Thursday, November 27, 2014

APACHES and TO KILL A MAN: Two from Film Movement to make their DVDebut next week

Usually TrustMovies uses Thanksgiving Day to highlight one of the year's top turkeys. But since he's already posted on Interstellar (and, really, it's not that bad), and the "promised-to-cover-them" films are piling up faster than he can manage, he'll spend today's post on a couple of interesting movies about to make their DVDebut from Film Movement: one worth seeing and the other a tad iffy. APACHES occupies the latter category, being one of those movies abut really dumb teenagers at work and (mostly) play, as well as being about the island of Corsica, which would of course include everything from Colonialism to class, race, religion, gender, tourism and most of the rest of the usual check-list.

There is evidently a large influx of Muslim immigrants to Corsica, as throughout much of the rest of Europe, and while this movie covers them, it does them no favors. Though, in truth, everyone we see in this film seems pretty close to worthless: kids, adults, French, Corsicans, Italians, immigrants -- you name 'em, and you (and the world) could easily do without 'em. Apaches is one of those more and more oft-seen movies that would seem to predict the coming apocalypse via the behavior of their dumb-as-they-come characters. You watch awhile, and before long you're murmuring, "No wonder the world is coming to its end...."

The story simply follows a two-man immigrant cleaning crew at a very expensive house on the island, one of whom returns later with friends to make use of the house for fun. Some of the friends also use it for sex, drinking, vomiting and burglary -- and it's the last of those that makes for the most difficulties.

Before long we're knee-deep in fear, betrayal, murder, and perhaps the silliest bleach job in the history of motion picture hair (I told you these kids were dumb). The performances are certainly as real as you could want, the direction (by Thierry de Peretti) and writing (by de Peretti and actor Benjamin Baroche) are adequate (I do wonder why the use of the old-fashioned ratio of 1.33 : 1?). So. Is this movie believable? Absolutely. Is it worth watching or caring about? Barely.

The second film under consideration, TO KILL A MAN, is no less unsettling but a lot more interesting. It is being billed as revenge story. But it actually is not. Instead it shows us what happens when the father of the family (living apart but still clearly concerned with the well-being of his ex and his kids) comes up against a genuinely nasty, sociopath, criminal type who will not stop harassing the family. Add to this mix a police department and judicial system that, for whatever reason, refuses to provide any real help or protection. You can't watch this film without finally wondering, "What would I do under these circumstances?"

The movie, from Chile and written and directed by Alejandro Fernández Almendras,  is anything but a revenge thriller. It's not even a thriller, exactly, because it seems far too real for that. (It's based on a true story, which we don't learn until the film's conclusion, but which is quite easy to believe.) We follow our "hero," Jorge (very well played by Daniel Candia, above and below), in both thought and deed as tension builds to the breaking point and beyond.

We see enough of both the man's family and the villain and his crowd to be able to easily take sides, and I suspect that very few viewers will be able to insist on any simple-minded Thou Shalt Not Kill platitude where this story is concerned. If Jorge were a large and powerful guy, the movie could easily begin to take on some Hollywood gloss. But, no: Instead he's on the short side and running to flab. And he doesn't want to become this avenger; he's pushed into it by circumstance-- via  the actions of the sociopath and the wretched security of the state.

Filmmaker Almendras doesn't let his hero (or us) off the hook, either, as a Hollywood movie would have done. This makes his film all that much more frustrating -- and fulfilling. You can see both these movies, beginning this coming Tuesday, December 2, on DVD and streaming via their distributor Film Movement  -- for sale or rental. If history is any guide, they'll be available via Netflix and Amazon soon, as well.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turning Turing into a more-or-less mainstream hero: Morten Tyldum's THE IMITATION GAME

Alan Turing is a name known to many of us, particularly gay men, because he was a hero of World War II, perhaps the most important of them all, due to his breaking of the famous Enigma code which was used by the Nazis and changed daily to prevent its being deciphered. Some years back there was a fine British play that eventually came to Broadway -- Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore -- that starred a wonderful Derek Jacobi as Turing and told the tale of how the man managed to do this, at the same time as he struggled to hide, while still living as a homosexual in Britain (homosexuality was a criminal offense at the time).

Now we have a close-to-equally fine film on this same subject: THE IMITATION GAME, directed by Morten Tyldum (shown at right), with a screenplay by Graham Moore from the book by Andrew Hodges, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch (shown above, and below) as Turning. Mr. Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing odd roles -- Sherlock, Julian Assange, Khan in the most recent Star Trek (he even played Stephen Hawking in a TV movie a decade ago). Here, he beautifully nails Turing's strangeness (the man may have had some milder form of Autism such as Asperger Syndrome, which was never diagnosed back in that day), as well as his whip-smart intellect.

The Imitation Game is quite beautifully put together, weaving past and present into an exceedingly pleasurable experience to view and hear. It moves quickly but never jarringly, and it makes very clear the horrible injustice of having one's sexual preference criminalized. The screenplay is by turns witty and charming, smart and angry, and among its best touches are the numerous scenes of Turing as a schoolboy (well played by Alex Lawther) and its strong focus on the character of Joan Clarke, the woman who came to work with and for Turing as part of the the small group at Bletchley Park who were trying to crack the German code.

As played by the ever delightful and lovely Keira Knightley (above), Ms Clarke takes on major importance in a number of ways -- as a woman pushing to be able to work at what she does best (we're in the 1940s and 50s, remember) and as a kind of significant other for Turing. Ms Knightley comes through as she always does, with grace and grit. She and Cumberbatch work off each other quite beautifully.

The supporting cast, every last one of them, could hardly be improved upon. Especially fine are Charles Dance (above, right) as Turing's boss and bête noire; Matthew Goode (below, left) as the co-worker who initially loathes but finally admires this strange fellow; Mark Strong, (in bottom photo, center) impressive as his name, as an early MI5 member; and Allen Leech (below, right) and Matthew Beard (below, center) as other co-workers; and especially Rory Kinnear as the cop who suspects Turing of treason yet comes to regret his actions against the man.

The filmmakers and their cast have turned this tale into an oddly mainstream entertainment, and one that works almost perfectly as such. They've elided certain events and maybe people, too, for purposes of telescoping and storytelling.

While some of the language is curt and profane, there is no real sex of any kind on view, especially that regarding Turing and his same-sex preference. This will no doubt make it much easier for mainstream audiences to embrace the movie. Homosexuality is talked about but never seen nor experienced, so there is absolutely nothing here to shock or jerk a nose out of joint.

I admired the movie greatly and enjoyed it, too -- finding myself especially moved by the "what happened afterward" title crawl at the end of the film, which turns something that by all rights should make us feel bad into the feel-good instead. The track taken here may knock The Imitation Game down a notch or ten from anything approaching greatness, but it will certainly give the film that chance at copping the Oscar, a la The King's Speech. (If The Theory of Everything, which I have not as yet seen, doesn't grab that gold statuette instead.)

The movie -- from The Weinstein Company and running 114 minutes -- opens this Friday in both New York City  (at City Cinemas Paris Theater and the Angelika Film Center) and Los Angeles (at The Landmark and the Arclight Hollywood).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Horror and parenting combine in Jennifer Kent's classy, psychologically riveting THE BABADOOK

If you're a fan of talented Australian actress Essie Davis, particularly of her hit TV series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, stick her new film, in which she is unrecognizable (so far as "Miss Fisher" is concerned) -- the first full-length endeavor from writer/director Jennifer Kent -- on your must-see list. Davis is simply amazing in this role of a hugely put-upon mother, trying to keep her body and soul (as well as her son's) together in the wake of an otherworldly intruder known as THE BABADOOK.

As writer/director, Ms Kent (shown at left) is onto something important and rather fierce: the idea that what we repress can take a physical form that might be our undoing. Now, you can approach this from platforms supernatural or psychological. Kent makes both work quite well, vying, as the film unspools, for our attention and decision. How we are pulled one way, then another, by the shocks and scares -- visual and audial (the exceptional sound design is by Frank Lipson) keep us off balance and forever questioning what is really going on here.

Visually the film is quite elegant, beautifully designed and a pleasure to observe. Ms Kent's command of character and her ability to keep us off-balance in this, too, is pretty remarkable. In the leading roles of mother and her son, Samuel, Ms Davis and a young actor named Noah Wiseman (in his film debut) are exceptional. Initially, we see Samuel as an adorable little boy who's also a handful -- but then we're soon ready to throttle the kid, given his manners and what he gets up to.

As the film rolls on, however, it's Momma who begins to worry us more. Yet as we also slowly learn the facts of the history of this sad family, nothing at all seems simple or easily judged. And Ms Davis is so good at keeping us in that fraught state between fear and hope that we eventually become about as shaken up as do the characters she and young Master Wiseman (above and below) bring to such moving, frightening life.

What, finally, is the titular Babadook? Primal fears, the nastier side of us, repressed anger we've never handled, or a full-fledged, never-to-be-destroyed monster man? You decide -- between your bouts of fright, fun and, yes, sadness. Because some things go beyond any possible repair.

The Babadook -- from IFC Midnight and running 94 minutes -- opens this Friday, November 28, in New York City at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and the IFC Center. In the Los Angeles area, look for it at The Cinefamily at Silent Movie Theatre, beginning tomorrow, November 26, at midnight, and then continuing from Friday, Nov. 28 through Tuesday., Dec 2. Simultaneously, the film will open via VOD, so consult your local cable carrier for specifics.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Streaming sleeper: the Johnston/Mason/Boyes ultra-timely thriller, NOT SAFE FOR WORK

How rare is it to discover a suddenly streamable genre movie that's first-rate yet never even received a theatrical release? Very. Which makes NOT SAFE FOR WORK (TrustMovies has finally learned what the Internet acronym NSFW actually means!) pretty much a must-see, especially for fans of sharp, tight, cat-and-mouse thrillers, of which we see damned few good ones anymore.

As directed by the capable-in-many-genres Joe Johnston, (shown at right) from a smart screenplay by Adam Mason and Simon Boyes, this little movie lasts only 74 minutes, yet for most of its running time is one of those eyes-on-a-screen-from-which-you-cannot-look-away endeavors. It's that tight and exciting.

Best of all, this is a film that relies not upon near-constant special effects but is instead concerned with clever plot mechanics, a very good script and smart dialog to whisk it along, abetted by the kind of direction that knows where to put the camera when and how to cut for maximum speed and intelligibility (the editing's by Rick Shaine).

Add to this a situation that puts you in the midst of Big Pharma, a major corporation, the Mafia and a large law firm -- yes, all of our favorite kinds of people, even though one of these turns out to be a red herring -- and you have a recipe for fast-moving, top-notch entertainment. All the more so for the movie's being near-completely unknown to most movie-goers.

Another smart move: making its hero nothing like a superman (he actually does some dumb things along the way) yet proves someone who, when severely tested, can rise to the occasion. As played by the excellent Max Minghella (above, who it is nice to see in a lead role), this guy is fun to be around, never more so than when he's playing for very high stakes.

The heroine is a pretty and bright secretary (Eloise Mumford, above), and the villain a very smooth-talking fellow (played by JJ Feild, below), who gives his character a most interesting spin.

The major supporting roles are played by Christian Clemenson (below), as the boss of the law firm;

Tom Gallop, as Minghella's co-worker (gasping, below) and Alejandro Patino (shown at bottom) as the building's kindly janitor.

Every cast member nails it. As does this juicy little out-of-nowhere movie. The film's ending has evidently proven problematic for some audiences. Too bad. Considering all we know these days, what happens here could hardly be more on the mark.

In retrospect you may have a few logic questions, but while it's moving along, Not Safe for Work is mostly riveting. It's available now via Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video, and on DVD.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Streaming tip -- Nicholas D. Warthall's docu, GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA

Enormously entertaining (as was its subject himself), GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA is a celebration by filmmaker Nicholas D. Wrathall of the late author, scourge and huge cultural presence for well over a half century. It proves both a pleasure for us who knew of and enjoyed the man's talents and a fine introduction for those younger folk who may be first making their acquaintance with this legend (and despite that silly Blackgama ad campaign, this is not a word I toss about with any regularity).

Mr. Wrathall, shown at left, proves deft at mixing history, biography, opinion (and, yes, some hagiography) so that we get a full picture of this unusually bright, witty, sometimes nasty fellow who did not suffer fools (or often even more ordinary folk) gladly. Through the filmmaker's use of a plethora of archival material, we wend our way along the life of this brilliant man, from his earliest history to his military career, his rise to fame as a writer and his ability to fan that fame as everything from raconteur to provoca-teur to celebrity -- all the while writing those interesting books.

Quite the handsome young man (above) whom we see become an éminence grise (below), Vidal explains everything from his love to writing to his sex life, in which "love" never entered the picture -- though whether we can believe it all is another matter.

Simply for the chance to see the incredible view from Vidal's villa (below) in Italy, this movie is worth watching. But there's a lot more, including politics, smart-mouthing (even if he occasionally contradicts himself), and a tour of the cemetery, along with his gravestone, shown at bottom, under which our friend is now at rest.

We get a good glimpse of his special feuds, too -- with William Buckley and Norman Mailer -- which, no matter how often we hear/see these, they still manage to entertain rather brilliantly. I don't think there is anyone currently around who can begin to take this fellow's place -- which he, of course, would be delighted, though not at all surprised, to hear.

Unashamedly left-wing, gay and/or bisexual (and more of less "out" before many of his kind had made that move), and hobnobbing with a wide assortment of world leaders (that's Gorbachev, above), Mr. Vidal was ever alert, adept and surprising.

You can stream Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia , running 83 minutes, now via Netflix and elsewhere, or watch it on DVD.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Blu-ray/DVDebut: Phillip Noyce's THE GIVER is a young-adult film a lot better than you've heard

As dystopian fantasies go, THE GIVER -- directed by Phillip Noyce from the novel by Lois Lowry (screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide) -- is more believable and intelligent a film than The Hunger Games twaddle (but with a lot less violence, and so commensurate box-office) and infinitely superior to the also-young-adult-oriented and godawful Twilight series, which substitutes vampire-lite mythology for teen sexual hunger and in the process makes hash of them both. Because Lowry's novel is already 20 years old, its movie version did not come quite so filled with Internet acclaim as the other two and did not have the hoped-for billion-dollar ticket sales. It is nonetheless a most interesting, if flawed, work worth seeing.

Australian director Noyce, shown at right, has a resume indicating that he knows his way around a lot of different genres -- from mystery to politics to action to socially-conscious movies -- and his work here is professional and smart. The screenplay lets us down a bit on some particulars (I haven't read Ms Lowry's book so can't compare): for instance, just how powerful is this "Giver" and why would the powers-that-be keep him/her around, when the Giver pretty much represents their possible undoing? You'll have to cut some corners to make all this make complete sense, but the film is generally worth it. It is very well cast, too, with Brenton Thwaites (below, left) and Odeya Rush (below, right) representing the younger generation trying to show their older counterparts what really matters (a plot factor true in all these young-adult books and movies).

That older generation is represented by the likes of Meryl Streep, as the person-in-charge, and Jeff Bridges (below, left) as someone who's only "sort of" in charge. Less old but still living in thrall to the accepted philosophy of their seemingly rational but deeply dysfunctional community are "parents" Alexander Skarsgård and Katie Holmes.

The movie is much more subtle than the usual teen blockbuster (hence, perhaps, its failure among this generally brainless and web-driven crowd). Horrible things are going on in the name of community spirit and equality, but the now sheep-like populace, over generations, has been lulled into near-total acceptance. Uniformity is virtue; difference is wrong.

How all this is conveyed -- Noyce uses a palette initially drained almost of all color, into which that color returns only gradually as our hero (Mr. Thwaites) begins to feel and experience more. What caring and parenting really means is called into question, as is the need for action and even some violence to protect our most basic rights.

All this should make the Y.A. crowd maybe sit up a little straighter, take some notice and even start thinking a bit. One hopes that the movie, which comes out this Tuesday, November 25, on Blu-ray, DVD and digitally -- via Anchor Bay Entertainment and running 97 minutes -- will finally find its deserved audience among home viewers.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Werewolves, anyone? Genre clunker Adrián García Bogliano's LATE PHASES hits theaters

"A masterpiece of the werewolf genre," as its poster proclaims? Only if you're totally unfamiliar with the werewolf genre and have never seen The Howling, Dog SoldiersAn American Werewolf in London (or even its silly-fun follow-up, in Paris) and any number of other fine werewolf films, could you possibly be taken in by this trivial pursuit that seems about as arbitrary and as clunkily put together as a genre movie can be. Despite a fine lead performance from Nick Damici (two photos below), as a blind Viet Nam vet stuck into a retirement community on the edge of town by his uncaring son (Ethan Embry), LATE PHASES mostly sucks, playing fast and loose with the usual werewolf tropes and making too little sense on too many levels.

As directed by Spaniard Adrián García Bogliano (pictured at left), quite far afield from his more subtle and disturbing Here Comes  the Devil, this later movie has the director out of his element in more ways than mere locale. Forget that the carnage begins the very night that Damici's character moves into the community, and that he finds a very large wolf's nail embedded in a huge, scratched-out claw print in his wall (What? The people-in-charge of this community don't clean up the houses prior to renting them?), and that the town's police don't pay a lick of attention to all the deaths occurring here. Well, maybe they're involved? If only the movie had something more complex than gore and special effects on its tiny brain.

Actually, it does. And that thing is a father/son fallout that goes way back, and is even more clunkily handled than the rest of this sorry movie. As you might guess, I am a big werewolf fan, so I sat there during the screening, trying to make excuses for what was passing before my eyes until there were no more remaining.

Much is made of our blind man's sense of smell -- until it suddenly doesn't seem to matter any more. And although we see our werewolf almost from the second or third scene of the film, the movie appears to be mostly a mystery as to who, exactly, this werewolf is. We learn the answer too soon, which drains the little suspense that has built up.

Subsidiary characters exist only to move the movie along, though they are played by some enticing pros like Tom Noonan (below, right), Larry Fessenden and Tina Louise. And when we finally get the big-deal, human-to-werewolf transformation (in photo, bottom), it's far too little too late. The filmmaker and special effect maven -- Robert Kurtzman and crew -- do get points, however, for trying to make the wolf look something like the human it represents.

Finally, the film seems a super-clunky melding of worthless family-secrets drama and sub-par monster-horror. Barely releasable crap is my verdict.

Late Phases, from Dark Sky Films and running a too-long 95 minutes, opens today, Friday, November 21, in New York City at the IFC Center (once daily at 9:45pm) and maybe elsewhere, too.