Tommaso


Meet Tommaso.

(2019) Drama (Kino-Lorber) Willem Dafoe, Cristina Chiriac, Anna Ferrara, Stella Mastrantonio, Lorenzo Piazzoni, Alessandro Prato, Alessandra Camilla-Scarci. Directed by Abel Ferrara

 

Self-portraits can be extremely revealing; they can also be the product of an ego run amok. When art imitates life, you never quite know what you’re going to get; unflinching honesty, or fawning self-aggrandizement or something in between.

Tommaso (Dafoe) is an American ex-pat living in Rome with his much younger wife Nikki (Chiriac) and his three-year-old daughter DeeDee (Anna Ferrara). He is six years sober after years abusing alcohol, drugs and anyone unfortunate enough to be in his orbit. He is working on a sci-fi script about a man living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland who learns to love again, attends regular AA meetings, and runs drama classes when he’s not being tutored into learning the Italian language. He seems to dote on his daughter and is deeply in love with his wife, even though sex with a toddler in the house is nearly impossible.

Cracks begin to show in the façade; the more we learn about Tommaso, the more we see that he has a dark side that wasn’t entirely due to the drugs and booze. We also begin to understand that we are seeing events through Tommaso’s lens; not everything we see is real. He sees his wife with another man and soon becomes paranoid to the point where his wife begins to draw away from him. Tommaso has always been a womanizer; he begins to come on to one of his students who isn’t exactly against the idea. However, as much as he regrets the mistakes he’s made in his life and as open as he is to discussing them, he certainly isn’t above repeating them – or making all-new mistakes.

Dafoe as Tommaso is at the center of all the action here and Ferraro couldn’t have put his film in better hands. Dafoe is an actor who seems to be getting better with age, and while he doesn’t have the mystique of a Pacino or De Niro, he is every bit as good. Tommaso is one of his best performances ever, manic and soulful, good-hearted and yet demonic. Through Dafoe, Ferrara is able to ruminate on the nature of happiness and what it means to make yourself a better person – and how truly difficult that is.

Unfortunately, the choice to make this an internal point of view means that we never know if what we are seeing is real, or a dream, or madness. In one shocking scene, Tommaso imagines seeing his daughter crossing the street and getting hit by a taxi. It turns out that was a paranoid delusion, but was it? Maybe the scenes thereafter where the daughter lives are the illusion.

When Dafoe ends up crucified (an obvious nod to The Last Temptation of Christ), I really had to question if this wasn’t a vanity project after all. I’m no psychiatrist but imagining your cinematic avatar in a Christ-like pose seems to be a cry for years of therapy at the very least.

The movie goes off the rails near the end and by that point I was wishing that the film had not been quite so long. Ferrara is a gifted director and maybe this is his way of baring his soul and making amends. I don’t know. But I’m not sure if I’m up to giving absolution after two hours of mea culpas. I’m not sure anybody is, these days.

REASONS TO SEE: Dafoe continues to turn in magnificent performances.
REASONS TO AVOID: Somewhat pretentious and self-absorbed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity as well as a fair amount of sex and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The wife and daughter of Tommaso are played by director Abel Ferrara’s actual wife and daughter.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema Experience
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/7/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews: Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Broken Embraces
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Serenity (2019)

The Grey Fox


Bill Miner, at your service.

(1982) Western (UA Classics/Kino-Lorber) Richard Farnsworth, Jackie Burroughs, Ken Pogue, Wayne Robson Timothy Webber, Gary Reineke, David Petersen, Don Mackay, Samantha Langevin, Tom Heaton, James McLarty, George Dawson, Ray Michal, Stephen E. Miller, David L. Crowley, David McCulley, Gary Chalk, Isaac Hislop, Sean Sullivan, Bill Murdoch, Jack AckroydDirected by Phillip Borsos

One of the great Westerns of the last 50 years is one that is often forgotten; Phillip Borsos’ The Grey Fox. It hasn’t been available to stream or view at home for a while, but the good folks at Kino-Lorber have given the film an all-new 4K restoration and it looks possibly better than it ever has. I admit that I hadn’t seen it in decades before re-watching it a few days ago.

It’s based on the true story of Bill Miner (Farnsworth), also known as the Gentleman Bandit, who committed a string of stagecoach robberies in the West. Caught, he was sentenced to prison in San Quentin which he served for more than thirty years before being released in 1901. The movie picks him up here, trying to adjust to life outside of the life of crime he’d always known and not really succeeding at it. Stagecoaches are not really in vogue anymore and robbing banks is not really Bill’s style.  An innovator in his time (he is for real credited with being the first to utter the command “Hands Up!”), he has entered a new century to find that the world has passed him by.

One evening, he goes into a movie theater and sees The Great Train Robbery, the 1903 Edwin S. Porter film that was only eleven short minutes long, but it would change Miner’s life. Why, here was a line of work he could get into! He sets out to do just that, but a botched attempt in Oregon leads him to British Columbia where he settles down in the small mining town of Kamloops under an assumed name. He puts together a team including the volatile Shorty Dunn (Hobson) and the consumptive Louis Colquhoun (Petersen). He also meets a feminist photographer named Kate (Burroughs) with whom he begins a romance that give him the thoughts of maybe, finally, settling down.

This is a beautifully shot movie; hopefully, once theaters reopen, your theater that shows revivals will book this for at least a one night screening. It certainly deserves to be seen on the big screen, but the 4K restoration makes the film look incredible even on much smaller screens.

But as beautiful as the film looks, the main attraction here is Farnsworth, who up to that point had been a stunt man for three decades as well as playing small roles for a decade, although he had been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1979 for Comes a Horseman. This was his first leading role and it established him as an actor of tremendous skill. He would continue to act – including another Oscar nomination for a lead role in David Lynch’s The Straight Story – until he passed away in 2000.

The movie combines elements of the gritty 70s westerns with the grandeur of the westerns of the 60s, making it thoroughly entertaining. The romance between Bill and Kate is endearing and the chemistry between Farnsworth and Burroughs is genuine. The movie is available here in Florida, benefiting three theaters locally; the Enzian here in Orlando (here), the Corazon in St. Augustine (here), and the MDC Tower in Miami (here). Those readers out of state can click the photo above which will take them to a list of theaters that are also presenting the film; choose one of your liking. Purchasing the film at any of these three sites will benefit the theater in question, so feel free to purchase a movie that the entire family will enjoy at the same time benefiting independent theaters who need all the help they can get. It’s a win-win situation.

REASONS TO SEE: Farnsworth’s signature role. Beautifully shot. Has all the elements of an old-fashioned Western. Interweaves old movie footage in skillfully.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be a little too low-key for hardcore Western fans.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is widely considered to be one of the ten best films ever produced by Canada.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT:
The Last Laugh

Capital in the 21st Century


The geometrics of poverty.

(2019) Documentary (Kino-LorberThomas Piketty, Kate Williams, Suresh Naidu, Bryce Edwards, Rana Foroohar, Joseph Stiglitz, Ian Bremmer, Francis Fukuyama, Lucas Chancel, Faiza Shaheen, Paul Mason, Simon Johnson, Paul Piff, Gabriel Zucman, Gillian Tett. Directed by Justin Pemberton

 

Okay. So it’s not exactly news that there is a massive disparity between haves and have-nots in this country, and the middle class – once the backbone of American prosperity – has been shrinking at an alarming rate until, now, it barely exists. In this country, to quote Midnight Oil, the rich get richer, the poor get the picture.

And in case they haven’t, economist Thomas Piketty presents it very clearly for them hear. Base on his bestselling book which may be the biggest selling economics book since Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, the book and the movie it is based on explains why the rich get richer and how the deck is stacked against the rest of us. It is a moment in time where that has been displayed clearly by the coronavirus; it infects everybody regardless of the size of their bankbook, but the poor, who haven’t been able to afford decent health care, have been hit disparately harder than the wealthy.

Piketty warns that the conditions that gave rise to Marxism are returning again, with a massive concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, social mobility becoming nearly impossible and nationalism and fascism both on the rise. The baby boomers may be the last generation to reasonably expect to have a better life than their parents; it is nearly impossible to do now – unless you are part of the one percent.

Piketty leads a parade of economists, historians and sociologists in interviews that show how the privileged classes manipulated the hearts and minds of the poor, demonizing any sort of program that would actually help them – including breeding a mistrust of education – and creating a stigma over any social program, linking it with the dreaded socialism *shudder* which is, of course, anti-American, right? Welllllllll…

New Zealand-based director Pemberton laces the film with plenty of pop culture references, from a hit song by Lorde to clips from The Grapes of Wrath and Elysium. In one of the more fascinating sequences, UC Irvine professor Paul Piff details an experiment in which two students were randomly selected to play Monopoly. A roll of the dice gave one player the role of the rich player, and the other the poor player. The rich player was given hella advantages, including more cash to begin with, the ability to roll two dice at a time (the poor player could only roll one) and more income every time they passed Go ($200 to the poor player’s $100). An interesting thing happened; the rich players grew arrogant and cocky, attributing success to superior game play rather than the nearly insurmountable advantages they were given. Gordon Gekko opined that greed is good and maybe it is (although evidence says no), but it is certainly ingrained in nearly all of us.

While there are some solutions offered – many of which were put forth by Elizabeth Warren during her Presidential campaign last year – they are unlikely to be enacted by politicians who are largely in the pocket of the super-rich. I would have liked to have seen the same kind of analysis given to the solutions as there was to the problems, which aren’t exactly breaking news. For those who believe that the rich are superior to those who don’t have money, there is the specter of the French Revolution – which is what happens when people have nothing to lose. We are rapidly getting to that point not only here in America but all over the world. Those who refuse to learn from history, after all, are doomed to repeat it, often to their great regret.

The movie is currently available through Kino-Lorber’s virtual cinema program which benefits local art houses. Although the Enzian currently isn’t one of them, Floridians wishing to check out the movie and benefit local art houses have four to choose from; the Tampa Theater in Tampa, the Sun-Ray Cinema in Jacksonville, the Coral Gables Art House in Miami and the Tropic Cinema in Key West. Click on the picture for more information.

REASONS TO SEE: A fairly sober explanation of how we got to where we are.
REASONS TO AVOID: There isn’t a lot of analysis of where we go from here.
FAMILY VALUES: The content is definitely not for the young.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Based on the bestselling non-fiction book by Piketty, which has sold more than three million copies worldwide to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/4/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews, Metacritic: 74/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Freakanomics
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
My Darling Vivian

Bacurau


A town like no other.

(2019) Action (Kino LorberBárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Thardelly Lima, Rubens Santos, Wilson Rabelo, Carlos Francisco, Luciana Souza, Karine Teles, Antonio Saboia, Sônia Braga, Udo Kier, Buda Lira, Clebia Sousa, Danny Barbosa, Edison Silva, Eduarda Samara, Fabiola Liper, Ingrid Trigueiro, Jamila Facury, Jr. Black, Suzy Lopes. Directed by Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho

 

In the northeast corner of Brazil is the sertão, the Brazilian version of the Australian outback. It’s a region rarely seen in Brazilian cinema which tends to focus more on urban wildernesses, with an occasional detour into Amazonian rain forests. There are plenty of interesting stories to be had in the sertão as well.

In this bone-dry dusty environment lies the small village of Bacurau. Taking place a few years from now, the town has recently been squabbling with local authorities which have dammed up their water supply, forcing them to have water delivered in tanker trucks. It is in one of these that Teresa (Colen) rides into town for her grandmother’s funeral.

At the funeral, the town doctor Domingas (Braga) goes on a drunken rant berating Teresa’s grandma, but like many of the townspeople she’s on edge; in addition to water being cut off, their cell service has ceased. Soon, they also notice that the town can no longer be found on GPS maps. Then, there are sightings of mysterious UFOs and an entire family turns up massacred. Strange visitors show up from the city to go dirt biking in the wilderness. And who are those strangers in the hunting lodge outside of town?

Things are about to get ugly in Bacurau, and they call on outlaw Lunga (Pereira) to help defend the town. The strangers, white tourists from America and the UK, are planning on hunting the most dangerous game and Bacurau – sold out by their mayor Tony Junior (Lima) who despises the town anyway – is their game preserve.

The look and feel of the film owe a lot to John Carpenter and more to the point, Sergio Leone. You could well call this Once Upon a Time in Brazil. Although the score is more electronic in nature, you can almost hear the strains of Ennio Morricone on the soundtrack.

This is a glorious mash-up of a variety of styles and there is a charmingly offbeat feel to the movie. Bacurau is full of real characters but none really so off-kilter as to undermine the film. This is definitely an ensemble piece because although they seem to be setting up Teresa as the central character, she isn’t really the lead. Equal time is given to reformed outlaw Pacote (Aquino), Lunga, Domingas and a few others. It does take a little while to get going but once it does, it’s absolutely mind-blowing.

Ostensibly set “a few years from now,” the movie is very much an allegory on modern Brazil and definitely a hate letter to ruler Jair Bolsonaro and as much so for foreign corporate interests who come in, utilize the country’s vast natural resources and leave nothing for those who live there.

But this isn’t just social commentary. This is also satisfyingly entertaining, even at times, zany. You can’t help but root for the citizens of Bacurau just as you can’t help but enjoy this fun – with a message – flick.

PLEASE NOTE: This film will be available on Enzian On-Demand starting today. A portion of the online streaming rental will go to the Enzian. Members should definitely take advantage of this; see a great film at home and benefit our beloved Enzian. Go to this page for more information on EOD, or here to stream the film and benefit the Enzian.

REASONS TO SEE: Off-beat in a good way. Has a charmingly retro feel to it.
REASONS TO AVOID: Takes a little while to get going.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all kinds of violence, profanity and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The school depicted in the film carries the Portuguese name for John Carpenter, who is an idol of both directors.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews, Metacritic: 80/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The collected works of Sergio Leone.
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
An Irish Story: This is My Home

Beanpole (Dylda)


The Russian Odd Couple.

(2019) Drama (Kino-Lorber) Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov, Konstantin Balakirev, Kseniya Kutepova, Alyona Kuchkova, Venjamin Kac, Olga Draugunova, Denis Kozinets, Alisa Oleynik, Dmitri Belkin, Lyudmila Motornaya, Anastasiya Khmelinina, Viktor Chuprov, Vladimir Verzhbitsky, Vladimir Morozov, Timofey Glazkov. Directed by Kantemir Balagov

 

Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg, the name it was originally given that the Soviets changed following the Revolution) suffered more than most cities during the Second World War, enduring a protracted siege from the Nazis that left it a barely functioning pile of rubble.

In this city, Iya (Miroshnichenko), a tall gangly blonde woman who seems uncomfortable in her own skin, works as a nurse in a veteran’s hospital; she herself manned anti-aircraft guns until a medical issue forced her out of active duty. The issue? She is prone to seizures resembling fugue states, in which she is unable to move or speak, breathing in a torturous, terrifying death rattle until the seizure passes. Despite this, she is raising a son Pashka (Glazkov) until tragedy strikes.

Shortly thereafter, a comrade from the war, Masha (Perelygina) is released from a hospital stay of her own. Iya, who is known by the somewhat insulting term “Beanpole” for her height, helps her get a job at the hospital and Masha moves in with her. The two share a common bond although both are polar opposites; whereas Iya is gentle and awkward, Masha is forward and manipulative. She is unable to bear children due to her injuries and wants Iya to have one for her; Iya is reluctant to but eventually gives in. Masha chooses Nikolay (Bykov), a doctor at the hospital who lacks the courage of his own convictions, to be the father.

The dynamic between the two women is at the center of the film and their friendship which is at times toxic and at other times tender, is the film’s crux. Miroshnichenko, who oddly resembles a young Tilda Swinton, is an amateur actress appearing in her first feature film, as is Perelygina. Both women do solid work here and the friendship between the two characters is made believable despite the differences between them because the actresses give the roles depth and character.

The film is based on the oral histories of the period by Nobel Prize-winning author Svetlana Alexievich and her book The Unwomanly Face of War. I haven’t read it myself but both women certainly exhibit the signs of PTSD that modern combat veterans display which points out the disparity that most films on the subject tend to portray the problems that men face, even though women are now going to war in greater numbers and suffering from the condition to the same degree. I’m sure it is not an honor any woman particularly wants to have.

The real heroes here are cinematographer Kseniya Sereda and production designer Sergey Ivanov, who present vividly-colored apartments and bleak external vistas. Even though the movie drags sometimes and has a tendency to become a little melodramatic, you’ll never get tired of looking at it.

REASONS TO SEE: Brilliant use of color and expressive cinematography come to the forefront
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the soapy side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is sexuality, graphic nudity and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: It was Russia’s official submission for the Best International Film category at the most recent Oscars.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/9/20: Rotten Tomatoes:91% positive reviews: Metacritic: 85/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Enemy at the Gates
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
I Am Human

Sorry We Missed You


It’s a grim prognosis for the working class.

(2019) Drama (Zeitgeist/Kino-LorberKris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor, Ross Brewster, Charlie Richmond, Julian Irons, Sheila Dunkerley, Maxie Peters, Christopher John Slater, Heather Wood, Alberto Dumba, Natalia Stonebanks, Jordan Collard, Dave Turner, Stephen Clegg, Darren Jones, Nikki Marshall. Directed by Ken Loach

 

It has likely never been harder to be a working man now than since the Middle Ages. Making ends meet is nearly impossible; wages have dropped sharply while the cost of living continues to rise. Jobs are not plentiful, certainly not of the kind that pay well enough to live decently. Cutting corners has become a way of life as people traverse the gig economy with tentative steps, knowing that they are much like people walking in a minefield with steel-toed boots.

Ricky Turner (Hitchen) has just lost his job in the construction industry and frankly, he’s sick and tired of working jobs that can be taken away from him at a moment’s notice. He wants to be his own boss and make a wage that will allow his family to have the things they need. However, jobs are particularly scarce in Newcastle, where he and his sweet wife Abbie (Honeywood) live with their teenage son Sebastian, or “Seb” as they call him (Stone) and their brilliant tween daughter Liza Jae (Proctor).

One of Ricky’s mates links him up with PBF, a parcel delivery service who is run by the bullet-headed bulldog-like Maloney (Brewster) who runs his business like a drill sergeant. In the parlance of PBF, they don’t hire employees, they onboard independent drivers. Drivers must supply their own vans, or rent one from the company at an exorbitant rate. However, if Ricky works hard and delivers his parcels on time, he will be making more than he ever did in construction, maybe enough so after two years they can save enough to put a down payment on a house, the dream of many renters.

isn’t quite so enthusiastic. In order to buy a van, they’ll have to sell the car that she uses to get to her job which is as an in-home caregiver to the elderly. She goes to their homes, cooks their meals, bathes them and tucks them into bed. She’s ideally suited for the job, but her clients are all over the map and getting to her appointments on time required a car. Taking the bus will cause her to be late more often. However, in the interest of family harmony, she gives in.

At first, things are sunshine and roses. Ricky does well on his route and becomes Maloney’s fair-haired boy, but there are some troubling signs. For one thing, the constant murderous pace of delivering parcels means drivers never get breaks and must learn to pee in a bottle rather than stopping anywhere for a bathroom break. For another, missing delivery windows and deadlines can lead to a system of demerits, which cost the drivers fines which put them in debt to PBF, forcing them to work more.

To make matters worse, Seb is indulging in some hooligan-ish behavior, skipping school, spray-painting graffiti along the roadsides and eventually getting into more serious trouble, forcing his parents to miss work in order to attend meetings with school headmasters and eventually police officers. Ricky is often so exhausted that he can barely see straight when he drives his van and taking the bus has forced Abbie to work longer hours as well. And despite the promise of better pay, the family is barely holding their heads above water as it is – it will take only the slightest of bumps to drown the lot of them.

Loach is one of the finest English directors of the past four decades and when I say that this is one of his best ever, keep in mind that he has films such as The Wind That Shakes the Barley and I, Daniel Blake on his filmography. Like many of his films, this is a taut, no-frills productions – there’s no score, and few special effects. The brisk pace keeps the story moving and whereas lesser directors might get bogged down in subplots, Loach and his longtime collaborator writer Paul Laverty keep their focus throughout.

It doesn’t hurt that he gets fantastic performances from the entire cast, some of whom are non-professionals and Hitchen and Honeywood exhibit some marvelous chemistry and screen presence. The dynamic for the entire Turner family feels organic and realistic; this could be the family living in the flat (or apartment) three doors down from yours, Ricky the guy down at the pub (or bar) rooting for his favorite team (in Ricky’s case, Manchester United).

The accents are very thick here, as they are in that part of England and so subtitles are necessary; some of the phrases may not be familiar to American audiences, so it might be frustrating to those who aren’t familiar with English idioms. Still, this is a marvelous film that is a triumph for the 83-year-old director who shows no signs of slowing down. This is an accurate portrayal of the problems facing the working class, so much so that it may cut a little too close to home for some. Even so, it should be required viewing for economics and business students who should see what the human toll of the current profits-at-any-cost mindset of business worldwide really is.

REASONS TO SEE: A grim portrayal of the working class circa 2019. The family dynamic feels very realistic. Hitchen and Honeywood do bang-up jobs.
REASONS TO AVOID: The heavily-accented English requires subtitles and some of the idioms used may be difficult to follow for the layman.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of profanity, some violence and brief sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The license plate number for Ricky’s van is AK65 JFX.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews: Metacritic: 82/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: DriverX
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band

After Parkland


This is what grief looks like. as Victoria Gonzalez remembers her boyfriend Joaquin Oliver.

(2019) Documentary (Kino-LorberVictoria Gonzalez, Sam Geif, Andrew Pollack, David Hogg, Rebecca Boldack, Manuel Oliver, Anthony Gonzalez, Dillon McCooty, Emma Gonzalez, Lauren Hogg, Brooke Harrison, Patricia Oliver. Directed by Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman

 

The massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, 2018 has had a kind of staying power in the imagination. 17 students died that day, and 50 more were injured. Nearly every student and family of those students were affected in a real way by the crime.

While other school shootings have come and gone in the national consciousness – when did we become so blasé about them that they have become just another news story? – Parkland has lingered in the public eye, largely because the students, rather than grieving privately, decided to become activists to create sensible gun laws. They have taken on the NRA and the Republican Party and while they have made some slight inroads, their goals of banning military-style semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 have yet to materialize.

But even that isn’t necessarily what After Parkland is about. The movie which began as a Nightline assignment, is about how the survivors went about rebuilding their lives and carrying on as best they could. Senior David Hogg became one of the faces of the Parkland shooting for his outspoken criticism of the federal government for failing to act and helped create a foundation that organized events like March For Our Lives which many readers may have participated in. However, the film is more intimate, choosing to assume that we all understand the politics. We see how the shootings affected his younger sister Lauren, who lost four friends in the gunfire. We see his mother gruffly fending off the news media as David walks in from the parking lot to the first day of school two weeks after the shooting.

Much of the film revolves around Joaquin Oliver, a 17-year-old who was one of those who didn’t survive. We see his father Manuel, who fled the political turmoil of Venezuela only to lose his son to senseless violence in America, continuing to coach Joaquin’s basketball team in honor of his son’s memory. We see Joaquin’s best friend Dillon McCooty, who tries carrying on, wearing his uniform number in his memory and taking it upon himself to will his team to a championship. We also see his girlfriend Victoria Gonzalez hide her devastation; “I’m good at putting up a front,” she remarks offhandedly as people remark on how well she’s handling it. In a particularly touching sequence, McCooty takes her to the prom, trying to make it as special as possible for her. We get to know Joaquin through home movies and the testimony of his friends better than any of the victims.

We also meet Andrew Pollack, father of Meadow who also died in the tragedy. He testifies before such figures as President Trump and Education Secretary DeVos, Pollack’s rage at the government’s failure to protect his daughter in a school setting barely contained. He tells us that he used to have a great life, but now he can’t smile anymore. He almost dares the filmmakers to ask him anything; “If I can take the death of my daughter, I can take anything.” He sets out to build a park playground in his daughter’s honor. He also sidesteps politics, saying firmly but politely that school safety and not gun control is his central issue.

Some might disagree with his focus, but it’s really hard to given what he has lost. Filmmakers Taguchi and Lefferman admirably remain in the background, generally just following their subjects around or letting them vent to the camera. While the activism is certainly a part of the story – it feels to a large extent that it is a coping mechanism for some – this is a movie about people, not politics. This will likely elicit a few tears and much sympathy and even some empathy. I know that some of us try to avoid anything that reminds us of these sorts of tragedies which have continued to occur in the wake of Parkland. I can certainly understand wanting to turn away, but a part of me thinks that maybe we should face it and wallow in it. Maybe if the outrage reaches a sufficient level, change will be forced to occur. If that could happen, maybe the 17 lives snuffed out almost before they started might not have been lost in vain.

REASONS TO SEE: Raw and very powerful. Shows the immediate aftermath of the shooting and how it affected those who lost friends and family. Uses the survivor’s own words to tell the story.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be a trigger for those who have been affected by a school shooting.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, adult issues dealing with grief and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: More than 100 venues around the country, including the Enzian here in Orlando, are taking part in a one-night only special screening of the film. Various organizations will be participating, hoping to start a dialogue that will lead to meaningful change –  there will also be voter registration being conducted. For those who can’t make these special screenings, the movie will be available for streaming on Hulu starting February 19th, and on DVD and Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber on February 25th.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/11/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 72/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Song of Parkland
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Suspiria (2018)

Chichinette: The Accidental Spy


The spy who came in from the cold.

(2018) Documentary (Kino-LorberMarthe Kohl, Major Kohl. Directed by Nicola Alice Hens

 

Not every hero during the Second World War was a big strapping man with bulging biceps, three-day stubble and a cigar in the corner of his mouth. This documentary is about a French Jew from Metz in the Lorraine region, which until the First World War had been annexed by Germany; German was spoken in the house more than French. Marthe Kohl (at the time, Marthe Hofnung) relates that her parents didn’t speak any French even though they were ostensibly French citizens.

As the war clouds gathered, the French government recommended that their citizenry near the German border relocate to somewhere safer. Marthe and her older sister Stephanie helped hundreds do just that, even after the Germans occupied that part of France. Stephanie would later be caught and deported to Auschwitz. Marthe never knew exactly how she died; her leg had been broken during an escape attempt and she either died on the train to the concentration camp, or she would have been gassed immediately upon arrival since she was unable to work.

Marthe also had a sweetheart, Jacques, who hoped to become a doctor in Indochina with Marthe, training to be a nurse, at his side. He was madly in love with her and was willing to convert to Judaism, despite the inherent dangers in that at the time. However, when France was occupied, he joined the resistance, was captured, and executed. Marthe learned about his fate through a newspaper article.

Despondent over her losses, she tried to join the resistance but her small stature (she’s barely five feet tall) and her youthful looks prevented that. Finally, she joined the Free French Army as a nurse once Paris was liberated, but when the Colonel of her brigade discovered she spoke German fluently, combined with her blonde hair, he realized that she would be a huge asset in the intelligence division. Following an extensive training course, she was smuggled into Germany and there managed to discover some crucial information that would save thousands of lives.

Hens allows Marthe to tell her story at her own pace, leaving much of the revelations behind what she did in the war for the final act. Mostly we see Marthe traveling with her husband Major, an American medical researcher whom she assisted after the war, from their suburban Los Angeles home to various places important to Marthe. Marthe, who wrote a book on her exploits after retiring as a nurse, never spoke about her experiences before she wrote the book, which came as a shock to her husband although he was aware of the medals she had earned during the war.

Hens is a clever cinematographer with some wonderful camera angles, although to be honest as a director she spends far too much time on the mundane aspects of Marthe’s travels, from packing and unpacking suitcases, dealing with wi-fi passwords and doing laundry in a French laundromat. It’s kind of a shame; Marthe is an engaging storyteller and a compelling subject. She was 96 years old when the film was shot three years before this writing (she is still alive as this is written) and spry as someone half her age.

Her message – do not take orders that violate your conscience – is meant for a younger generation, and one can’t help but wonder if she had an idea that the country she spent half a century in would change as radically as it did. Certainly, that advice rings more true now than it did in 2016. However, Marthe Kohl is heroic by any standard of any age. She’s someone that any young person could look up to as a role model proudly.

The film is screening tonight at Temple Beth Shalom in Miami. It will be available on HBO and streaming on KinoNow.com as of April 14th. There may be other one-off screenings before then so keep your eyes peeled, particularly at your local Jewish Community Center – or ask them to see about booking the film for your neighborhood.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is clever and blending the watercolor animations with the actual locations the events took place in is magic. Marthe is an extremely compelling subject.
REASONS TO AVOID: It takes a while to get to what earned Marthe the medals that are displayed throughout the film.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chichinette, roughly translated, means “Little pain in the neck.” Marthe received this nickname because during her intelligence training she questioned just about everything.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Spy Behind Home Plate
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Peppermint

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project


Worshiping at the video altar.

(2019) Documentary (Zeitgeist/Kino-LorberMelvin Metelits, Richard Stevens, Frank Heilman, Anna Lofton, Michael Metelits, Maurice Borger, Mizzy Stokes, Anthony Massimini, Anne Stokes-Hochberg, Roger McDonald, Marion Stokes. Directed by Matt Wolf

 

There is a very fine line between obsession and compulsion. We can take a hobby or something that we enjoy doing and allow it to take over our lives to the exclusion of all else. Sometimes, good things may come of it. Most often, however, it takes a toll on our relationships and the state of our own minds.

Marion Stokes was by all accounts a brilliant woman, an African-American Philadelphia librarian who leaned towards socialism, but after marrying Michael Metelits, became involved with the Communist Party of America, which she eventually grew to disdain for its lack of action. She and Metelits at one time wished to emigrate to Cuba but was denied an entry visa by the Cuban government.

Disillusioned, she returned home to Philadelphia where her marriage quickly crumbled. She eventually became involved with a television show on a CBS affiliate in Philly called Input, a Sunday morning talk show hosted by John Stokes, who as a contractor had become well-to-do and eventually, she and Stokes fell in love and were married.

The Iran hostage crisis fascinated Marion. She intuited that the way news was being presented to the masses was changing. Wanting to document that change with a librarian’s zeal for preservation and organization, she started recording news broadcasts. With the advent of CNN a year later, the project became much more of a life.

Marion and John became virtual recluses and Marion, whose personality had a strident tone to it, became very possessive of her husband’s time. Their children were virtually shut out from their lives (although they never had children together, they each had children from previous marriages) and Marion took complete control of John’s life. Meanwhile the taping went on, several VCRs taping anywhere from three to eight channels at any given time, with assistants changing tapes (on those rare occasions when Marion went out for any length of time, her limo driver Richard Stevens would be sent home just to change the tapes on the VCR.

Time passed, and so did John. Marion lived in virtual seclusion, with a nurse and an assistant providing companionship, as well as assistance with her project. The momentous events of the end of the 20th century (and the beginning of the 21st) were captured on Marion’s videotapes; the fall of the Berlin Wall, the royal wedding of Charles and Diana and her death years later, 9/11, the election of Barack Obama (which had special resonance for Marion) and also the minutiae – a local woman who decided to be buried in her Cadillac – and was, for example. Stories that captivated for a time and were quickly forgotten, all preserved.

When she died in 2012, she left behind more than 70,000 videotapes even though towards the end finding blank videotapes to record on had become increasingly difficult. Many of them were identified only with Post-It notes and all of them were on a type of medium that wasn’t meant to last forever. As we speak, her collection is being digitized and cataloged, something the librarian in her would no doubt approve of. One day, her incredible project will be available for everyone to peruse.

The big elephant in the room (or on the film) was Marion’s mental state. There was no doubt a bit of a hoarding mentality to her; at her death she had collected not only the videotapes but more than 50,000 books (she was a voracious reader), furniture she never used and an uncountable number of newspapers. She had gone from a single apartment in the swanky Barclay building in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia to seven, all full of her collections. Although her personality was generally prickly – she didn’t take to being disagreed with at all – one gets the sense that beneath that disagreeable facade there was a genuinely caring heart. We see that mostly through her son, who was estranged from his mother for a good number of years but managed to reconcile with her shortly before she passed.

While I wouldn’t say this is an essential documentary, it is a fascinating one and it’s told in simple fashion without a whole lot of bells and whistles. Fans of docs in general are going to like this; it’s the kind of film you find at your local film festival and leave deciding that if you’re going to find films like this there, you’ll have to come back the following year for more.

REASONS TO SEE: Stokes is not always likable but one has to admire her intelligence. The dizzying array of news stories she recorded is mind-boggling.
REASONS TO AVOID: The score gets a little bit annoying in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stokes was a lifelong admirer of Steve Jobs and to support him bought a massive amount of Apple stock at $7 per share. Already moderately wealthy at the time, this elevated her to a different level of rich.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/1/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews: Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grey Gardens
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Synonyms (Synonymes)


Dance like nobody’s watching.

(2019) Dramedy (Kino-LorberTom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevilllotte, Urla Hayik, Olivier Loustau, Yehuda Almagor, Gaya Von Schwarze, Gal Amitai, Idan Ashkenazi, Dolev Ohana, Liron Baranes, Erwan Ribard, Yawen Ribard, Iman Amara-Korba, Sébastien Robinet, Damien Carlet, Ron Bitterman, Christophe Paou, Valentine Carette, Catherine Denecy, Léa Drucker. Directed by Nadav Lapid

 

People relocate for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, employment dictates location. In other instances, it is to move closer to family or loved ones. Sometimes, though, it’s to get away from something.

Yoav (Mercier) falls into the latter category. Traumatized by a stint in the Israeli Defense Force, he leaves Israel forever and emigrates to Paris, so bitter at the country of his birth that he refuses to speak Hebrew, even to fellow expats. The thing is, his French is a bit incomplete so in order to help him learn the language he buys himself a French-Hebrew dictionary that he obsessively reads synonyms from in order to increase the depth of his ability to communicate.

When he arrives in Paris, he finds himself in an apartment that is utterly devoid of furniture; it is a beautiful and cavernous apartment but lacks amenities. He gets into the bathtub fully naked intending to enjoy some private time rubbing one out but his efforts are disturbed by noises coming from the other room. Completely naked, he bolts out to find that all his possessions – including all of his clothes – are gone. Naked, he screams for help but nobody is apparently home. He gets into the bathtub and falls asleep, chilled to the bone.

His neighbors Emile (Dolmaire) and Caroline (Chevillotte) find him and take them to their apartment and warm him up. Emile, though much smaller than Yoav, gives him clothes that miraculously fit. They end up serving as tour guides and mentors and both of them are sexually attracted to him. In the meantime, Yoav finds work as a security guard at the Israeli embassy and goes through a series of incidents ranging from the surreal to the odd.

Lapid has a good grasp of the absurd and he utilizes it nicely, such as Yoav’s boss (Loustau) telling him about a regular event in which Jews are matched up in underground fights with neo-Nazis, or the war tales that Yoav spins for the ever-fascinated Emile. Lapid borrows heavily from New Wave cinema, particularly from Godard and some of what he borrows are things he should have left alone. The kinetic camera movement is nice but the ultra-close-ups and whip pans get annoying after a while. It is a definite case of “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome.

Mercier is a revelation. A fairly new actor, he is an enormous presence and the longer the film goes on, the more engaged the audience becomes with his story. Certainly, there’s an element of the surreal to his story, but it doesn’t warp reality overly much and Mercier in a fish out of water role that could easily devolve into clichés and tropes gives the character a freshness that is engaging. I also liked Chevillotte a good deal and her chemistry with Mercier is palpable but I wish the character had been fleshed out a bit more.

The movie ends on a high note – the final shot is a doozy – so hang in there with the movie which despite it’s excesses actually makes some poignant points about cultural identity and finding yourself in a strange land. This is a solid winner that cinema buffs should keep an eye out for.

REASONS TO SEE: Very literate and intelligently written. Mercier has a ton of presence.
REASONS TO AVOID: Look ma, I’m directing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is graphic nudity, some mild violence and sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is loosely based on Lapid’s own experiences emigrating to Paris.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/22/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews: Metacritic: 84/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cairo Time
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The First Purge