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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

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

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


    LEE SON-KYUN AND JO YEO-JEONG IN PARASITE

    Crime thriller as social commentary? Maybe not.

    I've reviewed Bong's 2006 The Host ("a monster movie with a populist heart and political overtones that's great fun to watch") and his 2009 Mother which I commented had "too many surprises." (I also reviewed his 2013 Snowpiercer.) Nothing is different here except this seems to be being taken more seriously as social commentary, though it's primarily an elaborately plotted and cunningly realized violent triller, as well a monster movie where the monsters are human. It's also marred by being over long and over-plotted, making its high praise seem a bit excessive.

    This new film, Bong's first in a while made at home and playing with national social issues, is about a deceitful poor family that infiltrates a rich one. It won the top award at Cannes in May 2019, just a year after the Japanese Koreeda's (more subtle and more humanistic) Palm winner about the related theme of a crooked poor family. Parasite has led to different comparisons, such as Losey's The Servant and Pasolini's Theorem. In accepting the prize, Bong himself gave a nod to Hitchcock and Chabrol. Parasite has met with nearly universal acclaim, though some critics feel it is longer and more complicated than necessary and crude in its social commentary, if its contrasting families really adds up to that. The film is brilliantly done and exquisitely entertaining half the way. Then it runs on too long and acquires an unwieldiness that makes it surprisingly flawed for a film so heaped with praise.

    It's strange to compare Parasite with Losey's The Servant, in which Dick Bogarde and James Fox deliver immensely rich performances. Losey's film is a thrillingly slow-burn, subtle depiction of class interpenetration, really a psychological study that works with class, not a pointed statement about class itself. It's impossible to speak of The Servant and Parasite in the same breath.

    In Parasite one can't help but enjoy the ultra-rich family's museum-piece modernist house, the score, and the way the actors are handled, but one keeps coming back to the fact that as Steven Dalton simply puts it in his Cannes Hollywood Reporter review, Parasite is "cumbersomely plotted" and "heavy-handed in its social commentary." Yet I had to go to that extremist and contrarian Armond White in National Review for a real voice of dissent. I don't agree with White's politics or his belief that Stephen Chow is a master filmmaker, but I do sympathize with being out-of-tune, like him, with all the praise of Boon's new film.

    The contrast between the poor and rich family is blunt indeed, but the posh Park family doesn't seem unsubtly depicted: they're absurdly overprivileged, but don't come off as bad people. Note the con-artist Kim family's acknowledgement of this, and the mother's claim that being rich allows you to be nice, that money is like an iron that smooths out the wrinkles. This doesn't seem to be about that, mainly. It's an ingeniously twisted story of a dangerous game, and a very wicked one. Planting panties in the car to mark the chauffeur as a sexual miscreant and get him fired: not nice. Stimulating the existing housekeeper's allergy and then claiming she has TB so she'll be asked to leave: dirty pool. Not to mention before that, bringing in the sister as somebody else's highly trained art therapist relative, when all the documents are forged and the "expertise" is cribbed off the internet: standard con artistry.

    The point is that the whole Kim family makes its way into the Park family's employ and intimate lives, but it is essential that they conceal that they are in any way related to each other. What Bong and his co-writer Jin Won Han are after is the depiction of a dangerous con game, motivated by poverty and greed, that titillates us with the growing risk of exposure. The film's scene-setting of the house and family is exquisite. The extraordinary house is allowed to do most of the talking. The rich family and the housekeeper are sketched in with a few deft stokes. One's only problem is first, the notion that this embodies socioeconomic commentary, and second, the overreach of the way the situation is played out, with one unnecessary coda after another till every possibility is exhausted. This is watchable and entertaining (till it's not), but it's not the stuff of a top award.

    Parasite 기생충 (Gisaengchung), 132 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, winning the Palme d'Or best picture award. Twenty-eight other festivals followed as listed on IMDb, including New York, for which it was screened (at IFC Center Oct. 11, 2019) for the present review. Current Metascore 95%. It has opened in various countries including France, where the AlloCiné press rating soared to 4.8.


    PARK SO-DAM AND CHOI WOO-SIK IN PARASITE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2020 at 12:49 AM.

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    MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (Edward Norton 2019)

    EDWARD NORTON: MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (2019)


    GUGU MBATHA-RAW AND EDWARD NORTON IN MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

    Edward Norton's passion project complicates the Jonathan Lethem novel

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

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

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

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

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

    Motherless Brooklyn, 144 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 30, 2019, showing at eight other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, Mill Valley, and New York, where it was screened at the NYFF OCT. 11, 2019 as the Closing Night film. It opens theatrically in the US Nov. 1, 2019. Current Metascore 62%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2019 at 04:38 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

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

    MARTIN SCORSESE: THE IRISHMAN (2019)


    AL PACINO AND ROBERT DE NIRO IN THE IRISHMAN

    Old song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    BACURAU (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles 2019)

    KLEBER MENDOÇA FILHO, JULIANO DORNELLES: BACURAU (2019)


    SONIA BRAGA (CENTER) IN BACURAU

    Not just another Cannes mistake?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  5. #20
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    ZOMBI CHILD (Bertrand Bonello 2019)

    BERTRAND BONELLO: ZOMBI CHILD (2019)


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

    Voodoo comes to Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    THE PAINTED BIRD (Petr Kotlar (2019)

    VACLAV MARNOUL: THE PAINTED BIRD (2019)


    PETR KOTLAR IN THE PAINTED BIRD

    The boy who saw too much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    THE CLIMB (Michael Angelo Covino 2019)

    MICHAEL ANGELO COVINO: THE CLIMB (2019)


    KYLE MARVIN AND GAYLE RANKIN IN THE CLIMB

    Virtuoso film about a bad bromance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Climb, 94 mins., debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard May 2019 and won the Jury Prize. It subsequently showed in 15 international festivals including Munich, Telluride, Toronto, Deauville and Vienna. It was scheduled for release March 20, 2020 but due to the coronavirus outbreak release was delayed to July 17, 2020. Its Metascore is 82%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 09:36 AM.

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    RELIC (Natalie Erika James (2020)

    NATALIE ERIKA JAMES: RELIC (2020)


    ROBYN NEVIN, EMILY MORTIMER AND BELLA NORTHCOTE IN RELIC

    Ladies on the midnight watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Relic, 89 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 25, 2020 to generally good reviews. (See David Rooney's for Hollywood Reporter, which notes the story was indeed inspired by a grandmother with Alzheimer's.) It was picked up by IFC Midnight for North American distribution, and was to have been in the Midnighters section of the recently cancelled SXSW festival. Due to the pandemic it has been scheduled to open online, on July 10, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 09:08 AM.

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    THE MEDICINE (Farzin Toussi 2019)

    FARZIN TOUSSI: THE MEDICINE (2019)



    What the famous natural psychedelic jagé might do for yanquis

    This little documentary, The Medicine, directed by Ferzin Toussi, serves as an introduction to, and promotional film for, jagé or ayajuasca, the ancient and traditional hallucinogenic preparation, a brew that is drunk. We're advised not to call it a drug but a sacred medicine. Fans of William S. Burroughs, like me, remember The Yage Letters, an early epistolary work, mostly dating from 1953 but published by City Lights Books in 1963 and consisting of exchanges, largely fabricated, between Burroughs and the much younger Allen Ginsberg, who was his early coach and inspiration. It recounts Burroughs' trip to Ecuador seeking to explore for himself the preparation's almost mythical properties while, he hoped, getting off junk (heroin). So, for him, the best and most non-addictive methadone. It's a Schedule 1 drug and hence illegal in the US, but not shown to be habit forming. Cannabis is Schedule 1 too and also supposedly non habit forming, but I've known quite a few people who had a wicked pot habit, including me, which is why I'd steer clear of ayahuasca however extensive its beneficial properties. Burroughs apparently kept using heroin all his long life. At least it didn't kill him. He was lucky.

    DMT — or N, N-dimethyltryptamine in medical talk — is a hallucinogenic tryptamine drug. Sometimes referred to as Dimitri, this drug produces effects similar to those of psychedelics, like LSD and magic mushrooms. A Healthline entry provides warnings on its use. DMT, they say, is best avoided if you have high blood pressure, are not in a good frame of mind, or unstable, or when you're alone.

    Ayahuasca is traditionally prepared using two plants whose botanical names are Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. The latter contains DMT while the former contains MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, the ingredients of antidepressants), which prevent certain enzymes in your body from breaking down DMT and hence prolong the process, the high.

    DMT is only the most obviously separable chemical element. According to this film, jagé is much more than that - not only a combination of two plants whose interaction is special and complex, but a sacred indigenous ritual whose history can be traced back at least 4,000 years. It may be the most interesting and sexy, if a bit obvious, subject for an ethnobotanical study: examining all the endless ramifications of how a plant with an important role in a culture interrelates with everyday life. I learned about this field from my longtime friend Dorothy Kamen-Kaye, who studied the role of chimò in Latin America under the guidance of the famous Harvard ethnobotonist Richard Schultes, who was profiled in The New Yorker by E.J. Kohn ("Jungle Botonist") in 1992. This film, unfortunately, isn't Dr. Schultes' kind of study, in fact not a study at all. It's more like a shiny, many-colored advertisement for jagé or ayajuasca, leading up to showing how rich celebrity visitors may benefit from it too - and maybe you. William Burroughs wandered alone. Now there are group tours and arranged accommodations.

    In The Medicine we meet Taita Juanito Guillermo Chindoy Chindoy, an Inga (Putomayo, Colombia region) shaman or spirit guide (the meaning of "taita" is guide, healer, shaman). A pleasant-seeming fellow whose 109-year-old grandfather was a taita, Taita Juanito represents the local culture where jagé appears to retain a central and traditional role. We hear more from the longhaired, colorfully dressed, Spanish-speaking Taita Juanito here and there through the film. He's identified by a voice-off narrator as one "of a long line of ethnobotanists." Nice idea, but ethonobotanists are (aren't they?) usually detached scientists, not practitioners like Taita Juanito. Anyway, we hear from white putative experts as well, most of whom are advocates.

    It is Dr. Mauricio Diazgranados, research leader at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, a Colombian specialist in plant biodiversity, who first introduces yagé or jagé (he gives two alternate pronunciations), as "a very deep tradition from several ethnic groups, specially in the Amazon forest." Incidentally, he believes that plants of different species talk to each other. It's British author Graham Hancock who cites archeological evidence of jagé's use going back at least 4,000 years. Finca Ambiwasi, we learn, a settlement some two hours outside Bogotà, is an outpost of a surviving ancient culture where the ayahuasca ceremony is central. And there we meet Taita Juanito and three of his "students" or disciples.

    From New York, introduced with the first of a series of colorful, high-speed photo-montages, this time a blend of fast cars, buildings, a pug-nosed dog, and glorious opening and closing biological pod things, comes author Daniel Pinchbeck, who says with psychedelics the "brain sort of lights up like a switchboard" and "normally dormant areas are suddenly in communication with each other." He cites a theory that there is a "default mode network" that gives us our "circumscribed ego-identity" - but is neutralized by ayahuasca, thus leading, as an aftereffect, to more brain connections, more innovative thinking, more creativity. Some rather nice, sharp, high-speed psychedelic-type imagery accompanies Pinchbeck's words and follows them, like an afterglow. Good visuals, a good correlative, perhaps, for an experience on hallucinogens, and there are more of them later. But how do those visuals relate to the soothing of PTSD, the connecting-up of brain segments leading to new perceptions these advocates allude to?

    Dr. Diazgranados explains the first ingredient of jagé, Banisteriopsis caapi, is a vine, and we see men sorting and bagging its thick, gnarly branches. We see others sorting and gathering the plant, Psychotria viridis, a leafy shrub. This plant is the one that contains the hallucinogenic alkaloids, though the name comes from the vine.

    Toussi and his writer, Colet Abedi, aren't as eager to explore how specifically this combination might work and why it's unique as they are simply to recommend that we yanquis consider trying it for our northern white urban ills. Rachel Harris, Ph.D., , author of Listening to Ayahuasca, recommends the mixture for depression, addiction, PTSD, and other contemporary problems. We hear a gentleman from Rhythmia Life Enhancement Center, a "Shaman healing meditation resort" in Costa Rica, where people apparently pay to get high with jagé and promote their "synaptic plasticity," the "lighting up like a switchboard" of the brain on jagé Mr. Pinchbeck referred to. Its CEO says jagé is "the answer." (He would.) Scientific evidence of changed brain states is suggested by Spanish neuropsychopharmacological researcher Jordi Riba. A sort of photo of the brain is even shown, but scientific evidence of these claims is not provided.

    Glamorous testimonials come from former NFL star Kerry Rhode, who looks to jagé for motivational help and restoration of damaged brain cells from concussions on the playing field, and model, actress and rape survivor AnnaLynne McCord, who comes (with more skepticism) looking to gain more openness and wholeness through the experience. They turn out to be clients of Rhythmia who are tended personally by Taita Juanito. (There is another spiritual healing resort in Costa Rica, I find, called Soltara Healing Center. But it's closed right now, due to the pandemic.)

    At this point the film begins to take on a "welcome to. . . " promotional air, as well as feeling, oddly, uncomfortably intimate, all of which begins to make it a little hard to take. I am glad Taita Juanito doesn't let the actual consumption of the jagé be filmed. We just get the sounds, with blackness, then psychedelic visuals.

    The Medicine is an indication of the new favor hallucinogenic drugs are held in. Bilge Eberi says in his Spirituality & Health review (the only comment on this film I found online) that there's a lot of "woo-woo" lately about this "brew." He thought it "refreshing to learn about the scientific grounding behind its effects." Ebiri finds the "visual style" of this film "dry," due to the talking heads, forgetting its handsome psychedelic visual interludes. That psychedelics have a strong effect on the brain was never in doubt. As scientific proof of the therapeutic value of ajahuasca/jage, the pointedly titled The Medicine is clearly biased and highly dubious.

    I'd like to hear what old Bill Burroughs would say about turning the jagé trail into a guided tour. There are jagé resorts offering a pick of different blends of the medicine and a choice of Taitas in Costa Rica, Colombia and Peru. Maybe other "spiritual healing resorts" will sponsor their own competing films.

    The Medicine, 85 mins., debuted at Spirit Film Festival and Guadalajara in Mar. 2019 and premiered at the TCL Chinese 6 Theater in Los Angeles Aug. 28, 2019. It becomes available digital and on demand July 7, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-02-2020 at 12:51 PM.

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    WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES ウィーアーリトルゾンビーズ (Makoto Nagahisa 2029)

    MAKOTO NAGAHISA: WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES ウィーアーリトルゾンビーズ (2019)


    SENA NAKAJIMA, KEITA NINOMIYA, MONDO OKUMURA AND SATOSHI MIZUNO IN WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

    Joyous gloom

    In Makoto Nagahisa's tooty-tooty pastel-gaudy directorial debut three boys and one girl in their early teens meet at a crematorium. They've all lost both parents, by different means: a bus crash, a fire, suicide, murder. Details are explored. Is this fetishishizing and cutesifying of morbidity something very Japanese? Certainly the masking of emotion - hence the kids self-definition as "zombies" - is an aspect of typically Japanese repression and discipline. As Emily Yoshida of Vulture wrote at the Sundance debut, this film is as "rigorous in its exploration of grief as it is stylistically exuberant." It's a busy, gaudy brilliant tour de force whose two hours can be a bit wearying. But viewers may come back to it to soak up more of its rich texture and stylistic accomplishments.

    Little Zombies is neatly divided up into chapters in Nintendo-style letters Super Nintendo RPG, each chapter of the story a "stage" to pass through; and scored with a bleeping chiptune soundtrack, with many additional bells and whistles, including zoom, gliding overhead shots, black-and-white, slow motion, odd lenses, photo collages, dream sequences, Super 8 footage,you name it. Its blend of cynicism and pathos may be hard to digest, but it's a feat of invention worth watching simply to admire the production design and bright-colored, surreal costumes. It has energy and invention to burn. The Japan Times reviewer James Hadfield argues, and I would have to agree, that there's "enough substance and heart" to keep this film from being "a mere exercise in style," though style threatens to overwhelm substance at times.

    The first kid we meet is Hikari (Keita Ninomiya), and the film spotlights him dramatically, like a star, with his wry voiceover providing the films's narration throughout. He's a small, nerdy, bespectacled boy who's shy and obsessed by an archaic handheld computer game, first-gen-Gameboy-style console that he plays continually. It's his stay against confusion and protection from people. His parents, he tells us, had no time for him. Ignoring him, they went on a bus tour to revive their marriage, and the driver crashed the bus, killing everybody but him. Hikari does not want to live with his aunt.

    Hikari bonds with the three other kids whose parents died from fire, murder, and suicide. Ikuko (Sena Nakajima) had a creepy piano teacher who hit on her and killed her parents, he claims, because he thought she wanted them dead. The chubby little Ishi's parents died in a house fire. The tall, thin Takemura's mom and dad committed joint suicide.

    Though at first Hikari's inability to cry bothers him, the kids' lack of emotion winds up being a shared strength and a source of pride. It fortifies them to run away together rather than fall into the hands of basically alien adults they don't like. Isn't such sangfroid an admired Japanese cultural trait? But a friend who's visited Japan many times (I have never been there) says this movie taught him things about how Japanese culture has changed, noting the quantity of English they now use, suggesting "the younger kids are much more bilingual," and he also noted "social indicators" like the joint that's smoked and the several references to Kafka's The Castle. Anyway, you will find an intense concentration of both retro and contempo Japanese culture here.

    The film's spirit - the state the kids are jointly confronting - is epitomized by the song they eventually compose and sing, "We Are Little Zombies." Fleeing relatives or other undesirable adults, they take refuge in a succession of well-staged environments: an abandoned apartment, a convenience store, a punk band’s rundown rehearsal space. When they temporarily wind up in a homeless encampment they see a group of hobo musicians perform in a "garbage band." Typically, these bums' elaborately bedraggled duds are something to behold. This sight and sound gives the kids their inspiration: why not form their own chiptune rock band? When they do, briefly, their signature song, the eponymous one, goes viral. And as Jessica Kiang says in her Variety review, they become the "most aspirationally cool kids' band since Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best!" - a good memory, and a movie that has more heart than the congenitally chill kids here can muster, though perhaps one should not blame them for that. It's just the way they are.

    Nagahisa is in tune with key aspects of the local zeitgeist. His feature is an impressive production in a current style that's on the over-produced side. Stylistically this movies has been compared to the work of the prolific Sion Sono. But it's sweeter and without the soft porn.

    We Are Little Zombiesウィーアーリトルゾンビーズ, 120 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2019, where it won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Originality. It will be distributed online by Oscilloscope starting Jul. 10, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 12:39 AM.

  11. #26
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    THE GRAND UNIFIED THEORY OF HOWARD BLOOM (Charlie Hoxie 2019)

    CHARLIE HOXIE: THE GRAND UNIFIED THEORY OF HOWARD BLOOM (2019)


    HOWARD BLOOM IN THE GRAND UNIFIED THEORY OF HOWARD BLOOM

    From chronic fatigue to visions of the cosmos

    Howard Bloom is not to be confused withHarold Bloom, the venerable Yale professor of English and literary critic, who has written such luminous and inspiring works as The Visionary Company, The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life and The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible. Howard Bloom is someone we've never heard of, and even after watching this little documentary he remains a mystery, part of which is why this short documentary came to be made about him. True, he is a pundit, a sage, and an amateur scientist with lifelong interests in cosmology and microbiology, who talks about sweeping aspects of nature and the cosmos. But this film doesn't prove that what he says is necessary.

    This Bloom's books, of which there are seven, include The Lucifer Principle (the first), Genius of the Beast, and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. His last two books show a shift to more popular subjects but no increase in modesty. They are How I Accidentally Started The Sixties (2017) and Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me (2020).

    But a title that jumps out at me is The Muhammad Code: How a Desert Prophet Brought You ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram. According to the Wikipedia bio, an article he published in Omni magazine focused on "The importance of hugging", suggested that "Islamic cultures treat their children harshly, they despise open displays of affection ... the result is violent adults", and as a consequence, "An entire people may have turned barbaric for the simple lack of a hug." This led the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to stage a sit-in at Omni's New York main office. It's reported that Blioom expressed similarly racist and Islamophobic prejudices in his first book, The Lucifer Principle. Charlie Hoxie's short documentary doesn't allude to this troubling aspect of Boom's thinking.

    This is a life of contrasts. After a youth that showed serious scientific interests, Bloom was led astray by disco music and pop and this led him became a publicist for a raft of highly successful performers, including Michael Jackson, Prince and others including Run DMC and Aerosmith (he shows framed awards) who all had No. 1 hit songs while he was doing their PR. Joan Jet, Kyle McLaughlin and Jeff Bridges address the camera.

    In 1988 Bloom contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He had to give up his PR work and the punditry gradually began. Several scientific persons speak, acknowledging Bloom's being "ahead of the curve" in his first book and being scientifically knowledgeable and well read though "totally an outsider." But some years were spent housebound and helpless, and it wasn't till 1995 that The Lucifer Principle was published, by the Atlantic Monthly Press. By his report Bloom still combats the disease. He takes upwards of thirty pills at moments in the day, and an injection of something he self-administers. He credits exercising with enabling him to get out of bed, though his idea of what a push-up is, jiggling up and down a bit with arms outstretched, seems at best peculiar. At any rate, we see him up and about and walking around in New York, outside his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where he owns the building, and smooching with randomly encountered dogs on the sidewalk and in the park. Later we follow him to Indiana to give a lecture at the arrangement of a tall young man, a student, who says he immediately thought of Bloom when the topic of "paradign shifts" arose.

    The film disappoints by its failure to probe, question, or identify. It has silly, pretentious (or playful) divisions with titles like "Chapter 2,384. Attention is the Oxygen of the Soul." What that means is we need attention. Bloom, who reports he had a lonely childhood, acknowledges that he has found his best source of positive feedback in hugging dogs. He is divorced, and still friendly with the lawyer, who comes to his 74th birthday party. He keeps saying he is "looking for a new girlfriend," and has found a "wonderful, astonishing" online relationship with a lady in South Africa. He hugs and nuzzles every dog he comes across, if its owner allows.

    An example of Bloomo's oddity, if more were needed, is his (unexplained) relationship with a burly, bearded giant of a personal trainer called Amir Siddiqui, who runs Symmetry, the self-declared most expensive personal training gymn in Dubai. When we first hear of Siddiqui the two have never met, yet Bloom plans to leave his building to this gentleman so the latter can establish a foundation to carry on his, Bloom's, ideas. These we could get a better idea of. We know that he is a space travel advocate, connected with several related international organizations. We know he thinks nature means to shock us. Comments he makes elsewhere indicate he may not consider global warming a problem, or not our problem. At the Indiana lecture, Bloom reads a lot of his talk, which may be why, by his report, he isn't invited to lecture very often. On arriving in town he is surprised by an Indie 400 vehicle on display, then declares it to be worthless because it's sport.

    We get a glimpse of the 74th birthday party at Bloom's cluttered apartment, with a table appearing to bear at least a dozen mismatched bottles of peanut butter. There are a dozen people who don't know each other seated around, and Bloom introduces them one by one. It might be a scene from a "High Maintenance" episode, though sadly lacking a visit from "The Guy." In the background is Bloom's African American secretary-manager, who wishes he would give up using AOL and adopt gmail. After five years, she plans on quitting.

    After the lecture on "paradigm shifts," there arrives another big event in Howard Bloom's life: Amir Siddiqui comes to New York to "sign the deposition for his remains." And so at last they meet. They hug. They sign the papers. Some more dog hugging follows as Bloom sits alone on a bench. When last glimpsed, he's disappearing down a tunnel in the park.

    The Grand Unified Theory of Howard Bloom, 67 mins., debuted at DOC NYC Nov. 10, 2019. It will be released on digital and on-demand Jul. 21, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 12:23 AM.

  12. #27
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    NOSE TO TAIL ( Jesse Zigelstein 2018)

    JESSE ZIGELSTEIN: NOSE TO TAIL (2018)


    AARON ABRAMS IN NOST TO TAIL

    A tasty meltdown, slowly savored

    "Nose to Tail Is a fascinating portrait of toxic masculinity," notes Now Toronto. Writing of the film, now newly available online in the US, Stephen Farber in Hollywood Reporter review supplies that "One of the hottest fantasy jobs for millennials is to become a high-end chef, and a number of movies have expressed that fantasy, with actors like Jon Favreau (Chef), Bradley Cooper (Burnt) and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart (No Reservations) portraying temperamental cooks." This Canadian version features Aaron Abrams (Hannibal, Blindspot) as Daniel, the chef of a fancy Toronto restaurant in trouble, and Salvatore Antonio as Steven, his beleaguered sommelier. Both received awards or nominations for their thespian efforts. The film additionally highlights Lara Jean Chorostecki (also of Hannibal) as Chloe, Daniel's uncomfortable maître d' and sometime bedmate, who stands up to his sexual harassment and general boorishness, but remains loyal to the restaurant. Good people play lesser roles in a movie whose unique strength is that that it maintains one powerful note of disfunction continually to the end.

    Daniel, the chef, is in arrears in every area. Back debts are numerous. Suppliers and landlord (Robert B. Kennedy) alike are not taking promises anymore and want cash up front pronto. Tonight Mark (Ennis Esmer), a special VIP customer, is coming, an old classmate now a wealthy financier who if he's pleased, may invest significant money and pull the restaurant out of the hole. But much is going wrong today, bad news Daniel only makes worse by his extreme abrasiveness. Daniel's French ex-wife (Carolina Bartczak) comes by and tells him she's going back to live in Paris with their young son to be with family. Early in the day he self-destructively kicks out his talented and charismatic second in command, Keith (Brandon McKnight), whom he's trained for years, when he's angry to discover from a food blogger (Lauren Collins) that Keith is moving to a new job as chef of another restaurant and will be paid a lavish salary by a wealthy corporation. Daniel is forced reluctantly to follow Chloe's advice and replace Keith with the next in line, Angela (Genevieve Kang), whose disciplined but obsequious constant "Yes, Chefs" annoy him. (But what doesn't?)

    A high pressure restaurant kitchen is a place that pushes easily into extremes - of exhaustion, tension, indulgence. Daniel is quaffing coffee, smoking, drinking, and popping pills from when he first wakes up - and most dangerously, indulging in that most dangerous and intoxicating stimulant, rage. He is, moment to moment, clearly an asshole. But maybe he is very good at what he does. Maybe he'd have to be to get away even for a minute with behaving this way. And somehow - this is the beauty of this high-pitched but carefully modulated film - he pushes the edge from minute to minute without the walls crashing down on him. There a teasing pleasure in watching this balancing act constantly performed.

    Tensions go up a notch an hour into this eighty-minute film as dinnertime approaches and the restaurant goes into action. Daniel releases his menu, with its rigorous simplicity and mystery, and Chloe writes it large on a blackboard. In his severe personal instructions to the servers, Daniel strictly forbids them to embellish its minimal details with any further explanations for inquisitive diners. These customers come in, the restaurant is soon full, and dinner begins.

    But what a shock that amid all the bad news, not only is Mark seated upstairs with his party in a private room, but prominently downstairs ordering the full seven-course dégustation menu, is the infamous food blogger who has infuriated Daniel by reporting bad things about him. Daniel goes over for some intense verbal sparring with this young lady. For hours a big gourmet food truck has been parked across the street with a line of customers, symbolizing younger generations of foodies, different ways of enjoying fine cuisine, and there are voices, echoed by Beth (the food blogger) , that say Daniel has been passed by and no longer has "buzz." He ferociously rebukes her for using this word. But when she compares him to the dinosaurs, he, for once, is left speechless. Beth is a tough cookie. Her resilience again defers meltdown. But what next?

    This film works in part because the harsh flavors of the combative dialogue are mellowed out and pulled together by the butter sauce of a surprising, yet successful, warm, energetic musical score, which calms us down with a firm hand. Abrams, as Daniel, who stirs his simmering temper tantrums with a steady hand, is consistently believable, steering a delicate but fim line between desperation and mad courage. The meltdown is kept at bay. The annoying blogger, who's quoted other chefs saying he's lost his "buzz," and who shows up that over-packed night, seems a kind of snobbish upstart and devotee of faux trendiness who adds to Daniel's credibility and our faith in him. We ordinary diners don't buy trendiness as the desideratum in good food.

    What's further unique here is that this is a rigorously unsympathetic protagonist without any redeeming features - except the single one - that he doesn't deserve to go down in flames. Moreover, somehow the whole setting and situation, though heightened theatrically with every disaster focused into a single day, seems authentic. The kitchen staff action, the food preparation glimpsed, feel and look like those of a top restaurant. If it's one whose chef is terrifying and dangerous, that's hardly unusual. Readers of Kitchen Confidential will even find this a slightly sanitized environment - except for tension so thick, it makes you want to throw up. Aaron Abrams' performance is bracing without ever seeming strained. There are intense, distinctive flavors, but nothing over-seasoned or overcooked - until everything goes stale.

    Bon appetit!

    Nose to Tail, 82 mins., debuted at the Whistler Film Festival (British Columbia) Nov. 30, 2018, then Feb. 2, 2019 at Santa Barbara (reviewed there in Hollywood Reporter by Stephen Farber) and played in 11 mostly food film festivals in late 2019, winning a number of nominations and awards, with subsequent Canadian theatrical and internet releases Feb. 14 and Apr. 28 2020, respectively. It is scheduled for US internet release Jul. 29, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 04:01 PM.

  13. #28
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    CRSHD (Emily Cohn 2019)

    EMILY COHN: CRSHD (2019)



    "Your mileage may vary on the visual barrage of Facebook and emoji jokes and the use of words like 'obvi' in dialogue, but the aggressive Generation Z trappings don’t make the writer-director Emily Cohn’s college raunch-com any less winning or sweet," wrote BEn Konigsberg in his 2019 New York Times Tribeca blurb. But what may lower the viewer excitement is the utter familiarity of the story line here: girl sets out to get laid at big semester shindig, distracting things happen. Izzy (Isabelle Barbier), the ditsy, putatively adorable college freshman (I found her pretty douchey at first, for a girl), sets aside her prep for the astro exam tomorrow to attend a "crush party" in which guests must all be invited anonymously by someone who has a"crush" on them. Definitions may be loose. What's firm, is the filmmaker's reliance on digitalized visuals using emojis, social media lingo, and other current figments of the smartphone world, what the Times writer calls "agressive Generation-Z trappings."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 04:30 PM.

  14. #29
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    STAR LIGHT ( Mitchell Altieri, Lee Cummings 2020)

    MICHAEL ALTIERI, LEE CUMMINGS: STAR LIGHT



    STAR LIGHT
    A Film by Mitchell Altieri (The Night Watchmen, Holy Ghost People) and Lee Cummings
    Starring Scout Taylor-Compton (The Runaways, Halloween), Rahart Adams (Pacific Rim: Uprising), Cameron Johnson (The Wrong Crush, The Mick), Liana Ramirez (Power Rangers Beast Morphers)
    and Tiffany Shepis (12 Monkeys)
    AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL AND ON-DEMAND AUGUST 4, 2020
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-27-2020 at 04:36 PM.

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    GUEST OF HONOUR (Atom Agoyan 2019)

    ATOM AGOOYAN: GUEST OF HONOUR (2019)


    DAVID THEWLIS IN GUEST OF HONOUR

    Rabbits, a bus, prison, and a web of tangled absurdities

    In Atom Agoyan's peculiar new film, a muddled blend of plot elements he's used before, David Thewlis plays Jim, a food inspector and former restauranteur who has a thing for rabbits. Agoyan is an excellent director who hasn't made a good movie in many years. Since 1997, in fact, when he made The Sweeet Hereafter, about a bus crash. This new one has a bus too, but the movie crashes instead of the bus. Writing from Toronto, Mike D'Angelo called it "Easily his dumbest original script." (He has dumb ones drawn from other sources too.)

    It's a layered picture of the past held together by Jim's impending funeral, and an impossibly lengthy discussion beforehand between Jim's daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) and the priest, Father Greg (Luke Wilson). It seems in order to help Father Greg prepare the funeral eulogy, Veronica has to unpack her entire twisted relationship with her father to him. Perhaps they sort things out. But not for my satisfaction. This is a nice looking, well-made film. Only it's terrible. How does Agoyan do this?

    The one recent not-so-bad film, his 2008 Adoration, helps explain. It's as I wrote a "quintessential think piece," more interesting to ponder the ideas in than actually to watch. Guest of Honour is doubtless meant that way, but is actually neither. Bad screenplays are the key to Agoyan's bad movies. He lucked out with The Sweet Hereafter. It's the kind of thing he likes - a layered over-and-over-ing of past events, of guilt and deeds. It just happened to work. This time, the central events are far less compelling, in fact not compelling at all. Agoyan doesn't seem often able to recognize, or to write, a good script.

    What are the ingredients of this one? First, the "persnickety" food inspector. Then, lessons in playing the glass harp (or water glasses), given to his little daughter. This provides occasional nice tinkling sounds in the score - the visuals and sound of the film aren't bad.

    Then, there is a lurid relationship between the grown up Veronica, the little girl who got the water glass lessons, and a boy on a bus trip. Her glass harp lessons have led her to become a music teacher taking a student orchestra on a bus tour. Mike, the jealous bus driver (played by Rossif Sutherland, Donald's son) thinks something inappropriate was going on between her and the boy most interested in her, Clive (Alexandre Bourgeois).

    It seems, from the criss-crossing flashbacks, that Veronica let herself get sent to prison for sexual harassment - she's out now, as she addresses Father Greg - because of stuff that went on between her father and the music teacher while her mother was deathly ill. What was she thinking? Jim, her father, doesn't understand, so why should we? It's not only that the characters lack emotional depth or clear motivation: it's impossible even for me to follow what was supposed to be, or to have been, going on.

    We spend a lot of time with Jim, the father and food inspector, which is good since Thewlis is a good actor. De Oliveira, who plays Veronica, is definitely not. She makes her character simply abrupt and rude. Thewlis makes Jim subtle, even if he's unsympathetic and ultimately simply nutty. He frequently threatens to shut restaurants down, in one case simply to get Clive to talk to him. In another it's an Armedian-Arab restaurant where the violation involves four large dead furry rabbits with their ears cut off. Meanwhile Jim has been taking care of Veronica's rabbit while she's in prison. Forgive me if I've forgotten the rabbit's name. I can't tell you why rabbits are a recurrent theme here. Armenian food? I hope not good luck, because they didn't bring it.

    The Armenian eatery, called the Wild Orchid, is an opportunity to use Agoyan's wife and regular collaborator, Arsinée Khanjian, who gives a speech in Armenian to a private party. Jim has forgiven the rabbits, and comes back for the party, gets drunk, and gives a confessional speech. You might think that would settle some things, but it only rolls out more lurid absurdities and awakens more incredulity. Guy Lodge in his Variety review calls Guest of Honor "overplotted and under-reasoned." That sums up what's wrong. Occasional good acting, Paul Sarossy's "autumn-chill lensing" and Mychael Danna’s "overbearing but glassily ornate score" provide "sporadic glimpses" of the director's "former frosty artfulness" (Lodge again)), but they don't save the movie. It's not pleasant to survey a disaster like this. It looks good and even at first sounds and feels good. And then at the end you say: What just happened? This is a think piece that provides noting coherent to think about.

    Guest of Honour, 105 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2019 and subsequently played at eleven other international festivals including Toronto Vancouver, Busan and London. It has gotten no theatrical release. It comes to the internet via Kino Marquee July 10, 2020. Metascore 50%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-28-2020 at 12:59 AM.

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