Category Archives: Film

“SOLUTIONS”— Dirty Politics

“Solutions”

Dirty Politics

Amos Lassen

James Cross (Timothy J. Cox) is a very wealthy businessman who wants to run for mayor of his city. However, his opponent is very popular and Cross has a very low approval rating. He looks to Derek Price (David P.B. Stephens), a fixer to permanently fix this election.

Derek also thinks that this is a good time to begin training his son Damon (Oise Ohiwerei) who is interested in his father’s job and is now old enough to get involved. Derek decides to see if his son sinks or swims by throwing him headfirst into the world in which he lives. As long as Damon can manage the job, all will work out.

An older and wiser Damon narrates the film as he looks back on life with a bit of nostalgia and not necessarily the healthy kind. We see the younger Damon’s early remarks as well as what he has learned. Derek is tough but he is a father who tries to help his son get a foot-up in life. It just so happens that he is not totally legit. We see a great father/son relationship as we get a look at the side of politics that we should not see (even though we know it is there).

 

I wish that the relationship had been based on honesty but this 20-minute short film heads in a different direction. It also makes us think about that which is called an unfortunate accident. Timothy J. Cox once again shows his amazing versatility as an actor and he is supported well by the rest of the cast . “Solutions” was  written and directed by Zachary Halfter. This is the first of his films that I have seen but will be watching for them from now.

 

“RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE”— After Katrina

“RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE”

After Katrina

Amos Lassen

After having been in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, I was anxious to see this documentary and the title made this sound like a very interesting subject for a documentary. I was curious about whether the rodents here were the large rats that live in the warehouses along the Mississippi River and was surprised to see that the film is actually about the large region south of New Orleans that survived hurricane Katrina but is now facing the threat of monstrous twenty-pound rodents known as the nutria. Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are one of the largest disappearing landmasses in the world and these curious and unexpected invasive species from South America are accelerating coastal erosion and this makes the region vulnerable to hurricanes.  “As the coastline disappears, so do the hunters and trappers, fishermen and shrimpers, storytellers and musicians” that make Louisiana special are leaving in large numbers. There are, however, those who are fighting back. One of those fighters is Thomas Gonzalez who together with his community of Delacroix Island, are resisting the invasion of the rodents.

The state of Louisiana has inaugurated a program that pays a $5 bounty for every nutria tail collected and this has helped a bit. There have been other plans such as harvesting nutria for their fur and meat in the hope that by creating a demand for the nutria, they could help protect the wetlands and fight back the rodents.

An interesting aspect of all of this is that even though nutria have caused great problems, they have also been part of Louisiana culture. The stories here are unexpected and seemingly far away from what we might expect yet taking the documentary as a whole, we see something about “coastal erosion, the devastation following hurricanes, loss of culture and homeland, and the resilience of the human spirit.” Below is the address of the website where you can get more information.

http://www.rodentsofunusualsiz e.tv

“THE SISSI COLLECTION”— An Austrian Princess

“THE SISSI COLLECTION”

An Austrian Princess

Amos Lassen

It was in 1951 that Romy Schneider became a star and that quick rise to stardom came from her playing the role of Princess Elizabeth of Austria (Sissi). We meet Sissi when she was just 16 and traveling with her mother to the Austrian court in Ischl so that they could be there when her sister Helene became engaged to Franz Josef (Karl Boehm) Things did go as planned, especially for Helene who was replaced by Sissi who he met while fishing. The emperor and Sissi became quickly engaged but soon learn that marriage comes with a price and that price came in the form of Archduchess Sophie, the emperor’s arrogant and headstrong mother.  Nonetheless, the two had a magnificent imperial wedding in Vienna and Sissi settles down to everyday life as empress. 

Unfortunately, the strong-willed Sissi and her domineering mother-in-law cannot see eye to eye, and when Sissi gives birth to a daughter, the conflict is heightened. A truce was brokered and the young couple go to Hungary where they are crowned King and Queen.  Sissi proved her ability to not only handle affairs of state but also her mother-in-law.  But as the Queen travels to Hungary in an effort to calm the insubordinate nobility, Archduchess Sophie again causes trouble for her daughter-in-law. This story is told on three remastered DVDs. 

 Extras Include a Bonus Disc featuring “Forever My Love” (1962), a Condensed English-Dubbed Version of the Trilogy, a “Making of” Featurette and a 20-page booklet.

“A GRAY STATE”— Reality and Belief

“A Gray State”

Reality and Belief

Amos Lassen

“A Gray State” is set in a dystopian near future where civil liberties are trampled by an unrestrained federal government. In January, 2015, Crowley was found dead with his family in their suburban Minnesota home. Their shocking deaths quickly become a rallying point for conspiracy theorists who speculated that Crowley was assassinated by a shadowy government concerned about a film and filmmaker that was getting too close to the truth about their aims. Directed by Erik Nelson “A Gray State” goes through Crowley’s archive of 13,000 photographs, hundreds of hours of home video, and exhaustive behind-the-scenes footage of David’s work in progress to reveal what happens when a paranoid view of the government blurs the lines of what is real and what people want to believe. The film takes us deep into some of the fault lines that are fracturing America as we are taken on “a dark ride through the tunnel of conspiracy culture, the trauma experienced by many veterans, celebrity worship, gun obsession, and the unforeseen consequences of an addiction to social media. But it is a dark ride that tries to point a way to the light.”

For several years, Crowley had been trying to make a feature film called “Gray State” and he was not the kind of man who would murder his wife and child and then take his own life.

We see a couple self-proclaimed “citizen investigators” dismiss the notion that the crime scene was what it appeared to be, darkly hinting at outside forces that wanted Crowley silenced. Instead, the movie sketches out the story of how Crowley transitioned from eager soldier to disaffected veteran, driven indie filmmaker and entrepreneur, and finally a broken-down paranoiac.

He left behind a wealth of video footage and friends. After a deployment in Iraq, he came home and married Komel just six weeks after meeting her. The Army then stop-lossed Crowley, sending him this time to Afghanistan. That tour of duty appears to have further darkened an already cynical worldview. Unlike most veterans, though, on his return to America, Crowley found solace for what was likely undiagnosed PTSD in the negative reassurance of online conspiracy theories. He enrolled in film school and was consumed by the idea of making “Gray State.”

His plan was to show was militia fantasies tailor-made for the post-“Matrix” conspiracy community. He seemed to be just throwing everything into the film: New World Order, FEMA camps, a mysterious entity implanting RFID chips into children (leaving a triangular scar probably meant to evoke the Trilateral Commission), scrappy white Americans leading an insurgency against the shadowy aggressors, and plenty of shootouts. Once

Crowley posted the trailer online and his presence on social media presence went viral. He became a kind of star. However, “Gray State” kept morphing and mutating and remaining frustratingly unfinished. Crowley didn’t seem able to either finish his movie in some altered fashion or move on to something else.

Nelson, a longtime collaborator of Werner Herzog’s (executive producer) brings together a stingingly emotional portrait of an outwardly confident and well-rounded man who was actually descending into madness. The footage of Komel is particularly tragic, since she was the one financially and emotionally supporting Crowley, only to possibly fall prey to the same delusional fever that overtook him near the end.

The behind-the-scenes material of Crowley’s home life also show dysfunction in his relationship with his wife, Komel and this is reinforced by her business partner. For Nelson, the tragic end of the Crowley family speaks to something much larger. You will have to see the film to understand what that is.

“THE DIVINE ORDER”— Swiss Women

“THE DIVINE ORDER”

Swiss Women

Amos Lassen

Petra Volpe’s “The Divine Order” is Switzerland’s submission for the 2018 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Set in Switzerland in 1971 where women were still denied the right to vote. When unassuming and dutiful housewife Nora (Marie Leuenberger), is forbidden by her husband Hans (Max Simonischek) to take a part-time job, her frustration leads to her become involved her rural town’s suffragette movement. In fact, she becomes its leader and something of a celebrity. This brings humiliation, threats, and the potential end to her marriage, but, she refuses to back down and she convinces the women in her village to go on strike. While this is going on, Nora discovers something about her liberation. As the referendum nears, the women realize that those voting are all going to be men.

Marie Leuenberger as Nora in THE DIVINE ORDER. Photographer: Daniel Ammann.

This is a funny, tear jerking, heartwarming movie that is manipulative but also very entertaining. The Swiss are famous for their neutrality in foreign affairs yet the country was full of far stronger feelings about a woman’s place in society.

Nora is tired of catering to a cantankerous father-in-law and a routine of menial tasks. Her resolve becomes stronger when her niece Hanna (Ella Rumpf), is consigned by her parents to a women’s prison after being caught seeing a boy they don’t approve of. She can do nothing about her husband forbidding her to work since a husband’s rights are sanctioned by Swiss law. Nora refuses to contribute to the Anti-Politicization of Women Committee’s cause of keeping the vote exclusively a man’s right and this turns heads in the village, including some in approval, namely Vroni (Sibylle Brunner), one of the community elders, and Graziella (Marta Zoffoli), a divorcee new in town who just opened a cafe.

Leuenberger sets the seriocomic tone of the film perfectly as Nora with droll eye-rolls and quiet persistence. By concentrating on the idiosyncrasies of a small village, director Volpe finds a fascinating way in to a story that crosses geographic and gender borders and knocks them both down in this rallying cry for equality.

“The Divine Order” opens in Los Angeles on November 17 and at Film Forum in NYC on October 27.

“FROM THE OTHER SIDE”— A Thought-Provoking Look at Illegal Immigrants

“FROM THE OTHER SIDE”

A Thought-Provoking Look at Illegal Immigrants

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Chantal Akerman’s provoking documentary on illegal immigrants from mostly on the Mexican side of the border is a slow-moving look at the impoverished Mexicans who risk their lives to make some money and get a better life in an unfriendly United States, whose citizens on the border towns are mostly outraged by the constant illegal traffic crossing the border. They see the immigrants as criminals, drug dealers, property destroyers and trespassers, possible disease carriers and might present other dangers to the locals such as being terrorists. Akerman interviews relatives of the border crossing Mexicans who grieve for those who lost their lives crossing the border and American sheriffs facing constant strife from the illegal’s. Akerman uses her distinctive style of pauses and long takes of the wall erected to keep out the invaders. We learn it might make it tougher for the illegals to get to San Diego and El Paso, but these desperate people are willing to take greater risks by going through the rural desert areas of Arizona to cross the border. The film shows how dangerous an area it is to cross. The American border town features a highway sign that captures the feeling of many American locals: “Stop the Crime Wave! Our Property and Environment Is Being Trashed by Invaders!”

Akerman is mostly concerned that the ‘invisible people,’ the marginalized unemployed Mexican worker, who are being screwed by both governments because of their bias against them. We see that paid smugglers often take their money and run away leaving them alone to die in the hostile desert. The spare investigative journalism film is done in a sensitive and evocative way that tells us about the plight of the illegals, while never getting close enough to them to really know the private thoughts of their subjects. Akerman makes no attempt to say how the United States should change its immigration policy with Mexico. We see the poor living conditions at home and we are left to come to our own conclusions on what is the right thing to do for this source of cheap labor.

Akerman’s camera glides along the dusty streets of a Mexican town, or sits still as children play baseball in an open field, with only ambient sounds as accompaniment. In tell mode, the Belgian auteur turns her attention exclusively to her subjects who are framed in modest, static shots as they relate their \stories about the perils of crossing the border into America. No further illustration is necessary.

The film begins on the Mexican side of the border as a young man talks about his older brother who was abandoned by coyotes (paid “guides” who smuggle immigrants across the border) to fend for himself in the Arizona desert. Later, a woman speaks about her son and grandson who died during a crossing. 

The film shows the perils of the American Immigration policy which made it more difficult for immigrants to get into cities like San Diego, with the side-effect of forcing them into far more dangerous crossings in the Southwestern desert. Akerman does not offer solutions, she is there to record the attitudes of people on both sides of the border. This is a soberly respectful portrait whose somber tone suggests that Akerman most certainly has an opinion on the subject.

“FROM THE EAST”— Eastern Europe After the Fall of the USSR

“From the East”

Eastern Europe After the Fall of the USSR

Amos Lassen

Chantal Akerman’s “From the East” (“D’Est”) is something of an experimental film,. Akerman took a trip through Eastern Europe to document life there after the collapse of the Soviet Union where she filmed people who seem to be waiting for something. The images that we see are gorgeous and tend to push us into a state of meditation about the past.

There is no text and no voiceover. The only sound that we hear is what was being filmed at the time. There is no story and no characters in any traditional sense and no one ever tells us where a particular location is. Akerman uses two types of shots in the film.  One is the tracking shot, always a slow, steady, unbroken shot and the camera never pauses to pick out a particular person or detail.  The other type of shot is the static shot that is usually head-on, unmoving.  Sometimes this is an interior shot of someone at home making a sandwich, watching TV or more often, just sitting staring into the lens.  Sometimes it is an exterior shot of a building and

the viewer is forced to draw his or her own conclusions.  The dominating motifs are movement and waiting.  We see unbelievably long lines of people waiting.  Sometimes it’s obvious that they’re waiting for a bus or a train but at other times, it is not clear.  We see a lot of motion— cars go by, people are walking and there’s a lot of hustle and bustle but we never reach any destination.  Here is society in transition, that is uncertain of where it’s going or what to do next.

Early in the film, we see youths dancing at a rock concert and this is the most joyful and active scene we witness.  It’s almost a static shot, but we catch some movement as the camera keeps the dancers in the frame.  Late in the film, we see a cellist perform a Tchaikovsky solo.  As she finishes, the camera slowly moves to the edge of the stage, where admirers wait to present her with flowers.  Both of these incongruous shots are centered around music and we wonder if Akerman if suggesting that the appreciation of the arts is a source of hope and light for these people as well as a break from the routine of waiting or it is simply a matter of being the best way to capture what she wanted to capture at those moments.  While the movie otherwise has a rigid formal construction, these shots stand out and make you think.

The film is an excellent piece of anthropological voyeurism that puts us into the middle of a particular type of society at a particular time.  We can enjoy merely watching the reactions of people to the camera and there are many faces to take in, and these faces mesmerize us.

“OPERATION PETTICOAT”— Cary Grant and Tony Curtis Together

“OPERATION PETTICOAT”

Cary Grant and Tony Curtis Together

Amos Lassen

Together Cary Grant and Tony Curtis give this comedy about aboard a broken-down submarine that welcomes five navy nurses below decks for a perilous ocean voyage some good laughs.

Blake Edwards directed this thin service comedy. On December 10, 1941, the new Sea Tiger is ready for battle in the Philippines when a surprise enemy attack badly damages it. Although Matt’s boss, Capt. J. P. Henderson (Robert F. Simon), orders the ship grounded, Matt gets permission to make enough crude repairs to transport her to the nearest port. Henderson assigns Matt a skeleton crew. The next day there’s the auspicious arrival of the brash wheeler-dealer Lt. Nick Holden (Tony Curtis), a socialite Naval officer in a spotless uniform who has never sailed before. Viewing himself more as an “idea man” than a sailor, Nick gets appointed to be the new supply officer and since the ship has no supplies, he recruits seaman Hunkle (Gavin MacLeod) and a sailor called “The Prophet” (George Dunn) to help him raid the local supply warehouse.

The crew steals enough supplies from everywhere possible to get the Sea Tiger seaworthy again. The Sea Tiger then goes out to sea and when forced to dock at a Pacific island because of a leak, Nick brings back to the ship a quintet of stranded army nurses –Maj. Edna Heywood (Virginia Gregg), Lt. Barbara Duran (Dina Merrill), Lt. Claire Reid (Madlyn Rhue), Lt. Ruth Colfax (Marion Ross), and Lt. Dolores Crandall (Joan O’Brien). Matt has little choice but to take them to Manila.

A major money-earner when released in 1959, the film tries to marry the traditional service comedy genre with sex farce. However, too much of Operation Petticoat is dated and tired to work effectively today, which may explain why this former box office winner has disappeared from most serious discussions of 1960s film comedies. The film is released as part of the Olive Films signature series and is only available on Blu Ray.

OLIVE SIGNATURE FEATURES 

  • New High-Definition digital restoration
  • Audio commentary by critic Adrian Martin
  • “That’s What Everybody Says About Me” – with Jennifer Edwards and actress Lesley Ann Warren
  • “The Brave Crew of the Petticoat” – with actors Gavin MacLeod and Marion Ross
  • “The Captain and His Double: Cary Grant’s Struggle of the Self” – with Marc Eliot, author of Cary Grant: A Biography
  • Universal Newsreel footage of Cary Grant and the opening of Operation Petticoat at the Radio City Music Hall
  • Archival footage of the submarine USS Balao, which doubled as the USS Sea Tiger in Operation Petticoat
  • Essay by critic Chris Fujiwara

‘SOUTH”— In Jasper, Texas

“South”

In Jasper, Texas

Amos Lassen

In “South” filmmaker Chantal Akerman focused on James Byrd Jr., an African-American man, was chained to the back of a pick-up truck and dragged to his death by three men claimed to be white supremacists. The murder shook the small town of Jasper, Texas and, far too briefly, the rest of the nation.

Through the use of tracking shots through town (including one that may be a retracing of the pick-up truck’s route) and no-frills interviews with locals and a lengthy sequence filmed at Byrd’s funeral service, the film is shocking. The film is a meditation on racial hatred as seen through a true story about racial hatred in the rural south. There is no narration during the first 15 minutes as we look at an unnamed city’s black community in a rural southern town, where we view the poor houses and the barren landscape of the farm community. We then learn the town is Jasper, Texas, and in 1998 three white supremacists chained the peaceful black man James Byrd Jr. to the back of their pickup truck and dragged him on a 3-mile stretch down a deserted summer country road in the black section of town. They left him beheaded and mutilated near a black cemetery, with pieces of flesh thrown along the road. The men were quickly arrested, and said their motive was to kill a black man to restore white pride and as a symbolic gesture to drive the blacks out of the country. The victim’s Christian family refused to call for a violent payback and in a black church memorial service for the victim we hear the congregation call for tolerance and a better racial unity in town. The film briefly explores the town’s racial makeup, its past and current racial problems, and the twisted beliefs of the dangerous Christian Aryan hate group and the town’s hopes for the future in overcoming racial hatred. The film ends bringing up ghosts from the South’s past history of bigotry by going over the entire 3-mile death route and allowing us to picture for ourselves that torturous execution scene that might remind some of the crucifixion.

Jasper has an African-American plurality, and early in the film a black woman hails the progress that has been made since the Civil Rights movement, yet Akerman decides to uncover the town’s whiteness. One interviewee details how the Aryan Brotherhood methodically takes over churches and other institutions and trains followers to respond to “trigger phrases” without actually inciting violence. What is alarming is not the perpetuation of racism, but rather the Brotherhood’s invocation of America as a nation defined by whiteness. Akerman explores  this through prolonged shots of trees. As the camera lingers, the film foregrounds the passage of time such that the pasts of these trees, sites of past hangings and lynchings, become all but visible, and virulent racism seems to emanate from the landscape and from America itself. Even a paved road is corrupted with the stench and history of violence, so the film ends with an 8-minute long shot following the path in which Byrd was dragged, finding tragedy in the racial attitudes of the Brotherhood. Few films today have so simply and so effectively captured the paradoxical state of race relations in America today. We see a de facto whiteness that threatens not only lives but also the sense of belonging and therefore identity.

“FATHER GOOSE”—Meet Walter Eckland

“FATHER GOOSE”

Meet Walter Eckland

Amos Lassen

American beachcomber Walter Eckland (Cary Grant) is an unkempt, unshaven and uncouth beach bum who loves his booze. He has been coerced into serving as a coast-watcher on a remote South Pacific island during the outbreak of World War II by his Aussie friend Navy Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard). “Mother Goose” is Eckland’s code name and Houghton’s is “Big Bad Wolf.” For every enemy plane movement spotted, Mother Goose gets a bottle of whiskey. Ordered to rescue a fellow spotter on another nearby island, Walter finds French teacher, Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron), and her seven schoolgirls, who are on the island because their American plane set them there to go on a rescue mission of a plane crash. Walter takes them all back to his paradise island, and Catherine tries to reform Walter of his drinking and coarse language. 

“Father Goose” was Cary Grant’s penultimate movie and he was still able to deliver the charm and comedy that he has been known for. Yet ironically “Father Goose” isn’t a movie which asks for Grant to be charming, it asks for him to be a curmudgeon who becomes frustrated by not only being forced to help the war effort but losing his island to a woman and her class of girls who force him out of his home and hide his booze. But you can’t take the charm out of Cary Grant and even when he is playing a curmudgeon he is a charming one. In fact, I would say that Grant is the reason why “Father Goose” despite now being over 50 years old is still a lot of fun. But it is also the combination of the writing and direction with Ralph Nelson keeping the movie ticking over with one joke following another but with just enough breathing room so that it doesn’t become a gag movie.

Leslie Caron acts with a sense of polite bossiness which she gives Catherine and compared to Walter is truly beautiful. There is great romantic chemistry between the two stars the comic timing between them works. In fact the comic timing works just as well with the younger actresses who play the school “Father Goose” is a new addition to the Olive Signature Series and it is released as a Blu ray disc.

OLIVE SIGNATURE FEATURES 

  • New Restoration from 4K Scan of Original Camera Negative
  • Audio commentary by film historian David Del Valle
  • “Unfinished Business: Cary Grant’s Search for Fatherhood and His Oscar” – with Marc Eliot, author of Cary Grant: A Biography
  • “My Father” – internet pioneer Ted Nelson discusses director Ralph Nelson
  • Universal Newsreel footage featuring Leslie Caron
  • Essay by Village Voice critic Bilge Ebiri