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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 01:49 AM.

  2. #17
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    MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (Edward Norton 2019)



    Edward Norton's passion project complicates the Jonathan Lethem novel

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

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

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

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

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

    Motherless Brooklyn, 144 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 30, 2019, showing at eight other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, Mill Valley, and New York, where it was screened at the NYFF OCT. 11, 2019 as the Closing Night film. It opens theatrically in the US Nov. 1, 2019. Current Metascore 62%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2019 at 05:38 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

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



    Old song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Irishman, 209 mins,. debuted at New York as Opening Night Film; 15 other international festivals, US theatrical release Nov. 1, wide release in many countries online by Netflix Nov. 27. Metascore 94%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2019 at 08:49 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 01:24 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 08:36 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; 08-16-2020 at 12:53 AM.

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



    Virtuoso film about a bad bromance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Climb, 94 mins., debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard May 2019 and won the Jury Prize. It subsequently showed in 15 international festivals including Munich, Telluride, Toronto, Deauville and Vienna. It was scheduled for release March 20, 2020 but due to the coronavirus outbreak the US release gas been repeatedly delayed, now set for November 13, 2020. Its Metascore is 82%. Released in France July 29, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.9 out of 5 [78%]).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-06-2020 at 12:06 PM.

  8. #23
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (Kiyoshi Kurosawa 2019)



    Culture clash? or non-connection?

    Kiyoshi Kurosawa turns away from his usual fare to focus on a Japanese TV thing, invasive travelogue-style variety programming with perky young women visiting "fun" cultures in a very superficial way. This movie is actually an Uzbekistan-Japan cooperative venture, but one that's offbeat indeed. This may amply distract us from the director's recent failure to live up to the quality of revolutionary creepy films like Pulse and Cure. This show's "reporter," who's more just an announcer, the slave of her small TV team shooting on location in the aforementioned remote landlocked country, is Yoko, played by by J-popstar-turned-actress Atusko Maedam who already starred in Kurosawa's 2017 Before We Vanish, and may be turning into a muse.

    Yoko tries to keep a cheery front (that's the job) but is having a hard time, forced to wade into icky water looking for a legendary fish that never appears, to pretend to find an undercooked local specialty delicious, then to undergo torture on a rickety, probably dangerous caranival ride that makes her throw up. The director, Yoshi (Shota Sometani) is nearly always mean to her; the photographer (Ryo Kase) only connects once. She often escapes on her own into other mishaps, pursued by leering men, oppressed by hagglers, riding a bus where no one can tell her when her stop comes in a language she can understand, and her English isn't that great anyway. Once she discovers a goat she thinks is cruelly tethered all day. Other scenes aren't working, so she suggests they do one where she sets this goat free. See wehre that goes: it becomes one of this meandering film's memorable riffs. She only longs for her boyfriend back home, Ryo, a marine fireman. For now she may have to settle for the goat. A huge worry about what may have happened to Ryo is resolved in a reassuring manner.

    Yoko dreams of becoming a singer and is practicing the Japanese version of Edith Piaf's "Chanson d'amour, which she dreams in an opera house she sneaks into, then does for real on a grassy hillside, a la Maria von Trapp. Thus the film swings from the struggles of a young woman in an abusive (but perhaps career-path) job toward sweet fantasies. And the opera house has a fascinating historical tie-in with Japan and figured importantly in the interpreter's life, occasioning his longest speech. A notable feature of the film is its self-conscious casting down to the smallest roles, which often surrounds Yoko with handsome men. They're all around her on that scary bus. The TV team's Uzbek-Japanese interpreter, played by Uzbek star Adiz Rajabov, is not only good-looking and kind, but the only liaison the principals have with the country. It's a handsome goat too, big, white, and fluffy.

    This is a film of small incidents neatly stitched together and is not headed toward a real crisis. Yoko's willingness to follow her director's apparently, for once, kind instructions, arming her with a small camera of her own, does lead her into trouble with the authorities. The point, though, is that the Japanese videographers don't "get" the local culture, and it's really not scary but pretty nice. But what's outstanding about this film isn't it's critique of smug and superficial Japanese cultural tourism TV or its study of the travails of its plucky young speaker but a certain otherworldly and unexpected quality. It may be, though, that Kurosawa takes a little long, at a bit over two hours, to achieve this. But he creates a special space in your head.

    To the Ends of the Earth 旅のおわり世界のはじまり, 121 mins., debuted at Locarno, also showing at Toronto, London, Busan, New York, and Barcelona (D'A Film Festival) in 2019 and featured at the Asian Film Awards (where Ryo Kase received the best supporting award, and Faro Island. Some other nominations. Dec. 11-18, 2020 exclusive release by Metrograph. Metascore 84.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-06-2020 at 12:11 PM.

  9. #24
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    WANDER DARKLY (Tara Miele 2020)



    To die? or marry? That is the question

    Afterlife/limbo couples dramas are not a genre I'm comfortable with. But I may have something in common with the creator of this one, writer/director Tara Miele, because she seems so unsure of the genre's rules, and of where things are going. Okay, Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) have a bad car accident on the L.A. freeway. Somebody must be dead. But who? Both? One or the other? And what happens to their 6-month-old baby, so often referred to as Ellie? It takes an hour and a half to find out. Only then can we, or somebody, lay them, or somebody, to rest. But what enlightenment has arrived as a result of this woozy journey, I don't know.

    I get it. If you've been in a traumatic car accident, you may be delirious. That makes sense. Of course when you're dying, or think you are, your mind races over your whole life. And if, let's repeat, you've been in a traumatic car accident, and somebody dies and somebody lives, the living one may be really confused about that, and think he or she is dead - or alive - when they're not. But, I mean, if they're dead, do they think anything?

    Of course they do - if you're in purgatory. If you're Catholic, you believe in purgatory. This comes up, early, on, in Adrienne and Matteo's post-accident talk: are we in purgatory? Matteo is, I guess, Mexican, as Diego Luna is - he became famous a long time ago costarring in the great comedy Y Tu Mamá También, by Alfonso Cuarón (which I'd really rather have watched than this movie), and being Mexican, he's Catholic. But with this movie, we'd have to settle for limbo, unless purgatory can be endlessly (or for a little over 90 minutes, which can be the same thing) hashing over your relationship (this couple is no Paolo and Francesca - and that was Dante's hell, not his purgatory). This is what the dead, or partially dead, or in limbo - who knows? - Adrienne and Matteo do, after the accident. They go over and over their relationship. And if they're incapacitated, who'll raise Ellie? Adrienne's mom, Patty (Beth Grant)? But she and Matteo hated each other. (More plot details are given in Variety's review, but you'd better save that till you've seen the picture.)

    You see, they were fighting when Matteo, who was driving, lost control. She was questioning why they were even together. How could she ask, he says, when they have a 6-month-old baby, and just entered escrow on a house? But they are not married, and this is a point that is frequently belabored. Why not? Does that make their baby a "bastard"? (Someone mentions this.) Why didn't Matteo propose to her? It seems he really meant to. Of course there were little hints of infidelity. Adrienne had just seen an old flame at a party. Matteo, a fine carpenter, had taken on a big job at the home of a beautiful woman he has a connection to.

    These don't seem major sins, though. Much of Wander Darkly isn't dark; it's been complimented by some (such as Leslie Felperin in Hollywood Reporter) for its light touch and occasional humor. But the hard part is finding the point of it all. It seems Tara Miele is inspired by two things. She uses the action as a way to explore, as so many more conventional and kitsch examples of this genre do, the vagaries of time, of choice, the "what if's," the had moral choices, and the opportunities missed. A recurrent image is of the digital clock, when Adrienne looks at it and it says "88:88." Time gone. She is outside of time now. No revelations here, but this is always a subject that puzzles us.

    The other thing Miele enjoys doing, which cinematically I too can enjoy, is exploit the opportunity this story provides of moving people smoothly and seamlessly back and forth and around in time and space in ways that puzzle the mind and charm the eye and seem like a dream, sometimes a very pretty one that gives pleasure to observe. It's fun to see the tricks seamlessly executed, to watch Adrianne walk from her living room right into the hospital corridor. The shifts are done so well they don't make you seasick. Miller and Luna make an attractive couple. There's a limbo wedding with beautiful lights and pleasant vows. There's a recurrent sequence in a dramatic inlet, in a picturesque little boat.

    But these shifts don't seem particularly enlightening, and in the end this whole movie merely seems like a feverish medication on a plot-line that didn't quite jell.

    Wander Darkly, 97 mins., which also stars Beth Grant, Aimee Carrero, Tory Kittles and Vanessa Bayer, dubuted at Sundance Jan. 2020, also showing at the Hamptons, AFI, Montclair, and SCAD Savannah. at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2020. It releases by Lionsgate in theaters and on the internet Dec. 11, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-10-2020 at 12:21 AM.

  10. #25
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    DEEP IN VOGUE ( Dennis Keighron-Foster, Amy Watson 2019)



    A film about Northern Vogue and its people

    What is vogue or voguing? An 8-minute film, "Night Visions Episode 1: The New York Vogue Scene" depicts it at the source, New York City, and explains some aspect of vogue further than this longer film, such as its "six elements": hands, spinning, the dip, floor performance, duckwalk and catwalk. There's a lot of hip-swinging and butt-wiggling, and a lot of flopping the arms back and forth and around in all directions in reverse, in unison, helicoptering, as in the 1990 Madonna song, "Vogue."

    The version depicted in Deep in Vogue isn't generally as swoony and elegant as Madonna's gorgeous soft-focus black-and-white music video, which evokes pop culture icons as wide-ranging as Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. It's campy, it's exhibitionistic, it's individualistic, it's fun, and it's often pure invention on the spur of the moment, using moves long practiced, like the "Soul Train" line but more provocative and crazy. It could also be a coordinated dance performance, like a group of four in Deep in Vogue dressed in orange. It developed in the Harlem ballroom scene in the sixties and then was a thing "more for the drag queens and the transsexuals." And because they were illegal they did it - as an empowering display of their inventive movement of their bodies and of their originality in creating personas and costumes - at 3 a.m., when safe from prying eyes. It grew into a wider spread event in the eighties.

    Voguing is now widely known and popular. It still thrives in New York City today as the Night Visions film shows, and its embowering, underdog quality remains, but those participating have expanded to a wider social cross section, though the LGBT community remains an essential element and so does participation of black, Latin and multiracial people of both sexes - and of fluid sexuality. All this applies also to the pursuit of vogue transplanted to England that we see depicted in Deep in Vogue (the title comes from the name of a 1989 song by Malcolm McLaren). Now the word "queer" has come into it, as shown in this new film from Manchester, where, someone says, people know better what it is to be misunderstood or downtrodden than Londoners do. "I may be not be gay but I certainly am queer!" someone exclaims. Another germane term to learn: QTIPOC people: Queer Trans Intersex People of Color. "This is a time of fluid sexuality," someone says. But white and yes, even straight people may participate - and definitely may and do come to watch and enjoy.

    In the north of England, they're in the boonies; they're disadvantaged, hard hit by hard times. As we see here, the social concept and organization into "houses" with "mothers" remains the same in Manchester as in New York, because vogue is not only a platform for self-realization and liberation from constraint but very much a source of personal empoerment, a support group, and a substitute family, with parents who welcome you as your own parents have failed to do. And vogue as before and as in New York centers around competitions or balls (by "house"), always with the principle, mentioned in the New York short and the Manchester film, that the aim isn't primarily to win, though winning is enjoyable, but to have fun and express yourself.

    Deep in Vogue was shot over the course of a year, leading up to the Manchester Icons Vogue Ball. It explores the roles played by LGBT issues, a shrinking welfare state, a dearth of art spaces and means of expressing yourself, as well as a commercialized gay scene and lack of safe spaces for people marked out as "different." Iet's mainly a lot of people talking, and briefly, dancing - though "voguing" sometimes seems a lot like just posing or posturing, as indicated by the opening line of Madonna's "Vogue": "Strike a pose." We meet the House of Suarez, the House of Ghetto, and others.

    The fluid gender folks of Deep in Vogue, with their distinctly northern accents, show us that if you have enough style and attitude you can make a white bed sheet look good; indeed there is one dance that's done by a group of four dancers in pieces of white sheets spattered artfully with red dye.

    The interviews are often collectively conducted in packs from a particular "house," showing how it's all about being mutually supportive, a family. The dancers have as many different styles and looks as LaMello Ball coming up had basketball team uniforms: it's also all about rocking your own distinctive look.

    Deep in Vogue, 62 mins., debuted Mar. 2010 at BFI Flare, the London LGBT film festival, won the audience Award at Dublin's Gaze International LGBT Film Festival; it had its US East Coast premiere at New York City’s NewFest 2019 OutCinema. and also showed at a number of other LGBT and queer fests. Filmrise will release the film in North America on VOD Dec. 8, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-17-2020 at 01:40 AM.

  11. #26
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area


    Head trip

    This film, which is as much ha psychological melodrama as a sci-fi horror fantasy, revolves around an experiment to explore and alter the brain electronically. A young scientist, pitched over the deep end in a desperate attempt to seize and better his own late father's legacy, is working on not only mapping consciousness with electrodes and computers, but rearranging the brain, experimenting on himself. It would be nice, wouldn't it? To be able to get your head on better, rid yourself of unpleasant memories, make yourself smarter? But it's a risky business.

    The film begins with young neuroscientist Ethan Kochar (Sathya Sridharan) giving a lecture - remotely, as is right for the days of pandemic. How do we capture memories? They exist as physical imprints on the brain, he says. The "R9X," the device his father had originated and he's seeking to outdo, identifies these engrams based on their protein expressions, and transfers that data from our internal hardware to external ones. But to render them clearly, something was needed. What, class? "Emotions?" Good, Eleanor! Euphoria, fear, lust - every memory is tied to an emotional section of our brain, even ones that we bury deep in our subconscious. (Lust's not exactly an emotion, by the way.)

    Pretty dry, eh? To engage yourself in this movie, filmed in wide aspect ratio (to counteract the claustrophobia, perhaps?), indoors, in semi-darkness, confined to a messy home basement DIY lab, focused on a skinny young man in a dirty T-shirt badly needing a shave, you must be intrigued by its hocus-pocus. It's as puzzling and potentially intriguing as Shane Carruth's Primer (2004). But Carruth and those friends he filmed in their garage building a time machine were operating more on the edge of possibility and the fringes of indie budgets. Minor Premise, comes off a bit slicker and also more focused on emotional turmoil. It becomes a two-hander when Ethan is joined by a talented cohort named Alli (Paton Ashbrook), who's also an ex-girlfriend, come from Stanford to help poor Ethan, who's worn out and paranoid.

    The collaboration often veers into first aid but also a power struggle. Alli may also be taking over, because Ethan has become paranoid and secretive. There's another in the project who's somehow a prisoner in the house, Malcolm (Dana Ashbrook, Twin Peaks' Deputy Bobby Briggs).

    In the end, the effort to transform the brain devolves into a battle between a former couple for - what? domination? sanity? But perhaps not the keys to consciousness, after all. Others may not see this issue so much, but I'd have liked it if Minor Premise's exploration of the frontiers of consciousness hadn't seemed to devolve at times into a mere struggle to make it through a long weekend.

    Ethan's effort to rewire his brain to be smarter causes it to fragment disastrously, into ten different emotional centers that take over for brief periods each hour. Following this process is what becomes as confusing as anything in Primer. Also, in a way I don't begin to follow, these separate Ethans are filming each other. Time is important, and we see one big and several small digital clocks; but this doesn't help much, because exactly what time period is being traversed and how the deadlines apply never seems clear, as with your brain in a meltdown it wouldn't.

    Sridharan, who's very watchable as the brilliant but overtaxed scientist, does a good job of navigating all this and acting the different Ethans who successively take over. I don't know if the ten-brains fragmentation could have been made any clearer, but he keeps them from seeming too exaggerated, and yet quite disturbing. Making something as insane as having one's brain split into multiple parts not seem completely wacko is a feat the actor performs.

    It's aided by his and Alli's communicating in dry lab-speak. Whenever she asks him how he is, he always says "Fine." The contemporary, real-sounding dialogue is one of the film's best features. So are the music, the sound design, and the design of the interiors, which manages to be somehow both dingy and elegant and avoids any kind of campy "lab" look. Sridharan has a cool but compelling presence. Not that this complicated, tense drama is anything like a fun watch; but it's a promising debut for director Eric Schultz and might well deserve a second look.

    Minor Premise, 95 mins., debuted at Montreal (Fantasia) Aug., 2020 and showed also Oct. 2020 at Sitges (Catalonia). Utopia Distribution will release it in theaters, virtual cinemas, and in digital and on-demand from Dec. 4, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-18-2020 at 12:25 PM.

  12. #27
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area




    You don't have to be pretty to be hip (Pogues headline)

    This film has a worthy subject - Shane MacGowan, provocative and gifted Irish singer and song writer of the unique and influential Celtic punk band the Pogues. Though a faded shell now in his early sixties, visibly wrecked from alcohol, drugs and a period of mental breakdown and recently disabled by a broken pelvis, he still clings to life and embodies a fabulous amount of contemporary Irish cultural and worldwide musical history which the filmmaker seeks to draw out and dramatize.

    If this film works for you as it intends, "unashamedly complicit with its subject" as it is, in Jonathan Romney's words, it makes you fall under the spell of the man and his time, and Ireland. It does that starting with an almost fairytale and long ago recreation of MadGowan's small town Irish childhood in Tipperary which takes you back to a nostalgic, picture-book version of young Shane's earliest years and an earlier rural Ireland done with narration, family and archival photos, and fanciful reenactments. With the mood thus set, Temple moves to his subject's cranky, druggy adolescence from age six in London, which included a scholarship at a famous English public school (Westminster), from which he was expelled after two years for dealing drugs. But, by the way, he had started drinking when he was five. And incidentally, this film was co-produced by Johnny Depp, and a recurrent scene shows the two men cheerily drinking together, a pair of disreputable, alcoholic celebrities.

    Though over two hours, this "A-list documentary," as Variety calls it, is both a work of art and a charmer. The time it takes up is good time. The early Irish childhood legend stuff may be a bit on the money. But it's also how Temple, who's long chronicled the London punk scene, shows his ability to weave the form of the documentary music bio into an art form - here, Irish-legend folk art. It is highly crafted to look artisanal. Not a moment seems perfunctory. Then, by the time you're halfway through, the anthemic lilt of the Pogue's Irish songs has you crying. Listen to Shane sing with Kirsty MacColl his big hit "Fairytale of New York:" They've got cars big as bars, they've got rivers of gold/But the wind goes right through you, it's no place for the old. . ." It's a different kind of Christmas song, and one of a number of proofs that MacGowan was a remarkable poet-songwriter. Note: "was." He admits on screen he can't write songs now.

    The music is touching and fine. But filmmaker Julien Temple makes the images their equal, using every trick in the book, weaving the archival and family footage and restagings into a mix literally set in frames or seen through period viewers, on an old Sony Trinitron, or with animations by Ralph Steadman, all blended into one legend, with the wrecked but still pungent MacGowan of today interwoven and telling this story, sadder, wiser, limp, sideways, but always articulate.

    The Pogue's punk revival of Irish song had to be in England to bloom, Shane explains, just as he had to be in London as a young man to devour a rich night life unavailable in Ireland. And the revival and reinvigoration of Irish song did happen. But then, suddenly English soil became unfriendly to anything Irish when the IRA attacks of the eighties created a strong hostility. Then the band went touring, and then some: so many gigs in a year performing went completely stale, as MacGowan is seen declaring in contemporary interiews. 1988 drove him off the deep end and in New Zealand, in a hotel over a Maori graveyard, on speed he says was as strong as a pound of acid, he painted himself and the room all blue. When he returned home, he was committed. His sister, who's the only ordinary talking head here, says he was never the same again.

    The interviews, nicely interwoven, which give MacGowan himself the narrative voice, are at different stages. In his prime as a singer-songwriter, with his terrible teeth, the better to snarl with (now totally replaced, however), leaving a big black gap up front, he seems to get uglier and uglier - and he was never handsome. But clearly he was sharply witty, funny, articulate even today, and then and now, attractive to many women. "Yes, I've noticed," he says. In his heyday they probably found even the bad teeth and the protuberant ears sexy, like the band's provocative name, originally Pogue Mahone, derived from the Irish for "kiss my arse." Somehow even MacGowan's rude provocative air can be winning because of his snuffle of a laugh that conveys digs with a gentler, humorous edge, as when he damns Yeats as an overrated poet: when he's good he's great, but a lot of his stuff is crap, he says; and "You and your fucking questions!" he grumbles repeatedly to a timid admirer/interviewer. In Ireland they were taught to say "fucking" very young and everybody used it, he has recounted, so even the foul language is rendered harmless, or, alternatively, part of inbred Irish anger at being so long under the English thumb. MqcGowan and the film make it clear everything he did is for about Ireland.

    At the film's end you will see MacGowan's 60th birthday celebration in the Irish National Concert Hall by a band full of notable admirers and friends, including Nick Cave, Bono, Sinéad O’Connor, a Sex Pistol and Johnny Depp, and MacGowan presented with an honorary statuette of an Irish lyre by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.

    Be warned: as we said, MacGowan at present is in bad decline from the broken pelvis, much substance abuse (including a period of heroin). The film, as Variety suggests, leaves us with an elegiac feeling despite its subject's still tenacious affirmation of life. Whatever his current state, though, this is one of the year's best and most entertaining music documentaries, and Celtic punk a thing to discover or revisit.

    Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan, 164 mins., debuted at San Sebastien and won its second highest honor there, the special jury prize. It had its North American premiere at DOC NYC. Released in the US by Magnolia Pictures, it Opens Dec 4, 2020 in theaters and on demand.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-22-2020 at 06:14 PM.

  13. #28
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    MAYOR (David Osit 2020)

    DAVID OSIT: MAYOR (2020)


    Quietly impressive portrait of a Palestinian mayor

    Ramallah, a predominantly Christian Arab city of 57,000 that is impinged upon in all ways by the state of Israel and ringed by Jewish settlements on the hills around, all illegal according to international law, is the de facto capital of the state of Palestine. And so Musa Hadid, the "mayor" referred to in this documentary, is an important figure, known to all and beloved to many. He has much to do, and is frustrated at every turn. The film focuses on Christmastime, and there are preparations under way for a gala outdoor city event of balloons, the climbing down of full-dress Santa Clauses, the lighting of a municipal Christmas tree, and fireworks, which must each take place in order and on cue (they do). There is a discussion of "branding" for the city, which the mayor says just sounds like a slogan to him. (The traffic light near the city hall has smiley faces on its lights.) A new city fountain with a beautiful up-to-date flow pattern has been completed. But there is sewage overflowing again in the valley outside, and Israel won't permit the proper equipment. It has taken decades just to get permission to build a cemetery.

    Musa Hadid looks like an ordinary Palestinian man, middle-aged, neatly dressed, graying (and regretting it a bit), a little paunchy, with an e-cigarette usually between his fingers, calm and ironic - and stressed like crazy though you never see it. But you hear him say near the end "I'll need six years to recover from this." When asked "Physically or psychologically?" he answers, "Psychologically."

    A group comes from Israel for some kind of cooperative activity. The mayor explains why, given the 53 years of Israeli occupation, this project cannot be. Speaking in English, he explains that it is a matter of dignity, which would be surrendered by doing so. Even when Prince William is to come for a visit, the pros and cons of that must be debated. Who invited him? "All our troubles go back to Britain," someone says. But it is decided that since William is not political, and the British royals never have been, and he's coming in connection with sports, it's okay. In the event, the prince makes a smoothly diplomatic speech as he has been bred to do; stands grandly; and behaves graciously. Followed by the filmmakers visiting in other parts of the world Mayor Hadid is seen visiting. He presents the message, explains the occupation, is a quite spokesman to people who so often have no idea of what situation Ramallah and this mayor live in, or even of the Israeli occupation.

    This is a quiet, even passive film. It shows but doesn't highlight Hadid's family, or other people, or report on previous mayors, or travel around the country. Sometimes it seems it, and its subject, are simply bland. But there is an advantage in this quietude. Because it is so unemphatic, the enormity of the situation of trying to be an important mayor in a seemingly endless occupation with constant encroachment is something viewers discover more intensely because they discover it on their own.

    There are two big events. Comically, the mayor discovers the city hall has TV that's not plugged in, waiting for someone to decide to order cable. It's needed to observe a big external shock: "that clown's" announcement that the US embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which the mayor learns of from his priest. This gesture is a huge insult to the Palestinian people and causes great unrest all over the occupied territories. "Have there been any deaths yet?" Mayor Hadid askes. Eventually indeed there are 16 deaths along with numerous injuries reported in Gaza. Trump's thoughtless provocative gesture to please fundamentalist Christians in his base, is doing untold damage here. A quieter American invasion is shown in the usual suspects' outposts, KFC, MacDo's, Starbucks. The town has a modern face, with a nice restaurant near city hall called Café de la Paix.

    The mayor says Israel is constantly invading the city more and more boldly, and the second big event is in invasion of Israel soldiers who break into shops demanding to see their surveillance footage. A fracas with Palestinian youths results, and the soldiers come closer and closer to the city hall. Mayor Hadid shows his mettle here, quietly standing his ground and directing others by phone to stay away. He promises not to go out but, in fact, appears for a while on the street helping a journalist blinded by tear gas. There is a terrifying threat of chaos, but the major has not for a moment lost his cool.

    Ultimately this understated film makes you think a lot about what the Occupation is like, without seeing the checkpoint where the mayor reports being insulted by being forced to undress by a 16-year-old IDF soldier, or any fixed battle. We see more of the pretty modern city hall with its ultra modern mayor's office and automatic window blinds and the new fountain outside with colored lights and Andrea Bocelli and Cynthia Brightman singing "Time to Say Goodbye" ("Con te partire"). But we know what lies in wait. This is a subtly brilliant film that sucker-punches you, slowly, scene by scene.

    Osit, though he is only heard from once, directed, produced and shot the film, He went to high school in Westchester County and college at the University of Michigan, then attended the American University in Cairo, where he studied Arabic.

    Mayor, 129 mins., debuted at True/False Film Festival (Colombia, MI) 5 Mar. 2020, showing at at least a dozen other festivals including Copenhagen (CPH:DOX - Next Wave prize), San Francisco, Maryland, Woods Hole, Melbourne (virtual), Toronto (Hot Docs), Durham NC (Full Frame: grand jury prize there), Zurich, Hamburg and Warsaw. Also included in DOC NYC, covered here. It will be shown at Film Forum in NYC and also on the internet starting Dec. 2, 2020.

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