Reviews written by registered user
|40 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It seems like every other day or so there are news reports of the
latest state to honor marriage equality, either through the legislative
process or through a court rejection of discrimination. The tide has
turned quickly in this country on the issue of gay civil rights, and
it's obvious to all but the most closed of minds that's in no longer a
question of "if" but "how soon" before the gay community is seen as
just another fully acknowledged component of our magnificent
In other countries - not so much. Putin's anti-gay crusade in Russia and his counterpart in Uganda demonstrate that simply being gay is still a dangerous proposition in many parts of our world. This global struggle, reduced to the microcosm of two young men in Cuba, is at the heart of "The Last Match" (La Partida), director Antonio Hens' latest examination of the lives of gay youth.
Reinier (Reinier Diaz) and Yosvani (Milton Garcia) are two young men surviving in the barrios of Havana. Reinier, who is married and has a child, supports his family (with the explicit approval of his mother-in-law) by prostituting himself to wealthy male tourists. Yosvani, engaged to the daughter of a black marketer, is living off the largesse of his soon-to-be father-in-law (Luis Alberto Garcia). The two come together on the local soccer field and become fast friends. After a night of partying at a local disco, they find themselves sharing a quick kiss. This initial physical interaction leads into a physical relationship that quickly grows into a deep, emotional bond.
But life in Cuba is not easy, and being gay in Cuba isn't going to make it any easier. Reinier is more grounded in reality, as harsh as that reality may be. One escape for him may be to go back to Europe with a wealthy tourist (His mother-in-law's preferred action. She wants him to go back to Spain and marry the guy because it's legal there - then send for her and his family.) Another escape may be via joining a national soccer team.
Yosvani wants nothing more than to be with Reinier. He sees money as the solution to their problem. With enough money, they can just leave and go anywhere they want and be together. Rainier's simple, pitiful response "Where?"
"Where?" indeed. Both young men act on their desire to escape, culminating in a quietly devastating conclusion that is sure to annoy some. Director Hens may be accused of adding another entry to the long line of "gay lovers are doomed" canon, but an honest examination of the story and the circumstances portrayed should lead one to see that it really couldn't end any other way.
As the leads, Diaz and Garcia give affecting performances. While the film has its sexually explicit moments (and there is obviously a level of commitment and comfort required to pull those scenes off) it's in the quieter moments that these young actors really impress. One gets a real sense of the longing and passion these two characters share for each other, and one's heart breaks (as Yosvani's does) as the passion gives way to practicality.
With genuine, heartfelt performances by the two leads (and good supporting work from Luis Alberto Garcia as the menacing profiteer), "The Last Match" is a well written and sensitively directed look at love from a different cultural perspective - the love that, sadly, still 'dare not speak its name' in too many languages and in too many places in this modern world.
What can be said about "Dumbbells" that hasn't already been said about
"Porky's","Losin' It", "Fraternity Vacation", "The Last American
Virgin", "Screwballs", "Private Resort", "Hot Dog: The Movie", etc.?
Not much, actually. They're all movies aimed at a specific audience
demographic (young, horny males) and are filled with the requisite T &
A and low-brow humor. They aren't all terrible films, but they won't
end up on any AFI "Best" list, either. They set the bar low and, more
often than not, succeed at some level.
So it is with "Dumbbells", a new film directed by Christopher Livingston and seeing a limited theatrical release now as well as being available via Video-on-Demand. This low-budget, amiable piece of cinematic fluff tells the tale of one Chris Long (Brian Drolet), art major and superstar forward for the NCAA basketball powerhouse that is LA Tech. (That alone is good for a laugh ) who after wrecking his knee, finds himself working at a dead-end job in a rundown gym. Things look to be going from bad to worse when the gym is taken over by former male supermodel Jack Guy (former male supermodel Hoyt Richards) who has dreams of producing a gym-based reality TV series to be hosted by Fabio. (Yes, apparently in Hollywood people still have dreams involving Fabio...) Things go from bad to worse to worser when Jack discovers a cult he was once involved in has absconded with all his money. Ah, but he has a plan to recover his money and save the gym. And so it goes
A more interesting film might be made from the story of how star/co-screenwriter/co-producer Richards got some (fairly) well-known faces to appear in this film. Who? Well, comedians Tom Arnold and Jay Mohr (miles away from "True Lies" and "Jerry Maguire") have small roles. The aforementioned Fabio is along for the ride, Jaleel "Urkel" White plays the cult leader, and Hollywood living-legend Carl Reiner does a bit. With all due respect to Mr. Livingston, one wonders what might have been if they had been able to talk Carl Reiner into directing "Dumbbells" instead of appearing in it.
Accompanying Reiner in his bit is Nancy Olson (light years away from her Oscar-nominated role in "Sunset Boulevard") whose appearance so intrigued me I had to immediately try to figure out why. (Check the director's IMDb page for the obvious reason as to why she's in this film.) Also intriguing is the fact that apparently a bit of this film is autobiographical. Richards had his own cult experiences, and I suppose one could give him credit for taking what must have been a very difficult time for him and making light of it.
As low-budget comedies go, "Dumbbells" falls somewhere between complete disaster and rousing yuck-fest. A likable cast helps, and while you could have fun playing "spot the continuity errors", set your expectations as low as the budget and you'll find it a pleasant and surprisingly inoffensive (surprising based on the trailer...) time passer with a couple of laughs.
World Cinema has seen its fair share of long-term director and actor
pairings, from Kurosawa/Mifune to Fellini/Mastroianni to
Scorsese/DeNiro. (Please don't put Scorsese/DiCaprio in the same list.)
Rare has been the director/actress pairing, but there have been a few -
Marlene Dietrich and Joseph Von Sternberg to go way back, or Pedro
Almodovar and Penelope Cruz to be a bit more current. Perhaps the most
celebrated director/actress teaming was Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann,
and the new documentary "Liv & Ingmar" tells the story of this artistic
and personal collaboration.
And what a story it is, as told by Ullmann herself. The film is built around an interview conducted with Ullman at the gorgeous seaside estate she shared with Bergman for five years. From their first meeting when she was 26 and he was 47, through their five year relationship (and the birth of a child) and their continuing professional collaborations, Ullmann allows us a personal glimpse into the man responsible for such classics as "The Seventh Seal" and "Cries & Whispers".
Sometimes it is not a pretty picture, and credit should go to Ullmann for giving us a "warts and all" look at their relationship. Granted, it is a one-sided presentation (Bergman died in 2007) which uses Ullmann's autobiography as its main source, but one can't help but feel Ullmann is being honest, particularly when one looks at Bergman's work. The film is even broken down into "Bergman-esque" chapters, with intertitles such as "Love", "Loneliness", "Rage", and "Pain" to highlight the subject matter.
"Cold", "aloof", and "cruel" are terms often used when discussing the work of Ingmar Bergman, particularly his male characters. His female characters were far more open and emotionally expressive, especially with their sexuality. One leaves this film feeling that a great deal of Bergman's work was autobiographical. The film is populated with clips from their films, and one gets the sense that Ullmann was often playing Ullman, while actors like Max Von Sydow took the "Bergman" role.
But there was real love in this partnership as well. Evidence of Bergman's humanity and affection come from the reading of several pieces of personal correspondence that Ullmann shared with writer/director Dheeraj Akolkar which are effectively narrated, as well as excerpts from Bergman's autobiography. Most telling is Bergman's comment to Ullmann that he considers her "his Stradivarius" - the beautiful, perfect instrument through which he communicates and makes beautiful music.
But make no mistake about it, this is Ullmann's tale to tell. It is a tale told well.
Growing up on the East Coast near Philadelphia, I became used to the
local news reports of the latest problems with a group call MOVE a
"back to nature", almost survivalist group. What I knew about them came
from those local newscasts, which were usually about a police
confrontation of one sort or another. What also stood out about them to
me was that all the members had the last name of "Africa", and that
they occupied a townhouse smack dab in the middle of a blue collar,
working class neighborhood. When one thought of communes at the time,
one thought of encampments out in a remote forest. Well this commune
shared walls with working class homes and families, and their rejection
of technology led to no electricity, boarded up windows, and mounds of
trash on the sidewalks. I left the area in 1982 and headed for
Imagine my surprise three years later to turn on CNN and find them covering the mass destruction of an entire city block in Philadelphia, and that MOVE was at the center of the inferno. After a failed attempt at eviction and after shots had been fired, the decision was made to drop an incendiary device on the roof of the house to destroy a fortified bunker. Things quickly got out hand. The result eleven people dead, including five children, and 60 other homes burned to the ground. How did this happen? Filmmaker Jason Osder's "Let the Fire Burn" uses archival news footage, depositions and the filmed record of an investigative commission to retell the story of the MOVE clash. Big news at the time, but mostly forgotten today (overshadowed, no doubt by the Waco/Branch Davidian siege) Osder recaptures the feel and mood of the time and allows the protagonists to speak for themselves. His film is not a polemic on government abuse or the evils of racism (the mayor of Philadelphia at the time and the majority of the citizens affected were African-American). "Let the Fire Burn" is simply the filmed record of an event, masterfully edited in a way that, while knowing full well what the outcome is going to be, keeps you engrossed from start to painful finish.
At a time when civility seems to be rapidly diminishing in what passes for political discourse these days, it is good to be reminded of what the real result of extreme action, of any kind or on any side, can be. Just ask the residents of Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia.
If you recognize the title of this review as a slight modification of
the classic Henny Youngman one-liner, then you are sure to enjoy "When
Comedy Went to School", a new documentary that examines the roots of
American stand-up comedy and the role of one geographic area in
The geographic area I refer to is the Catskill Mountains, located in upstate New York. Developed as a summer getaway from the crowds and humidity of the New York Metro area, resorts sprung up to cater to these usually urban, usually Jewish vacationers. The Catskills by day provided ample opportunities for swimming, fishing, hiking, sporting and the like. But it was at night that the resorts really came to life, via massive quantities of food in the dining halls and the live entertainment provided as part of the dining experience. The easiest entertainment to provide was, luckily for us, comedy.
The death of vaudeville and the crackdown on burlesque led to a plethora of entertainers eager to perform for a large audience. The Catskill resorts provided a stage for veteran performers to ply their trade for an appreciative audience and for newcomers to build the foundation of a successful career. In a world where comedy is performed in chain-clubs, college auditoriums, coffee shops and on cable television, it's easy to forget that not too long ago there weren't many places for a comedian to be "bad" and learn his craft. The Catskill resorts were, in essence, this country's mid-century comedy school.
And what a school it was, with such "students" as Sid Caesar, Jerry Stiller, Jackie Mason, Jerry Lewis, Mort Sahl et al. They all spent time on a Catskill resort stage. Comedian Robert Klein introduces great archival photographs and film footage that take us back to a time and place that really no longer exists. Interviews with the aforementioned students (and others) provide us with an inside look at how the Catskills came to be the place to go for comedy, and how the Catskills came to not be the place to go for comedy. (Three simple reasons television, the sixties, and Woodstock )
Clocking in at a quick 76 minutes, "When Comedy Went to School" is a quick refresher course on the fundamentals of American comedy and an examination of the prevalence of Judaism as the starting point for the majority of comedians of this era. It's a rare course in which I would have gladly spent more time.
Last year's "Kill List" was one of the creepiest, most disturbing films
I had seen in a long time. It's a film that stayed with me long after
the screening, and one I encouraged friends and associates to check
out. Some still haven't forgiven me.
Imagine the combination of dread/anticipation I felt about the chance to see director Ben Wheatley's latest slice of darkness entitled "Sightseers". Described by some as a "dark comedy", I would say that the only thing possibly darker than Wheatley's sense of humor would be the center of a black hole.
"Sightseers" tells the story of a frumpy British couple off on 'holiday' (as they say,) the problems that come up on such trips, and the unique way they choose to solve them. Saying any more would give too much away. Suffice it to say, may you NEVER come across a couple like this on your vacation.
Is it funny? Yes, it is. But you may hate yourself for laughing. Is it violent? For sure. Exceptionally. But in the context of the story, it has to be. Is it disturbing? Oh, yes it is, but once again Wheatley has made a film that once you've started it, you'll find it difficult to turn away. And, like "Kill List", the ending packs a wallop from which it may take you a while to recover.
Films like "Sightseers" are tough to categorize, and even tougher to recommend. This is not the feel-good hit of the summer. It is a look into the blackest parts of human nature, and how that blackness is often camouflaged by the banality of everyday existence. I wouldn't call Wheatley's films "entertaining", but damned if they don't get an emotional response out of me. So seek it out but you have been warned.
The 56th San Francisco International came to a close at the magnificent
Castro Theatre with a showing of Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight",
the third in Linklater's series of "Before
" films. Preceded by "Before
Sunrise" and "Before Sunset", the film continues the story of Jesse and
Celine, now a middle-aged, two child couple on vacation in Greece.
Things are not quite right between the two, and there is much to be
said between them. So they talk. For two hours. And it is absolutely
I have to admit that I haven't seen the first two films. I was aware of them, but they just never jumped out at me as something I had to see. I admire Linklater's work ( I thought last year's "Bernie" was one of the best films of the year) but just never had a reason to put seeing those films above others I had more interest in. I attended the screening mainly because it was the closing night film, but had concerns that not having seen the previous two would put me at a disadvantage in appreciating his latest. Festival friend (and "Before " series lover) Stacy McCarthy assured me the film stands on its own.
She was right. Nothing much goes on in this film but conversations between people, but these conversations are fascinating and have a sense of reality about them often missing from films of this nature. Credit for that obviously goes to director Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who collaborated on the script. It doesn't hurt that the film was shot in Greece, but the picturesque beauty of that country comes second to the riveting portrayal of a couple at the stage of life where the often painful questioning of a couple's future begins.
Two hours with these characters flew by, and as the credits rolled my first thoughts were about how much I really liked the film, and how I need to think more "out of the box" when it comes to selecting films to view. I'm guilty of often limiting my scope, and I'm thankful that Film Festivals force me to widen my film horizons.
Just caught this it the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival.
Jay is one of the more interesting hybrid entertainers
(magician/actor/author) of the last few decades so I welcomed the
opportunity to get a peek "inside the box".
The film is aptly titled, as you do get a fascinating look at the influences on Jay's career. Their names alone (Cardini, Slydini, Al Flosso The Coney Island Fakir) give you some of idea of the characters that Jay surrounded himself with early in his career. Lots of archival footage of these masters at work, along with Jay's early television appearances (including a REALLY early live TV appearance in 1953 performing magic) provide much of the back story as to how Jay got to where he is today.
The greatest influence on Jay may have been his grandfather, Max Katz, an amateur magician who introduced his grandson to the art and some of its great practitioners. His passing, and apparently some significant rift in his familial relationships, lead Jay to strike out on his own and go from "Ricky Potash" to "Ricky Jay." This rift is unexplored in the film and may be one of the "mysteries" the film title references. Also left relatively unexplored is Jay's career as a character actor, though David Mamet is one of several folks interviewed. Mamet has directed several of Jay's one-man shows, but I would have liked to hear more about Jay's work as an actor.
The directors were present at the screening, and I asked them if Jay's personal life was off-limits to discussion. They responded that while he didn't specifically forbid the subject, he didn't make it easy on them either. I also asked if there was a story behind his surname change (from Potash to Jay), and whether it had anything to do with the family rift hinted at by the film. Their somewhat weak response was that was "something that performers often do" and I got the feeling it never occurred to them to research the change or its circumstances. A quick internet search indicates Jay is his middle name. Did they not know that?
As a record of some of the history of magic and its early performers, the film succeeds. As an examination of Jay as something more than a magician, the film leaves us in the dark. That may be just what Jay wanted.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have been pleasantly surprised by a number of outstanding performances by young actors and actresses on screen this year. Probably my favorite film with juvenile leads is "The Giants" ("Les Geants,") an international co-production of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. It tells the tales of two brothers (ages 13 and 15) who are basically abandoned by their mother for a summer. Running out of money (and options,) they meet another youngster who gets them involved with a local drug dealer. The boys quickly find themselves over their heads. Don't let the darkness of this premise steer you away from this film. As dark as it may sound, and as unbelievable as the premise may be, I bought into this film entirely and found myself smiling an awful lot. These scrappy kids will do what they must to survive - but - they ARE kids and act accordingly. Their naivety and false bravado ring true. Kudos to the young cast for being uniformly excellent in their roles. You find yourself caring about these kids, recognizing their actions as NOT uncommon in today's youth, laughing at the choices they make (while remembering your own bad choices from years gone by...) and hoping that things work out for them. The film ends with the boys on a rowboat floating down a river and away from their current troubles. I liked the characters in this film so much my thoughts immediately jumped to "SEQUEL!" I'd follow these characters on to their next adventure. It's almost a "Huckleberry Finn" for the new millennium. www.worstshowontheweb.com ( Note - This review, originally posted on May 2, 2012, was deleted by IMDb based on an abuse report filed by another user. Would someone care to identify the "abuse" for me? )
I just caught this film at the 56th San Francisco International Film
Festival, and I'm glad I did, because the film was one of the most
informative and, quite frankly, entertaining documentaries I've seen
via the Festival, and most of the credit for that goes directly to the
film's "star" Robert Reich.
Reich is a charming and personable individual who is obviously passionate about the sorry economic state of the middle class. He presents facts and reviews history (assisted through some terrific graphics) to make his case that a strong middle class is the bulwark upon which a thriving upper class must balance. Most importantly, this middle class is made weaker by the disparity in incomes and by a tax system that seems to reward "job creators" who don't really create a single damn job or, at best, create jobs overseas.
The issues are pretty damn complex, but Reich and Kornbluth do an excellent job of laying out their interpretations in a simple, forthright manner.
At the Q&A following the film, I asked Kornbluth and Reich if they felt any need to "balance" the film with alternate economic takes on the same facts. The film trots out the usual cartoonish Fox News critics, but I wondered if they thought about heading off the sure-to-come criticism that the film is too one-sided and doesn't present any intelligent alternate viewpoints. While Reich just shook his head "no" (one gets the impression he feels he isn't wrong so why bother,) Kornbluth responded that questions like mine ticked him off, as "there always doesn't have to be two sides to a story." He compared it to the issue of evolution and "intelligent design". Just as intelligent design's complete lack of factual basis has no business in a documentary about evolution, he felt the economic facts presented are facts and they were presented accurately in his film.
This film is a terrific pairing of a passionate filmmaker with a passionate advocate for the working class of this nation. Recommended viewing for anyone with a stake in our country's economic survival - regardless of political affiliation. That means everyone. That means you.
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