Monday, September 25, 2017

Andreas Johnsen's edible-insects documentary, BUGS, offers a whole new kind of food porn

Part slasher/torture porn (with insects the recipients), part food documentary, part globe-trotting travel movie, part environmentally-conscious, What-will-future-generation eat? treatise, BUGS, the new doc from Danish filmmaker Andreas Johnsen is quite something: consistently interesting; peopled with smart, thoughtful, caring characters; and often a lot of weird, expand-your-horizons fun. Recommending it to mainstream audiences, however, comes with a few caveats, beginning with the fact that entomophagy has an eeewwww! factor that is awfully high.

Mr. Johnsen, shown at right, above with his three "stars": left to right, Josh Evans, Roberto Flores and Ben Reade, manages, in just 76 minutes, to introduce us to the idea of actually eating insects and enjoying the experience via the two young gentlemen above, Josh and Ben, who seem to think of themselves as "food adventurers," courtesy of the Nordic Food Lab that sponsored their work. That work consists of traveling the world, trying various insects treats -- from Australia to Kenya, Mexico to The Netherlands and even to Italy to try some cheese filled with worms. (If I recall correctly, one of our heroes reaction to the latter is, "It tastes good. But I prefer Camembert.")

Generally, though, the gourmet palates of these two plucky fellows (and the intern, Roberto, who eventually becomes their chef) seem to greatly appreciate the various insects they try. And to their credit, not once do we hear the reaction, "It tastes like chicken!" Oh, no. In fact, one juicy delectable (I think it was ant larvae) is said by Josh to smell like goat cheese and by Ben (above) to taste like avocado." So there.

The movie begins with our chef and what we are told is a skillet filled with maggot fat (ummm!). Very soon, a group of intrepid folk are given what is referred to as "airplane food for the 22nd Century." The menu here is impressive indeed.  One of the more interesting of the team's adventures take them to Kenya, where they discover how tasty termites can be -- especially their hive's queen, who turns out to be more liquid than anything else. Particularly when, by accident, she is squashed.

TrustMovies is making jokes of all this, but Josh and Ben take it very, very seriously. The idea of sustainable food production plays a large part in the movie, late in which, Josh goes to an important meeting in Switzerland, the point of which I wasn't sure I fully understood. (As a filmmaker, Johnsen is bigger on showing than on telling, so we have to make do with what we can garner from the occasional off-the-cuff conversations we overhear via sound design that it not all it might be.) It seemed clear to me that the meeting did not go all that well, yet Josh and the Nordic Food Lab persevere.

You'll grow fond of these two lads, and of Roberto, too, even as some questions do arise. We see an awfully lot of insects killed, often cooked alive, which I guess, depending on your idea about the sanctity of life of species other than human, you will view with alarm or understanding. I can imagine a spin-off from PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Insects -- arising out of this documentary.

But someday, long into the future, when your great-grandkids invite you for a holiday dinner of wasp, cricket and grasshopper stew, preceded by an appetizer of sauteed queen termite (above), just remember: You saw it here first at New York City's Film Forum.  That's where BUGS, from Kino Lorber, opens for its U.S. theatrical debut this coming Wednesday, September 27, for a one-week run. It will also play Seattle at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on October 6, in Los Angeles at Laemmle Monica Film Center on October 13, and elsewhere, too. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Blu-ray Debut: Sergio Martino's 1975 genre-jumper,THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR

Is it a giallo? A police procedural? Thriller? Murder mystery? Political/economic/ social canvas of a particular Italian era? All of the above and more. In fact, the IMDB lists the film (under the aka title of Too Young to Die) as a comedy, mystery and horror film. Take your pick; I guess it's all here. And it's all -- much of it, anyway -- pretty damned good. Less violent and misogynistic than most genuine giallo, the movie also jumps genres with utter abandon.

This is the work of a probably-less-noted-than-he-should-be Italian director, Sergio Martino (shown at right, whose most famous films on this side of the Atlantic may be Torso and The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh), a filmmaker best known for his action movies than the several other genres in which he labored. Martino was relatively prolific -- 66 titles in all, the last made for Italian TV in 2012 -- and he was also skilled in many genres. In THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR, he has so many of these bumping up against each other that the effect, finally, seems almost as though Martino has melded them all into a single unit. With one exception -- which would be comedy. I don't think this genre was anything near his forte.

The comedy here mostly takes place around the 40-minute mark -- in the midst of murder, possible underage sex trafficking and more -- as a car chase which goes on and on for so long that you eventually wonder if Martini is trying to set some new car-chase endurance record. Plus, the comedy is so heavy-handed and misplaced that it reaches the humor level of a cretin.

Then suddenly it ends -- in a wonderful surprise that sets the movie off on a totally new track. From there on, Suspicious Death... gets better and better, as one surprise is followed by another that makes the movie as timely as Goldman Sachs. "Are you asking us to investigate the government -- or overthrow it?" wonders Mel Ferrer (who may be the biggest "name" in  the cast, but who has but a supporting role in these goings-on).

The actual star is a fellow named Claudio Cassinelli, who makes a most interesting near-anti-hero. He uses brass knuckles to fight and is not above having sex with those under investigation. But he has a soft spot for the young thief (Adolfo Caruso, below, right and further below, prone) whom he takes under his wing and teaches the tricks of the trade. Cassinelli had a nice film career that was cut suddenly short by an accident that Signore Martino tells us about in the excellent interview, shot only recently, that appears in the disc's Bonus Features. This is a "must" to watch.

There's a gun battle on a roller coaster, a couple more murders, and an investigation that leads all the way to a top-tier banker (Ossessione's Massimo Girotti) and a load of truly nefarious doings. Some of the dialog along the way is terse and smart, too: Notes our hero, after he has been bribed by the villain, "If we have to serve the big interest, we really ought to make it pay."

The movie's original title, as we learn from that Bonus Feature interview, was Violent Milan, until the distributor stupidly changed it something longer and dumber. As both decent entertainment and a look into what Milan and Italy was going through during that 70s era (and the Western world is still going through today), the movie proves an interesting time capsule that holds up pretty well.

From Arrow Video, distributed here in the USA by MVD Entertainment, The Suspicious Death of a Minor, running 100 minutes, in Italian with English subtitles (or dubbed into English, if you prefer) hits the street on Blu-ray and DVD next Tuesday, October 3, for purchase and (I hope) rental.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

On video -- at last -- Richard Brouillette's brilliant, necessary economic-theory twosome: ENCIRCLEMENT and ONCLE BERNARD

Twelve years in the making -- and worth every last minute of those years -- ENCIRCLEMENT is the documentary product of French-Canadian filmmaker Richard Brouillete in which, via economists, philosophers and (in the words of the film's press material, with which I would agree) "some of the world's most transformational thinkers," he confronts the west's ideological conformism and brainwashing regarding the neo-liberal philosophy that still controls so many of today's so-called western "democracies."

One of those "thinkers" is Bernard Maris, aka Oncle (Uncle) Bernard, whom we see bits of in Entitlement. In ONCLE BERNARD, the 80-minute interview devoted entirely to the noted economists's views, we get the full dose of the late M. Maris, and it is a revelation. I have never heard any economist speak more intelligently, cogently, forcefully or entertainingly about the situation in which the western world has placed itself, thanks to the idiocy and horror of neo-liberalism -- the primary tool of the wealthy, corporate and powerful.

What M. Brouillette, shown at right, has done here is simply give us the major explanation for why the world and its people, particularly in the west, but also in most-if-not-all developing countries, is growing poorer, while the rich, as ever, grow richer and "business" and the banks keep reaping larger profits at the expense of the populace. Yes, this is "left-wing" stuff, but so expertly and honestly do these talking heads, in particular Oncle Bernard, lay out their case that anyone with a genuinely inquiring mind will have trouble negating what s/he has learned here.

TrustMovies watched Oncle Bernard first, since this doc lasts only 80 minutes, while Entitlement goes on for two hours and 23 minutes. (I needn't have worried about length, however. Once into the latter film, I was soon and permanently hooked.) Bernard Maris (shown above and below) is simply an amazement: Listening to and learning from him proves an unalloyed treat. Whether he's talking about economic theory as a kind of religious faith or the pointless and perverse pretense of confidence and transparency, the "neutral" unemployment rate, and inflation and lending, Maris is an alert, funny and exemplary teacher.

This black-and-white film, during which, every ten minutes or so, the reel must be changed, has a delightful, old-fashioned (the interview was filmed in March of 2000), off-the-cuff charm that is contagious. By the time our "Uncle" arrives at derivatives and pension funds (remember: this interview took place well prior to the upcoming financial crisis), as well as how the banks (even back then) were reporting only half of their transactions and so were consequently under no real government control, it will hit you just how special this economist was and what a loss it is to have had him murdered at the hands of the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo in 2015.

In fact, watching and listening to Maris and how he takes apart France and its governments, you may find yourself wondering if, after all, that Charlie Hebdo massacre wasn't an inside job. Really: How could a man this set on telling truth to power -- and then spreading that truth all around -- be allowed to live?

The subtitle of Encirclement is NEO-LIBERALISM ENSNARES DEMOCRACY, and once you've experienced this combination of history, economic theory, and very, very smart talking heads, you wont just understand this ensnarement and how it has happened, but you'll probably be quite able to explain it all to your children and parents, too. The documentary is that clear, concise, and rigorous. My biggest quibble is that I wish that M. Brouillette had identified all his speakers as each first appeared, rather than waiting until the end to show us their names. Consequently, although I can remember what was said, I can't recall in many cases who said it.

Still, what an array of speakers we have here, and after all, it's what they say that proves most important. One early fellow explains how both left and right adhere to this same neo-liberal theory,  (I did not know that Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's government transformed public companies into private at the same rate as did right-wing governments.) We get plenty of theory here, as well as some interesting info on the men who gave it to us. I did not realize that Hayek -- Friedrich not Salma -- held Utopian views that benefited society's strongest, rather than its under-privileged. (One of the many speakers here is the stalwart Noam Chomsky, below.)

Rather than simply giving us the Collectivist/Socialist talking heads, Brouillette allows neo-liberal thinkers to pontificate, too. And he offers them plenty of time -- and rope -- with which to hang themselves. They do. After one fellow's lengthy, ridiculous speech, my spouse (who does not follow economics at all closely) called out from the bathroom, "What a bunch of bullshit that was!"  Another Libertarian tries to explain how privatizing water would help solve both our environmental and economic problems, and the result is pure, sad hilarity.

Toward the end of this truly monumental undertaking, Susan George (the political scientist, rather than the actress) and others tackle the WMF, World Bank and WTO and show us, point by point in wonderful detail, how these organizations have toppled democracy and especially how they are decimating developing countries. The doc was made prior to the 2008-and-beyond financial collapse, but what these organizations have done since the turn of the century -- hello Greece! -- is equally disgusting. Another quibble, however: I do wish the filmmaker had not used such heavy-handed piano music on his soundtrack. The information we get here is troubling and important enough not to need unnecessary goosing from the musical score.

Otherwise, Encirclement is a masterwork of its kind. I can't imagine any intelligent, pro-active viewer who cares about the direction of western society not immediately giving it a view. Or two. From IndiePix Films, both Encirclement and Oncle Bernard will be available as of this coming Tuesday, September 26, on DVD, digital HD and via IndiePix Unlimited's new streaming service -- for purchase and/or rental.

Friday, September 22, 2017

David Gordon Green's Boston Marathon bio-pic, STRONGER, certainly is -- for awhile, at least....

Thanks to an Oscar-worthy performances from lead Jake Gyllenhaal and supporting actress Miranda Richardson, and a less-showy-but equally-fine one from co-star Tatiana Maslany, STRONGER -- a new film about the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing from filmmaker David Gordon Green -- proves a better, much more real dissection of part of that event than did last year's too-often fake but feel-good Patriot's Day.

Filmmaker Green, shown below, provides his usual flair for documentary-like realism coupled to an ability to draw very strong characterizations from his entire cast. The generally well-drawn screenplay -- by actor/writer John Pollono and based on the book by Bret Witter and Jeff Bauman, the latter of whose story the movie tells -- helps a good deal, too.

For a feel-good, triumph-of-the-human-spirit movie -- which, unfortunately, this one turns out to be -- Stronger is surprisingly dark, from the beginning, going forward, and very nearly until its conclusion. To his and its great credit, Mr. Bauman -- portrayed ably by Mr. Gyllenhaal, below -- and the movie about him have trouble defining the man as any kind of "hero" of the Boston Marathon massacre. He was a victim not a hero, and the manner in which the media both heralds and uses him is sleazy and stupid, pointing up much that is regrettable about western society today.

Gyllenhaal's Bauman is, from the movie's initial scene, something of a charming fuck-up. His character doesn't change much throughout, as the actor insists upon showing us his warts-and-little-else personality. He evidently comes from a family of loudmouth Boston drunks, of which Ms Richardson's uber-controlling mother (below, right) is at the forefront.

What makes the movie as powerful as it is comes from Gyllenhaal's hugely committed work. He makes us experience this character's every painful, excruciating moment -- from the bombing itself (seen only in flashback) to waking up in the hospital bed and having the bandages painfully removed to his on-and-off but growing relationship to his girlfriend, portrayed with grit and caring by Ms Maslany, below.

In fact, so continually dark (and believable!) does the movie become, as Bauman descends deeper into depression, doom and drink, that when, far too suddenly, his journey shifts direction, it simply seems both too fast and somehow unearned. And as well-acted, despite too big a bundle of exposition, as the scene is, late in the film, between him and the fellow (played by Carlos Sanz, below, right) who saved his life by applying tourniquets to his thighs at the time of the bombing, as well as another confrontation between Bauman and a couple fans at a sports event, both of these scenes act as too-obvious explanations/shortcuts to recovery.

So, even as Stronger achieves its feel-good finish, its strength weakens accordingly. Too bad, because the performances are compelling and the subject matter and its theme are important. But mainstream movies have their demands, and though this happy ending (or middle, at least) actually happened, the road there, movie-wise, could have been better negotiated.

From Roadside Attractions and running 118 minutes, Stronger opens nationwide today, Friday, September 22. To find a  theater near you, simply click here then click on GET TICKETS on the task bar atop your screen.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The "twatification" of fashion reaches its apotheosis in Michael Roberts' doc, MANOLO: THE BOY WHO MADE SHOES FOR LIZARDS

Yes, "twatification," and though I can't be certain I've coined the word, do feel free to use it if you like. It certainly fits MANOLO: THE BOY WHO MADE SHOES FOR LIZARDS, the new documentary about to hit South Florida (after opening in NYC and L.A. last week). Entitlement oozes from every pore of this diabetic confection, as it also seems to from the film's subject: the gosh-he's-got-an-ego-the-size-of-Texas footwear designer, Manolo Blahnik. In this bizarre and way-too-lengthy film (there's content here for about 30 minutes, yet the movie trails on for 90), we get a little Blahnik history, a look back at those notorious 1960s and 70s, and a view of many of the pretty, colorful shoe designs with which this guy has gifted us.

As director, first-timer Michael Roberts, shown at left, regales us with talking heads of celebrity and fashion -- from Anna Wintour (sans sunglasses!) to Rupert Everett to Rihanna (below, right) --  who drone on and on about the wonders of Mr. Blahnik and his creations. A little of this goes a very long way. My spouse, who has a much higher tolerance for fashion's idiocy than does TrustMovies himself, found the film initially fun, but by its end was rolling his eyes and twitching in annoyance. To quote him: "This could be a recruiting film for ISIS in how it shows our culture."

From the beginning Blahnik (shown above, left) comes across as something of an effete snob, and though he has little of intelligence to tell us, he at least does so with energy and spirit. But Mr. Roberts' contributions to the film are particularly misguided and obtuse. While some archival footage and photos are used (as below), the filmmaker prefers to give us staged recreations of childhood and young adulthood that range from so-so to simply silly, seeming to be on view so that we can see how "creative" this director can be.

The nadir is reached during a pointless episode in which Roberts creates a tacky, technicolor and completely unnecessary update of the Dietrich/von Sternberg Blond Venus (shown below: Is this the filmmaker's audition to direct a remake, perhaps?).

Along the way we get quite a bit of Bianca Jagger, a look at the footwear the guy designed for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antionette, and a section in which Blahnik and John Galliano reminisce. I must admit that the movie is rather lovely, sometimes quite beautiful, to look at (those shoes set against various nature/floral scenes), though the most fun visually has to be the delectable petits fours shown us at one point, the top of which offers up the image of a Manolo shoe on the frosting.

And although the shoemaker's love/sex life is alluded to and then put aside (one would guess he is gay, but, well, maybe not), we do learn something of the importance of Blahnik's relationships with three women, the late Misses Isabella Blow, Anna Piaggi and Tina Chow

Mostly, though, it's just Wintour (above), as well as others, wagging on about Blahnik's brilliance in a movie so filled with self-love and ego-boosting by others that I am surprised the filmmaker, his cast and crew could view the finished product without feeling noticeable embarrassment.
From Music Box Films, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards opens this Friday, Sept. 22 in Miami at the O Cinema Wynwood and in Ft. Lauderdale at the Savor Cinema, and next Friday, Sept. 29 at the Living Room Theaters here in Boca Raton. To find venues elsewhere around the country, click here and then click on THEATERS in the task bar midway down your screen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Another dancer documentary, Elvira Lind's BOBBI JENE, opens in New York City

After Dancer, Restless Creature, A Ballerina's Tale, and a number of other dance-themed documentaries that TrustMovies has seen over the past few years, the newest example -- BOBBI JENE, directed by Elvira Lind -- arrives as an odd but not uninteresting addition to the genre. The movie of which it most reminds me, however, is not a documentary, but the highly detailed, psychologically astute narrative film, Polina. Interestingly, both movies are being released within a few weeks of each other via Oscilloscope Films.

Filmmaker Lind, shown at right, is clearly fascinated by Bobbi Jene Smith, an Iowa-born women who, more than a decade ago, left her home and family in the USA to go study and apprentice with Ohad Naharin, the director of Israel's famous Batsheva Dance Company, where she became one of the principal dancers and eventually a choreographer, too.

The film begins as Bobbi Jene has made the decision to leave Israel, return to the U.S. and pursue her own career as... well, it looked to me like a combination of dancer/ choreographer/ teacher. The movie details her journey toward all this, even as it gives equal time to her romantic life and sexual relationships, which involve a former connection to her teacher/mentor/lover Narahin, her current boyfriend Or Schraiber (also a dancer with Batsheva), and most bizarrely and importantly with a sack of something (flour, cement?) that she uses as a masturbatory device in her main performance piece that we see in great detail here.

Yes, Bobbi Jene, the movie and the woman (shown above, below, and on poster top), wants to be a ground-breaker and barrier-buster. And they are, to some extent, at least. But for all the shock and awe the "dancer" produces (audiences at her live performances we see do seem stunned and moved to see a nude woman reaching orgasm right in front of them), the movie itself consistently glides along the surface of things, telling and showing us what is happening without much probing.

Which raises the oft-asked question regarding certain documentaries: Would this tale have been better told as a narrative film? My answer is "yes." Because, though the characters we see are clearly "acting" for the camera (and doing an excellent job, too), this is hardly "real life." Some scenes, especially those between Bobbi Jene and Or, seem staged or at least re-created. A narrative movie might have allowed us to experience love making between the pair (rather than discretely cutting away as happens here) so we might compare what our heroine is getting from Or with what she gets from that sack she uses in her dance routine. (This may sound silly, but that sack gets the most sexual-partnering screen time of anything we see.)

Calling Bobbi Jene's routine "dance" is also a little iffy, I think. "Performance art" maybe, but I didn't see much dance here. Her act most reminded me of the work of Marina Abramović, with the sexual element even further front-and-center. This is not difficult to take, however, for Bobbi Jene has a wonderful, beautifully-sculpted body, a pretty face and flowing hair, all of which we see plenty of during the course of the doc. Her commitment to her cause certainly comes through, even if that cause seems at times more than a little one-note.

A narrative movie would also have allowed more probing into subjects that, here, are simply brought up and then laid to rest: Bobbi Jene comes from a hugely Christian, maybe even fundamentalist, family. Surely the split, even the reconciliation was filled with more drama than we experience from the documentary. Ditto the relationship with Or (shown above, left).

So far as her sensational dance piece is concerned, maybe you have to witness this in person. For all the praise and tears and accolades we see the audience heaping on her, post-show, what we actually view via the film certainly did not move me to any extreme whatsoever.

And yet Bobbi Jean's story is a fascinating one. Its combination of needs -- sexual, psychological, practical and career-wise -- makes it unusual and compelling. But the film itself, as much as any I've recently viewed (save last week's very personal and oddball family memoir Red Trees), puts me in mind of how "incomplete" even a good documentary can be.

From Oscilloscope Films, in mostly the English language, and running 95 minutes, Bobbi Jene, opens this Friday, September 22, in New York City at the Quad Cinema; on Friday, October 6, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal; and on Friday, October 13, in San Diego at Media Arts Center. To view any further additions to the playdates/cities/theaters list, click here then click on SCREENINGS (or simply scroll down).