Sunday, October 31, 2010

DOC NYC Fest opens in the Village, with smashing new films led by Morris' latest

Beginning this Wednesday and continuing for one week is the inaugural edition of DOC NYC, the new documentary festival that takes place Nov. 3-9 at IFC Center and at NYU’s Skirball Center and Kimmel Center. The festival includes over 40 films and events, including gala screenings, world and U.S. premieres of new documentaries, tributes, panel discussions and more.

Some of these films will be screened in 3-D (unusual for the documentary genre), including the new Herzog, and there'll also be a Bruce Springsteen world-premier. Look for new films, as well as classics, an Errol Morris mini-retrospective, plus an appearancce by Morris himself and the screening of his latest (and, for my money, one of his best in a pile of good ones): TABLOID. This gem of exploration is as hilarious as anything Morris has made since Gates of Heaven, yet it never trashes its very complicated, sad subject and instead leaves you in her bizarre thrall -- wondering, as ever, what in the world might be the "truth." I'll have more to say about Tabloid when it opens commercially. And soon, I hope.

The DOC NYC organizers (click and scroll down) include Raphaela Neihausen, Executive Director; Thom Powers, Artistic Director; plus IFC Center's John Vanco and Harris Dew. The festival's mission: to guide audiences toward inspiring work, while gathering documentary practitioners from many fields and across the generations.  The festival also intends to cultivate new audiences and help expand the distribution of documentaries. All of this is wrapped around the creation of  new social spaces in the area of NYC's Washington Square Park -- fostering fresh connections between residents, while exposing visitors to the kind of opportunities that seem to happen only in New York.

OK: that's a big undertaking. TrustMovies would be happy to see even half of that agenda occur. Meanwhile, you can check out the entire DOC NYC fest here.  Specifically, click here for the roster of films, here for the festival's sponsors, here for the daily schedule, and here to buy tickers.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Marco Berger's PLAN B: a long, sweet, faux flirtation that asks an incendiary question

On one level PLAN B, the recently released-to-DVD Argentine film by Marco Berger, is a fun and funny little movie about romance and revenge gone goofily awry.  When Bruno (newcomer Manuel Vignau), the hirsute, hunky but rather hollow young man who's been dumped by his girlfriend Laura (another newcomer Mercedes Quinteros) decides to get revenge on her and her new boyfriend Pedro (played by the very interesting, works-a-lot actor Lucas Ferraro), he suggests to Laura that her new guy looks gay -- and then begins a clandestine relationship with Pedro to try to prove his point. Berger's movie works perfectly well on this level, providing charm, smarts and even -- depending on your sophistication level and how many movies of this sort you've seen -- some surprises.

On another level (several of them, in fact,) the movie opens up a Pandora's Box of questions that, once asked, need to be further explored, if not answered fully, since those answers will most likely differ from person to person. Mr. Berger, shown at right, appears (on the basis of what we see and hear in Plan B) too smart a guy and too good a filmmaker not to know what he has wrought in his little rom-com-cum-stealth-missile. Is gay attraction and behavior absolutely built-in or can it be learned? Can two presumably straight guys fall in romantic love over the long haul merely by spending time together and growing attached?  If so, just how malleable is sexuality?

Over the decades, Kinsey and other sex researchers have tried to answer questions like these, but given the strictures places on sexuality by religion and social mores, not to mention mankind's (male version) tendency to want to appear as macho as possible, getting an honest reading on the subject seems well nigh impossible. All of which makes Berger's little effort the more subversively explosive.

The two men bond easily and quickly around a few subjects they find in common, particularly games and icons from their youth. Alcohol and light drug-use help, too, as do the very natural, laid-back performances from the two actos (Vignau is shown above, right, Ferraro at left).  It would make sense that neither of them would possess a trace of behavior that might appear gay -- why would they? -- so their increasing friendship seems both natural and suspect, particularly on the part of Bruno, since his original intent was to "reveal" his opponent.  Revelation can come in many different ways, of course, since we all wear masks.

As a filmmaker, Berger trusts his instinct to stay away from not only the overly expository but, surprisingly, even dialog itself. The first four minutes of the film are dialog-free -- all ambient sounds -- and often along the way, the writer/director opts for his characters to remain silent. When it does arrive, his dialog is always believable and cogent, but the film's most memorable scenes may be those that are nearly silent: at the beach, people-watching, or a character lingering over a letter until he fully comprehends it. As director, Berger also seems to enjoy showing us odd shots of local architecture -- why, I am not sure -- but these do not distract much from our enjoyment.

Plan B just may be the longest pre-coital romance in cinema history, and to the filmmaker's credit, this full-length flirtation works better than it has any right to. (Still, at 103 minutes, the movie would have profited by being cut by at least ten, so as not to test our patience quite so much.)  For a film with strong gay content, the movie is surprisingly chaste, which actually adds to its charm. When our boys wake up in the morning (above) they have their shorts on, of course, and nothing has happened -- except some typical early morning tumescence. Finally, it's the performances by Vignau and Ferraro that do the most to bring home Berger's message: "In order to understand you, people have to see through your eyes."  Plan B allows us to do this, and the view is alternately sad and warm, foolish and funny.

Wolfe Video, increasingly important as a source for GLBT films, is releasing Plan B, which became available for sale or rent on October, 26, 2010.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Shake Hands With the Devil, The Magician & Eichmann: It's a Regent Releasing festival-- this week in L.A., and soon in New York!

OK. I fibbed. It's not really a full-fledged film festival. But when three (count 'em!) movies from the same small distributor open on the same day at the same theater, come on -- you've got at least a mini-fest on your hands.  Regent Releasing, you may be aware, is the little company that managed a couple of years back to pick up the Japanese film Departures, which went on to cop that year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Since then, the company has given us some wonderful, surprising and original films from great claymation ($9.99) to the richly comedic (The Blue Tooth Virgin), from the bizarre and wholly original (Taxidermia) to the best gay-themed film since Brokeback Mountain (Patrick Age 1.5).

This week -- starting Friday, October 29,at Laemmle's Sunset 5 complex in West Hollywood, and two weeks later, November 12, at New York City's Quad Cinemas -- will debut three new Regent releases that I would rank as perhaps second-tier for this company (one of them even third- or fourth-tier). They include the third or fourth major film to tackle the Rwandan massacres; yet another mockumentary (but at least one that is noticeably edgy); and the umpteenth Holocaust movie, offering an interesting bit of history handled poorly. Still, second-tier Regent is better than first-tier at certain other stops, and so (as Linda Loman noted, regarding Willy), "Attention must be paid."

SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL has been the title of several motion pictures at this point in time: a 1959 black-and-white James Cagney film about the Irish troubles; a 2004 documentary on Roméo Dallaire, commander of the United Nations peacekeeping mission to Rwanda during that country's 1994 genocide; and now the narrative version of that Dallaire/UN mission -- starring Canadian actor Roy Dupris, (shown at center, below) who bears a truly striking resemblance to Mr. Dallaire and has a very believable way with roles that require the taciturn and macho. Unlike the better-known Hotel Rwanda that used a single, though important, incident with a happier ending to reach its feel-good finale, or the under-seen Beyond the Gates, which tackled (among other things) the rarely-seen subject of cowardice under pressure, this new film sits us down in the middle of the Rwanda powder keg and lets us watch the country explode.  Bloodily.

Made in 2007 and only now seeing a US release, the film was directed, and very well, by Roger Spottiswoode, who, from the first, brings a grueling sense of impending doom that hangs over the movie like a horrible shroud.  We know of course what is going to happen, but Spottiswoode and his cast and crew make it seem new again -- and twice as awful. Considering the nature of the massacres, the movie is bloody and horrible but not nearly as bad as it might have been. Yet what we see is awful enough. And the disgusting sense of the rest of the western world -- and worst, the U.N. itself -- dragging its heels on doing anything about this (pretending it was not genocide until pretense was no longer an option, rescuing its own while leaving all others to certain death) is simply appalling. You will sit through this film steaming in anger -- which fits precisely with the "never again" point that the movie-makers and Dallaire intend to make.

THE MAGICIAN is a  faux documentary about a filmmaker filming a documentary about a hit man.  If this strikes you as ridiculous, it must have struck the filmmakers that way, too, for they go out of their way to tamp down the unbelievability quotient as much as possible. While the movie is, of course, a kind of satire about the current population's need to be seen on film or TV so as to prove its worth, maybe even its own existence, the movie slowly evolves into something other. Exactly what, I'm not certain, but the more we see of hit man Ray, played by Scott Ryan (above and below), the more enraptured and creeped out we grow.

As well as starring in The Magician, Mr. Ryan also wrote and directed the film, and co-produced and co-edited it.  I suspect a lot of on-the-job learning went into the experience, and the opening scenes, with their hand-held-camera intensity and homemade-ness threaten to turn us off, early on. Yet we stay with this film because it's so alternately weird and stupid, initially, and then weird and scary, and then weird and funny and finally just really weird. Ryan, as seen here at least, is compulsively watchable; the rest of the cast can do no more than react to him. By the time naughty Ray explains to us (after shooting a friend in the back of the head) how his pal never suffered because he didn't know it was coming, and we find ourselves agreeing with him, we realize the kind of magician filmmaker Mr. Ryan really is. He made this movie in 2005 but only now is it having a limited release in the U.S. Yet, according to the IMDB, Ryan has done nothing movie-wise since then. How can this be? The guy's a natural -- at least as a hit man. Hmmmm... Maybe this documentary isn't so faux, after all.

The clinker in this threesome is the film that might seem, at first glance, to have the most going for it: EICHMANN, about, yes, WWII Nazi honcho Adolf Eichmann and his prison time in Israel, prior to his execution for war crimes and crimes against humanity -- especially the Jews. Rather than overly excite us by offering any suspense leading up to his capture, the film generally dispenses with everything except exposition regarding the Israeli police officer (played by Troy Garity) assigned to question the war criminal and get the "truth" out of him.

Directed by the very spotty filmmaker, Robert Young (from a screenplay by Snoo Wilson), the movie's pacing is -- to put in kindly -- languid, and so the music rushes in to amp things up.  Flashbacks are many and typical, and there's even an ultra-sleazy sex scene with a nasty anti-semetic Hungarian countess (Eichmann calls her a baroness) who shames our non-hero into baby-killing. The screenplay and dialog are so-so at best, and the cast, to a man and woman, have been better anywhere and everywhere else. The very good German actor Thomas Kretschmann (on poster, above left and below -- with a slightly more famous Adolf) plays the title character as well as possible, given the limitations forced upon him. I have never seen Mr. Garity (above, right) give a bad performance -- until now. He is either miscast (his accent is terrible) or has been told to underplay to catatonic proportions. Franka Potente is saddled with the role of nudge wife, who is deathly ill, to boot, and Stephen Fry, while fine (when isn't he?), is utterly wasted in the "nothing" role of Garity's superior.

Everything here supposedly hinges on the policeman's managing to get Eichmann to reveal the truth and/or confess in a very limited amount of time. The suspense is non-existent and when the "gotcha" moment arrives, it's a big shrug. I suppose the movie-makers wanted to concentrate on the state of Israel in the early 60s (not that long after its founding) and how important it was to bring the escaped Nazis to justice. But the film never comes to life; its concerns seem so many and varied that all tension dissipates. I think this may be one of the worst -- and certainly among the least necessary -- Holocaust movies in memory. Sure, we must keep that memory alive, but -- please -- can't we do it with more talent, caring and class?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chabrol's INSPECTOR BELLAMY arrives, tardily and sadly, as a final goodbye

When Claude Chabrol died last month, you may have heard the sound, even felt the sense of a huge wave finally ebbing at last.  (Funny that Mr. Eastwood has graced us with his own big wave so soon Hereafter.) Unless I'm forgetting someone,  La Nouvelle Vague has but three filmmakers remaining alive: Agnes Varda, Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard.

I wish that INSPECTOR BELLAMY (first seen in New York almost two years ago as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Rendez-vous with French Cinema) were one of this master's better works, since it will be the final one we'll see. (Chabrol, shown at right, made a French TV series this past year, but it is unlikely that America will be graced with that.) Though nowhere near his best, the film is still good enough to please his fans and is worth seeing, especially for its cast and their performances. Of the French New Wave directors, no one has achieved the output -- in terms of total running time -- as  Chabrol. At 80 years old, he had made 72 films (mostly theatrical, some for TV). While Godard, who's the same age, is on record for 93 outings, many of these are not full-length. Eric Rohmer, who also died this past year, had made 51, while Rivette, who's 81, has made only 32 (but his are often long). Each of the men and Varda who make (and made) up the group of directors often associated with the New Wave are/were so spectacularly different in their style and interests, that it's no wonder, taken together, they were able to point movies in a new direction.

Of them all, Chabrol seemed to be the one who had changed the least over the years. He had his interests and his style (some might suggest a lack of it) yet he continued on his path, making films that were sometimes more, sometimes less, successful with audiences and critics but that adhere to the theme of unmasking the hypocrisy residing in his characters, who often come from the haute bourgeoisie. The films usually took the shape of a mystery.

Concerning Inspector Bellamy, made because Chabrol and actor Gerard Depardieu (above, right) had wanted to work together, many of the director's favorite concerns are in place. Depardieu plays a famous inspector vacationing with his wife, played by Marie Bunuel (above left), when he comes upon a mystery involving an insurance scam, adultery, death and disguise.

As usual with Chabrol, the "mystery" seems to interest him the least -- exploring it, resolving it -- so that our attention is held more by the characters than by what they are doing, which, in any case, often borders on the ridiculous. It almost appears that no real investigation of the "crime" is being done by authorities in the city in which it took place (except by the Depardieu character, who's on a busman's holiday). Chabrol gets around this by offering excessive exposition and making repeated references to the incompetence of the local inspector-in-charge. This does not result in particularly good movie-making, though the acting by all concerned is first-rate.

Fortunately, the film has two stories going on at once, one mirroring the other in terms of emotional landscape. Depardieu's inspector has a no-account brother (Clovis Cornillac, shown above) who comes for a visit, wreaking his own havoc on the people around him, just as the "criminal," played by the ever sleek and sophisticated Jacques Gamblin, above, with toothbrush) is doing to those around him. This provides the emotional core of the movie and accounts for its working as well as it does. What looks initially like a old-fashioned nod to the portly, clever detective (Depardieu is carrying a lot of weight these days) is, in fact, a messy upheaval of raw, often repressed and mostly unresolved jealousy and anger within people who have barely begun to explore themselves, even as they are creating problems -- and worse -- for those around them.

Via IFC Films, Inspector Bellamy opens this Friday, October 29, at IFC Center.  Surprisingly enough, I notice no IFC On-Demand showings for this one. Maybe later...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A mumblecore MONSTERS movie? That's right. And, unfortunately, that's wrong.

Just last week, in his discussion of the interesting DIY mumblecore film Open Five, TrustMovies was bemoaning the fact that m'core so often means characters who appear to be drifting rather aimlessly toward... whatever. No one exhibits much energy toward any objective, and emotional laissez-faire is the law of the land. Now, you wouldn't exactly peg this type of ambience as appropriate for a monster movie, particularly one entitled, with stunning subtlety, MONSTERS. But, then, neither would you be Gareth Edwards -- writer, director, production designer, cinematographer and guy-in-charge of visual effects for this new mumblecore monster movie: the first, perhaps, of a brand-new sub-genre.

When any one person has this much control, particularly over the visuals of a film, responsibility for those visuals can be laid directly at his feet. Here, Edwards (shown at right) succeeds, I think, beyond the wildest dreams of most young moviemakers. He has done a crackerjack job of putting together a film in which the monsters are indeed scary, different and about as "real" as you could want -- on a low budget. (Hell, even a mid-size budget would be lucky to produce stuff this good.)

Edwards uses his widescreen well, too -- producing a sense of enormous space, disconnection and something bad hovering just outside that space. Like a good sci-fi johnny, though he shows the monsters early on (first scene, in fact), they are viewed on crappy video, in which the image is distorted, high contrast and fuzzy. We catch other glimpses and representations along the way (the pain-ted mural on a barrio wall, above), but the filmmaker saves his best and fully-articulated "monster" scene for the finale. It's a beaut.

Unfortunately there's also a plot to consider, along with dialog and performances, and here Monsters scores about as low as you can go. DIY filmmaking does seem to lean toward mumblecore, probably because it's relatively easy to have your actors semi-improvise, which, when not executed properly, leads to that sense of "aimless drifting" noted earlier. Neither Edwards nor his lead actors -- Whitney Able (above) and Scoot McNairy (below) -- give us any indication (via intent, dialog, response to situation, sense of dread) that anything more untoward than a flat tire is afoot.

Granted, in the one scene of a monster attack, the two cower and look pained, but for the rest of the movie they dawdle and doodle and carry on dialog that is, at times, so embarrassing that they sound like two babbling idiots. Soon after that big monster attack, Able's character notes that, "Tomorrow, everything we've been through won't matter anymore." Really -- and just why is that? Then there's the bit of back-and-forth drivel about how McNairy's charac-ter "practiced laughing." I could go on. God knows, these two do.

Blame for this nonsense cannot be laid at the feet of the actors, who were clearly following some sort of orders. But Edwards? I can only hope that his next movie lives up, in its totality, to the level of the amazing visuals found in this -- his first full-lenth and very schizophrenic -- theatrical release.

Monsters opens this Friday, October 29, via Magnolia Pictures, in a limited release. In New York City, catch it at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema and in L.A. at the NuArt. You can find further playdates through November and December, with cities and theaters, here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

WASTE LAND Lucy Walker's joyous journey into the social and economic uses of art

Joy of such immense proportion is provided by Lucy Walker in her new documentary WASTE LAND that it almost seems as though she is trying to make up for scaring the pants off some people, while driving others of us to annoyed distraction via her recent film -- the repetitive and heavy-handed antinuclear broad-side Countdown to Zero. That this great joy comes from the unlikely combination of art, garbage and the people who pick through it to find useable/
recycable materials is only part of the film's surprise and appeal. The rest is provided by the artist in charge, Vik Muniz and the half-dozen or so workers that he chooses to use and whom Ms Walker (shown below) captures fleetingly -- yet so fully and beautifully.

When Mr. Muniz -- a highly successful born-in-Brazil, lives-in-Brooklyn artist who had determined to give something back to his ever-beleaguered third-world country -- hit upon using Rio de Janeiro's Jardim Gramacho as a subject of his mixed-media art, he could hardly have know just how produc-tive this would be. (The artist is shown below, standing on a part of this, the world's largest garbage dump.) Of the workers Muniz meets, a few begin to stand out, and each has a fascinating history, which we soon learn.

We watch these workers on the job and visit them in their homes. What appears on screen carries not a whiff of condescension, neither toward the workers nor us viewers. The attitude toward these waste pickers from the general Brazilian public is made known, and how the workers deal with this soon comes clear. The pickers are savvy, caring people, who understand that, though their choices may be limited, they still have choices. How they put these to use is part of what makes Waste Land so involving and moving.

From this large group of men and women, Muniz concentrates on only a few: the workers' chief organizer Tião (above), who ends up posing for the artist's redition of Marat in his bath (Tião's discovery of a tossed-out bathtub leads to this) -- the finished art for which is shown on the poster at top and at the bottom of this post.

The friendly, happy, elderly Irma, who's been at the dump for 26 years, becomes an icon of stately beauty in the portrait the artist creates of her, below (and in close-up, above).

Isis and Valeria, below, and Suelem (further below, at left) are among the younger women whose lives and homes we enter, and who often surprise us with their attitudes toward work, love and the world outside this garbage dump.

One picker prefer night shifts -- cooler temperatures, less people to contend with -- while another offers helpful hints on how to bag one's trash ("You can always identify trash from the poor by the way it is bagged," he explains). Then suddenly the whole movie and its cast is staggered by a terrible event that seems to pull the rug from under everything.

But our workers bounce back, and what happens to the art they've helped create leads the movie into its final stage. Vic and Tião head for London to a museum (probably the New Tate) about which Tião seems bemused: "Art has to communicate something, at least," he decides. Back in Brazil, a local museum show brings together labor, self-esteem, cooperation and art into the kind of transforming event one rarely encounters.

The flow of Walker's film is just lovely: easy, sweet and fleet. The joy you're feeling by the end of Waste Land proves fine art to be not something merely beautiful or meaningful but absolutely essential to civilized society. Walker, Muniz and their subjects connect art to humanity in an insoluble manner.

The movie opens Friday, October 29, at NYC's Angelika Film Center, and on November 5, at L.A.'s NuArt Theater. Further showings can be found by clicking here, then scrolling from bottom to top for the more recent and upcoming screenings.

DVDebut: the Deagol Brothers' MAKE-OUT WITH VIOLENCE is a love story with a twist

You'll notice that I am not using the term zombie movie to describe MAKE-OUT WITH VIOLENCE, the two-year-old film from an entity known as the Deagol Brothers (try finding a photograph of this pair!) that opened in a very limited release in Los Angeles (November 2009), in New York (August 2010), and arrives today, October 26, on DVD and Blu-ray.  There is a zombie in the movie; in fact, she very nearly has the lead and probably a majority of the screen time (and the actress who plays her -- Shellie Marie Shartzer -- gives one of the best zombie performances ever). But so what? This is first (and in every other way) a tale of crossed (star- and otherwise) lovers and of the inability of human beings to find the right mate. No one in the movie connects with his or her true love; in fact, every relationship we see is wrong.

One after another, if she loves him, he sure as hell doesn't love her. Conversely, if he loves her, she's got eyes only for someone else. Is it not fitting then, that the biggest and final fuck-up, love-wise, would be that of the living for the dead-alive? And if, at long last, that love is actually returned, we must view it only as the love that one eater of live meat might have for a very large, ambulatory steak. Is our hero, Patrick, one of a pair of twins, smitten enough to make the big sacrifice? Only by viewing this movie will you have your answer.

The good news is that there are, aside from the answer to that question, a lot of good reasons to watch Make-Out With Violence. The photography is stunning. Shot in Tennessee by a trio of new cinematographers, the movie is a thing of extraordinary beauty, first frame to last. The filmmaker brothers aren't afraid of slow pacing and many quiet moments, but so well does their cast fill up these moments, that the 105 minutes move along at just the right clip. We're in a upper-middle class town, where the kids seem typical and the younger brother loves to tag along with his older siblings. A young and very popular high school girl has gone missing, and the sadness and loss is palpable.When she finally turns up, the news is not the kind you'd want to share with your friends and family.

Don't look for explanations here -- particularly about the how and why of the zombie situation-- because none will be offered.  This is the reason that I think we must take on face value that Wendy, our sort-of heroine, should be seen in terms of how she fits into the love story rather than how she died and why she made the big "changeover." Instead concentrate on the characters and their needs and how, with great tenderness and feeling, they screw up in achieving them.  The music is terrific, from rock to love songs, and there are so many small and large highlights throughout the movie -- the pet rat, Rody (played so well by Jordan Lehning), the swimming pool scene (someone must have seen Skolimowski's Deep End) -- that you'll have no trouble staying interested. Provided you don't demand too many answers.

As the movie year draws to its close, I suspect this is one of the films that will be part of my list of "specials" at season's end.  In any case, Make-Out With Violence (think of it as Deadgirl set amidst a much kindlier, classier crowd) is a film you should not miss. Available via Factory 25, you can rent or purchase it starting
today, October 26.