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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

  1. #31
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    SWAN SONG (Todd Stephens 2021)

    TODD STEPHENS: SWAN SONG (2021)


    JENNIFER COOLIDGE, UDO KIER IN SWAN SONG

    Udo Kier takes center stage in a quietly flamboyant and touching gay role

    Udo Kier, born in 1944, is a film and voice actor from Cologne, Germany who moved to Palm Springs in the early nineties. A perennial player in pungent small roles, he has appeared in over 200 movies. After playing in Andy Warhol's Frankenstein; he had roles in a raft of horror films or all stripes. He has worked for art house and cult directors like Lars von Trier (extensively), as well as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Walerian Borowczyk, Gus Van Sant, Christoph Schlingensief, and Dario Argento (whose 1977 classic Suspiria he was featured in). Recently he had a key role in the critically acclaimed Bacarau as the head of a gang of evil American playboys who hunt and kill humans for sport, and also appeared in the phantasmagoric Holocaust saga The Painted Bird, where he plays a raging cuckold who gouges out the eyes of his wife’s lover. This time he's a character referred to as "the Liberace of Sandusky, Ohio." It fits him to a T. And it's a first for him: a lead role.

    In the Sandusky-set Swan Song Udo is Patrick Pitsenbarger (the fiction based on a real person), who was a high class beautician in his heyday who styled all the rich and glamorous ladies of the quiet midwestern town. Now he has had a stroke and has apparently long been languishing in a nursing home when prestigious lawyer Walter Shamrock (Tom Bloom) arrives to convey the posthumous request of wealthy former friend and client Rita Parker Sloan (Linda Evans of "Dynasty") to do the dead lady's hair in grand former style for her final appearance at the funeral home. He is to receive a munificent fee for this job of $25,000. At first he flatly rejects the idea. They had a falling out over her failure to attend his lover's funeral. "I'm retired," he says, Kier flashing that basilisk stare of his. He is living a dreary, curmudgeonly life, his hobbies immaculately folding paper cocktail napkins from the cafeteria and stealing clandestine smokes of Mores with a mute old lady in a wheelchair with pretty hair (Annie Kitral), and not much else. He has come to embrace denial and exclusion.

    But then "Mr. Pat" has a change of heart. Stealthily he slips out of the nursing home dressed in his usual sweat suit and gray fanny pack and sets off on foot for the town of Sandusky and the funeral home. Swan Song becomes an offbeat road movie in the manner of Lynch's Straight Story, a colorful walkabout of reconnecting with the past and making amends. In the course of it, Pat drinks, steals, charms, and learns. This is among other things an unapologetically instructional survey of ways gay life has changed since Stephens was young, with gay married couples raising children, gay bars made obsolete by hook-up apps, disappearing high camp drag shows signaling the gradual loss of a whole colorful ghettoized subculture that no longer seems necessary as gayness comes to be more widely accepted in America.

    Patrick is, of course, himself a gay man. His lover, David, died of AIDS back in 1995, a loss he can never recover from that's movingly celebrated by a visit to their joint grave. In this story, Kier gets to play a down-to-earth and personal role and shines in this unique opportunity to be the featured actor throughout a film this time playing an eccentric minority person who has faults but has never been a monster.

    In addition to learning how gay life has changed, Pat encounters other changes, like the disappearance of the joint home he lost because David left no will. He learns his protege Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge) who became a competitor didn't wrong him as much as he thought. He gets several surprises about the dead lady and her grandson (Michael Urie). His exploit at the final drag show is a spectacular surprise for the younger generation.

    As for Todd Stephens, his gay credentials couldn't be better: he wrote the screenplay for the all-time best American gay teen coming-of-age movie, the 1998 Edge of Seventeen (directed by David Moreton). (Stephanie McVay, the mom in Edge, is back here; also featured are Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Urie, and Ira Hawkins.) This time, Stevens wrote as well as directed. Stevens has set both films in his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, a place he left long ago but still refers back to as his own. In Swan Song Stephens celebrates the town he grew up in as well as an accomplished and fabulously campy gay man he looked up to when he was a gay youth coming of age in Sandusky. Stephens knows the territory - and the songs of Pat's heyday, like Dusty Springfield's "Yesterday When I Was Young," Shirley Bassey's "This is My Life," and Melissa Manchester’s "Don’t Cry Out Loud." He frequented the real-life Universal Fruit and Nut Company gay bar where here we see the lip-synch drag shows Pat participated in every week are having their final evening.

    Swan Song is a tour de force for Udo Kier, a warm-hearted, nostalgic performance for both him and writer-director Todd Stephens. Resorting to some surreal moments and tricky flashbacks, Swan Song is not as smoothly directed and edited a film from minute to minute as Edge of Seventeen, which had the directorial hand of David Moreton.The new script as the Variety review puts it is on the "earnest but anemic" side and Udo's teutonic accent takes the speed out of Pat's zingers. The movie's rhythm as a whole falters after the midpoint. The narrative teases expectations so often we start to wonder if Pat is really ever going to do the dead lady's hair, after all. Both the physical challenges the elderly protagonist is put through and the quantities of alcohol he is made to consume strain credulity. But with his patience and quiet inner confidence Kier nonetheless succeeds, seeming indomitable and more sincere than campy playing this real-life person.

    Swan Song 105 mins., debuted Mar. 18, 2021 at Austin (SXSW); also scheduled to feature at Cleveland, Provincetown, Nantucket, and other festivals including Frameline (San Francisco). It has been favorably reviewed already at its debt in Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and IndieWire. It is scheduled for limited US release by Magnolia in theaters Aug. 6, 2021 and on demand Aug. 13.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-15-2021 at 05:22 PM.

  2. #32
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    LANSKY (Eytan Rockaway 2021)

    EYTAN ROCKAWAY: LANSKY (2021)


    HARVEY KEITEL IN LANSKY

    A violent gangster biography narrated in the elderly Harvey Keitel's gentle voice

    This is an old fashioned gangster flick, but with a few twists. It's inspired by actual conversations the director's father Robert Rockaway had with the gangster Meyer Lansky before the latter's death. Lansky and organized crime are presented as complex, in Lansky's words "a world of grays," and not all evil-doing. Yes, these are ulra-violent bad guys, and the movie revels in its scenes of violence, though enacted rapidly and at one remove. But Lansky & Co.'s crooked but ably managed gambling industry is also part of the backbone of the early twentieth-century American economy. He also has non-criminal accomplishments. He aids the US war effort and the fight against the Nazis. A Jew himself, he provides financial support to the fledgling State of Israel, though, subservient to the US government, Israel will never let Lansky take up residence in the new country.

    This film seeks present-day three-dimensionality by emphasizing another main character - a well-known but down-on-his-luck writer called David Stone (English actor Sam Worthington), whose work on a book about Lansky frames the unreeling biopic. Stone gets a change of fortune when the aging mob boss Meyer Lansky (Harvey Keitel) unexpectedly summons him to Florida in 1981 for a series of interviews leading to a biography. The movie is ostensibly about Stone's story too. Lansky demands a full picture of the writer's private life including updates on his messy marital and romantic issues.

    While the movie is made up largely of flashbacks of Lansky's life as a gangster kingpin, what's happening to Stone and between him and Lansky in the present time is important too. But the by-the-numbers screenplay by Eytan Rockaway with information from his father Robert can inject little that's structurally or stylistically fresh in its attempt to tell the two parallel tales of the mastermind of Murder Inc. and the National Crime Syndicate and the beleaguered, naive writer with career and marriage problems.

    Keitel, now 82, arguably shines in the relatively static role of the elder Lansky. He seems honed by his years into a being both mellow and sharp. He's lost the external blather: it's all real and unmediated now. Wortington is handsome and troubled. He gets that part right. The writer part - well, that's always hard to convey in a movie.

    Stone is staying at a motel. Early on in his conversations with Lansky, we learn Stone is estranged from his wife, with whom he has two little kids, one only 18 months. The lonely writer befriends a pretty girl at his motel, Maureen (Minka Kelly) who one day is menaced by big Ray Hutchinson (James Devoti). Stone steps in and gets knocked out. Subsequently, we learn Maureen was hired by the FBI. Schematic scenes show the feds are frustrated and desperate after decades of tracking Lansky and being unable to find the large sums he's reportedly got tucked away. Gangsters in prison have been small help, but we see one provide a tip: "Geneva."

    Stone's starting issue is the big one: "Mr. Lansky, what about the $300 million they say you have hidden away? Where is it? Does it exist?" Lansky dismisses this claim, saying he wishes he had even one million. The FBI would very much like to know about the money too. Their bosses have almost given up on ever finding out. Lansky is impenetrable, and strolls unbothered down the Miami boardwalk walking his Spitz dog from year to year.

    As old Lansky starts telling Stone his story, the thirties period flashbacks roll out. As the young Lansky, John Magaro is sly, cool, with a remote, tunnel voice, and David Cade is both pretty and menacing as Lansky's early muscleman and womanizer partner Ben Siegel (don't call him "Bugsy"). They are Jews. Lansky is a Jew who came to America from Russia as a youth. He tells Stone about only one remote, grim memory - undramatized - of an scary attack by Cossacks. Young Lansky is good, very good, with numbers, and amid lowlife New York figures out dice and gambling and how people cheat at them.

    He's the smartest gangster of his time, and the most businesslike. He runs casinos as businesses. The brutality, of which there is plenty, is shown as always managed by Siegel but with Lansky the complicit, ever-present observer. This movie is notable for its breezy, near-constant scenes of violence. How these soft-hand, hard-hand partners, Lansky and Siegel, become so powerful so fast we hardly know. But soon they tie in with gangland kingpins, starting with Charlie Luciano (Shane McRae).

    After skimming through the thirties, the movie moves on to the forties and show scenes of Lansky's War efforts, the major evidence for his "good" side. It begins with the scene of a vicious attack by organized by Lansky and his gang on a Nazi rally, severely beating the Nazis. This gets into the newspapers and puts Lansky in the public eye. His wife - he's married now - demurs (she does nothing as a character but complain), saying because they know her husband's a criminal, people look away in scorn from her and their two kids when they walk down the street. For the FBI, Lansky hunts down pro-German spies on the docks, using his men. We glimpse their medieval style interrogation methods used on the captured spies. The mobster's doing good is as violent and cruel as his criminality. A haunting images shows a row of men hanging upside down to be tortured.

    When Salvatore Maranzano (Jay Giannone), "Little Caesar," Italian gang boss of the bosses of all New York, wants to move in on Lansky's business, Lansky has Siegel kill him, brutally. They set up Murder, Inc., a group of merciless killers. Lansky gets a seat on the high table of the mafiosi, Joe Banana, Al Capone, "Italian, Jewish, and Irish mob bosses from across America. Together they formed the largest organization of crime the world has ever known, the national crime syndicate" says the omniscient voiceover.

    Not for the first time, the movie relishes a moment of violence: it shows us Ssiegel hacking Maranzano's torso into pieces with a big knife. Lansky is guilty by implication through his constant presence when acts of sadism are performed. But the movie never stops stressing that he's the brain, the smart numbers man, who lectures his cohorts that he runs his side of organized crime just like Ford Motors or Coca Cola, a business. (This movie is billed as "The man who turned crime into a billion dollar business.") It's almost like they're trying to tell us Lansky's a gangster who's not really a gangster. Maybe this is meant to be the point of view of the out-of-luck writer humbly grateful to the celebrity oldster who's given him a break, a man of wisdom, an old charmer, whose famous name will sell books.

    Lansky's particular innovation is a change in gangland policy: not snuffing out failing or cheating business underlings, but straightening out their books and propping them up so they make more money for the syndicate. In short: he emphasizes profitability over cruelty and fear.

    Anne Lansky (AnnaSophia Robb), Lansky's wife, is an example of this movie at its most one-note. She is nothing but a constant nag and accuser. She is also, it suddenly seems, unstable. In a brief scene, she rapidly becomes hysterical and suicidal: Lansky has her taken away. We see her given period, primitive shock treatments. One longs for a more female-centric and lighthearted gangster movie like Jonathan Demme's great Married to the Mob. Women are mere objects here.

    An interjected scene depicts a man arriving with an appeal and Meyer contributing to the fledgling State of Israel, in the name of Golda Meir (who will have a cameo later, with someone playing her, when he gets turned away).

    Writer David Stone is in deep shit. FBI agents inform him he has unwittingly horned in on a decades-long investigation. They have been watching him. His motel "girlfriend" was arranged by them to collect information from him and he has unwisely (and perhaps rather implausibly) told her a lot of what he's been learning from Lansky. But the interviews continue, with Stone telling Lansky nothing about his new problems, even though Lansky keeps observing that something looks wrong.

    Lat in the aciton, Stone asks Lansky to tell about Vegas. The film has already rapidly sketched in his involvement in lucrative, tax-free gambling casinos in pre-Castro Cuba. "Vegas?" Lansky begins. "We built that town. And it turned out to be our biggest headache."

    Despite good casting for the young and old Lansky, this is a movie that never steps outside genre convention. It takes on a tough and interesting gangster topic: Meyer Lansky would seem to be peculiarly mysterious and complex. Some claim he was never as big as legend has made him, though clearly Irish and Italian mafiosi respected and feared this tiny man under five feet tall who weighing 136 pounds at his heaviest. And speaking of smallness, one biographical summary cites a rumor of lifetime earnings of $20 million, not three hundred. It acknowledges his mellow advice to children and grandchildren (not seen in this film) "akin to poetry" and provided in a soothing, gravely voice. But it says "some claim" he was never more than an "expendable middleman", and that he was an "overzealous rogue" who "squandered away" whatever fortune he had. It's possible his claim in the film to Stone that he wishes he had even a million dollars is truthful. According to Wikipedia Lansky's accessible net worth when he died was $57,000.

    Due to its violence, this is not suitable for younger viewers. For cinematic sophisticates, it will soon pall. It nonetheless does reasonably well what it sets out to do: dramatizes a famous American gangster's life story in all its ambition, ingenuity, illegality and violence. And it's complications: it's just not easy being a good guy if you also happen to be a notorious criminal.

    Lansky, 119 mins., has no festival or debut history. It opens in Russia June 24, 2021, in the USA June 25 and in Spain August 27. Released by Vertical Entertainment.

    An article in the Tampa Bay Times about Meyer Lansky's daughter Sandra retells this story from the inside.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-17-2021 at 04:30 PM.

  3. #33
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    KENNY SCHARF: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (Max Basch, Malia Scharf 2020)

    MAX BASCH, MALIA SCHARF: KENNY SCHARF: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (2020)


    SCHARF, CENTER, IN FRONT OF ARTWORK IN WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE

    A Vibrant Portrait of the LA-Based Pop Art Icon,
    Co-Directed by His Daughter,
    Launches in Theaters and Virtual Cinemas on Friday, June 25


    Trailer: http://bit.ly/KennyScharfTrailer

    A review: https://film-forward.com/documentary...h-doc-nyc-2020
    Another review: https://www.mygaytoronto.com/moving_...s/20210414.php

    Kenny Scharf with his daughter, Zena, and wife, Tereza, in 1984, posing in front of Scharf’s art work in Bahia, Brazil as seen in Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide

    Greenwich Entertainment is pleased to present KENNY SCHARF: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, a vibrant portrait of the life and work of the LA-based pop art icon and art world survivor, opening on Friday, June 25 in select theaters and virtual cinemas nationwide, including New York, LA, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco (The Roxie), Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Houston, Portland, and Denver.

    When you look at Kenny Scharf’s surreal, colorful, pop-culture inspired art you can’t help but wonder where he gets his inspiration. This documentary about Scharf’s fascinating life—made over 11 years by the artist’s daughter, Malia Scharf, and Max Basch—answers that question.

    Featuring interviews and rare archival footage with the artist himself along with Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Ed Ruscha, Dennis Hopper and Yoko Ono, the film shows Scharf’s arrival in New York City from Los Angeles in the early 1980s, where he quickly befriended Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat. There, amongst the fervent creative bustle of a depressed downtown scene, the trio would soon take the art world by storm. But unlike Haring and Basquiat, who both died tragically young, Scharf lived through cataclysmic shifts in the East Village as well as the ravages of AIDS and economic depression. Decades later, still obsessed with garbage, cartoons and plastic, and committed to the idea that art should be fun, Scharf’s whimsical mind continues to generate works rife with iconic images and bizarre forms. WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE immerses us in the heart and soul of the times and the man who, despite setbacks along the way, perseveres in his living-life-out loud, technicolor artistic vision.

    Directors Malia Scharf and Max Basch (based in LA) are available for select interviews. Contact Susan Norget/Jared Chambers at publicity@norget.com or 917-833-3056.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-18-2021 at 08:24 PM.

  4. #34
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    ON REWATCHING KIESLOWSKI'S ''Three Colors' Trilogy

    ON REWATCHING KIESLOWSKI'S 'THREE COLORS'


    JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT IN ROUGE

    More maturity? At least more patience

    It's been long enough so that they do look different, these three films in a trilogy that was heralded as genius, and rejected as only fashionable. I may have more patience now, and Blue, White and Red require patience, and rewatching. The first time Blue felt cold and repugnant. White seemed pointless and left little impression. Red, with its many parallelisms and intersections and references to connection and chance and the warmth of its incessant red colors and the wise, sour presiding spirit of the great Jean-Louis Trintignant as the misanthropic Swiss former judge, seemed rich and resonant, the best, as Ebert wrote, "among equals." They're more equal now, with patience, and this is a trilogy that holds up after 27 years. I recommend that you, my much younger film buff friend, should watch it and debate it with your other, young or old, film buff friends.

    Blue makes a lot more sense now; it just may have an acting problem. White is really funny and entertaining, a delicious revenge story starring a lovable everyman buffoon - a Polish punching bag who, like other characters and events in the trilogy, seems almost magical. I see now the whole trilogy is a celebration of fantasy and invention of a cinematic kind. It's the opposite of the "Dekalog," Kieslowski's ten-part made-for-TV masterwork based on the Ten Commandments. They show us inevitability, the sense that life can't be changed. In "Three Colors," change is always just around the corner, and turns out to be positive, at least for somebody, eventually.

    All of "Three Colors" seemed before, and still clearly are, marked by a fine directorial hand and an original imagination, those of Kieslowski himself and his screenplay collaborators, always his lawyer friend who "cannot write," Krzysztof Piesiewicz, and for these three I now see, also Agnieszka Holland. They are visually beautiful, as well as, being made with French funding, in French, each featuring a beautiful young French female lead, Juliette Binoche, July Delpy, and Irène Jacob, respectively. Their music is grand - in the case of Blue, which revolves around a famous dead composer who was working on a hugely ambitious piece for a European union, perhaps a bit too grand. Ebert points out the cinematographer changes each time, intentionally, he says, so each film will have a different look.

    I used to dismiss Roger Ebert for his pop culture associations and his factual slips but I am coming around now, and beginning to see the reverence in which he was held is not unjustified. (Even here, though, he identifies Tritignant's dog as "a beautiful golden retriever." Not acceptable! German Shepherd would have done; but Rita is actually a Belgian Malinois.) Going back to his reviews lately I find them satisfying for their warmth and love of film and their poetic truth. He says Kieslowski needs to be recognized among the great directors, "like Bergman, Ozu, Fellini, Keaton and Bunuel." Ebert says Kieslowski "is one of the filmmakers I would turn to for consolation if I learned I was dying, or to laugh with on finding I would live after all." It's nice to be able to pen such heartfelt endorsements. By Ebert I was reminded Blue, White and Red represent liberty, equality, and fraternity, respectively, and this makes basic sense of the three plots.

    This time I am still disturbed by the coldness of Julie, Juliette Binoche's widowed wife character in Blue. Let's allow that by having her husband and daughter killed beside her in the car crash, she is set free. She is at liberty to live her life however she wants, when she can figure out what that is. But much of the time, basically she is just emotionally shut down. (There is also the mystery of musical composition, an issue from which she may crave liberation too.) The film shows her gradually coaxed back to being a human being, to smiling and helping other people. The initial anomie is on the stylish side, augmented by the wealth that allows the character to shift from one big new Parisian flat to another. But the action makes sense. The trouble is the actor. As the widow, Binoche just doesn't seem to be feeling anything. There should be a world of feeling seething beneath, that isn't there.

    White, far from negligible or tedious as it appeared before, is a rollicking good tale. Previously I failed to appreciate that as the protagonist, the prizewinning Polish hairdresser Karol Karol, Zbigniew Zamachowski is brilliant and wonderfully cast. He makes an irresistibly appealing everyman, and a very durable one, who can be shipped across Europe in a box that's stolen, get beaten silly when the thieves open it, be tossed on a garbage heap - and then pop up up happy to be home.

    This is the stuff of the 1001 Nights,, a reminder that behind the trilogy's psychological commentary and philosophical pronouncements, the three films are delightful fairytales. As Dominique, Karol Karol's cruel and imperious young French wife, Julie Delpy doesn't need to be an interesting actress (she's not): she's just a pretty face and a fluff of blonde hair waiting to be knocked down a peg - many pegs. This is a revenge comedy, but a witty one full of surprises. At the outset Dominique has all the power and at the end, none of it, except for Karol Karol's contradictory emotional obsession with her. This is a wonderful story. Like all the trilogy, it requires our patience because it takes its time as it unfolds.

    This time I'm reminded how confusing Red is. If you summarize it the result seems merely farfetched and silly as well as tendentious. And this time the theme color is overdone, unlike the subtly used blue and white in the first two films. Does every other thing have to be red? What is Kieslowski getting at with all this red? At the same time, seen as an art film, a nonobjective exploration of color field possibilities, the overdo is something to bathe in - as Tritignant's Jooseph Kern, "Le Juge," is still bathing in his misery thirty years after being betrayed by the woman he loved. Tritignant, born in 1930, a French star since he was linked with Brigitte Bardot in the fifties, has since played venerable roles at age 82, 87, and 89. But here in his mid-sixties, with a cane, he is already looking very weathered and wrinkled, so we can perhaps say he aged both rapidly and well. He has a vigor and force of personality that never age. His stern face has all the gravitas to make this mean, unhappy man's slow melting in his delicate friendship with the young student/model Valentine (Jacob) seem remarkable. He makes the film. He is the ultimate, all-important human reason why this film is the best of the three.

    Irène Jacob has been called not such a good actress either, not as good as Juliette Binoche, the latter a regular with Claire Denis and doubtless the best of the three. But Jacob has a much bigger role in Red than Delpy has in White, and her dignity, sweetness and restraint shine here, as they must, with Tritignant. But of course a great actor makes you look good.

    With its storm hocus-pocus at the end,Red Kieslowski becomes very much like Shakespeare in his final "pastoral" plays, and the reappearance to the judge at the end of Red of the three films' other main characters, miraculously saved from a shipwreck in which everyone else was drowned, is another satisfaction right straight of late Shakespeare. Accordingly I'd now call "Three Colors" "late" Kieslowski in a similar sense, as it certainly was, since he retired from filmmaking after finishing it. And Ebert says this was "the retirement of a magician, a Prospero who was now content to lay aside his art--'to read and smoke.'" There you are: Ebert sees late Shakespeare here too. And then Kieslowski died two years later, at 54. He made if two years past Shakespeare.

    [I] Trois couleurs, Bleu (1993, 93 mins.), Trois couleurs: Blanc (1994, 92 mins.), Trois couleurs: Rouge (1994, 99 mins.) - multiple festivals, multiple awards. Metacritic ratings 85%, 88%, and 100%, respectively.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Today at 12:54 AM.

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