. The version on Fllm Forum virtual theater Jun. 5, 2020 is from Rialto Pictures. Meetascore 84%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-22-2020 at 03:13 PM.

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    RELIC (Natalie Erika James (2020)

    NATALIE ERIKA JAMES: RELIC (2020)


    ROBYN NEVIN, EMILY MORTIMER AND BELLA NORTHCOTE IN RELIC

    Ladies on the midnight watch

    For most of us at least, the spookiest place is home, and the scariest people are found in one's own family. The "haunted house" is where we grew u with all its memories. The most frightening event is for a family member to become no longer himself. That is the basis of this excellent, subtle, and beautiful slow-burn horror film from Australia, the work of four ladies: first time director Natalie Erika James and main cast members Robyn Nevin as Edna, the old lady who appears to be losing her marbles; Emily Mortimer (doing a good Aussie accent) as her daughter Kay; and Bella Northcote as Sam, Kay's daughter. (Men helped on some of the other details.) Relic really is a slow one. But its subtlety is a real selling point. For much of the way it stays very close to the ordinary events of family life. It invades our sense of the ordinary with the terrifying and builds to a climax.

    Time is the stealthy enemy we all face. The thing about a big old house is that it contains many reminders of the past that may haunt us. The big old house in Relic isn't a creepy, creaky Charles Addams mansion but a large, roomy, comfy bungalow out in the country. But some parts of it are beginning to trouble its main occupant. The familiar is turning into the unknown, the soothing into the frightening. The horror of ordinary life is death, which strikes on one's family, and gets you too at last.

    Sam and Kay have come from town for an emergency as the film begins. The police have notified Kay that her mother has disappeared. The two women pursue inquiries and look everywhere and are very worried. Edna turns up three days later as if nothing has happened. But now if not before she is behaving strangely. She talks to herself. Mainly she's just uncooperative. She won't answer any questions. It turns out she may be becoming dangerous. But it's not always clear. Sometimes her long white hair is wild like a Japanese phantom or a witch's - a hint, like the invading mold and decay, of James's own Japanese roots - and sometimes her grey tresses are neatly tied back in the bun of an orderly old lady in it for the long haul.

    But the bad signs multiply. Around the house are cryptic post-it notes inscribed with a mix of sensible things like "Take pills" and more troubling ones like "Am I love" or "Don't follow it." Sam learns her "Gram" has recently locked Jamie (Chris Burton), her young neighbor, Sam's childhood friend, with Down's Syndrome, in a closet while playing hide and seek, and forgotten he was there. Edna has a big unexplained bruise on her chest, and has cut herself. Kay discovers her outdoors eating paper - old family photos, it seems, and when stopped from doing that, he old ladyturns to burying the whole book of snapshots, to protect it, she says. At one moment she breaks down. She is afraid and lost.

    The film enhances these events and magnifies them with darkness in the house and edgy sounds. The camera creeps slowly around in the gloom. Even an ordinary event like a loudly malfunctioning washing machine becomes frightening.

    There is terror in the unknown, and what happens to one's elders is new to us. Kay goes to Melbourne to visit an elder care home but, as can happen, it turns her off. Sam offers to come and stay with her Gram. Kay offers to bring Edna to stay at her house, preferring that to an institution. But the situation may be more beyond them than they realize. We in the audience sense by now that their offers to help out are wishful thinking. They will have a dawning realization when Edna starts to have moments of hostility and strike out at them.

    Where this film distinguishes itself from conventional examples of the genre is in the ordinariness of its events much of the way and the smooth, almost imperceptible manner in which it modulates into the horror mode. It looks like old age. If you must give it a name it might be the approach of dementia or Alzheimer's. But within the heart of a family even such a commonplace event, when it arrives, seems strange and nameless. The filmmakers have something more radical in mind. Even before we get there, the slow-moving camera pans, the dark lighting, and the humming, haunting score, the old house's growing menace all conspire to say: horror! And what at first seemed to be invading the old lady, the growing menace takes over the other women as well.

    This is an effective and well-crafted film. But it eventually gives way to the usual haunted house conventions more than it needs to for a screenplay with such complex, suggestive overtones. Charlie Sarroff’s cinematography brings out the surreal like an Ivan Le Lorraine Albright painting. BUt the trips up and down the dark hallways - enough already! (I loved the idea of horror in outdoor summer sunshine of Ari Aster's Midsommer.) A short circuit's even resorted to to knock out all the lights in the final sequence. Brian Reitzell's looming, ominous score works harder than it needs to and only undermines the subtlety. More restraint of effects toward the end might have made it more effective, more terrifying. What's happening is scary. No need to paint it all so black. We don't want the whole story to be reduced to being afraid of the dark. A couple of bright light bulbs will easily sweep all that away, as Jessica Kiang notes in her mostly admiring Variety review. The real terror is in the daylight.

    Relic, 89 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 25, 2020 to generally good reviews. (See David Rooney's for Hollywood Reporter, which notes the story was indeed inspired by a grandmother with Alzheimer's.) It was picked up by IFC Midnight for North American distribution, and was to have been in the Midnighters section of the recently cancelled SXSW festival. Due to the pandemic it has been scheduled to open online, on July 10, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-29-2020 at 12:07 PM.

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    JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE (Dawn Porter 2020)

    DAWN PORTER: JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE (2020)


    JOHN LEWIS IN JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE

    "Make trouble - good trouble": struggles more than ever relevant today

    Earlier as part of the 2013 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival I reviewed Dawn Porter's understated, intense film about three young public defenders working in the South, Gideon's Army. It was a film harsh in its realities but inspiring in the idealism it depicts. The experience Porter followed in that film is a natural progression to her new one about the civil rights pioneer and longtime Georgia Congressman, John Lewis: Good Trouble. When it comes to African American living icons, they don't come any more sterling than Rep. John Lewis.

    Lewis, who once wanted to become a minister and practiced preaching to the family chickens, is now the last living speaker from the March on Washington, the 1963 landmark civil rights protest that culminated with Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. He was bloodied and unconscious in multiple civil rights marches. As a civil rights activist and one of the most liberal Congressmen from the Deep South he has always fought for freedom. Now since 2019, eighty and with stage IV pancreatic cancer, he has entered another battle.

    As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution once pointed out, Lewis is the only former major civil rights leader who ever "extended his fight for human rights and racial reconciliation to the halls of Congress." The paper reported that "to those who know him, from U.S. senators to 20-something congressional aides," he is thought of as the "conscience of Congress." Lewis has not always been temperate. He impugned Bernie Sanders' civil rights record in the Sixties because he wasn't a pioneer activist in the South, to foster his support of Hilary Clinton for President. Unlike Barbara Lee, he did not vote against the invasion of Iraq initially, but he voted against authorizing use of arms against the country. But Lewis has been one of the Deep South's most liberal Congressmen and is an American hero who received the country's highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Freedom, from President Obama.

    Lewis was born of sharecroppers in Troy, Alabama in early 1940. This film revisits that location and his siblings. He makes the sites of his civil rights battles an annual pilgrimage and regathering of strength the film also visits. At eighteen he wrote to Martin Luther King asking for help in applying to college and King sent him a round trip bus ticket to Montgomery, where they met in March 1958, and he called him ever after "the boy from Troy."

    Porter has some remarkable unseen footage of Lewis and others at the time of the first sit-ins and practice for non-violent resistance. She also traces with Lewis himself his action as a Freedom Rider seeking equality in travel by bus and all public transportation throughout the South. We get a sense of how vicious and open racism was in the sixties and what a great battle it was. "I lost all sense of fear, really," Lewis says. "When you lose our sense of fear you are free. Too many people lived in fear during those days."

    Porter also follows Lewis today to show his passionate involvement in getting out the vote and supporting candidate Stacey Abrams's close loss for governor of Georgia and Beto O'Rourke's close loss to Ted Cruz for the Senate from Texas when the democrats won a sweeping return to control of Congress in the 2018 midterms.

    Unfortunately as the film shows, the 1965 Voting Rights Act had a key part gutted in 2013, allowing nine mostly southern states to change voting laws without prior federal approval and Eric Holder explains that 27 states have now created arbitrary obstacles to voting.

    The film notes that Lewis served as director of SNNC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), but left when Stokely Carmichael, inspired by Malcolm X, abandoned the idea of a nonviolent, multiracial movement.

    This material is invaluable, but it's complex and the film's presentation sometimes makes it feel overwhelming. Occasionally it appears to be following no logical order, and occasionally skips past a speaker or image before it's possible even to read the caption. We may feel something is missing - and maybe it is Lewis' wife of 44 years, Lilian, who passed away in 2012. After recalling her, the film goes back to Lewis' first election to congress and then provides a rapid checklist of some of the important legislation he's been involved in. Yes, this subject is complex, and its subject, despite the viral dance video and moments of humor, is a bit distant. But this material is supremely relevant today because American democracy is more seriously under under attack, it can be argued and the film points out, than at any time since Reconstruction.

    (Kathleen Dowdey made a 2017 hour-long TV documentary John Lewis: Get in the Way.)

    TRAILER

    John Lewis: Good Trouble,137 mins., was included Apr. 15, 2020 in Tribeca's cancelled festival, which went partly online. Magnolia releases it Jul. 3, 2020 in theaters and on demand.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 07:00 PM.

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