Los Ultimos Frikis


Heavy metal thunder.

(2019) Music Documentary (Cinema Tropical) Diony Arce, Hansel Arrocha Sala, Eduardo Longa, Ivan Vera Munoz, Yamil Arias, Alberto Munoz, Dario Arce. Directed by Nicholas Brennan

When thinking about where great heavy metal originates, the first place that would come to most people’s mind would not be Cuba. Yet Zeus, an iconic band in their home country, has been (head) banging away for thirty years in an atmosphere not always favorable to rockers. Early in their career, the band was often hassled by police and frontman Diony Arce spent six years in jail for unspecified violations. Rock and roll was considered a capitalist tool and was effectively illegal in Cuba.

Filmmaker Nicholas Brennan spent ten years in Cuba documenting the band as they are affected by the tides of political trends; eventually the Cuban government relented and allowed the band to play at a Havana venue called Maxim Rock once a month; for their 25th anniversary the group was even allowed to tour the island (which makes up the bulk of material in the documentary.

The band members are individually interviewed with Diony coming off as introspective and a little less egotistical than his American counterparts. Lead guitarist Hansel Arrocha Sala is the musical force in the band and his dedication to his music is obvious. Drummer Eduardo Longa is candid about his love for drumming, but also about his drug and alcohol problems (apparently that is a rock and roll universal). Guitarist Ivan Vera Munoz is the young buck, happy to be a part of the band and bassist Yamil Arias rounds out the band.

It is notable that the band comes off looking and sounding like their counterparts anywhere else in the world. While Zeus does sing obliquely about political topics, they have to tread a very careful line lest the hard-fought government approval they enjoyed suddenly dry up; Diony speaks of the band having to essentially reflect Cuban revolutionary ideals in order to exist, even though the band often protests what they see are deficiencies in the Cuban government.

The tides of political change do effect the band; the death of Fidel leads to the relaxing of restrictions, allowing the band to play “officially” in Havana and occasionally outside of the capital. It even allows them to embark on the anniversary tour. Obama’s movement to normalize relations with Cuba further improves things for the band, although Trump’s reversal of that policy leads to a more restrictive policy towards American musical idioms. Currently in favor is the reggaeton form which the band members individually detest; additionally, rock bands are often assaulted by reggaeton fans who look with equal disdain on rock music.

When the Maxim Rock venue suffers roof damage, Zeus is left without a place to play and go more than a year without performing. This creates a good deal of despair within the band, who begin to question their future. Diony says flat out “the (government) made a fool of me,” referring to the years that the band compromised their message in order to be allowed to play.

However, the very short (73 minutes) documentary ends on a hopeful note and that should leave the audience exiting the theater on a bit of a high. I’m not a particular metal fan but their music sounds pretty strong. In a lot of ways, they are very much like a metal band anywhere else in the world; mugging for the camera, banging their heads in time to the music, enjoying the human demolition derby of the mosh pit, but they are unmistakably Cubano.

There is some lovely cinematography and some of the landscapes of the hinterlands as well as the urban cityscapes of Havana do show off the uniqueness of the country; one sees the Colonial-style architecture of Havana with the classic cars rolling around and one can only say “Ah, Cuba!” The film isn’t particularly hagiographic towards the government of Cuba but they aren’t necessarily hostile to it either. I would have liked a little more context in the movie; although we are told that Zeus is iconic  and essentially the godfathers of the Cuban metal scene, we never get an idea of how extensive the scene is. We also don’t get much of an idea of how their music is recorded and distributed. One wonders if it can be downloaded here.

The movie was going to be screened this very evening at the Miami Film Festival but sadly coronavirus fears have led to the remainder of the Festival being canceled. Hopefully the film will be screened in some way in Miami; there will likely be a fairly strong audience there for it.

The tittle translates roughly to “The Last Freaks” and it doesn’t quite convey what the term Freaks means in Cuban culture; it generally refers to long-haired rockers and is not quite affectionate; think how the term “Hippies” makes you react and you’ll have the general idea. Rock and roll was never a respected form of music in Cuba and it is on the decline there as we speak. Still, the movie is a fascinating look at Cuba which in many ways remains as mysterious to us Americans as Antarctica is. Maybe it’s time that changed.

REASONS TO SEE: Manages to make Zeus look like a typical heavy metal band while not shying away from their differences in circumstance. Some very nice cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little sparse on context.
FAMILY VALUES: This is some profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film originated as a short film, Hard Rock Havana, which Brennan turned into a feature.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/8/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:  Anvil! The Story of Anvil
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
White Lies

New Releases for the Week of September 13, 2019


HUSTLERS

(STX) Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Mette Towley, Keke Palmer, Mercedes Ruehl, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Usher, Frank Whaley, Dov Davidoff. Directed by Lorene Scafaria

A group of strippers, appalled at the behavior of their high-end Wall Street clientele, decide to turn the tables and take their portion of the American dream for themselves. This is getting some big Oscar buzz for Jennifer Lopez.

See the trailer, video featurettes and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity)

Aquarela

(Sony Classics) Viktor Kossakovsky. This documentary explores the effect of water in all its forms – ice, liquid, steam, storm – on the planet and how we ultimately must learn to conserve and protect it if our species is to survive.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

Dream Girl

(Zee) Ayushman Khurana, Nusrat Barucha, Annu Kapoor, Vijay Raaz. A young man who has had little success in life finally finds a job he’s completely suited for – as a female friendship caller on an Indian love line. But when his beautiful voice inspires feelings of romance, things get a little bit out of control.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles

(Roadside Attractions) Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sheldon Harnick, Hal Prince, Austin Pendleton. One of Broadway’s most beloved musicals of all time, Fiddler on the Roof grew from a particularly bleak series of short stories by iconic Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem and grew into a major hit at a time when race relations, gender roles, sexuality and the role of religion were all evolving.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements/disturbing images)

Freaks

(Well Go USA) Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Grace Park, Amanda Crew. A 7-year-old girl grows up her entire life restricted to the inside of her house, believing that the world is inhabited by dangerous Abnormals. When a mysterious stranger arrives, she learns that the truth isn’t so simple – but the danger is very real.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs
Rating: R (for violence and some language)

The Goldfinch

(Warner Brothers) Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Finn Wolfhard, Ashleigh Cummings.  A young man whose mother died tragically struggles to get past the grief and loss. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller.

See the trailer, a clip and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for drug use and language)

Official Secrets

(IFC) Keira Knightey, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans. The true story of Katherine Gun, a young woman who worked for British Intelligence who discovered a damaging NSA memo in the weeks prior to the American invasion of Iraq. Disturbed by what she sees, she chooses to leak it and is eventually discovered and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act of 1989.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Cobb Daytona, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: R (for language)

Section 375

(Reliance) Akshaye Khanna, Richa Chadha, Meera Chopra, Rahul Bhat. A young woman accuses a famous and wealthy director of rape and sees him convicted. His wife hires a high-priced lawyer who appeals the case, arguing that the incident didn’t meet the standards of rape in Section 375 of the Indian penal code.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Courtroom Drama
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content throughout, some language and nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

3 Days with Dad
D-Day
Depraved
Gang Leader
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
Night Hunter
Pailwaan
Super-Size Me 2: Holy Chicken
The Weekend

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Gang Leader
Give Me Liberty
Haunt
High Heels
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool
Pailwaan

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Can You Keep a Secret?
D-Day
Gang Leader
The Weekend

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Gang Leader
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Depraved
The Goldfinch
Hustlers
Official Secrets

Pick of the Litter – August 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

(Universal) Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby. The first spin off movie from the Fast and Furious franchise gives us Agent Luke Hobbs and former outlaw Deckard Shaw forced to work together to save the world (and Shaw’s sister) from a genetically enhanced madman who is intent on releasing a biological weapon that will decimate the world’s population – and that Shaw’s sister stole from him. August 2

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Love, Antosha

(mTuckman) Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine, Jodie Foster, Nicolas Cage. The heartbreaking and yet still inspiring story of the late actor Anton Yelchin whose death in a freak accident at age 27 robbed the world of a consummate artist whose best work was ahead of him. August 2

Ladyworld

(Cleopatra) Ariela Barer, Annalise Basso, Ryan Simpkins, Odessa Adlon, Eight girls are trapped in a house during a birthday party by a massive earthquake that may or may not have happened. As the never-ending party continues, the girls begin to face the music in that food and water is becoming short and a kind of Lord of the Flies mentality begins to kick in. The film is touted as a new look at feminine stereotypes by visionary director Amanda Kramer. August 2

Luce

(Neon) Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Tim Roth. A married couple couldn’t be prouder of their son, adopted from a war-torn African nation. He has risen above his past to become a model student, a fine athlete and someone much admired in the community. When a devoted teacher suddenly rings alarm bells after he writes a paper advocating violence, the parents are forced to reconsider their image of their son. August 2

Brian Banks

(Bleecker Street) Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd. The incredible but true story of a 16-year-old high school football player, considered a can’t-miss prospect for the NFL, who is incarcerated for 11 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He struggles to prove his innocence and get a chance to get the life he should have had back. August 9

The Banana Splits Movie

(SyFy) Dani Kind, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, Romeo Carere, Steve Lund. What better birthday present could there be for a young boy in the 1970s than tickets to a taping of the beloved children’s show, The Banana Splits? However, things take a much darker turn in this much-anticipated horror comedy. What hath Sid and Marty Kroft wrought? August 13

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Jorge Usón, Fernando Ramos, Luis Enrique de Tomás, Cyril Corral. Budding filmmaker and staunch surrealist Luis Buñuel is certain that he will never make an impact on his art or the world until a friend with a winning lottery ticket allows him to make a documentary that will forever change the way he sees the world. This is based on a true story and features actual footage from the original documentary woven in with the animation. August 16

Mission Mangal

(FIP) Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha. The incredible true story of the scientists and engineers of the Indian Space Research Organization who in overcoming personal adversity and a history of failures were able to successfully launch India’s first probe to Mars – the least expensive mission to ever go there  August 15

The Amazing Jonathan Documentary

(Hulu) The Amazing Jonathan, Weird Al Yankovic, Anastasia Synn, Benjamin Berman. Popular comedian and magician The Amazing Jonathan found his life derailed when he was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition that gave him a year to live. First-time documentary filmmaker Berman initially was set to document the last year of his life – only to discover that reality and illusion were beginning to blur. August 16

Aquarela

(Sony Classics) Viktor Kossakovsky. A globe-hopping, mesmerizing documentary examines the effects of water on our world and the effects of climate change on all things aquatic. Using stunning visuals to immerse the viewer in a world of water, ice and steam, the movie will also be released in high frame-rate versions in selected cities. August 16

Brittany Runs a Marathon

(Amazon) Jillian Bell, Jennifer Dundas, Patch Darragh, Lil Rel Howley. A New Yorker, tired of being ignored and overweight, decides to take charge of her life in this life-affirming comedy. She decides that her goal is to run the New York City Marathon and while some scoff, she will not be deterred. August 23

Freaks

(Well Go USA) Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Lexy Kolker, Amanda Crew. An overprotective dad keeps his young daughter confined to the house. As she grows up, she begins to suspect her dad may be paranoid and delusional, and she is eager to solve the mystery of her mom who disappeared when she was very young. It turns out that her dad had reason to be overprotective. August 23

Official Secrets

(IFC) Kiera Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode. This is based on the true story of British whistleblower Katherine Gun, who was tried for violations of the Official Secrets Act for leaking information to the press about an illegal NSA operation that was designed to convince the UN Security Council to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite there being no real evidence to justify it. August 23

Vita & Virginia

(IFC) Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini, Rupert Penry-Jones. This is based on the actual love letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West; whose forbidden romance inspired the novel Orlando. August 30

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus


Say "cheesy".

Say “cheesy”.

(2006) Fantasy (Picturehouse) Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr., Ty Burrell, Harris Yulin, Jane Alexander, Boris McGiver, Emmy Clarke, Genevieve McCarthy, Mary Duffy, Lynn Marie Stetson, Gwendolyn Bucci, Eric Gingold, Christina Rouner, Marceline Hugo, Emily Bergl, Matt Servitto, David Green, Sandriel Frank, Krista Coyle. Directed by Steven Shainberg.

In the 1950s, housewives were expected essentially to be seen and not heard. The only voice their husbands wanted to hear was “Welcome home, honey” and “Here’s your martini” and “Dinner’s ready” and maybe “Yes, dear.” Of course, that’s a very simplistic way of looking at things and most wives, even back then, had voice and were heard, although they often had to find subtle ways of doing it. Diane Arbus was never the strongest of women, but she had a vision and her determination to express it led her to places that she could not have expected to go.

Diane Arbus (Kidman), the quiet, mousy daughter of fur magnate David Nemorov (Yulin) and his overbearing wife Gertrude (Alexander), is also the devoted wife to would-be photographer Allan (Burrell). She has aspirations to being a photographer herself, but has had little time to pursue that dream, helping her husband run his portrait studio as well as clean their apartment and raise their children. However, her passions and eclectic nature have led even her children to label her “weird,” although her saintly husband is willing to overlook her occasional emotional outbursts and supports her in nearly everything she wants to do.

However, a drastic change ensues when the mysterious Lionel (Downey) moves in upstairs. He only ventures in public wearing a sweater mask; that is, when he ventures out at all. She finally summons up the courage to go introduce herself to the new neighbor and discovers he suffers from a rare disfigurement; his hair grows rapidly and all over his body, turning him effectively into a living wolf man. Once she gets over his appearance, she wants to take his portrait but he keeps demurring, offering her a glimpse into a world of what used to be called the freaks; a world of dwarves and dominatrix, giants and gender benders. She begins to immerse herself more fully into that world, withdrawing more and more from her own family. Which world will Diane Arbus eventually choose?

Kidman is asked to carry this movie while retaining the obedient and subservient demeanor of a 1950s housewife. Much of her dialogue is in a whispering, excuse-me-for-speaking voice which at times gets irritating, considering you’re asking the audience to retain an interest in her character. To her credit, Kidman’s  acting is right on the money for the character as written, but pales when compared to Downey’s Lionel.

Essentially pared of facial expression for most of the movie (except for the very last reel in which Kidman tenderly – and sensually – shaves the fur from his skin), Downey uses his eyes and his voice to great effect. Although he received no acting nominations for any major awards for his performance, he was certainly deserving of consideration. If they’d used a fictional photographer loosely based on Arbus in many ways this would have been a better movie, because then they could make it about Lionel. In addition, Burrell does a surprisingly good job as the husband helplessly watching his wife drift away, wanting her to be happy and yet needing her love and support. You can see the potential he would eventually fulfill in Modern Family.

The filmmakers capture the energy of New York circa 1958 rather nicely. The apartment set by Amy Danger and Carrie Stewart, is spot-on. The set decoration, both of the Arbus’ apartment with its 1950s normality, and the more whimsical loft of Lionel, is bold and striking. Carter Burwell’s score captures the jazzy feel one associates with the city in the era of the Beat Generation. The legendary Stan Winston’s make-up for Lionel makes him the perfect Beast to Kidman’s Beauty.

First of all, I don’t like the whole concept. Why create a fictional account of Diane Arbus’ life? I’d much rather prefer to see a movie about her actual life. Wasn’t it interesting enough? I also find it highly telling that in a movie purporting to be a tribute to the world-famous photographer they use none of her photographs. I found very little of Diane Arbus in this movie, at least as far as I could detect. While Kidman does a pretty good job acting, she is asked to essentially carry the movie and yet be reserved and quiet (most of her lines are delivered in almost a whisper), leading to a curiously flat quality to the movie. We never get a sense of who Diane Arbus really was or why anyone should bother making a film about her life.

No. I honestly think this does a disservice to the memory of Diane Arbus and her work. I felt after seeing it that I hadn’t gleaned anything new about the artist; in that sense, you’re better off picking up a book of her photographs (of course, that’s pretty much true of any artist). Despite Downey’s wonderful performance and Kidman’s presence, the movie is neither inspiring nor informative and sadly, not really entertaining either.

WHY RENT THIS: Downey is compelling. Recreates the era nicely.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: We don’t ever see any of Arbus’ actual photographs. Would have preferred seeing her actual life story. Kidman speaks in a whisper and we never get the sense that Arbus was of any interest whatsoever.
FAMILY MATTERS: There is much explicit nudity and a graphic sex scene. The adult tone to the film make it unsuitable viewing for any but the most mature teens.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Director Steven Shainberg’s Uncle Lawrence was a close friend of Diane Arbus.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2,3M on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (buy/rent), Target Ticket (buy/rent)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big Eyes
FINAL RATING: 3.5/10
NEXT: Selma