Thursday, April 19, 2018

At NYC's FIAF next week: another delectable Sacha Guitry delight, THE STORY OF A CHEAT

Lovers of classic French cinema had better mark their calendar for this coming Tuesday, April 24, when FIAF's New York City branch screens one of cinema/theater-master Sacha Guitry's enduring works, THE STORY OF A CHEAT (Le roman d'un tricheur) from 1936. TrustMovies has come quite late to discovering the films of this fellow, having just recently seen and reviewed his remarkable La Poison. As I noted earlier, and now feel even more strongly, I want to view anything by M. Guitry that I can get my hands on. The filmmaker, shown below, came from theatrical roots, which can be seen and heard in his remarkable dialog and his delightful way with words.

Sophisticated and urbane, Guitry had a grand understanding of humanity's foibles, including not only its need for hypocrisy and denial but also for bonding, beauty and love. He's a satirist who is wonderfully humane but rarely sentimental and never stupid. He sees the irony in just about everything and everyone, and this gives his work a consistent jolt of pleasure and surprise. Don't get too comfortable, he seems to be telling us, because that kick in the ass is just around the corner.

The tale Guitry tell here is one of a late-middle-aged fellow sitting at a little Parisian cafe, writing his memoir (beginning with his life as a child, above, in a family of 12) -- which springs to life as he writes and speaks. Much of the movie is told via narration (there is surprisingly little actual dialog here), and were this narration not so cleverly written and sustained via Guitry's wit and charm, we might grow weary of it. No chance of that.

How the child is suddenly orphaned and why he survives -- it involves thievery and punishment -- ought to be awful and horrifying. In Guitry's hands it is instead delightfully funny and witty, and so we follow this kid as he grows into an adolescent, then a young man and then into full maturity -- as both the "cheat" of the title (above) and yet somehow not quite a cheat at all.

The world is filled with cheats of all types and both sexes, we -- and our narrator -- soon learn, and these involve everyone from the woman with whom he has his first affair to his later jewel-thief mistress (above), and his even later on-paper-only wife (who eventually is to become, unknown to her, his one-night-stand). More of these cheats are female than male -- the men seeming to be the stronger and perhaps more trustworthy sex.
Based upon the two films I've so far seen, Guitry could be accused of some misogyny, I think, and probably rightly so. He's a child of his time, after all, who perhaps today would have grown out of this, at least somewhat. I may have to correct my views once I've seen more of his work. Even so, this trait does not overpower the many strengths this writer/filmmaker possesses.

Nothing is sacred here: not gambling, not sex, not childhood, not family, and certainly not the Principality of Monaco! Well, maybe friendship. That seems to be something that could stand the test of time. Meanwhile, we have some delightful locations, assignations and peregrinations to enjoy. 

Guitry's sublime sense of irony, his great skill at story-telling, and above all his love of humanity in all its sublime silliness and sadness makes this movie a keeper indeed. How lovely that FIAF is showing the film as part of its CinéSalon series, Classic of French Cinema with Olivier Barrot, the journalist and TV personality.

The Story of A Cheat will screen at FIAF this coming Tuesday, April 24, at 4pm and 7:30, with the talk by M. Barrot scheduled for 6:45pm and open to audiences at both screenings. As usual with CinéSalon, there will be a post-screening wine/beer reception. For more information and/or tickets, simply click here.

For those of you not in the tri-state area or who can't make the FIAF screening, it may be of service to know that the film also exists on DVD via Criterion and its no-frills Eclipse collection and via FilmStruck -- for purchase, rental or streaming. 

Click here for more information.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Creepy scares--and quite a bit more--inhabit Jeremy Dyson/Andy Nyman's GHOST STORIES

If you're looking, as TrustMovies often is, for a worthwhile and different "scary" movie, I'd highly recommend a new one entitled (not especially originally but no matter) GHOST STORIES. The ghosts here are quite interestingly connected -- and guilt-generated -- even though they appear in what initially looks like several different tales. The link between them is one of those parapsychology "experts" dead set on exploring and then debunking what might appear to the untrained eye and mind as "other-worldly."

The writer/director purveyors of this strange and alternately entrancing and disturbing movie are Jeremy Dyson (shown at left) and Andy Nyman (shown below), the latter of whom may be more familiar to viewers as an actor, which he is again here, essaying the leading role of Dr. Goodman, the fellow who would like to debunk the various tales we're going to see. How the good doctor goes about this and what happens then makes up the meat of Ghost Stories, a kind of anthology movie that turns out to be but a single story, after all.

The connections in the three-tales-within-a-tale are both obvious and barely there, but by the finale of this 97-minute movie you may be surprised at how many more associations and relationships are present here than you'll have first imagined.

By the time of its conclusion, the movie has offered a good deal more surprise and depth than expected in what would initially seem to be a mere genre piece.

The three let's-debunk-this-nonsense tales involves a night guard (Paul Whitehouse, above) at a closed-up sanitorium, a very odd and maybe paranoid young man without a driver's license (Alex Lawther, below) and a highly entitled, upper-crust twat about to become a father (Martin Freeman, two photos down).

The three give as fine and specific a performance as can be managed in the short screen time and limited character development provided. But that's quite all right because the filmmakers also offer up the requisite scares and fright along the way (nothing we haven't seen before, but nicely done) and most important a compelling and increasing sense of absolute dread -- of what, we're not even sure.

Storywise, the movie's all over the place, and yet it manages to somehow cohere, while visually it seems dark and foreboding, even in the daylight scenes. Judaism, the faith and culture, are important, too -- how much so we don't quite understand until the finale.

Oddball but finally memorable, Ghost Stories, I think, will slowly build a following and someday perhaps take its place as a kind of minor genre icon. Released via IFC Midnight, the movie opens in New York City at the IFC Center this Friday, April 20, and in Los Angeles next Friday, April 27, at the Landmark NuArt. Simultaneously with its theatrical release, the film will also be available via VOD.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

World War II France & two energetic brothers power Christian Duguay's A BAG OF MARBLES

French-Canadian filmmaker Christian Duguay has worked a lot in film and television over his 34-year career, but it may be his latest film as director and co-adapter of the famous novel/memoir by Joseph Joffo, A BAG OF MARBLES (Un sac de billes), that will help, as much as any other of his work, to memorialize this talented journeyman filmmaker. A movie that might best be described as Holocaust-lite, it is also one of that increasingly popular sub-genre's better examples.

M. Duguay, shown at right, has directed and co-adapted this tale -- which deals with the adventures of two young brothers during World War II France who must separate from their parents and older siblings in order that all might survive -- with such boundless energy and skill that the fact that what goes on here, despite its very real urgency and life-and-death stakes, does in fact seem like a kind of adventure.

Hence Holocaust-lite. And yet the adventure is so enthralling, the performances so good all around, the direction on point and the writing adequate enough to carry us easily along.

One of the movie's initial scenes involves our hero brothers deliberately obscuring a sign that notes, as signage was required to do once the Nazis took over Paris, that the shop in question is Jewish-owned. Consequently two Nazi soldiers (above) come in, utterly unaware of where they are. This fun-and-games approach works well because of the youth and so-much-left-to-learn of our protagonists, while bringing to the movie a kind of completely natural joie de vivre that it maintains throughout.

Those two protags are played with lovely insouciance and growing pain and anger by Batyste Fleuial Palmieri, above, center (as the older of the two) and Dorian Le Clech (above, center, left, and below). Both are excellent but the movie belongs mostly to young Le Clech -- because his character narrates and much of the tale revolves around him.

In the roles of the boys' parents are French standard-bearers Patrick Bruel (center, below) and Elsa Zylberstein, and both are every bit as fine -- strong, caring, charismatic -- as you'd expect. Supporting cast members are aces, too, from the French who aid these kids, including various priests, and the Nazis who would love to see them deported to the camps.

Granted, the movie does make it seems that just about every French man and woman was pro-resistance (with a few notable exceptions), and that, of course, is to be taken with the proverbial and usual grain of salt.

Toward the end our little hero does something quite lovely concerning the Petain-and-Nazi loving family that has taken him in to work for it. This fits perfectly with all that has already transpired and aids enormously in showing us why this hugely popular memoir/novel has remained in the hearts and minds of Frenchmen for so long.

Locations move from 1940s Paris to both the French countryside and the Riviera, so visually, there's plenty of beauty in the film, as well. The movie goes easy on the violence, blood and gore; consequently, when an untoward moment suddenly occurs, it hits you like a punch to the solar plexus.

From Gaumont, in French with English subtitles and running a just-about-right 110 minutes, A Bag of Marbles opened to generally quite good reviews on our cultural coasts last week, and this week on Friday, April 20, hits elsewhere across the country, including South Florida -- where it will play the Miami area at the AMC Aventura 24, in Fort Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway (note: The Last Picture Show in Tamarac will screen the film beginning April 27), and in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters and the Regal Shadowood 16, It will also open this week at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Lovers of unintentional camp, rejoice! RUSSIAN DOLL (A Thriller) hits DVD

The box art for RUSSIAN DOLL explains (or maybe proclaims) the movie to be, via its subtitle description, (A Thriller) -- in parentheses, yet, in case, I guess, we might want to consider this as parenthetical. Indeed there is not a single thrill to be found here. There is, however, a whole lot of genuine laughs, most of these completely unintentional, I fear.

Which means that this movie takes its place among those hallowed few films that rise, completely of their own accord, into the realm of unintentional camp.

As written and directed by Ed Gaffney (shown at right, whose earlier work as screenwriter, The Perfect Wedding, this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed), Russian Doll begins and ends with a genuine surprise. The first of these turns what has initially looked just slightly off-kilter into something that makes perfect sense. The final surprise has to do with identity, and I admit that I did not at all expect it. So I applaud. Very good, Mr. Gaffney!

The problem, however, is that between these two surprises, almost everything else seems bat-shit crazy, including the performances of much of the cast, especially our leading lady, Melanie Brockmann Gaffney (I suspect she is the filmmaker's wife), who, whatever other talents she possesses, acting is not among them, and Jason T. Gaffney (the filmmaker's son?), who was so very good in his rom-com role in The Perfect Wedding, but here plays a villain (shown below with his victim, played by Aly Trasher) who keeps making us laugh. Unintentionally, I admit. But that's not what villains are supposed to do.

The plot has to do with a theatrical play, the authorship of which may have been stolen; a sudden kidnapping (that actually makes very little sense overall); and a theatrical production of said play (named Russian Doll) that is occurring simultaneously with the kidnapping and a budding romance between our heroine, a police detective (Ms Gaffney, at left on poster, top) and a very pretty, sexy young woman with whom the detective's mom (Kristine Sutherland, below) has set her up.

All comes together in as clunky a manner as the above description sounds, with the kidnapper and his kidnapee especially hilarious, as the latter keeps escaping and the former keeps telling her that he's going to kill her if she keeps this up. She does, of course, and he doesn't. Somewhere along the way, the filmmaker inserts a song, the lyrics of which prove as awful (and as funny) as everything else on display. (We happened to have the English subtitles on as we watched and so got a double dose, aural and visual.)

At one point or another, my spouse and I began laughing aloud at the increasingly silly goings-on and, as can happen with this kind of laughter, it simply grew and grew until we were actually having a pretty good time. Add to this the automatic corrective that a truly awful movie can provide to just about everything else you've seen, mediocre on downward. Russian Doll managed this, and I am grateful. Now I truly understand what bad looks like. (That's the other leading lady, played by Marem Hassler, above, right, and Sarah Hollis, below, right, as our heroine's police partner, who tries to be smart and sassy but is defeated at every turn by the script.)

Distributed by Wolfe Video and running at least a short 82 minutes, the movie hits the street on DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, April 17 -- for purchase and/or maybe rental. To all of you -- performers, filmmakers, audiences -- good luck!

Another "granny" documentary opens: Sky Bergman's ode to seniors, LIVES WELL LIVED

Hot on the heels of last week's Nana comes another documentary inspired by the life of a filmmaker's grandmother, but this time, instead of concentrating on a single senior whose life was devoted to something significant, we're treated to a whole bunch of the aged in a mere 72 minutes, with maybe a dozen of their stories given to us in some detail, while the others (there are 40 folk included here) merely add a few thoughts to this mix about life, aging and living well. Overall, the documentary provides the expected upbeat scenario and should have audiences leaving the theaters where the film opens this Friday feeling good -- if not especially challenged or provoked in any way.

The filmmaker, Sky Bergman (shown above, left, with her grandmother, who was the person who most inspired this documentary), has set out to show the diversity and possibilities of old age and what can be done with these in a positive manner.

Her film, titled LIVES WELL LIVED: Celebrating the Secrets, Wit and Wisdom of Age, moves from that granny to a fellow, above, who now makes mozzarella daily for his daughter's deli to a woman, below, for whom (and evidently for decades now) yoga has been of major importance in life.

We meet another woman of Hispanic and Filipino heritage (below) who credits the Girl Scouts of America for providing her opportunities she had not found elsewhere. Among the many stray thoughts and ideas these seniors offer up, many may sound as though you've heard them (and more than once) previously, but there is one very smart and perhaps quite important one that might just get by you in the rush: A French/Danish woman quietly notes that "Your attitude" (the italics are mine) "is the only thing you really have control over in your life." An idea to live by, I should think. (I am very grateful to Ms Bergman for including it.)

Most of the participants here seem to be living middle-class-or-better lives, and we only hear briefly, if at all, about the battles they may have had to wage to get there. This keeps things
on that even keel and positive plane. Another woman, a Japanese-American (at left) whose family was placed in one of those despicably racist internment camps during World War II (second only in our country's history to its embrace of black slavery during its first century), has clearly risen above that most difficult period, though the documentary doesn't offer many clues or much info as to how.

One of the people included is a fellow referred to as Botso, about whom an entire and very good documentary (click on the link above for further info) was released back in 2014. What we learn of Botso here, however, barely skims the surface of what was/is a truly fascinating, amazing life and career.

As with any documentary that must fit all these lives into barely more than one hour, some peoples' stories will command much more attention and interest than others. TrustMovies was particularly taken with one couple -- she a member of the original Kinder-transport, he a German Jew who managed to escape the Holocaust -- of whom I'd have liked to learn much more. Ditto Santi, an evidently famous Italian photojournalist back in the day (above) whose comment, "In Europe, we know our limits" simply begs for a bit more exploration.

As does the life of the black woman named Blanche (at left), for whom dance was a cornerstone of life, who says that she did not come into her own till age 50.

I can't help wonder what and who she was and what she had to deal with prior to that. Well, maybe some enterprising documentarian will give each of these folk a movie of their own.

Skimming along a very pleasant surface but offering little depth, and more suited, I think, for the home screen than for movie theater prices (unless you have a MoviePass and use it often), Lives Well Lived has already opened in a number of cities around the country and hits some California venues this Friday, April 20, and then quite a few more locations over the weeks to come. Click here and scroll down to learn when and if it will be playing at a theater near you. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Lucas Belvaux's THIS IS OUR LAND: the frightening growth of the French far right

A uniquely disturbing (because it is so plausible) movie, THIS IS OUR LAND (originally titled as the better, simpler and more ironic Chez Nous) shows us, bit by bit, how a smart, caring, well-liked nurse in a typical provincial French town is slowly and cleverly conned into running for mayor under the banner of the "new" far-right party and its leader (think Marine Le Pen).

Though the far right, along with its neo-Nazis cohorts, has yet to win the major election in France, as Donald Trump and the Republican Party have done here in the USA, their strength in France -- as well as all across the European community -- continues to grow.

Belgian filmmaker Lucas Belvaux (of 38 Witnesses and Rapt) who co-wrote (with Jérôme Leroy, from his novel) and directed the movie has given it a remarkably true-to-life, near-documentary-like approach filled with so many on-the-nose details of small town life -- at work, at home, in relationships with friends and lovers -- that reality is captured almost at once and remains grounded throughout, despite some melodramatic turns and a finale that seems too sudden, coincidental and easy. The movie's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, however, and what is likely to remain with you is a cautionary tale par excellence.

In the leading role is that fine Belgian actress Émilie Dequenne (above and on poster, top), who began her career in the Dardennes' Rosetta and has been giving crackerjack performances during the near 20 years since. This is another of her best, and it is hard to think of an actress (maybe Adèle Haenel in a few years) who could be any better in this role.

What the movie is particularly good at is showing us the route, led by a very successful right-wing doctor, played with his usual savoir faire by André Dussollier (above), via which the national front party seduces our heroine, along with so much of the populace, many of which are interested in populist ideals but unable (maybe unwilling) to differentiate between those and the racist, xenophobic underlay that accompanies them.

Catherine Jacob's performance -- the actress is shown above and below, center -- as the Le Pen stand-in is impressive in both its subtle conniving and its power to rouse the masses. This Is Our Land is also quite adept at demonstrating how a smart and caring woman could be seduced by this combination of praise, attention, and the support of friends already in the hands of the far right. In fact, what makes the film so particularly disquieting is how heavily we identify with our nurse/heroine and then must watch as she (and, yes, maybe we would, too) begins compromising the very bedrock principles upon which she has lived so far.

Now, all political parties do this same thing (god knows, America's Democratic Party compromised what few principles it had left by forcing Hillary Clinton upon us rather than going with the more progressive candidate whose appeal, according to all the early polls, trumped even that of Trump. But there are bad political parties and worse ones. And the French right-wing, along with America's Republicans, are clearly the worse.

The film's wild card is the character of the Dequenne character's old boyfriend (Guillaume Gouix, above and below) who suddenly appears back in her life as a possible mate.  Alternately violent and kindly, the latter especially to her children, he quickly becomes as much of a problem for the party and their candidate, as he may be for our heroine, too.

In the supporting cast, Patrick Descamps (above, left) is particularly notable as Dequenne's layabout Communist-Party father, whose reaction to her new political affiliation will not surprise you. A movie that is, as they used to say, ripped from today's headlines, This Is Our Land seems not to be asking could-it-happen-here? (it already has) than simply to be questioning how, in this "modern" age, we might hang on to whatever is left of our minuscule democracy.

From Distrib Films US, in French with English subtitles and running 117 minutes, the movies gets its U.S. theatrical premiere this Wednesday, April 18, in New York City at Film Forum. On April 27 it opens in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Monica Film Center. Click here, and then scroll down and click on Watch Now to view all upcoming playdates, cities and theaters.