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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 60%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-08-2021 at 02:08 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

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



    Old song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Irishman, 209 mins,. debuted at New York as Opening Night Film; 15 other international festivals, US theatrical release Nov. 1, wide release in many countries online by Netflix Nov. 27. Metascore 94%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2019 at 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 EXILES (Violet Columbus, Ben Klein 2022)



    Lopsided but stimulating film about Tiananmen, three exiled survivors, and a feisty Chinese-American filmmaker

    The 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and its aftermath is a huge subject. What China did, and the course it stayed on, undeterred by a silent US government focused more on trade than rights, has changed the world. As Jessica Kiang says in her Variety review, the survivors of that event deserve a documentary, but this debut by Columbus and Klein is not that film. The reason is their own limitations - and Christine Choy, whose presence here is central, but distracting in The Exiles.

    Choy, born in Shanghai, half Korean, raised in New York, is a feisty, chain-smoking, hard-drinking doc maker and film school lecturer at Tisch and elsewhere, is the essential catalyst and pivot point for this film focused on three 1989 Chinese revolt leaders who had to flee for their lives after the massacre and have never been back to China. Choy shot film of the three when they were briefly in New York together in 1989. They are student leader Wu’er Kaixi, writer and political scientist Yan Jiaqi and CEO of now-defunct tech firm Sitong, Wan Runnan. A handsome firebrand, an stern intellectual and a placid businessman, they contrast and complement each other and were united by their common belief that China had to change and their hope today that it till might.

    Columbus and Klein were Christine Choy's students, years ago; so was the Joker director Todd Philipps, who appears here to reminisce about her classes, in which she smoked and quaffed vodka, and says he was much influenced by her. Here, we see some of that footage she shot of Wu'er Kaixi, Yan Jiaqi, and Wan Ruhnan back then, which, for no clear reason other than lack of money, was never used till now.

    Choy revisits the unused footage of the three protest leaders coming to the U.S., where she and her cameraman covered them and they are still in shock and traumatized. And then, followed ty Columbus and Klein, Choy revisits the men themselves, 30 years later. Wu'er lives in Taiwan, where he is a respected media commentator; Yan is in Maryland, where he has done a lot of writing and keeps a voluminous film of it all; and Wan Runnan resides in Paris, with family, where he has a sort of urban farm, with chickens and vegetables. In each case it is a chance to ruminate about events and also about the life of an exile.

    They are also seen reunited in DC to address the Congress at the thirty-year anniversary of the massacre, where Wu'er's speech, in his now fluent English, shows he is still a firebrand: he is brutally critical of the whole series of American presidents - Bush Senior, Clinton, Bush Junior, Obama, Biden, who have never criticized China for its human rights viiolations. In China, the Tiananmen Square massacre has been erased from the record: it was peaceful, nobody died, nobody was hurt. (Thousands may have died: there is no record, only living memories.)

    These three men are interesting, each in his own way. Wan Runnan particularly so because he was one of the first successful Chinese corporate businessmen, and that he was essentially a capitalist, but saw no conflict between that and the passionate pursuit of democracy. His education had been interrupted by the Cultural Revolution. He thought that was over, and was active in the Chinese democracy movement - when Tiananmen Square brought that to a decisive end. Both in Choy's old 1989 footage and today, all three men ae wonderfully articulate - and hopeful.

    In this documentary, Christine Choy, who was nominated early on for her documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1987), is given her head. She is fun. Her conversation is freely laced with "fuck" and "shit." At the outset the filmmakers ask her offscreen to describe herself and she - rightly - says "Fuck you! You describe me!" When Choy meets with the three exiles then and now, her showoff manner is tamped down and they take the spotlight. But she still skews attention away from them and history toward her ego and her story.

    Early on Choy gets the attention, shown in a public interview related to a 2017 demonstration that the way to deal with Donald Trump would be "Kill him! A woman sniper." Jessica Kiang notes that using someone this "incandescently abrasive" as a "presenter" is "a dangerous gambit." The organization of this film, distracted by Choy and perhaps a still rudimentary sense of organization, leads to what Kiang calls "erratically overlapping perspectives." As she says, "The results" are "untidy and unbalanced," but we must admit that they do "derive considerable energy from that eccentric approach." It works, but it leaves one frustrated, forming in one's head as one watched the fuller, less skewed film that might have been.

    The film ends with Choy, suggesting again that she, not the massacre or its noble survivor-exiles, is what matters here. But that can't be. History is more important than Choy. Nonetheless she has been invaluable, interviewing the subjects in both Chinese and English. (Wu'er as mentioned has become totally fluent in English; Wan Runnan, who has lived long in France, says he has never mastered it. Choy, though she decflares that her Chinese and English are both rough, moves easily back and forth between them, and shows much wisdom about life, despite the wild but stimulating remarks. There are also clips of the massacre and wounded victims that bring the transformative event to life thirty-plus years later.

    The best solution would have been a mini-series. Providing a section for the massacre, for each of the exiles, and for Choy, would have kept perspective on the main people and events without eclipsing her, or them. Not that anyone is eclipsed here. It's just that as Kiang says, it feels like a "palimpsest." But as Kiang says, on the money again, the real "mike-drop would not have been something about Christine Choy, whose face is the last thing we see, but Wu'er's resounding address to Congress. That is where this film should have ended: finger-wagging at America for its responsibility for the undemocratic monolith China remains.

    A personal note. I used to go to a video rental store every day where a tall, personable young Chinese American man presided and we had friendly exchanges. The shock, disbelief and sadness of this usually so very cheerful young man when I saw him on June 4 after the news of the massacre had come is still vivid and moving to me.

    One clear reason why we've heard so little talk about this seminal event is our country's shocking silence about it. This is an important documentary despite its shortcomings. There need to be more.

    The Exiles, 95 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2023 winning the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary, and was shown at a number of other festivals including San Francisco, Jeonju, Bergen, Monthreal , Philadelphia, Taipei and Amsterdam. It will be shown at Roxie Theater in San Francisco Dec. 9-15, 2022 along with a showing of Christine Choy's films, with the filmmakers and Choy in person Dec. 9-11.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-01-2022 at 08:17 PM.

  8. #23
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    Jul 2002
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    NOSTALGIA (Mario Martone 2022)



    You can't go home again

    Ermanno Rea’s last novel, published posthumously in 2016, has been brought to life on film here in a feature starring Pierfrancesco Favino, who played Tommaso Buscetta in Marco Bellocchio's 2019 Mafia "pentito" epic Il Traditore or The Traitor. This is smaller stuff in comparison, but still a haunting portrait of the filmmaker's native Naples with a blunt, shocking end, and an opportunity for Favino to be charismatic and mysterious as a man who returns to his home town, which he left at age fifteen, after forty years. This is almost like a fable, or an illustration of Thomas Woolf's title, "You Can't Go Home Again. A few of the details are a little hollow, but the whole thing is still resonant.

    We first see Felice Lasco (Favino) arriving on an Egyptian plane where he is addressed in Arabic by the flight attendant, coming back to Naples for the first time after forty years abroad, to find his little, agèd mamma (the tiny but tremendous Aurora Quattrocchi), almost blind, to have a late-life reunion. There is an unforgettable scene where he carries her into a tomblike room and tenderly bathes her.

    Strangely, since he has a beautiful Egyptian wife (Sofia Essaïdi) in Cairo (but no children), Felice turns out later to be planning to move back to the place he left as a teenager. Wealthy now, he immediately buys a nice apartment for his mum to replace the tiny flat a relative has moved her to, selling the nice one on an upper floor he grew up in.

    This isn't the only questionable stuff that's been going on. Well, it's Naples, and not only that, but his native Sanità district, where the Catacombs are, near Capodimonte, is dominated or terrorized by what was Felice's best pal, Oreste Spasiano (Tommaso Ragno), now a crime boss known as O malommo ("The Bad Man"). As youths they carried out petty crimes together, and a murder is why young Felice left never to return. A few flashbacks in Super8 format bring back those early days and the young Feli' and Ore' (Emanuele Palumbo and Artem) in the smaller format, sunnier and brighter but with one horrible trauma.

    He connects now with a priest known as Don Luigi (Francesco Di Leva), based on a real person (don Antonio Loffredo) who's like a social worker helping protect youth from crime and danger and involved with a youth orchestra and also a boxing gym. When Felice reveals his connection to Oreste aka O malommo, everyone tells him to go back to where he came from, including Raffaele (Nello Mascia), an older man who knew him whom he doesn't remember. Nonetheless against warnings, after the abrupt death of his mother, he is drawn back to his old friend, whose empire seems in decline and perhaps his health. Handsome but seedy O malommo, with his long white hair and beard, seems like an animal who is more dangerous because he is wounded.

    This is tasty material, and not much has to happen because the situation becomes so constantly ominous and the city, nicely brought to life here by dp Paolo Carnera, is the other main character, beautiful, cozy (rather like Cairo but with more ornate, baroque architectural decoration), friendly, and full of menace. It's not implausible even though he's rich and happy and fluent in Arabic that a man might feel his native Napoli calling, still it's a little hard under these special circumstances to understand how Felice, who's had an apartment vandalized and a motorbike burnt to a crisp, would be so foolish, or for that matter why his pretty Cairene wife Arlette would be so into joining him to live in Naples now.

    It's a dark and pretty story, a little like one by Paul Bowles. A fine return to contemporary drama for Mario Martone and another feather in the cap of the estimable and sympathetic Pierfrancesco Favino, playing the returning traveler of legend, a mystery man who's been gone so long he's forgotten the Italian word for sponge (spugno) and seems to have converted to Islam. Not perfect certainly, but great stuff nonetheless, this atmospheric film is two hours yet it feels as compact as it is tense, and there is not much fat on its bones. A good advertisement for the novels of Ermanno Rea.

    Nostalgia, 117 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition May 2022, eight other festival showrings listed on IMDb. Breaking Glass Films has acquired it for US distribution in early 2023.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-01-2022 at 08:01 PM.

  9. #24
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    Jul 2002
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    Metacritic ratings of NYFF 2022 Films

    Metacritic ratings of NYFF 2022 Films and links to reviews

    Opening Night
    “White Noise”
    Dir. Noah Baumbach
    Metacritic: 68%

    “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”
    Dir. Laura Poitras
    Metacritic: 89%

    Closing Night
    “The Inspection”
    Dir. Elegance Bratton
    Metacritic: 71%

    NYFF 60th Anniversary Celebration
    “Armageddon Time”
    Dir. James Gray
    Metacritic: 73%

    Dir. Charlotte Wells
    Metacritic: 95%

    Dir. Carla Simón
    Metacritic: 88%

    “All That Breathes”
    Dir. Shaunak Sen
    Metacritic: 86%

    Dir. Marie Kreutzer
    Metacritic: 81%

    “A Couple”
    Dir. Frederick Wiseman
    Metacritic: 73%

    “De Humani Corporis Fabrica”
    Dir. Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor
    Metacritic: tbd

    “Decision to Leave”
    Dir. Park Chan-wook
    Metacritic: 84%

    Dir. Margaret Brown
    Metacritic: 88%

    “Enys Men”
    Dir. Mark Jenkin
    Metacritic: 72%

    Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski
    Metacritic: 76%

    “The Eternal Daughter”
    Dir. Joanna Hogg
    Metacritic: 73%

    “Master Gardener”
    Dir. Paul Schrader
    Metacritic: 59

    “No Bears”
    Dir. Jafar Panahi
    Metacritic: 88%

    “The Novelist’s Film”
    Dir. Hong Sangsoo
    Metacritic: 82%

    “One Fine Morning”
    Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve
    Metacritic: 84%

    Dir. Albert Serra
    Metacritic: 79%

    Dir. Cristian Mungiu
    Metacritic: 75%

    “Return to Seoul”
    Dir. Davy Chou
    Metacritic: 82%

    “Saint Omer”
    Dir. Alice Diop
    Metacritic: 93%

    Dir. Pietro Marcello
    Metacritic: 69%

    “Showing Up”
    Dir. Kelly Reichardt
    Metacritic: 81%

    “Stars at Noon”
    Dir. Claire Denis
    Metacritic: 64%

    Dir. Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka
    Metacritic: tbd

    Dir. Todd Field
    Metacritic: 91%

    “Trenque Lauquen”
    Dir. Laura Citarella
    Metacritic: tbd

    “Triangle of Sadness”
    Dir. Ruben Östlund
    Metacritic: 63%

    Dir. Cyril Schäublin
    Metacritic: tbd

    “Walk Up”
    Dir. Hong Sangsoo
    Metacritic: 86%
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-15-2022 at 05:08 PM.

  10. #25
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    Jul 2002
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    BENEDICTION (Terence Davies 2022)


    M Y[/I]

    Davies' restrained portrait of the writer focuses on his time in the war

    This restrained, sensitive film about the horseman, poet, biographer, and soldier Siegfried Sasson by Terrence Davies is a quite, thought-provoking portrait. It focuses on the man's involvement with WWI, but little is shown of the extraordinary combat experiences described in his Memoirs of and infantry Officer (1930), which followed his even more famous Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928): Davies doesn't have the budget for much more than a series of quiet scenes staged indoors.

    I fell asleep… Next morning he was dead;
    And some Slight Wound lay smiling on the bed

    This is quoted in Benediction from Siegfried Sassoon's poem "Died of Wounds" after a scene signaling Sassoon's awareness that Wilfred Owen, the finest war poet of the First World War, has died, two weeks before the war's end. They were together in a hospital for mental problems. They dance the tango together, stiffly, cheek to cheek.. A priggish officer finds them disgusting: he thinks such men should "do the right thing" and "go into the library" and blow their brains out. . Sassoon's distinguished doctor/consultant, who says he should think of their sessions as "a cleansing of the soul," and covertly declares himself to be of the persuasion , is of a different view. He also, knows what Owen meant to Sassoon, who recognized the younger man's magnificent poetic gifts but also felt an enormous attachment and could not bear to see him go.

    Sassoon, who was thirty, had received the Military Cross for his combat performance as a second lieutenant in WWI, but then after some time in hospital for an infection, refuses to go back. He declares that authorities are prolonging the war unnecessarily. He finds the number of casualties unforgivable and unnecessary. (This was already true during combat and his anger at the injustice of combat inspired him with a manic energy, which made his men trust him so much they felt unsafe without him.) His father (?) intervenes to prevent Siegfried from being court marshaled, and instead he is sent to "dotty-ville," as he calls it. He resents this protection, which robs him of the opportunity to make his views widely known. His younger brother Hamo was killed in the Gallipoli Campaign.

    All this is presented in a succession of neat little scenes, almost like theatrical tableaux. This is Davies' way of depicting the restraint and elegance of the period. The ordinary men behave as expected, but are superficial and contemptable. Sassoon was a little bit abrupt and jejune himself. Have you read Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man? Growing up, though not aristocratic, and with an odd background, half catholic and half Jewish, he lived in a semi-feudal country world focusing exclusively on sport and horsemanship, concerned only to get the funds for the next better horse. When the disdainful homophobic officer says he can't read Beowulf in the original, I wondered at the hint that Sassoon could.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Today at 10:32 PM.

  11. #26
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    LIVING (Oliver Hermanus 2022)



    All remakes should be this good

    This film is set in 1952 London and focused on a man near retirement working in the London county council public works department who learns he is dying of stomach cancer and has six months to live, nine months at most. At first he abandon's the office and tries distractions: carousing with a louche writer at a seaside resort, then running about with a lively young woman who's just left the office. He also tries to talk to his son and daughter-in-law with whom he lives. None of this works. The film jumps to after Willams' death when it emerges through talk among coworkers that Williams showed nobility and courage in seeing to it that some women's petition, which we've seen being presented fruitlessly in an early scene, was carried out to build a small children's park in a poor part of town. Flashbacks bring home his extraordinary persistence, and show him singing on a swing in the completed park, in the growing darkness, a look of bliss on his face.

    If this sounds familiar, then you have probably seen Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film Ikiru, where the dying man is called Mr. Watanabe (Takashi Shimuru). There are obvious differences. Nighy is tall and dashing, even dying. Living is set in the era when British men routinely dressed to the nines: striped suits, stiff collars, tight tie, bowler hat and brolly. The new film, in color, looks handsome, presented in boxy ratio to give it a period look. There is considerable formal beauty and elegance in the cinematography and also a crisp, crackly feel of postwar Britain, diffident, hopeful, eager to please. The dialogue and screenplay are by the Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go). One feels that he is incestuously familiar with the original written by Kurosawa with Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni, that he has made it his own. But the nattiness and the Britishness and this adaptation's being an elegant period piece help keep one from thinking of the original and making undesirable comparisons.

    Robbie Collin of The Telegraph begins his review by saying that "In the long list of films there can be no conceivable need to remake, Ikiru must be somewhere near the top." For me it goes firmly and absolutely at the top, and then some, since Ikiru has long been officially my favorite film. News that a remake had been made was disquieting. But I was sent a screener early by Sony, and had it before I even knew it and began watching it without thinking. You might say it caught me a little off guard. I liked it and found it exquisite and elegant. I admired Bill Nighy's marvelously restrained performance, especially coming from a cutup like him, and was delighted by two younger actors, Alex Sharp as Peter Wakeling, a a cheerful newcomer at the office with a fresh point of view, and Aimee Lou Wood as Margaret Harris, the young woman Williams pursues for a while, somewhat unhealthily, for her life force. This film adds a romance between Peter and Margaret at the end. One felt perhaps Ishiguro was making up for the sad repression of the butler on Remains of the Day. This version perhaps spells out its positive message more explicitly than it needs to. I confess as the louche writer, Sutherland, Tom Burke gave me the creeps, because his role as the posh heroin addict in The Souvenir still hovers over him.

    The choice of setting the new film in the year of the original, seventy years ago, and thus making it a period film, is paradoxical, because Ikiru is one of the relatively rare Kurosawa films that was not in costume but set in ordinary clothes in the present. The clothes are drab in Ikiru. Mr. Watanabe is bent over into a pathetic parody of Japanese humility. This makes the strength that he finds in his last days the more striking. But Nighy is too good an actor and this is too dedicated a performance by him for the courage and persistence not to emerge out of his different characterization as well. And Ishiguro's evocation of the moment of postwar Britain and the pleasing look the filmmakers' give the scenes are simply pleasurable in themselves. This is not nostalgia. It's something very like art. Despite my subconscious impulse to hate this version, Hermanus' Living is exquisite. Let's have no remake of this remake! It's perfect as it is.

    Living, 102 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 22, 2022 and was shwon in at least 19 or 20 other international festivals, including Venice, Telluride, Toronto, Zurich, Rio, the Hamptons, London and Vienna. The US theatrical release begins on Dec. 23, 2022 (New York) and Jan. 6, 2023 (San Francisco). The Metacritic rating is 80%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-11-2022 at 11:23 AM.

  12. #27
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    MY BEST MOVIES OF 2022 draft lists


    Best Movies of 2022:
    TÁR (Todd Field)
    THE FABELMANS( Steven Spielberg)
    ARMAGEDDON TIME (James Gray)
    AFTERSUN (Charlotte*Wells)
    EMILY THE CRIMINAL (John Patton Ford)
    THE NORTHMAN (Robert Eggers)
    Also liked:
    ELVIS (Baz Luhrmann)
    TILL (Chinonye Chukwu)

    Best Foreign:
    HIT THE ROAD (Panah Panahi)
    A HERO (Asghar Farhadi)
    LOST ILLUSIONS Xavier Giannoli) 6/22 US limited release
    PARIS 13th DISTRICT (Jacques Audiard)
    ONE FINE MORNING/UN BEAU JOUR (Mia Hansen-Love)- not yet released
    THE HAPPENING/L'EVENEMENT (Audrey Diwan 2022) US early 2023?
    THE BOX/LA CAJA (Lorenzo Vigas)
    TRIANGLE OF SADNESS (Ruben Östlund)
    Also liked:
    COSTA BRAVA, LEBANON (5/15/22 Quad Cinema)
    CASABLANCA BEATS (9/16/22 IFC center)

    Best Documentaries:
    DESCENDANT (Margaret Brown)
    MY IMAGINARY COUNTRY (Patricio Guzmán)
    THE TERRITORY (Alex Pritz)
    RETROGRADE (Matthew Heineman)
    Also liked:
    Notable re-release:
    Need to See:
    NITRAM Vincnent LePort:
    COW (Andrea Arnold) 4/22 US limited release
    ALL THAT BREATHES (Shaunak Sen)
    NO BEARS (Jafar Panahi) - NYFF

    Best performances:

    Best Unreleased in the US:
    THE SALES GIRL (Janchivdorj Sengedor - NYAFF)

    Admired (by my or by others), But Did Not Like:
    DECISION TO LEAVE (Park Chan-wook)
    FIRE OF LOVE (Sara Dosa)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-27-2022 at 11:52 AM.

  13. #28
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    ALL IN: ST. BERNARD'S (Greg Backer, Evan Kanew 2022)



    Upbeat story of the little New England Catholic high school that could

    The most upbeat documentary of the year can either be seen as a school's recruitment film or a study of school spirit and how it can thrive in adversity. It's about St. Bernard's Catholic high school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, which in 2019 had to give their all, down to only 100 students, to go private when the diocese decided it had to close. The key: a dedicated enrollment and fundraising effort by staff and alumni and a little football team (half or one third the size of their competitors) that beat West Bridgewater to win Division 8 Super Bowl for the second year, despite (or perhaps) because of all the adversity of that year. They were the smallest school paying football in the State of Massachusetts. The doc nicely blends the school's fight to survive in a new form with the story of the team.

    Big contributors: football team members Ben Goolsby, Jacob Banchs, Dom Cuevas, Nico Mancini, Jason Branch and Johnny Pinard; young principal Linda Anderson who just took office the year before; lumber company owner-coach Tom Bingham; sportswriter Sean Sweeney - and many others: like the story it tells, this film is a team effort.

    They had to get at least 100 enrolled for the next year, and the team had to have another winning season because for the world, the football team, the Bernardians, was the school. The result is an American success story that's improbable. A 33-year-old Latin teacher became the head of the school, a tiny football team wiped out their finals match opponents. After the team winners' hijinks on social media won a million hits and then a million more, and the championship was all over the front page of the Boston Herald, long-lost alumni started to take notice and come back and the $1 million endowment and more became solid and now is at $2.6 million with their "All In" campaign. and growing. Finally the diocese administrators granted the school's bid to privatize. Catholic high schools had been going under left and right in the state. St. Bernard's proved they were special. And through the pandemic they increased enrollment and continued strong. In 2021 they welcomed the largest freshman class in ten years. In spring 2021 the football roster grew to 42, and played a shortened season ending 6-0 undefeated with no playoffs against schools from higher divisions.

    Would like to have heard from a few more students who're neither the son of the coach or a football team member, rank and file kids who we see grinning throughout in group shots, but rarely hear from. Another element not heard from: teachers other than those involved in the action. But basically this is a portrait, and an engaging one, of the coaches, the team and the young principal, with sidebars on others who worked to save the school.

    All In: St. Bernard's, 95 mins., releases from Gravitas Ventures on VOD Dec. 13, 2022.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-02-2022 at 06:46 PM.

  14. #29
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE INSPECTION (Elegance Bratton 2022) - NYFF



    A Black gay man goes through Marine boot camp successfully but doesn't gain mother's acceptance

    Elegance Bratton has declared his A24-released feature film debut to be autobiographical. He like Ellis French (Jeremy Pope, himself a queer Black actor) in The Inspection, is a gay Black man who joined the Marine Corps following ten years living on the streets in Trenton, New Jersey after his mother kicked him out at 16 for being gay. The tormented, still loving mother-son relationship is as central to this movie as the boot camp experience that fills most of the run time; shortly after graduation from the camp. the film ends, but not before a highly fraught meeting between mother and son. However rough in spots, this movie is vivid, intense, and felt.

    Marine boot camp paradoxically treats recruits as non-beings and the training platoon Ellis is in is presided over by an aggressive Black training officer, Sgt. Laws (Bokeem Woodbine), who says he hates recruits and seeks to break them down, but when they're turned into Marines they become precious. Reluctantly, or with much hesitation, the very Christian but clearly tormented Inez (a powerful Gabrielle Union) attends her son's Marine graduation. The Marines, after a struggle, despite discovering that he is gay during this "Don't ask, don't tell" period (1994-2011) have somehow made Ellis one of their own, and once you're a Marine, you're golden. But when Ellis has to explain to the hopeful, delusional Inez who envisions his having a string of girlfriends now, "Mom, boot camp didn't make me straight," she withdraws her invitation to come back and stay with him for his month before reporting for service, and they are back where they started. Maybe the dedication to Bratton's mother at the end of the film, along with the information that Bratton indeed served in the Marines from 2005 to 2010, indicates some kind of truce between mother and son came about before her passing; alas, he says not.

    The Inspection is a strong movie but despite its autobiographical origins, doesn't always seem real. Maybe it doesn't matter: it has an emotional reality. Screen versions of military boot camps tend to seem like mechanical ritual or absurd fantasy. Moreover, Ellis' personal gay sexual fantasies of the other men in boot camp are tormenting and as important perhaps, as his daytime challenges. (See <a href="">Benjamin Lee of the Guardian</A> for the review with a fuller queer perspective on this film.)

    Bratton's need to work through his own experience of boot camp and his mother's rejection sometimes seems stronger than his desire to tell a story. Starting to write the screenplay in film school his memories of five years in the Marines may have been pushed out sometimes by movies. The representation of Sgt. Laws tends to be overwhelmed a bit in our minds and perhaps Bratton's by Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and its classic boot camp sergeant Hartman played by R. Lee Ermey, who, under Kubrick's master hand, seems too good to be true, though Ermey was a ten-year Marine veteran as wall as an actor. Sgt. Laws isn't as enjoyably absurd, but his excessiveness, up close as seen here, is very theatrical. Ellis is also tormented by the chosen recruit squad leader (McCaul Lombardi), up close all the time too, who tries to get him disqualified but fails. (An Officer and a Gentleman is another classic training movie that will come to mind, and probably eclipse, this one.)

    There are new wrinkles, like Muslim recruit Ismail (Eman Esfandi), who is forced to attend a Christian service conducted by a caricatural Southern chaplain (Wynn Reichert) with non-believing Ellis, and rushes out and is comforted by Ellis weeping in the latrine because he has realized the Marines will just equate him with the killers of their comrades in Desert Storm or Iraq. Sgt. Laws shows the recruits a video of Sam Mendes' Jarhead (which would have been new then), saying it perfectly shows their experience in Desert Storm. Well, that would not be a Marine recruitment film, and neither would this. It may be true, truth is stranger than fiction, but it also seems a bit implausible that Ellis would be spotted as gay because he gets an erection in the shower naked with other recruits. Tough luck if so, since showers are obligatory and collective activities. It's Bratton's skewed impression of the straightness of his fellow recruits that mail brings a bible with girlie photos crammed into it and that night they are all busily masturbating.

    In the physical part of boot camp, the sit-ups and pushups and runs and obstacle courses, despite every effort to throw him off Ellis does fine. His relations with the other recruits are uneasy after the shower revelation. He performs at least adequately, perhaps well, in the crucial final rifle marksmanship test but his enemies try to falsify his failure. This is where it's clear he has some advocates, including an instructor (Raúl Castillo) who has confided in him, another person Ellis comforts, though when he interprets kindness as an opening to physical intimacy, he gets in trouble.

    Having gone through Basic Training in the Army in earlier days, it was surprising to me how much these recent Marine recruits talk to the sergeants, always shouting out and prefacing all remarks with, "Sir, this recruit..," speaking of themselves in the third person. The progress of boot camp doesn't come through as a fixed set of training goals so much as a series of vivid memories, like eating with violent appetite (which I also remember; food never tasted so good and there was never enough of it). Sometimes the personal interactions feel contrived, heightened or condensed from real experience. But each test passed is a validation, and while the friendliness of the other recruits seems a bit sudden, Ellis' sense of accomplishment is something the viewer shares. Jeremy Pope has a jutting jaw and mouth, and his own special way of smiling that morphs back and forth into a frown. If the process sometimes seems contrived, his transformation seems real, the sense of identity in desperation achieved.

    The Inspection 95 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 8, 2022 then New York Oct. 14, showing in a dozen other festivals, mostly domestic, but including London BFI. Limited US theatrical release from Nov. 18, 2022. <A HREF="">Metacritic</A> rating: 73%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-04-2022 at 01:28 AM.

  15. #30
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    High heat



    You have to kill to keep a restaurant open these days

    In High Heat we join a new high end restaurant on its opening night when Ray, the co-owner, spouse of the cook, played by Don Johnson, is threatened by the minions of a gang boss to whom it emerges he owes $1.3 million. He was thinking to pay after the restaurant started making money, but Dom (Dallas Page) wants it now. To make the urgency of his request clear he sends some other minions with large cans of gasoline to set fire to the kitchen. They are buffoons, even though one has some martial arts moves: they haven't even brought a lighter to fire up the gasoline. Ray is a buffoon too, though one with fading good looks in a nice blue suit. His strategy with Dom is just to say "Please."

    This is where the real star of this show, Bond girl and super model Olga Kurylenko, as Anya, chef and co-owner and Ray's main squeeze, starts to do her thing, working out in the kitchen where she was preparing a giant soup for tomorrow. She almost literally makes mincemeat of the minions, shoving what's left into the walk-in freezer. Olga is fabulous. At 40-something, she still has a model-lean perfect body and great looks. A woman like this with action-hero skills is fun to watch.

    That's not the end of Dom, though. He's called in a other heavies to back his assault, even including Gary (Jackie Long), his masseur (which everyone mispronounces "massoos"), and some paid temps - this is a new wrinkle - who demand double-time and a catered lunch. But Ana has reinforcement, coming from her important frenemy, Mimi (frenemy), who arrives with her automatic-weapon armed husband Miles (Erik Bloomquist) and their two menacing twin daughters (Bianca and Chiara D'Ambrosio). (The dialogue in the car is amusing. This film has declared itself to be sub-Bond with colorful opening credits and 007-ish theme music. It now takes a stab at sub-Tarantino.). Mimi starts out by going for the masseur. After a warm reunion between Ray and Ana, Ray tells Dom on his cell that they're not giving in.

    The final showdown fills the last quarter of this short film. Mimi turns out to have it in for Anya for abandoning her when they were working in Paris, and she plans not to help Anya but kill her. They have a fight in the kitchen, in which Mimi sustains a stab wound she chooses to ignore, but the ladies decide after all to let bygones be bygones. Ray wields a rifle and he and Mimi's husband kill both Dom and his no-count son. That's about it. Ray's hungry, and he and Anya sit in the unscathed dining room of the restaurant for a late-night meal and tall glasses of white wine.

    As I've written before, Saban films, who produced this, specialize in something like what a Vulture (New York Magazine) article in March called "geezer features," films hastily and cheaply produced for straight-to-video marketing that are anchored by aging stars. Among these have been, from Saban, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Mel Gibson, and now Don Johnson. Someone else provides the physical action. In the more involving Saban film Gasoline Alley from early this year, Luke Wilson augments the phoned-in performance of Bruce Willis, and an actor called Devon Sawa does the heavy lifting. This time it's Don as the oldster and Olga provides the physical action. High Heat's young writer James Pedersen makes an effort to inject some humorous Tarantino-style dialogue, but the villain, Dom, is as feeble as are Ray's efforts to hold him off. We never really care about the situation and we know that Olga is going to trounce the villains. The fights are just performances and are made to feel static because they're confined so much to one location. The kitchen provides a lot of knives for Anya to throw or stab with, but we don't get much to prove this is a fancy French restaurant. The film may have taken on a set of circumstances it didn't have the budget for.

    High Heat, 83 mins., releases from Saban films in theaters, on digital, and on demand Dec. 16, 2022.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-04-2022 at 01:28 AM.

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