Monday, August 31, 2015

A good calling-card movie, Neil Mcenery-West and David Lemon's CONTAINMENT, hits DVD

As TrustMovies understands it, the term calling-card film implies that the goods at hand (often due to impressive work done on a minuscule budget), though not a movie that will set the box-office aflame nor even cause much hoo-hah amongst critics, remains good enough to serve as an entryway for the filmmaker toward further and usually bigger-budget efforts. Exactly such a work, to my mind anyway, is the new sci-fi-thriller-horror opus, CONTAINMENT, directed by Neil Mcenery-West (shown below), from a story by Mr. West and a screenplay from David Lemon.

The movie came to my attention via a Great Britain-based publicist who informs me that Containment is actually receiving a U.S. DVD and digital debut in advance of its theatrical opening in Britain on September 11. Interesting move, this, and probably a smart one, as the movie is yet another in a genre already growing pretty tired: the apocalyptic virus tale -- which we've seen in everything from big-budget movies like Outbreak and Contagion to the Spanish [REC] series and its American remake(s), Quarantine , including even some odd Brit independents such as Citadel. as well as the fine French film, The Horde. (Many of these films may also be zombie movies, but they all stem from that apocalyptic virus.)

So here we are again -- this time without zombies, thank god, but with the usual, enclosed space scenario in which a disparate group of people are entrapped by the powers-that-be for reasons that are always withheld as long as possible to provoke tension and suspense. We have our "hero," Mark (played by Lee Ross, above), suddenly unable to leave his apartment, along with, or so it looks, everyone else in the building and maybe vicinity.

Soon a few of these "victims" grudgingly join forces and the small group of survivors (whom you just know probably won't) try to learn what's going on, even as they must save themselves from it. In the group are of course a couple of females including helpmeet Sally (Louise Brealey, above) and Hazmat Hazel (Pippa Nixon, below).

Also on hand is the required alpha male, embodied by Andrew Leung (below), last seen as the gorgeous, gay love interest in Lilting. Mr. Leung is as nasty and ferocious here as he was sweet and appealing there, so chalk another one up for acting versatility.

Rounding out the main group are also the requisite child (Gabriel Senior, below, left) and requisite elder (Sheila Reid, below, right), the latter of whom steals the movie outright. Ms Reid has a face, each line of which speaks volumes about everything from a life fully lived to memories hugely cherished. She is an actress nowhere near as well known as, say, Mirren or Dench or Atkins, but on the basis of what she gives us here, she ought to be, for she provides the heart, soul and smarts of the movie.

So, yes, the acting is just fine all 'round, but audiences don't flock to this kind of film for the acting. The direction and script are OK, too -- the former showing what Mcenery-West can do on a small budget, the latter offering up a by-now generic situation, along with fast-paced, believable dialog. Trouble is, it's all too been-there/done-that to be particularly satisfying. Plus, the strength of this horrible virus just isn't believably communicated -- not from character to character nor from filmmaker to audience -- so that, after awhile, we're being asked to take way too much on faith.

All this turns what might have been a better movie into just a so-so one. Still, as I say, there is certainly enough here to make us want to see what all these folk can do later on -- with a bigger budget and in maybe a more interesting genre. Meanwhile, Containment, from Vision Films and Bright Cold Day Films, hits the street on DVD tomorrow, September, 1st, after being available via digital platforms since August 1st (the movie will continue on digital during the coming month, as well).

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Jay Martin's 7 MINUTES slices a heist into stylish, suspenseful, character-driven chapters

The heist movie is a cinema staple, but we haven't seen too many good ones of late. So even a pretty good one like 7 MINUTES, out on Blu-ray and DVD this coming week, may be be worth the time of those of you aficionados who appreciate this genre. Its writer/director Jay Martin, whom I think is shown below (Mr. Martin is hard one to find a photo of), has taken the heist theme, plunked it down amongst a group of real amateurs who imagine that it'll prove a piece of cake that takes only those titular seven minutes to accomplish, and then watches, dry-eyed, humanely and quite stylishly, as the whole thing goes very far south.

Style, in fact, is the saving grace of this fast-paced, 92-minute thriller in which the way the filmmaker chooses to tell his story is every bit as important as the story itself -- which is, of course, pretty typical of the genre. And while there is little doubt where the whole story is headed and how badly things will turn out, thanks to the fragmented storytelling skills of Mr. Martin, there is still plenty of surprise and suspense along the way. The filmmaker has divided his story into sections devoted to the various characters: a group of friends, acquaintances and relations who interact with each other and the event in question for both good and (mostly) bad. This fracturing allows us to see things from different perspectives and time periods until the entire picture finally comes together and makes sense.

The characters involved, as do so many in this genre, see a way out of their financial straits via robbery. They are not too bright, but they are also not evil. Unfortunately, others connected to them are.

The good cast includes  Luke Mitchell, Leven Rambin, Jason Ritter and Brandon Hardesty, with fine support from the likes of Kris Kristofferson and especially Kevin Gage (shown above, center).

It can be levelled against films of this sort that if the writer/director had told the story plainly and simply, start to finish, it would have been nothing special. Maybe. But Mr. Martin hasn't done this, and his fractured storytelling style, together with some good performances, has made all the difference. 7 Minutes, from Anchor Bay Entertainment, hits the streets on DVD and Blu-ray this coming Tuesday, September 1, for sale or rental.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

On Blu-ray/DVD: Soesbe/Montiel's BOULEVARD --one of Robin Williams' final, if not finest, roles

TrustMovies has been a big fan of filmmaker Dito Montiel ever since his Guide to Recognizing Your Saints appeared. After some hit-and-miss work over the years (most of which I've enjoyed), he is back again, directing Robin Williams in one of his final roles in BOULEVARD, from a screenplay by Douglas Soesbe. The movie proves a serious attempt to explore the life of a quiet, closeted, married-for-years-to-a-good-woman, gay man about to experience something that will lead to big change.

So far, so good. And Williams, who just about never gave a bad performance unless he was forced into it, is once again in fine form as a man who has kept a deep and important part of himself a secret from not just the rest of the world but from himself. What's missing -- and I hate to say it since Montiel (pictured at right) made his mark with an uber-stylish independent movie -- is the kind of style that might elevate this film above the level of a well-intentioned try at consciousness-raising on both sides of the camera.

Boulevard is a quiet film which in itself is nothing bad. But it is quiet in so many ways -- from a script featuring dialog that is true-to-life but also bland enough to have us in sleep mode to direction that accentuates the script's limitations by refusing to goose any scene out of exactly what we expect -- that the movie finally has barely come to life before it's over.

None of this is the fault of the actors, who to a man and woman stay in keeping with the quiet tone. In addition to Williams the fine cast includes Kathy Baker (above, right) as his put-upon wife, Roberto Aguire (below, left) as the young man who throws the monkey wrench into his life, and Bob Odenkirk as his funny best friend. They help make this movie, which you'll very much wish were better than it is, a passable viewing.

Boulevard, from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Starz Digital hits the street this coming Tuesday, September 1, available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD -- for rental and/or purchase.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The content explosion continues: Tom O'Brien & Jessie Barr's yoga-themed series, OM CITY

"Content." It's fucking everywhere. Movies: big, small and in-between. Television and Cable: at broadcast time or anytime -- if you're hooked into on-demand. Digital streaming from more locations than you can shake a Roku stick at. And lately, one after another new web series, most of them of the mini variety. Sure, all this is quite the blessing. But let's admit it, people: You have not even begun to watch most of those independent, documentary and foreign films you've been wanting to stream off Netflix or Amazon Prime. And let's admit something else: You probably never will.

So stop beating yourself up and instead try something new, short and a little different: a web series created by writer/director Tom O'Brien (above) and his lead actress and star Jessie Barr (below) entitled OM CITY that appears to want to explore the world of New York via the life of a young, attractive and quite interesting Yoga instructor. Or maybe the series' real intent is to explore that Yoga instructor and how she tries, with some success, to make her chosen career and life remotely manageable in the current environment of that storied and ever-more-difficult-to-exist-in land of the Big Apple. Or maybe Om City is just trying to reach us viewers with the message that Yoga itself is something worth exploring. Whatever, this new series actually manages to do all of the above and maybe a bit more. That's TrustMovies' judgment, having now viewed the first seven mini episodes.

The initial three chapters last around ten minutes each; the final four run five, six, eight and seven respectively. All told, if you view the entire first seven segments (which we critics were given for appraisal), you'll only have invested a tad less than one hour of your time. And each episode is so short that you can watch one or two on your tablet or smartphone as you take your bus or subway ride to the office. (I wouldn't watch while walking, however: The series is too much fun and you'll probably knock someone over or get hit by a car.)

Mr. O'Brien is the fellow who a couple of years back gave us the under-seen and under-appreciated Fairhaven, and here he is again in the role of writer, director and supporting actor and doing a fine job as all three. He plays Mitchell, the semi-sleazy boss of the yoga business at which Ms Barr, who plays Grace, teaches. In fact, she is his best instructor, a woman who believes in the benefits of Yoga -- to mind, body and soul -- and hopes to share these with the world at large.
Good luck.

Each little episode opens up a new area of Grace's life, with her clients, her family, her boss and her rather lean love life, and by the end of episode seven -- which features a date set up online with a young actor clearly vying for the World's Narcissistic Asshole award and played to perfection by Michael Godere of Loitering With Intent -- we know our Grace and her life pretty damned well. And we're enjoying them, too.

The writing here is both realistic and smartly specific, exploring character and event with equal ease. O'Brien creates and performs Mitchell as an entrepreneur trying to succeed and cutting as many ethical corners as needed to do this. Grace is a good girl, but not insipidly so, and Ms Barr, as likable as she is attractive, quickly ropes us in. (She also appears to either do Yoga very well or has been amply trained as a dancer to be able to move her body in the necessary ways.)

In the supporting cast are a raft of good performers, especially Chris Messina (who starred in O'Brien's Fairhaven); Maryann Plunkett (still the best Saint Joan I've ever seen), who plays Grace's ever-a-hippie mom with charm, sass and sadness; and Ean Sheehy as Grace's pot-dealing, floundering brother.

All in all Om City is a series I'd be happy to keep up with wherever it decides to go. It offers us a New York City and its boroughs teetering on the brink of becoming a closed-off and uber-weathy enclave with less and less room for the kind of people and work and life that Grace and her group represent.

You can watch it beginning this Sunday, August 30, at either the series' own web site or via Vimeo. Who knows? You might even decide to finally try the "Y" word....

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

This year's WTF doc arrives: Maíra Bühler & Matias Mariani's I TOUCHED ALL YOUR STUFF

Or is this film actually a cleverly put-together narrative posing as a documentary? TrustMovies went into I TOUCHED ALL YOUR STUFF having paid little attention to the press release (these sometimes give away the store) and so imagined that it was indeed a new doc. But after watching the 90-odd (increasingly odd) minutes, if you told me almost any crazy thing about this movie, I'd have to consider it as at least a possibility. It's that bizarre.

There is probably an entirely other movie to be made about how the two filmmakers -- Maíra Bühler and Matias Mariani, shown above -- came into contact with their prime subject and managed to put this wayward and way-weird movie together (I think they'd call it "The Making of I Touched All Your Stuff"). But what we have here seems to be a "true" shaggy dog story all about immense injustice (to whom and because of what actually changes during the course of the storytelling), a naive dweeb, a mystery woman, Pinocchio, and the hippopotami of Colombian drug lord, Juan Carlos Ortiz Escobar. And that's just for starters.

As the movie progresses (if that's quite the right word) via talking-head interviews, especially with our "hero," one Christopher Kirk (shown at top and above), who appears to be... in prison, along with re-creations, computer files, travel footage and especially Mr. Kirk's constant narration, it takes at least a half hour for us to figure out that we're maybe seeing the all-time dumbest sucker-in-love (above) coupled to the most over-the-top femme fatale (below) in movie history. What a combo! But wait.

The movie moves along via chapter headings that seem alternately funny and weird (not unlike the movie itself). For a time we imagine we're getting a dose of culture clash of a very unsettling order. Then suddenly we're in Lapeer, Michigan (below), visiting the all-American family of our strange hero. All told, we bounce around from Columbia to Brazil to Washington State, California, Michigan and back again.

Among the things we learn from this educational movie is that when the lover muses about his beloved, "Maybe there's a one per cent chance that this could work," he is in big trouble. We also learn not to trust anyone whose password is "mentir" (that's Spanish for "to lie"). Or maybe the lesson here is not to trust anyone at all. Talk about your unreliable narrators!

The documentary that I Touched All Your Stuff most reminded me of is that early be-careful-of-the-Internet demonstration, Catflish, which was more "of its specific time." Love and trust stories are generally timeless, though this one does make use of our current fascination with technology and hacking.

In any case, the doc/narrative/whatever proves non-stop fun that should leave you in the relatively healthy state of questioning just about everything you see and/or hear. From Cinema Slate and running 92 minutes, the movie opens at the following theaters on the dates shown below:

August 28, 2015 – New York City (Cinema Village
August 28, 2015 – Los Angeles, CA (Arena Cinema
September 4, 2015 – Columbus, OH (Gateway Film Center
September 4, 2015 – Chicago, IL (Facets Cinemateque
with more playdates, we're told, coming soon. 
Click here for further information,

Monday, August 24, 2015

Work, class and family in Brazil: Anna Muylaert's surprise, THE SECOND MOTHER

The movie that, for most American arthouse audiences, will quickly come to mind when they watch THE SECOND MOTHER, a new Brazilian film from Anna Muylaert, will probably be Sebastián Silva's Chilean mini-masterpiece, The Maid. Both are first-rate explorations of family, class and work in today's South America, as they examine character, self-image and one's ability to change and grow. And both are spectacularly smart, witty, politically progressive and genuinely humane entertainments.

Ms Muylaert, shown at right, is aware of and interested in many of the same things as is Señor Silva. Their styles and approaches differ, as does the character of each of their leading roles: a well-into-middle-age woman who has effectively given away her life to that of another family and class. Oh, she is part of that family, to be sure -- but she is a very noticeable and large step below it. In The Maid, she begins as a harridan who slowly softens into her humanity; in The Second Mother, she is a font of affection and help who must harden and grow until she comes to understand and appreciate her very real worth.

Both roles are given all you could ask by their respective actors. In The Second Mother, as portrayed by Regina Casé (shown above and below), the maid Val is a wonder of seemingly limitless affection and concern, especially for the boy, Fabinho (shown above as a young child and below as a teen played with appropriate raw youth and uncertainty by Michel Joelsas). Val has been with this family long enough to guide Fabinho toward manhood, and he is more her child than is even her own daughter, Jessica, whom she had to abandon to other relatives in order to earn enough money for Jessica's support down the years.

When that daughter (a very interesting, subdued and smart performance by Camila Márdila, below, center, at bottom, and on poster, top) suddenly arrives to see her mom for the first time in a decade, everyone's life is thrown into disarray. The great strength of Muylaert's movie is that all this happens not quite as expected and with a different set of consequences from what our expectations hold -- even after we've been disabused of some of our earlier notions. The writer/director is not afraid to toss in a couple of events that might strain credulity -- and then make these both funny and utterly, if oddly, believable.

The family, too, is not shown to be impossibly nasty or as horrible users. Yes, they're "entitled," all right, but they have not lost (not even the rather bitchy mother, played by Karine Teles, below, right) the ability to completely distinguish right from wrong.

How change happens -- to all of these folk, including the sad, de-balled dad of the family -- manages to be funny, moving, and above all real. Muylaert takes a gimlet-eyed look at class divisions, entitlement, and the growing expectations of a coming-into-being middle class, while understanding how difficult this kind of change can really be, and how it first must come from within the individual in order to become anything like a "movement."

The movie leaves you, as it does its characters, in the middle of all this change. But it also leaves you somehow hopeful, even against what appear to be pretty heavy odds. The Second Mother -- from Oscilloscope, in Portuguese with English subtitles, and running 112 minutes -- opens this Friday, August 28, in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal) and New York City (at the Angelika Film Center and The Paris Theatre) and from there over the weeks to come in another 35 cities/theaters -- including, on September 25, our own Living Room Theater in Boca Raton. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Blu-ray/DVDebut: Austin Stark's THE RUNNER showcases a low-key Nicolas Cage

BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which has been the subject of a number of fine documen-taries (the best of which is here), now seems to be finding its way into narrative content, as well. HBO's The Newsroom used it in the opening segment and here it is again, as the would-be subject of THE RUNNER, written and directed by Austin Stark, shown below, who has produced a number of worthwhile movies but has now made the jump into writing and directing his first full-length film either a bit too soon or without nearly the talent to bring this kind of story to life.

Using the oil spill -- a dreadful event that continues to grow more so as time drags on and Gulf Coast fishing communities grow poorer -- as an excuse to build a movie around the political and romantic travails of its hero, Colin Pryce (played by perhaps the most ubiquitous leading-man currently on-screen, Nicolas Cage, below), seems somehow tacky and unimportant. And so throughout this generally lifeless film, they duke it out for our attention and concern: the poor, beleaguered people of the Gulf; the ever-present oil interests (personified by a suave and oily Bryan Batt); and a wad of tiresome, typical romantic and family problems. Unfortunately nobody wins, particularly the viewer.

"Romance" and "family" are handled by the likes of Connie Nielsen, Sarah Paulson and Peter Fonda, actors who are professional and alert but can do little with the by-the-numbers script they've been given. There is almost no depth of character here, just cliche's that pile up and block the narrative road. The lesson here is all about how politics works in America today, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has been around during these post-Millennium years, and whose response is likely to be, "Yes. And...?"

From its outset the movie seems heavily "set-up" to make its point, which it does: Nobody wins. Mr. Cage -- who starred in five films during 2011, three in 2013, four in 2014 and at least three so far this year, with four more planed for 2016 -- has got to be one of our hardest-working actors, even if many of his films end up as throwaways. He looks pretty terrible here (or maybe simply "real"), and his performance is unusually tamped-down and believable. But he, too, cannot surmount a script low on lifelike detail and coupled to only so-so direction.

The Runner (the title does triple duty for jogging, political campaigning, and, yes, running away from one's self) comes via Alchemy and lasts a thankfully short 90 minutes. It hits the streets this coming Tuesday, August 25, on Blu-ray (the transfer is quite good!) and DVD--for rental/purchase.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Pat Mills' gloriously goofy GUIDANCE is a politically incorrect, liberating hoot-and-a-half

What a jolt of deliciously "wrong" behavior, attitude and appearance is offered up in the new comedy GUIDANCE, all about perhaps the worst guidance counsellor ever observed on film or elsewhere, and embodied to loony-tune perfection by a certain Pat Mills (how simple a name is that?), who has the audacity to hand us a character -- a gay character, at that -- utterly devoid of just about any likable characteristic except the ability to entertain us royally via his mis-deeds, -words and -ideas.

Movies don't get much more politically incorrect that this, and because Mr. Mills (shown at top, below, and above, au bain) has had the even-greater audacity to write, direct and star in his movie, were it not so damned funny and enjoyable, I'd be tempted to call it a "vanity production." But, hell, this guy actually possesses talent enough to be vain about.

His movie, surprising and liberating from its opening scene onwards, introduces us to pretty much a complete loser: narcissistic, drunk and in absolute denial regarding just about his entire life. What's not to like? Everything from self-help to teenagers to the actor's mentality gets skewered in the course of the film, and our boy David (Mr. Mills), soon to be better known under an alias, manages to hold up a mirror to the hypocrisy of our present-day mores, even as he himself comes off as a first-class ass.

Now, just how long can even an ace movie-maker manage to keep this up without finally giving in to sentimentality and the force of feel-good? Longer than you might expect, in fact, and even when Mills' movie eventually teaches us those lessons-we-must-learn, the filmmaker manages to simultaneously avoid and embrace his happy ending, turning the expected on its head and keeping us laughing still.

If I've made the film sound like a one-man show, it pretty much is, and yet Mills has written his subsidiary roles well and cast them so, too -- with very fine work coming from actors like Zahra Bentham (at bottom) and Tracey Hoyt (above). Everyone does a good job, and the fact that most of the actors will seem fresh and new just adds to the movie's originality.

Of course the film is completely unbelievable, but Mills' style -- loosey-goosey and off the cuff -- goes a long way in making its incidents and events palatable and fun. Once again, a Canadian film manages to top most anything that's come out of Hollywood in terms of political incorrectness.

Guidance (what a perfect title!), from Strand Releasing and running a swift 80 minutes, opens today in New York at the Village East Cinema. If you're not near NYC, don't despair, as the movie also opens this coming Friday, 8/28 in L.A. at the Sundance Sunset Cinema. Additional screenings can be found by clicking here then scrolling down and clicking on the word Screenings. Further, the film will certainly reach DVD and digital platforms before too long, 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Environmental DVD must-see: Marie-Monique Robin's thoughtful, scary OUR DAILY POISON

If you're anything like me, at this point in time you've seen quite a number of documentaries that explore what is happening to humans, courtesy of the growing dangers to our environment from chemicals, pesticides, plastics, food additives and all the rest. And, yes, the imminence of global warming rather reduces all these individual threats to something minor in comparison. Still, the damage we've suffered and continue to suffer from a combination of corporate greed, bad science and bought-out scientists seems both incredible and disgusting.

The gift of Marie-Monique Robin's film, OUR DAILY POISON, is that its author, shown at left, never raises her voice as she goes on a hunting expedition to learn about what we are currently putting in our bodies via exposure to all these things, and then to determine whether the supposedly recommended daily intake of many of these poisons (and they are exactly that) are anywhere near what might be considered "safe."  Ms Robin seems to me a tireless (but never tiresome) investigator who is able to ferret out information and then insist that her interviewees answer her questions as directly and honestly as possible. She is specific, detailed and knowledgeable, piecing together her evidence extremely well, and hers is by far the best investigation-on-film about the dangers to our environment from these chemicals and hormones that I have yet seen.

In fact, one of the key points she and her scientists make here is how chemicals and hormones are nothing like the same thing, where dosage and daily intake are concerned. As one scientist succinctly explains, "The entire process of calculating an acceptable daily intake is based on false assumptions."

It gets better. And worse, of course. Nailing the U.S.'s own Food and Drug Administration, as well as the ESSA (European Food Safety Authority), as Ms Robin does, is bracing, but because these organizations wield the power, very little is able to be done. Due to the filmmaker's intelligence and probing, we learn all sorts of fascinating, frightening stuff. I think it was when the documentary got into the subject of the veracity of a particular study -- along with its "statistics" and what you might call "zombie mice" -- that Robin's ability to educate, entertain and alarm us fully kicked in for me. From there onwards, I didn't want to miss a single word or view that she has to offer us.

As the movie makes quite clear -- via evertyhing from talking-head interviews to charming archival footage and artful drawings -- it is less that the powers-that-be actually want to poison us than that they merely want to keep things on an even keel, with the corporations kept happy and profitable and the bad news kept away from any media attention (the latter is not so difficult in this time of media obeisance to corporate power -- and often corporate ownership, too).

What we learn here about everything from pesticides to endocrine disruptors, from aspartame to plastics, is genuinely frightening. Simply for the anecdote about scientific studies that used plastic tubing and/or containers, the movie is worth seeing! And there is so much more. The film ends with a look at India as a country with a terrific anti-cancer diet. But even India is now "Westernizing" to the point that Monsanto may have already undone the "health" that was present back in 2010, when this documentary was made. (It is a little additionally scary that a film this important has taken so long to surface here in the USA.)

As usual, the "bad guys" refused to be interviewed, and so, while some can claim that the film is "one-sided," this is only because the other side managed not to be confronted. Available now from the indispensable Icarus Films and running nearly two full hours in length (trust me, the doc is not overlong), Our Daily Poison is a terrific addition to the growing catalog of evidence of how the human race is effectively destroying its own health and habitat.