Saturday, November 30, 2013

Teorema meets deadpan in Michiel ten Horn's oddball THE DEFLOWERING OF EVA VAN END

Remember Teorema? That was the 1968 film from Pier Paolo Pasolini (3P, as he is affectionately known to some of us) about a hot young visitor (Terence Stamp) to the home of a wealthy Italian family who sexually seduces every member of that family (mom, dad, sis, bro, even the maid!) in the process turning their lives upside down. We've got a new movie on the scene that does something similar -- THE DEFLOWERING OF EVA VAN END from young Dutch filmmaker Michiel ten Horn -- although the seductions here are not sexual (except in a single instance, the least believable in the movie, that rather oddly substitutes sleep-fucking for sleep-walking), while the film is handled in a style of near-complete deadpan.

Despite the déjà vu that the film may engender in some of us senior movie buffs, Deflowering proves a good deal of fun, thanks to Mr. ten Horn's (the filmmaker is shown at right) use of deadpan style and the fact that the "guest" in the house remains every bit as mysterious as that in Pasolini's movie. Here our invited intruder is a German exchange student named Veit (Rafael Garelsen, below), who arrives to the Netherlands home of the van End family as a kind of surprise. This is because the teenage daughter of the house, Eva, is never paid one bit of attention by anyone else in the family. Thus her announcement of the student's imminent arrival goes by unheard.

The movie is a kind of wake-up call, provided by ten Horn and his screenwriter Anne Barnhoorn, via their near angelic guest, Veit -- beautiful of visage, highly intelligent, innately kind with impeccable manners -- who intuits exactly what each member of this family needs and then helps them find it. If this sounds a tad heavily pre-planned, it is.

Yet because each family member (that's the group, above) is chock full of very definitive characteristics (most of them pretty bizarre) and the deadpan humor used to display this, along with the odd interaction (or lack of) the family shares with each other, you'll quickly see where things are going, but you'll still have some fun getting there.

Performances are as good as can be expected under this fairly tight film-making hand, with mom perhaps the most interesting and human of the bunch and the titular Eva (Vivan Dierickx, above, in her film debut) the least. Well, she's going through that tough teen-age time with no help from anyone except Veit, so what can we expect?

From cuddly bunnies to bruising beatings, competitive eating to inner peace, it's all here and all pretty low-key funny. Ten Horn's oddball family odyssey should prove one of the more bizarre films of your movie-going year and yet another in the library of endlessly interesting movies from Film Movement, Deflowering arrives on DVD this coming Tuesday, December 3 -- just in time for gift-giving... to the especially quirky among your friends and relations.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Gus Holwerda's THE UNBELIEVERS is a near waste of time. And I'm speaking as an agnostic.

What were they thinking, the Holwerda brothers, Gus (shown below) and Luke, not to mention their subjects, scientists/teachers Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, by gifting us with this nearly pointless docu-mentary titled, and badly, THE UNBELIEVERS? Dawkins and Krauss are hardly unbelievers. They believe in science and what it can teach us, even if they do not believe in religion or a deity of any kind. I agree with them one hundred per cent. And yet the silly and tiresome film that the Holwerdas have put together about this pair does no one any service, least of all the poor audience that must view it.

Beginning with a very good quote from Woody Allen and then continuing with more input from various celebrities, the film introduces its subjects as men who believe in and proselytize for disbelief, so far as religion is concerned. All snippets, and half of them not particularly edifying, the movie lasts only 75 minutes, with the final ten given over to end credits and a run-down of the credentials for the two men, followed by more talk from those several celebrities we saw at the start of the film.

While some of the things we hear the two men say (Dawkins is pictured above, Krauss below) are indeed smart and to the point, the movie, even at this short length, still manages to waste about a quarter of its time with unnecessary filler. The director, Gus, seems to favor showing people traveling to and fro, so we see airports and scenery and cars and people in motion, as though we cared a lick about this. Even sillier, in a documentary where intelligent talk should be most important, the filmmaker, in some sort of pointless nod to "style," offers a number of moments of mouths seen moving with no accompanying sound.

We attend "debates" but see and hear so little of them, particularly of the contrary view, that we wonder why the filmmakers bothered. We see bits and pieces of protests -- the best of which shows a group of all-male Muslim protesters and batch of further protesters against the Muslim, who chant "Where Are Your Women?" to these shamefully anti-women funda-mentalist idiots. But so what? There's a noticeable lack of organization here, which reduces the movie to a hack job for the already converted.

When we do hear Dawkins or Krauss speaking, some of what they say has merit and is intelligent. But they always seem to be cut short. I suspect it would have done more good to simply film one of their joint appearances in its entirety, including the Q&A that probably followed to give us a clearer sense of what is on offer here. (Or better yet, just pick up one of the books that either man has already written and peruse it at your leisure.)

I firmly believe that Atheism/Agnosticism deserves its chance to shine and convert new followers every bit as much as does any and all religion -- which is based on a faith that is simply unprovable. Most of us would never manage our money in this manner. Why, then, do we give over our lives, our rationality, to this crap? Perhaps, as Dawkins suggests, there are many more atheists and agnostics among us -- including our politicians -- than care to admit this in a world that appears to be heading toward fundamentalism instead of reason.

Yet by preaching, and poorly, to the choir as it were, The Unbelievers ends up an opportunity mostly wasted. The film opens today, Friday, November 29, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills and will hit New York City on Friday, December 13, at the Quad Cinema.

Note: The film's director, Gus Holwerda will appear 
tonight, 11/29/13 at the Music Hall 3 after 
the 7:50 show for a Q&A with the audience.

When the film hits the Quad Cinema in NYC, the
filmmaker will be present on the opening evening of Dec. 13
for a Q&A following the 7:40 show.

Need your monthly Korean movie fix? Try A COMPANY MAN, dark satire from Lim Sang-yoon

Just recently added to Netflix streaming, this 2012 film from South Korea comes from first-time filmmaker Lim Sang-yoon (shown below) and is a surprisingly deft combination of action and satire. Beginning with a pleasant conversation between a novice and his mentor, the scene morphs into a terrific bit of action film-making that should quickly take your breath away. Further, the action ends with a shock that will set you back a notch or two. What's going on and who are these people?

We're at the end times of Capitalism, as a matter of fact, in which the company that A COMPANY MAN works for specializes in assassinations-to-order. When it occasionally calls in "freelancers" or new-comers on a job, those newbies, as we see, are every bit as expendable as the victims themselves. It's just "business," folk! When our non-hero, smartly and sexily played by the rangy So Je-seob (below), begins to have some qualms about his actions and work load, he softens a bit, and before you can say "Maybe I'm not the best assassin...", sure enough, he's taken to helping people -- in particular the family of the young kid we see working with him at the film's opening.

Oddly, A Company Man does not have a whole lot of "plot" per se. it is more a set of action pieces, fueled by both the assassinations themselves and the gnawing sense our hero begins to perceive of something being hugely amiss.

Otherwise, we just get to know that family (above) and their history and needs. Our guy's co-workers (one of whom is below) barely have characters. But since they seem to feel that all their targets are readily expendable, it's no loss they they, too, turn out to be every bit as expendable as their victims.

There are some lovely, touching moments along the way, particular concerning the family mom, below, who used to be a well-known singer. (Fame and what accompanies it are seen as not terribly fulfilling.)

The movie also offers a look at the kind of rampant Capitalism in which souls are indubitably lost and nothing is worthwhile except "capital." While the lengthy but riveting  finale is full of the kind of "vengeance" that makes for box-office business, the film's actual ending is about as dark as you could wish, considering all that has gone before.

Young filmmaker Lim does a fine job of making us watch and even care. His pacing is good (at 96 minutes, this one's considerably shorter than most Korean movies) and his deft juggling of the story's satirical, action and thematic aspects works very well. As usual, when finishing one of the current crop of Korean cinema, I find myself impressed both anew and all over again by Korea's unique cinematic pizzazz.

A Company Man is available now via Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video and will eventually, I hope, appear on DVD and Blu-ray.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

EXTRA FOR THANKSGIVING: Could this be the turkey of all time? Refn's ONLY GOD FORGIVES

For the first year since its inception, TrustMovies feels the need to post twice on Thanksgiving, having just watched this past evening Nicolas Winding Refn's more-ludicrous-than-usual movie, ONLY GOD FORGIVES. Not being god, and not even believing in she/he/it, I find it quite appropriate that Mr. Refn would use a non-existent deity in his title in order that -- of course! -- nobody can forgive this prime poop. "How can you keep watching this piece of shit!" my spouse screamed at me after maybe 40 minutes of the movie, at which point he absented himself from the room. I admit I was tempted to stop, but truly bad movies have a kind of fascination about them that sometimes outdoes the lure of their more mediocre (or even a good deal better) brethren. If ever a film deserve the "turkey" label, it's this one.

Mr. Refn (shown at left), whose work I tend to dislike and dismiss as pretty & vapid or stylish & empty (take your pick) -- only Bronson seems to me to be a worthwhile effort, thanks in large part to the performance of Tom Hardy in the leading role -- clearly has a "thing" for his star Ryan Gosling (shown below), whom he used in Drive and again here. Having a thing for Gosling strikes me as a fairly universal occupation among directors. How could one not? The camera loves this guy like it does few other actors working today. Still, that love on Refn's part seems not to translate into giving the actor much to do, say or feel. If you thought that Drive was rather empty, wait till you get a load of this newest delectation, in which Refn takes dysfunction (familial and societal) to new heights (or depths) without having one fucking interesting or worthwhile point to offer about all this. No, but let's just make it as pretty and colorful as can be, shall we?

So he does, and it is. And of course, violent, as well. What else might we expect from this pusher of Pusher and Valhalla Rising?

The story, told with flourishes of color and a tad's worth of dialog, begins with a troubled fellow named Billy, who for some reason feels he must murder a young girl who is working as a prostitute. He does, and the event is taken under the wing of a character who appears to be some kind of avenging angel/police officer (Vithaya Pansringarm, above), who begins arranging that one person involved kill another and then that person in turn be killed by another, and so forth.

Now, you might ask, wouldn't it just be easier for the policeman to kill 'em all, as he seems to possess unlimited authority. But no, this is lesson-teaching time, him to them and Mr. Refn to us. So we must slough through endless bouts of internal angst, mostly from Gosling, who is having trouble with his sex/love life (see above)...

and his family life, too, in the form of his mother, played with quite the nod to Donatella Versace by Kristin Scott-Thomas, above, as you've never seen her (and if she's wise, the actress will never let us see her like this again). Mom's logic goes somewhat along the lines of "Vengeance is mine," sayest the harridan, and so more bloodshed is destined to occur.

Everyone involved here seems to have a family that they must take care for, and so Refn's point may be that people will simply do what they have to in order to protect their own. As usual, however -- even and especially with filmmakers who like to pretend that they are pushing the envelope -- nobody (or very few: Battle Royale deserves yet another thank you) wants to go far enough to kill children. (Although Obama and his drones do seem to relish this kind of thing.)

So on we go with more and more killings and less and less dialog. (My favorite line comes out of Gosling's mouth, suddenly and very oddly: "Wanna fight?") There is one original death in which the victim, who slowly loses the use of his limbs and a few orifices, is surrounded by lovely Thai ladies in evening dress. Yes, but so what?

Only God Forgives -- from RaDIUS/TWC, running 90 minutes, and available now on Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video and on DVD and Blu-ray -- is a truly stupid movie, gussied up to look like art. It won't take long, however, for audiences to realize what they're experiencing. In a word: fart.

An appropriate viewing for this Turkey Day: Jamie Babbit's oddball BREAKING THE GIRLS

Over the past few Thanksgivings, TrustMovies has tried to pick an appropriate "turkey" of a movie about which to warn his readers. But since he has already covered The Counselor, he had to look elsewhere this year. Fortunately Netflix has recently unveiled, via the company's streaming service, a very odd new addition to the turkey farm. BREAKING THE GIRLS is a sort-of lesbian-themed, sort-of thriller, sort-of psychological mystery, sort-of sister act, sort-of college-girl-caper and all-over-ridiculous movie (but still rather fun, if you find yourself watching it while in an especially forgiving mood). It almost-but-doesn't-quite rise to the level of unintentional camp.

Plus, it offers Agnes Bruckner, shown below, an actress many of us have enjoyed ever since her breakout role more than a decade ago in Blue Car. Co-written, and pretty badly -- the characterization barely reaches rote level, but then, with all the last-minute twists and turns the script demands, this is not surprising -- by Mark Distefano and Guinevere Turner, the movie is directed by Jamie Babbit (shown at right), a filmmaker I have been rooting for since But I'm a Cheerleader, though she has yet to deliver a follow-up worth this impressive debut film. (The Quiet probably comes closest but doesn't, finally, make it.)

Breaking the Girls, tells the sad tale of a young, pretty and smart law student (Bruckner), scraping by on a scholarship, who one night during her job as a bartender, places money that should go into the till into her tip jar. She is seen by a nasty co-student (Shanna Collins, shown at bottom, left, with Tiya Sircar), and her actions are reported to her boss. She's then fired from her job and has her scholarship taken away, to boot.

Coincidentally (coincidence is rife in this movie), a pretty and sleazy femme fatale (Madeline Zima, above) happens to be sitting at the bar one night, makes friends with our heroine, and before you can say red-hot lesbian sex scene, they are having exactly that. Actually, first, as I recall, they have a semi-hot/almost-threesome in the pool, with Shawn Ashmore (below, center, who plays the cute FBI kid -- or is it CIA -- on The Following), who here plays the boyfriend of that nasty co-student, except that he really likes Ms Bruckner's character best and also, if we read the cast list during the end credits, turns out to be the son of her law professor, though that fact seems to have gone missing from the movie itself. During a sensuous, sleepy post-coital maneuver, Ms Fatale suggests to our heroine that, because Fatale hates her stepmother and heroine hates that nasty tattle-tale, the two girls should team up to kill both of them, with one killing the other's nemesis, since of course she will not be suspected of the crime. This is dumb, but at least our trio of filmmakers gets credit for having seen Strangers on a Train.

Things go from dumb to dumber, with little concern for any kind of remote believability. This is so the film can, in its relatively short running time, reach the point where surprise after surprise kicks in. By then you'll have kicked the movie itself -- unless you find, as I did, that screwy can move to nutty and end up being actually rather ridiculous fun.

Also involved is that supposedly wicked stepmother, a not-so-sterling stepfather, a kindly police officer, an aging relative (played by Melanie Mayron) and a few other characters, none of whom do much except push the silly plot along. But, as I say, if you find yourself in a forgiving mood, this kind of nonsense -- given its glossy surface, some very nice clothes and sets and an attractive cast and a particularly beautiful house which lends itself to this kind of  film -- you might find this year's turkey at least a bit tasty in certain regards.

If you, at the end of Breaking the Girls, think back on the film from its beginning, it makes just about zero sense. As  though anybody on this earth could exert that much control over those around them. But that, I guess, is part of its lame-brained charm. The movie, running 86 minutes, is available now on Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video & DVD.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Funniest monster movie in a decade? Yes, if you can deal with thick Irish accents: Jon Wright and Kevin Lehane's irrepressible GRABBERS streams

Whoever came up with the idea for GRABBERS -- the just-now streaming movie released in the USA via IFC Midnight -- deserves free drinks for the rest of his or her life. This is one of those utterly inspired riffs on the good old-fashioned monster movie that takes the genre places we've not yet seen. The premise is so good, in fact, that I hesitate to give it away here. I'll just say that, as one of the movie's many clever posters (at left) suggests, "enjoy irresponsibly" -- if that gives you any clue. Written by Kevin Lehane and directed by Jon Wright (pictured below), the film takes awhile to get going, but once the gears are set in motion, there is no stopping this funny, frisky, grizzly, gory, thoroughly enjoyable genre-jumping comedic monster movie.

This film has a lot in common with Edgar Wright's recent The World's End in its love of alcohol and aliens, and yet the two movies are also quite different. (For one thing, E. Wright's has close to ten times the budget of J. Wright's). Beginning at sea, below, when something from space crashes into the ocean around Ireland and the crew of a nearby fishing vessel suddenly disappears, we know we're in for trouble. Mr Wright has a fine time building up suspense and finally letting us in on the space travelers' agenda and vulnerability. The only real problem here: those pesky Irish accents. Normally, when the dialog grows uncomfortably difficult to understand, we would simply turn on the English subtitles via Netflix streaming.

When we did that on this film, turns out the all the subtitles appeared in UPPER CASE BOLD -- which is more difficult to read quickly and takes up a lot more space than when upper and lower case letters are used. And with a film this dialog-heavy (you know those yakety-yak Irish!), this meant that sometimes half the screen was filled with subtitles -- which soon proved so annoying we turned them off. Then we did the best we could with our aging ears and probably missed around one-quarter of the verbiage on display, some of which is pretty damn funny. And we still enjoyed the film.

Grabbers, my friends, is an alcoholic's dream come true, for reasons you'll eventually learn. So when the travelers in that space ship begin terrorizing the little town, the townspeople take the proper measures, resulting in one of the funnier several scenes you will have seen in movies of late. There is irony here aplenty, and thankfully it is not underscored but simply adds to the delight.

The able cast is talented and lots of fun, the pacing is just fine (the movie lasts only 94 minutes) and the special effects are surprisingly good. No, they're ever better than that. This is not just a well created and executed pair of monsters. Even their offspring are delightfully thought-out, too. The scene in which those little guys destroy the town bar -- just like we remember from so many western movies -- is simply terrific.

Best of all, Wright and Lehane know their movie clichés well and so are able to upend them often enough to keep us happily on our toes. Which characters survive -- and why -- is always a fun guessing-game in films like this, and so it is once again. The romance (above) -- yes, there's one of those, too -- is handled better than most in this genre, as is the inevitable and final battle with Mr. Big, below. (I do wish they could have found some better way to deal with the last denouement cliché, though. A movie this good deserves a better send-off.)

Grabbers can be streamed on Netflix now, as well as on Amazon Instant Video and on DVD. Monster buffs will flock, of course, but I'll bet some of you who don't necessarily enjoy this sort of film will buy in, too.