By William Wolf

FAHRENHEIT 11/9  Send This Review to a Friend

Michael Moore has unleashed a powerful new film that agitates for massive resistance to the Trump era that he sees as a menace to the very core of our democracy. Along the way during his in-your-face alarm he lacerates injustices, such as the poisoning of water in Flint, Michigan. Given Moore’s gift for humor, he provides entertaining segments, as when he loads a truck with Flint water and sprays it on the lawn of Michigan’s governor, who has dissembled about the lead poisoning that has infected Flint’s children with potential lasting and devastating results. His attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of the governor is a very funny moment.

Moore carries his anger to extremes, but not without justification. He surveys the enthusiastic crowds lauding Hitler in Germany, an obvious comparison to the hysterical approval by members of Trump’s base at his rallies. He examines the ranting of Hitler in German, and substitutes a voiceover of Trump ranting. Far-fetched? It is a could-happen-here warning.

Moore, who predicted a Trump victory based on his knowledge of unrest and dissent in areas that he especially knows, dramatizes at the outset the utter shock and disbelief when Trump won based on the Electoral College system.

The film, loaded with a multitude of film clips smartly included in savvy editing, a focuses on the upsurge of action by teachers and by students reacting to high school shootings, and the extent of mass protests that are occurring. “Fahrenheit 11/9” sees hope via building political resistance. Trump stresses the need for change among Democrats by youth replacing the old guard. However, he obviously is enthusiastic about the more militant goals embodied by oldster Bernie Sanders.

Yes, Moore deals in extremes as he paints a picture of what is happening in America today. But his main thesis dynamically expressed via his filming expertise and ability to tie elements together can make one think about the unthinkable—the country being led toward a path of fascism by the policies of Trump and a Congress that goes along with them. His film dynamically and frighteningly sounds the alarm bell for needing to act before it is too late. A Briarcliff Entertainment release. Reviewed September 21, 2018.

TEA WITH THE DAMES  Send This Review to a Friend

Imagine getting the opportunity to sit down with and listen to what Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright, all grand women of British film and theater, have to say about their lives and careers. It would be a great treat. Well, the next best thing is seeing “Tea With the Dames,” an entertaining and illuminating film directed by Roger Mitchell, who had the wisdom of getting these stars together for a friendly chat.

We see the four sitting and engaging in the exchange of comments, often witty, about their experiences. Also tantalizing is the collection of film clips showing what they looked like in their youthful performances. What we see then and what we see of them now is a reminder of how age may take its physical toll, and yet the life experience has served to sharpen their reflections and observations.

Joan Plowright, now 88, is suffering from blindness and needs help in getting around. She was married to Laurence Olivier so we get to hear a bit about that liaison. Maggie Smith has a gift for wry comments, some reminding us of various characters she has portrayed, and she professes to have never seen an episode of “Downton Abby.”

Judi Dench, who has appeared in an assortment of films as well as on stage, is noted popularly for her acting in James Bond films. But she and others in the group especially treasure their theater work. Eileen Atkins, for example, made her Broadway debut in 1966 in “The Killing of Sister George.” They are all skilled in the classics.

It would take a lot space to list all of the awards the four have received in Britain and in the United States. But at this tea they come across as four friends exchanging stories and bitchy remarks covering their colorful lifetimes of experience, including work with assorted leading men.

Here is a chance to sit down with them and, in addition to enjoying what they have to say currently, see archival evidence of why they have received the collective stature that provides the reason for his film. An IFC Films release. Reviewed September 22, 2018.

COLETTE  Send This Review to a Friend

Keira Knightly manages to be believable and sympathetic as the French writer Colette in a biopic directed by Wash Westmoreland and covering the portion of Colette’s life before she breaks away from being the ghost writer of her controlling husband and finally publishes under her own name. The screenplay by Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer and Rebecca Lenkiewicz is very much about the subjugation of a woman and the need for her to achieve dignity in the face of a male-dominated society. It also is dramatically about sex and Colette’s venture into lesbianism.

At first it is a bit strange to fathom the English actress Knightly in a French role, but she soon wins one into accepting her as a result of her skill. Colette (1873-1954) is followed from her early days into the marriage with the dynamic Parisian writer and publisher Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West), known by his pen name “Willy.” He is a man about town with an eye for the ladies. Colette longs to write and she comes up with the character of Claudine, a country girl with spunk and sparkle, really a version of herself as she would like to be.

Recognizing a good thing and convincing Colette that a book under a woman’s name will never work, her husband publishes it under his name, and the book and sequels are successful. While Colette is at first a willing participant in the arrangement, feelings of revolt set in, complicated by her husband’s philandering and the way he treats her as an inferior.

Meanwhile, she finds herself attracted to women. She falls especially for Mathilde de Morny, the Marqusie de Belbeauf (Denis Gough), who scandalously dresses as a man and is known as ‘Missy.” The two appear in a theatrical act together and when they kiss on stage they cause a sensation.

The Parisian atmosphere is depicted with panache in terms of settings and costumes, and we get a background portrait of the era. Dramatically, the trajectory is the massive buildup to the point at which Colette throws off her marital and literary shackles, and we finally see in a bookstore window a work under her own name.

The film cuts off at that point, long before Colette goes on to her fame as the author of “Gigi” and achievement as one of France’s most famous women authors. A Bleecker Street release. Reviewed September 21, 2018.

LOVE, GILDA  Send This Review to a Friend

It was very tragic when Gilda Radner died at the age of 42 after a long bout with cancer. “Love, Gilda” is a love letter that demonstrates over and over again through great clips how fabulously funny she could be and the loss her public suffered.

The array of characters she portrayed on “Saturday Night Live” justly earned her an army of fans. Directed by Lisa D’Apolito, “Love, Gilda” is fortunate to have many clips of the star’s childhood and growing up days. We get to see her early talent for mimicry and her urge to make people laugh.

But the film also shows a downside of her life when she developed an eating disorder. Like many performers, she suffered elements of self-doubt. The film duly records her various romantic relationships that didn’t work out, but she seems to have found happiness with her marriage to Gene Wilder, only to have that liaison interrupted by cancer.

It is sad to see her wracked by the illness, but she was trying to set a brave example for others. Her sense of humor was always close to the surface.

There wasn’t anyone quite like Radner in her ability to raise comic havoc on camera with whichever character she embodied at the moment, and by watching her in action in a variety of settings, we can appreciate her ability to let herself go. The film is enhanced by comments by notables who knew her and worked with her. In short, Radner was a tremendous talent and is missed for her performances as well as for her as a courageous person.

“Love, Gilda” sets the record straight and allows us to enjoy her all over again. A Magnolia Pictures release. Reviewed September 21, 2018.

CALL HER GANDA  Send This Review to a Friend

The murder of a transgender woman in the Philippines set off a battle involving jurisdiction over the American Marine charged with the killing. The issue: will he get away with the crime by virtue of protection by the American military of men accused on Philippines territory? “Call Her Ganda,” directed by PJ Raval, explores the matter in an ambitious and affecting, if sometimes repetitive documentary.

The case is tainted by hostility toward transgender women. The Marine in the situation is Joseph Scott Pemberton, 19, who was on leave in Olongapo City. What appears to have happened is that he picked up 26-year-old Jennifer Laude when he thought she was a woman. Finding she was transgender, he apparently grew angry. After she was found dead, he was charged with murder under local law.

Running through the film is a portrait of the victim—the title “Ganda” means beautiful in the Tagalog language—who was indicated to be a sex worker and shown seeking to entice men. The case mushroomed into a test of whether American servicemen could be prosecuted under local law. For the United States, it became a test of whether the military could have jurisdiction over its servicemen.

The inflammatory Pemberton matter remains unresolved—the U.S. military seized custody--and the film demonstrates how the quest for justice has ignited local public opinion and fed into the larger picture of the relationship between the U.S. military and the government of the Philippines.

But “Call her Ganda” also shows the human side of transgender and how it is regarded. Leading the fight for justice is the victim’s mother, Julia “Nanay” Laude, who is seen appealing on behalf of her murdered daughter. We see the lawyer Virgie Suarez fighting the legal battle, and also in the fight is transgender investigative journalist Meredith Talusan, striving to make the facts of the case widely known.

Through the ongoing battle Jennifer Laude emerges as an important symbol as well as a tragic victim. Reviewed September 22, 2018.

THE LAST SUIT  Send This Review to a Friend

Those who want to remember the Holocaust deserve better than the very contrived “The Last Suit,” written and directed by Pablo Solarz, who obviously had good intentions. Still, given the power of anything attempting to grapple with that subject, one may be briefly moved when the protagonist finally reaches his goal after all the improbabilities in the screenplay.

Araham Bursztein is a Polish Jew living in Argentina. As played by Miguel Angel Solá, he is an annoyingly cantankerous old widower who is about to be placed in a home for the aged, when on his last night in his long-occupied home, unbeknownst to his two soon-frantic daughters, he runs off to head via Madrid on a journey to Lodz in Poland. He is also limping from a bad leg that doctors fear will have to be amputated if he doesn’t get proper attention.

His mission: During the era of the Holocaust a Christian boyhood friend saved his life by helping him to escape and gave him a suit in which to depart. He has long wanted to return to Poland to fulfill his promise of returning one day and he carries with him the suit in the title. First screenplay problem: Why he waited so long to return to see his savior if he felt so strongly is never explained.

Second problem: During his journey he is repeatedly asked about why he wants to go to Lodz. The only problem about his not logically giving an answer to inquirers is that we, the audience, must not learn of the reason until later in the film.

Another gimmick: He has had a rift with a daughter who lives in Madrid. Why? He broke off relations because unlike his other two fawning daughters, she said her actions spoke for themselves and she refused to grant his wish that she say “I love you?" If the statute of limitations had not run out centuries ago and if Shakespeare, author of “King Lear” were still alive, maybe he could sue.

Bursztein has an added problem—he doesn’t want to pass through his hated Germany in order to get to Poland. I won’t detail the obstacles that he encounters during his overall trip but ultimately a kind nurse who administers to him after he falls ill and is hospitalized agrees to take him to complete his journey to Lodz.

As one might expect, he finally meets his friend, now also elderly, and when they make contact, I’ll admit I had an emotional reaction despite all the manipulation that had gone before. Virtually anything to do with the Holocaust and those who saved Jews can have that effect. Reviewed September 21, 2018.

A HAPPENING OF MONUMENTAL PROPORTIONS  Send This Review to a Friend

Director Judy Greer’s kooky film “A Happening Proportions” offers minimal entertainment. The struggling screenplay by Gary Lundy attempts to mix humor and sentiment and a fine cast does its best to make the film work. But while there are humorous moments, some macabre, the effort at tugging at heartstrings falls short, and the mixture fails to click sufficiently.

The setting is divided between a school and a publishing company. At the school Allison Janney as the principal discovers the gardener dead outside and she and Rob Riggle as her rather dim-witted assistant cart the body into the teacher’s lounge and 911 is called to dispose of it, with the aim of meanwhile keeping the corpse from the view of students and other teachers. The lounge is ruled off limits, much to the anger of staff, and when help arrives, they are medics who say it’s not their department and that the coroner should be called instead. This is so-so funny.

Over at the company, an irate new boss, Bradley Whitford as Mr. Schneedy, has summoned everyone to find out who sabotaged the coffee machine, with a security guard there to interrogate as if it were a murder case. Schneedy also calls in account manager, Daniel, played by Common, and the interview results in his getting fired.

Daniel has a private situation going on, an affair with his assistant (Jennifer Garner),who is married. Her husband has found out and irately calls Daniel insisting on meeting, which, despite Daniel’s resistance, occurs in the rest room of a restaurant, with the husband wanting to see Daniel’s penis to compare manhood with his. A smaller one on Daniel would make the dalliance with his wife less embarassing. Meanwhile, the wife is unleashing fury at Daniel for sexually harassing her, but Daniel reminds her that sex was at her invitation.

On the more sentimental side, Daniel, a widower, is raising an appealing young daughter, Patricia (Storm Reid), at whose career day event in school he has promised to speak. She is the focus of a smitten youngster Darius, (Marcus Eckert) who wants her to commit to going with him. He’s cute, but so obsessive that she wants to kindly brush him off. This makes him terrible depressed, as is one of the teachers with whom he bonds. At the career day session, it turns out that Darius’s father is Mr. Schneedy, the very guy who fired Daniel. Are you ready for the complications?

I have only touched on basic plot elements and characterizations. It is an unwieldy mix. One can admire the effort to make an oddball film that strikes comic and personal chords and be very different from the usual. But the strain shows throughout. A Great Point media release. Reviewed September 21, 2018.

LIZZIE  Send This Review to a Friend

The intriguing case of Lizzie Borden, who was accused of the axe murders of her father and stepmother in 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts, has resulted in many explorations over the years. Since Borden was acquitted, the case remains a mystery for speculation. Borden died at the age of 66 in 1927.

The new film “Lizzie,” directed by Craig William Macneill from a screenplay by Bryce Kass, offers a fresh twist. Lizzie, given a riveting performance by Chloë Sevigny, is involved in a lesbian relationship with an Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan, played with low-key provocation by Kristen Stewart. Lizzie is also shown to on occasion shake with undiagnosed fits.

There is no doubt as to Lizzie’s guilt in this version. We see her wielding an axe. There is eroticism involved, as Lizzie appears naked. To what purpose? Logically it might be to avoid getting blood on her clothes. But perhaps it is also to show raw emotion. Or cynically, maybe it is just to expose Sevigny's attractive body.

In the buildup we see the abuse of Lizzie by her ultra-stern and penny-pinching but wealthy father, Andrew, played by Jamey Sheridan. Andrew is extremely cruel, at one point slaughtering the pigeons Lizzie collects. Fiona Shaw is Abby, the stepmother whom Lizzie loathes. We are also introduced to Lizzie’s uncle John (Denis O’Hare), a nasty fellow who schemes to get the inheritance that would be due Lizzie and her older sister, Emma (Kim Dickens).

The undercurrent running through the film is the stifling of Lizzie’s desire to move independently into the world around her, which provides a feminist tinge to the interpretation. But wielding an axe isn’t exactly a #MeToo solution.

Sevigny’s captivating performance and that of Stewart as the maid-lover combine to give the film momentum and power. The result is a work that delivers its own solid view of events, although of course, the truth of what happened remains unknown and still grist for endless speculation. But this “Lizzie” stands firmly with its own compelling, stylish drama. A Roadside Attractions release. Reviewed September 14, 2018.

AMERICAN CHAOS  Send This Review to a Friend

Director James D. Stern has provided a disturbing but enlightening film that is a wake-up call to be aware of what so many Donald Trump supporters think. The Trump victory shocked Hillary Clinton voters who thought her election was in the bag, but ignored the undercurrent of dissatisfaction running through the United States. Stern, a Democrat, toured parts of America with his camera before the election and objectively interviewed an assortment of people along the way.

Stern looked surprised at the depth of dissatisfaction that he found, and at the passion evident at the Republican national convention at which Trump was nominated. It is important for Trump’s opponents to take note of those who see him as a savior.

For example, there are coal miners who are frustrated by the decline of the mining industry and think Trump can bring back coal and jobs. During Stern’s tour of various states we meet some folks who are downright ill-informed and ignorant. But there are others who are simply hurting and desperate for solutions. Stern also found blatant bias toward Clinton.

It will be a huge challenge to win over such people, and for some, it would appear that nothing will change their minds. However, from what Stern shows us via the interviews that he did is that an effort must be made to connect and not simply ignore people as “deplorables.”

Those of us who see this record of what so many people are thinking may be depressed if not surprised by what Stern uncovered. Yet the aptly titled film is extremely valuable by pulling no punches. It is a frank and excellent primer about the present divisions in our country. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Reviewed September 14, 2018.

MUSEO  Send This Review to a Friend

A caper film inspired by a real robbery, “Museo” provides an angle that is different from others in the genre. This theft is not by seasoned criminals, but by a couple of young guys who have no idea of how difficult it will be to dispose of their loot, and the leader is inspired not only by money but by his love his country’s culture.

There was a real robbery in 1985 of Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. In this version, “Museo,” directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios, the brains behind the theft is Juan, a frustrated young veterinary school student who hasn’t amounted to much, but is fascinated by the contents of the museum. He is played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who manages to bring a special quality to whatever role he inhabits. Here he is the epitome of restlessness. He has a close friend, Wilson, portrayed by Leonardo Ortizgris, who is reluctant at the Christmas Eve moment Juan says they must strike because Wilson’s father is seriously ill. But Wilson gives in.

The actual heist has been well-planned by Juan, and it goes smoothly as we watch the meticulous details unfold, with Juan in awe of what they take in the way of Mayan artifacts. They have a fence in mind to steer them, but when they are finally led to the collector (Simon Russell Beale) whom they expect to buy the loot, they are given the shocking news that the stolen objects are too hot to handle and nobody would be foolish enough to purchase them.

How this all works out, including the reaction of Juan’s father when he realizes that his son has committed such a dastardly crime, is the substance of the rest of the picture. We follow what happens to Juan, Wilson and the stolen objects. The film is not one that especially catches fire, yet the atmosphere, excellent cinematography, settings and the well-acted characters make “Museo” quite watchable. Reviewed September 14, 2018.

  

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