Tuesday, January 31, 2017

DeNiro and a fine ensemble cast bring Taylor Hackford's THE COMEDIAN to crackling life

Liveliness is what most distinguishes THE COMEDIAN, the new film directed by Taylor Hackford and co-written by a quartet of scribes. There is hardly a moment here that does not absolutely crackle with life, and because that life is lived via a bunch of first-rate actors, the movie tumbles along like a boulder careening downhill. Mr. Hackford (pictured below) has done a commendable job of helming his film -- keeping the pace fast and frisky, while allowing the occasional tender moment to shine as brightly as it needs.

The Comedian is also notable for giving Robert De Niro (below and further below) his best role in a long while, one that he fills with the kind of charisma we haven't seen this actor display for some time. (He was good in The Intern, but here is a role that requires, and is given, the turkey, as well as all the trimmings.) The story concerns an over-the-hill comedian named Jackie who once had a hit TV series, which appears to be what his fans remember best and only want more of. The movie opens with his appearance at an out-of-the-way comedy club, during which one insulting and rowdy-for-a-reason audience member brings out such ire in Jackie that our hero is given a short prison sentence for his time and trouble.

One of the movie's great strengths is how it is able -- via script, direction and actors -- to allow us to see both sides of just about everyone's story so that we can understand the viewpoint of each, while also understanding and accepting the other side of the situation. And because the film is practically non-stop confrontation, one person against another, this ability to understand both sides makes the movie much more believable, more human and humane, than the usual situation comedy.

The supporting ensemble includes a bevy of top-notchers, starting with Leslie Mann (above, right), who proves utterly charming, sad and angry as the unexpected recipient of Jackie's attraction. Harvey Keitel (below, left) plays her wealthy and controlling father with an unusually potent mixture of contempt and affection.

Danny DeVito (below, right) and Patti LuPone (left) essay the roles of Jackie's brother and sister-in-law, and both are as on-the-mark as you'd expect, with DeVito an exquisite combo of love and disappointment. while LuPone takes constantly simmering rage to new and hilarious heights.

Being all about comedians (particularly those of the "insult" variety) and the art of performing, the movie is chock-a-block with notable faces (yes, that's Billy Crystal, below, right) who pop up throughout -- usually accompanied by a nasty/funny volley of insults.

Perhaps the movie's signature scene is devoted to a Friar's Club roast of an aging comedy queen, played by Cloris Leachman (below), the result of which is jaw-droppingly dark and hilarious. We also get a fine and funny scene of performing in a Florida home for the aged, which struck us new-to-Florida aged residents as absolutely on the money. (The scene includes a very nice rendition of the Sondheim standard Being Alive, used of course for rather ironic effect.)

TrustMovies makes no claim of greatness for The Comedian. It's a thoroughly independent/mainstream endeavor. But as such, it is surprisingly adept, sharp, funny -- and, ah, those terrific performances! (That's Edie Falco, below, playing Jackie's put-upon but quite helpful, longtime agent.)

The movie -- from Sony Pictures Classics and running a surprisingly swift two hours -- opens just about everywhere this Friday, February 3, and should prove, once word-of-mouth sets in, something of a box-office bonanza for its distributor. To find the theaters nearest you, click here -- and then click on GET TICKETS.

Monday, January 30, 2017

In I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, Raoul Peck reminds us of James Baldwin's continued relevance

TrustMovies came of age at just about the time that James Baldwin -- essayist, novelist, playwright, short-story writer and the deepest thinker regarding race in America that had yet appeared -- hit his creative stride. To my mind this man (born in 1924, died in 1987) remains still the deepest thinker about race in America we've had, combining first-hand experience with thoughtful, honest analysis to reach the kind of conclusions that America, particularly its white contingent, had not been able to even form, let alone digest, on its own. It still, for the most part, has not.

All of which makes Raoul Peck's fine documentary (the filmmaker is shown at left) -- using only the words of Mr. Baldwin, along with archival film clips in which he (and a few others) speak -- so important and relevant to our current time. One listens to his words here with as keen an ear as possible (you may want to watch the film a second time), simply to better be able to take it all in. The documentary ostensibly jumps off from Baldwin's plan to write a book on the lives/deaths of three important figures from recent black history -- Medgar Evers (shown below, with Baldwin),

Martin Luther King (below, right) and Malcolm X (below, left) -- all of whom Baldwin knew. He did not live to complete this book, leaving behind only a minimal manuscript, so the film uses this, as well as his other writings, along with the archival (and some much closer to present-day) visuals, to give us Baldwin's look at America. The view isn't pretty, and it forces us -- especially those left-leaning, "right-thinking," would-be liberals among us -- to assess our own past and present and how seriously we've ever taken the idea that "black lives matter." How closely have we entered any of those black lives to discover how they were lived and/or spent?

Hearing Baldwin's words (via the voice of Samuel L. Jackson) while viewing the visuals makes for a compelling experience on a number of levels, reminding us of events we were part of back in the day, while allowing us to see the way in which these events were consistently refracted through our lens of "whiteness." This is true as much with the lives/deaths of Evers, King and Malcolm X, and the various protest movements -- then and now -- as it was with slavery (and its follow-up experience) and all the rest of American history.

The great strength of the film, and of Baldwin's writing, is the way in which it (together with Peck's visuals) forces us to see and acknowledge all this. Among the many highlights is Baldwin's book-end appearance on the Dick Cavett television show which begins the film and comes again near its end. The second appearance includes a face-off with a white Yale professor who offers up the usual platitudes about black life having improved over time and so please-stop-making-everything-about-being-black-or-white. Baldwin's answer to this is a combination of enormous passion coupled to absolute specifics regarding the black experience in which he decimates those platitudes.

How does one truly put himself in the shoes of another? Well, first off, you have to honestly, genuinely try. Mr. Peck -- together with the inspiration, intelligence and toil of Mr. Baldwin -- has given us one enormous shove in the right direction.

I Am Not Your Negro -- from Magnolia Pictures and Amazon Studios, and running 95 minutes -- opens this Friday, February 3, in New York City at Film Forum, The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the AMC Magic Johnson Harlem 9; in Los Angeles at the Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark; and here in Miami at the O Cinema, Wynwood, and the Regal South Beach 18.

To see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed, click here and then keep scrolling down.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Little (Sexy, Naughty) Mermaid and her sister show up in Agnieszka Smoczynska's genre-blending THE LURE

Whew! What to make of THE LURE, the new Polish movie from director Agnieszka Smoczynska and writer Robert Bolesto that my spouse insisted simply had to have been made during some former decade because every last one of its accoutrements -- its "look," production design, props, costumes, hair styles, even its music and lyrics -- seem so perfectly attuned to a time past. But, no: The film was indeed made in 2015 and is finally getting its U.S. theatrical release this week. Perhaps the best way to approach the movie is as a kind of singing-dancing, fairy-tale. fantasy, horror movie. It embodies each and all of those genres, and the most remarkable thing about The Lure is that it conflates these genres so well that it arrives on-screen and into our consciousness as something damned near sui-generis.

Ms. Smoczynska (at left) and Mr. Bolesto (below) have worked together previously on a short film and evidently have an awfully good rapport, so they have been able to create a kind of alternate universe in which the most bizarre things happen. And yet they happen so "reasonably" (given the oddness of the time, place and situations) that we simply accept them at face value -- even though that "face" is one we've never quite viewed before. After all, when a pair of young girls rise from the dark water, calling out to the men on shore for help -- while promising not to
eat them -- we've got to know that we're in pretty heady, unusual territory. Soon our girls, claiming to be named "Silver" and "Golden," are living with this on-shore family of entertainers who work in a kind of upper-end strip club, performing as a special attraction and using their ability to change from mermaid to fully human to give their audience an extra treat. And, boy, do they!  (The special effects here are used sparingly but they are done with such skill and imagination that they keep entirely within the movie's special blending of fantasy, sexuality, music, horror -- and romance. It is soon clear, however, that horror will be vying for top dog here (or, in this case, top fish).

The filmmaker's cast, which I will not single out individually, is remarkably good at delivering just what the writer and director ordered. Down the line, each actor's performance seem on target and able to convey via acting, singing, movement and more exactly what's required to keep us in the audience alternately charmed and flabbergasted but always entertained.

Channeling myth, folk tale, romance, sleaze and shock, while providing strange songs that will have you reading the English subtitles quickly and carefully for meaning and enjoyment, the movie races along from scene to scene as sex, romance -- along with the need to feed -- rears their rueful little heads.

TrustMovies did not notice any rating given for this movie -- which he suspects means that it remains unrated. The manner in which The Lure deals with nudity and sexuality (inter-species, at that) means that it most definitely is not for children -- unless parents are willing to spend a rather long time explaining things that may lose much of their magic and/or shock value in translation.

What does it all mean? That question is not even pertinent, I think. The film is what it is. And what it is proves outrageous and rather spectacular, colorful, breathtaking fun.

At the very least it might provide a nice corrective for those folk taken in by all the Hollywood hype over La La Land who were then a tad disappointed when they finally sat through this musical-of-the-moment.

From Janus Films and running a fleet and sometimes quite darkly funny 92 minutes, The Lure opens this Wednesday in New York City at the IFC Center. Elsewhere? I sure hope so. Laemmle's Noho 7 in Los Angeles is said to be presenting a movie called The Lure come early March, but one can't tell from the advance posting whether this is the same film discussed above. I don't understand why the Janus web site for the film is not more helpful in this regard. Posting playdates would be of great benefit to viewers who might want to see the movie.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Coline Serreau movie and live comedy from Patrick Timsit highlight FIAF's coming week

Unfortunately, the movie I most wanted to see in the entire current CinéSalon series at FIAF proved unavailable to be viewed in advance with English subtitles. It is by one of my favorite French directors, Coline Serreau (her Pourquoi Pas! and Chaos are two of the films I most love). FIAF attendees will be able to see the English-subtitled version in a 35mm print at the two screenings, however, so I will simply offer the description, below, sent to me by FIAF's very helpful publicist:

La Crise 
Tuesday, January 31
at 4 & 7:30pm
shown in 35 mm, 1992,
in color. 95 min.
written & directed
by Coline Serreau
With Vincent Lindon, Patrick Timsit, Zabou Breitman, Maria Pacôme. In French with English subtitles.

When thirtysomething Victor loses his wife and job in a single day, he sets off in search of a friend to comfort him but soon comes up against the bottomless self-absorption of his contemporaries. A random encounter with the annoying but oddly engaging barfly Michou finally provides Victor with companionship and an opportunity to take a hard look at himself.

While it may be dispiriting to note that this 1992 comedy of manners’ critique of egocentrism and consumerism is as relevant as ever, its gallery of hilarious characters serve as potent reminders that laughter is the best medicine.

 “The portraits are well chiseled, words gush out and several skits are irresistible. Always anxious to capture society’s pulse. Coline Serreau takes hold of economic and moral crisis to make a satirical comedy. Everyone is raked over the coals and Serreau does a good job of unearthing the selfishness and snobbery hidden in all of us” —Télérama

Click here for further information and/or to purchase tickets.


One of the stars of La Crise, Patrick Timsit, will be performing at FIAF later in the week with his popular one-man comedy show.

Friday and Saturday, February 3 and 4 at 7:30pm
FIAF, Florence Gould Hall
$40 FIAF Members; $45 Non-Members
Beloved French actor and award-winning comedian Patrick Timsit returns to FIAF this February with his acclaimed new show On ne peut pas rire de tout. No topic is too risqué as Timsit brings his signature style and caustic humor to show that people really “can laugh at everything.” Testing the limits with his biting wit and brilliant commentary on politics and society, Timsit was recently named “today’s funniest comedian” (Express Styles).

Click here for further information and/or to purchase tickets.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ducastel & Martineau's PARIS 05:59 THEO & HUGO -- the year's best love story, already?

We're not even one month into the new year, but if a better love story than PARIS 05:59 THEO & HUGO comes along, then we're in for quite a romantic 2017. Of course, the viewer who ventures into this new film needs to be warned: Before you meet and discover exactly who our two lovers are and why you should in any way care about them and their story, you will have to endure a quarter-hour or more of an hardcore orgy taking place at a gay after-hours club in Paris.

OK. Now that we've lost that part of our audience, let's continue. Even some gays may find the opening orgy difficult or tiresome to sit through. My spouse was ready to quit the film early on, but, suspecting that a real movie -- with characters, plot and progression -- was on tap, I convinced him to last it out. I had no trouble lasting it out because I enjoy hardcore now and again, particularly when it appears in films that offer much more than merely sex. I also have loved the
earlier movies by filmmaking duo Olivier Ducastel (above) and Jacques Martineau (at left), which include The Adventures of Felix and Côte d'Azure, and this new one turns out to be their best by far. Imagine a romantic comedy/drama in which the lovers engage in sex (with others, as well as with each other) at the very beginning and then proceed toward a much different and more important kind of intimacy, and you may get some idea of what is so odd and so very special about this film. Gays will understand this sort of experience perhaps better than straight audiences, as initial sex is often the trigger for a relationship (lasting or otherwise).

Here, one fellow, Théo (the slight, curly-haired and very well hung Geoffrey Couët, below, left), who, in the midst of being hit on by various other men, notices someone who more than catches his eye, and so he slowly proceeds, via various sexual iterations with one fellow and then another, toward his goal. This turns out to be Hugo (the more conventionally gorgeous, sleek, muscular and also well-endowed François Nambot), below, right.

In a scene that strikes me as both hot and original as any meet-cute I've seen, the two end up finally facing each other, even as they are simultaneously fucking different men. Their gaze and then their mouths meet, and -- voilà! -- we have perhaps the most unusual love-at-first-sight scene in movie history. They have terrific sex, climax, gather up their belongings, and leave the club together. Then the movie really begins.

Who are these two, and what might they find together? We soon begin to learn. The dialog in the film is spectacularly good: natural, real, but genuinely interesting and exploratory. Both young men are worth getting to know, and you can feel their interest in each other -- which began as something visual/emotional/sexual -- begin to bloom into something richer and possibly more lasting.

Ducastel and Martineau, together with their hugely appealing and emotionally on-point actors, make every moment count, and the visuals of early-morning, pre-dawn Paris are marvelous indeed. We only spend a couple of hours with these two, as their relationship grows (the movie seems to be taking place in near-real time) but by the end, we are with them, body and soul.

Along the way, we/they visit a hospital, meet a very odd "patient" (above) as well as a most helpful AIDS worker (newcomer Elodie Adler, below). They encounter a young man from Syria (Georges Daaboul) who works in the kebab house at which they hope to buy a breakfast,

and finally, on the subway, they engage in the most lovely conversation with a femme de chambre who works in one of the city's nicer hotels (a wonderful Marief Guittier, below, center)  The young men's conversation bounces from subject to subject, and sometimes gets interestingly social/political, but never leaves its goal of bringing the two young men closer together.

By the finale, which has got to be among the most beautifully romantic/poetic/engulfing/hopeful scenes in gay movie history, they and you should be walking on that proverbial cloud. Seldom has a film begun so very differently from where it ends. Théo and Hugo -- both the movie and the guys -- are not to be missed. This one will take your breath away.

From Wolfe Releasing, the movie opens this Friday, January 27, in New York City (IFC Center), Los Angeles (Laemmle's Music Hall 3), San Francisco (The Roxie) and Fort Lauderdale (The Gateway Theatre). And as the film is from Wolfe, it's sure to appear on DVD/VOD eventually.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ibsen's The Wild Duck gets a modern-day update via Simon Stone's THE DAUGHTER

The Wild Duck is among Henrik Ibsen's trickier plays. I've never seen a fully realized, thoroughly believable production of it, either on stage or at the movies. As I recall, the German/Austrian film from 1976, starring Bruno Ganz and Jean Seberg (her final screen performance) comes as close as any. Now we have a modern-day version of the story, adapted and directed by Australian theater director Simon Stone (shown below), which is credited as "inspired by" the Ibsen play and said to be based upon Stone's earlier theater adaptation, which I have not seen.

I have seen THE DAUGHTER -- Stone's filmed version of his adaptation -- and it is a terrible disappointment. It takes everything that is most melodramatic about The Wild Duck and runs with it. To disaster. (Ibsen always included plenty of melodramatic elements in his work, but his smart, thorough, explorative dialog was able to rise above sheer melodrama.)

Further, the filmmaker has seen fit to telescope the play pretty drastically, which highlights the melodrama even further. And he has loaded some of his characters with additional baggage, particularly that titular "daughter" (who is older here and has a problemed boyfriend in tow), perhaps to make what happens seem more understandable/palatable. This, too, simply stacks the melodramatic deck more heavily.

The tale told is of two families joined by seeming friendship and employment but who share a much heavier-duty bond. Which, of course, will be revealed in due course. Rich guy (Geoffrey Rush, above) heads one crew, poor guy (Sam Neill) the other.

When rich guy's estranged son (Paul Schneider, above) pays a visit, ostensibly to celebrate his dad's upcoming wedding, that son gloms on to a family secret (and gloms far too easily, even for melodrama), after which a bubble of trouble blooms and bursts.

Now, Rush, Neill and Schneider are fine actors. So, too, are the women in the film -- Odessa Young (below) as that daughter, Miranda Otto (above) as her mom, and Anna Torv as Rush's about-to-be bride -- but all they have to work with here is a screenplay full of "feelings," since Stone has seen fit to remove, change or streamline Ibsen's most telling dialog into fast-food fodder.

The film's best performance comes from Ewen Leslie, shown below, left, as Otto's husband and that daughter's would-be father. Mr. Leslie gets the most to do, say and (of course) feel, and he is quite good -- until the finale, at which point this sodden melodrama eats him alive, too.

The-big-family-secret genre is such a tricky thing to carry off that it is probably best left to soap opera and the like, in which we expect the worst but also expect it to be a lot of fun. All that occurs (and is made so very much of) in The Daughter begins to register as far too close to camp. This sort of thing shouldn't happen to Ibsen, nor even to, well, a duck.

From Australia and running a thankfully short 96 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, January 27, in New York City at the Cinema Village and the following Friday, February 3, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal.

Monday, January 23, 2017

THE SALESMAN: Another Asghar Farhadi film, another disturbing, moving thought-provoker

What? They produce plays by Arthur Miller in modern-day Iran? It would seem so (even if the censors may have to delete a few lines here and there); at least, that is what we discover via the new film from Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi (of A Separation and a flock of even better films). In his newest work, THE SALESMAN, our very attractive and hot young couple are performing the leading roles of Willy and Linda in Death of a Salesman.

Mr. Farhardi, shown at right, is a continuing master at offering up present-day Iran via its bourgeoisie and making the lives shown and problems explored look, to our eyes, remarkably like our own. Except in certain important cultural ways. (I was going to include the word "religious," but what we see seems so deeply ingrained as to have gone well past religion into the country's culture.) The husband here is also a school-teacher, and we see him (and how his mind works) in the classroom with his students, who seem to like and respect him.

One evening, post-performance, as the wife, home alone, is removing her stage make-up, the buzzer to the couple's apartment building rings. Expecting her husband, she buzzes him in, leaves their apartment door ajar and goes back to the bathroom. This will change their life.

From this point on, the movie, which has begun almost as a kind of critique of life in Iran, opens up into so much more. In the opening scene, the couple's original apartment building must be evacuated, as it appears to be literally breaking apart. Much of the city, it seems, has been rather poorly constructed.

Yet from the "event" onwards, the movie becomes a deeper, unsettling exploration of trust and betrayal, love, respect and, as seems true of all of Farhadi's films, a critique of his country's patriarchal/macho grounding, coupled to a look at slowly budding feminism.

The two leads are, as always in Farhadi's films, first-rate, with Shahab Hosseini (above, whom you might recognize as the nutcase hubby from A Separation) again doing a fine job as a man who slowly unravels in the course of events, and Taraneh Alidoosti (below, who played the title character in About Elly) doing an equally fine job as the wife who is "done wrong" not only by the event in question but by what happens afterward.

Farhadi's movie is part mystery, as solved by amateurs (who, for understandable cultural reasons, do not want to involve the police), and the filmmaker's handling of the sleuthing is expert: smart but not too smart, and very believable. Farhadi also, as is his wont, refuses to disclose all that has happened. But unlike some of what was withheld from us in A Separation, this adds to the situation's complexity, rather than seeming to be merely deliberate withholding on the filmmaker's part.

The result of all this quietly explodes into something much larger and more difficult that we (or this couple) could have expected. There is plenty of guilt to go around, along with a try for redemption. But the thirst for compensation/revenge is present, too. How the filmmaker weaves all this together makes for a spectacularly dense and slowly revealing conclusion that will have you feeling and understanding the viewpoint of every character present.

This is major filmmaking, and if Farhadi were to walk away with another Oscar, I would not be surprised. (His film is among the five nominees in the BFLF category). The Salesman forces you to re-consider your priorities: what you would finally allow or not allow, and how much damage you might be willing to inflict on another in order to satisfy your own sense of justice and/or need for revenge.

From Amazon Studios and the Cohen Media Group, in Persian with English subtitles and running a long but never boring 125 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, January 27, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. Here in South Florida, it opens February 10 at the Tower Theater, Miami; the Movies of Delray and Lake Worth, and at the Regal Shadowood and Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton. To see the many playdates all across the country, with cities and theaters listed, simply click here and scroll down.