Category Archives: Film

“NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE”— Stylish and Dark

nosferatu“Nosferatu The Vampyre”

Stylish and Dark

Amos Lassen

I remember all too well sitting in a dark Tel Aviv movie house on a summer afternoon and watching Klaus Kinski as the ugliest vampire I had ever seen. The film was “Nosferatu the Vampyre”, director Werner Herzog’s tribute to F. W. Murnau, whom he considers to be Germany’s greatest filmmaker, as well as a haunting gothic horror tale in its own right. It is a remake of Murnau’s 1922 film “Nosferatu”, which is the earliest surviving cinematic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”. Herzog has combined ideas from Murnau’s film, Bram Stoker’s novel, and his own imagination in creating a film that is, if anything, even more expressionistic and romanticist than the 1922 masterpiece. It is also more languid and pathetic than other “Dracula” adaptations.

nosferatu1

Set in Germany and Transylvania Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) is a real estate agent employed by a madman named Renfield (Roland Topor) to deliver a contract to Count Dracula in Transylvania, who wishes to purchase property in Wismar, Germany. When he reaches his destination, Jonathan finds a hideous, predatory Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) eager to sign the deed to his new home. Several days later, ill and traumatized by horrors that he experienced at Dracula’s castle, Jonathan understands that his young wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) will be in grave danger if Dracula reaches Wismar and sets out to save her. Count Dracula’s arrival in Wismar coincides with the Plague. The city is overrun with rats and its population decimated by disease. Only Lucy comprehends the nature of the evil that has befallen the city and understands what she must do to stop it.

nosferatu2 Herzog’s film moves slowly but steadily and spends time with the characters. Count Dracula closely is grotesque— rodent-like and closely associated with rats and the Plague. He laments his permanent un-dead existence without light or love for centuries, which makes him a tragic character. Although Count Dracula is the force that drives the narrative, the first half of the film is about Jonathan, and the second half concentrates on Lucy (Isabelle Adjani). Lucy is stronger and smarter than the characters that surround her, and she tries her best to save everyone in spite of their blindness.

 The film is beautifully shot with glorious music and a wonderful performance by Klaus Kinski Dracula. This isn’t an ordinary vampire movie, it doesn’t have any scares, it doesn’t have any bloody scenes either, it’s not made to scare or gross the audience, it’s made to give the audience remarkable visions of vampires, so masterfully done that they are impossible to forget.

nosferatu3

Watching “Nosferatu” is like having a disturbing dream— the images have an hallucinogenic, archetypal quality. Writer-director Werner Herzog began with F.W. Murnau’s expressionist classic, mixed in elements from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, then set about creating a meditation on the vampire myth.  We begin to wonder what would it really mean to live forever, and be compelled to feed on the blood of others? What of the unspeakable boredom? The longing for companionship? For normalcy? For death? As played by Klaus Kinski, Herzog’s Dracula has spent hundreds, if not thousands of years alone with these thoughts. Herzog, Kinski, and the rest of the cast keep it all beautifully stylized and all works.

“STAGE FRIGHT”— A Horror Musical

stage fright

“Stage Fright”

A Horror Musical

Amos Lassen

Musical theater and slasher cinema come together in “Stage Fright”. Writer/director Jerome Sable finds a splendid middle ground of camp and suspense, filling the picture with memorable songs and a traditional display of bloodshed. It is something of an understatement to say that this is a bizarre movie but it is also fun and well done as it finds ways to integrate two unlikely styles in one film. So what if it is strange and totally imaginative—so is life.

stage1

The story goes like this: Ten years ago, young Camilla (Allie MacDonald) and Buddy (Douglas Smith) witnessed the murder of their mother, beloved opera star Kylie (Minnie Driver). Raised by Kylie’s producer, Roger (Meat Loaf Aday), the siblings are currently employed at the Center Stage performing arts camp, where they manage kitchen duties while kids from around the country come to camp to work on their singing and dancing. A kabuki take on “The Haunting of the Opera” is the camp’s musical project and it is the very same piece that Kylie was involved with before her death. Roger hopes to interest a Broadway producer with it. Camilla, looking to connect with her mother, auditions for the lead role, competing with Liz (Melanie Leishman) and lascivious director Artie (Brandon Uranowitz) with hopes to secure the part. As set construction and rehearsals begin, Camilla struggles with her fears and the camp is soon terrorized by a masked killer who’s out to make sure the big show ends with a murder spree.

stage2

 The film maintains a reverence for the Broadway aesthetic and director Sable is clearly loves musical theater. Not only does the picture share a handful of songs to help the storytelling out, it delves into the behind-the-scenes egos and pressures of performance, with Camilla not only facing the challenge of a leading part, but one her mother performed a decade ago. This is a marketable angle that Roger can’t resist as he works to bring moneymen to the camp. Songs do play a key role in “Stage Fright,” with most taking on a heightened form of comedy, playing up the bursting excitement of campers as they arrive on the property, and there are selections from “The Haunting of the Opera” to fill up the film’s final act. The tunes are silly but cute and have fun with musical conventions while at the same time giving some energy to the feature. Perhaps the best songs on the soundtrack are those sung by the killer, who takes on a death metal persona as he screams lyrics and slashes through victims with ease. “Stage Fright” sits somewhere between rides that line between camp and “let’s-put-on-a-show” and it always keeps a great spirit.

The final act of “Stage Fright” carries into expected mayhem as opera collides with the killer’s modus operandi and ends with dead bodies and opening night panic as Camilla fights to survive. Mystery isn’t a top priority for Sable’s screenplay, with the killer’s identity fairly easy to spot early on in the movie.

stage3

While it is not laugh-out-loud funny but is consistently lighthearted which makes it fun to watch. “Stage Fright” masquerades as genre spoof. 

“WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD”— Araki’s Back

white bird

“White Bird in a Blizzard”

Araki’s Back

Amos Lassen

In 1988, a teenage girl’s life is thrown into chaos when her mother disappears. With this we welcome Gregg Araki back to tell us another story about suburban sexuality. Shailene Woodley is Katherine, a high schooler boldly making choices about her virginity. At the same time, she and her father, (an excellent [and “best butt on television”] Christopher Meloni) deal with the sudden disappearance of the mother (Eva Green). Araki has never shied away from risky content in his film and in fact, he embraces it. Here, in this new film, he never allows the difficult subject matter to be a distraction. Araki’s world, especially here, is just a little more stylized in its look, feel, color, and level of dramatic content. It’s more real and direr, closer to the world we live in.

Kat Connor has recently blossomed from the woes of “teendom” and she is now no longer an adolescent but a beautiful sexual being. However, she is a social misfit who is more interested in sexual exploration than finding an intellectual equal, so her attention is immediately directed towards a hunky-yet-dumb boy next door, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez). Her mother Eve is jealous of her daughter’s beautiful body. Now Eve has been replaced in the family by someone who is prettier than she is. She even feels she has to compete for her husband’s attention. Her marriage has been one that is sexless and her husband is not adventurous to say the least. Eve has changed from a sexy trophy wife into a deranged alcoholic. So, when she disappears, it seems all too probable that she ran away from her depressingly mundane life in suburbia for something a bit more exciting.

Set in 1988, the world we see is one of bad taste as exemplified by Kat’s bedroom furnishings. What Araki does is to take apart and look inside at the mind of the suburban American teen through coming-of-age experiments. When the film opens, Kat comes home from school to find her mother having a nervous breakdown on her bed. A few days later her mother is gone entirely, vanished without a trace. In her dreams, Kat sees Eve lying naked beneath a pile of fresh-fallen snow. The disappearance does not affect her at all and in fact she is unfazed by it. The police send her to a therapist (Angela Bassett), whose helps Kat uncover clues within recent examples of her mother’s increasingly erratic behavior.  Kat’s best friends are also social misfits and Kat has decided to lose her virginity to the oaf who lives next door to her, Phil,  (Shiloh Fernandez). Kat could do much better, but hasn’t quite realized the extent of her newfound powers — which explains her bewilderment as she studies her own unfamiliar body before the bathroom mirror.

Araki pays careful attention to detail throughout the film including period-specific T-shirts and song selections for the “normal-acting” teen characters which are in total contrast to Eve’s campy performance style and oddly out-of-time costumes and through this we get an idea about the psychological underlying of the film. When the time comes to assert her own independence, Kat must symbolically eliminate the mother and seduce the father figure — which she does by coming on to the ultra-masculine Detective Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane). Yet Kat holds on to own naiveté and refuses to accept the truth about her parents. She is sexually ready to become a woman but mentally, she can’t deal with the secrets in her family.

The police investigation of Eve’s disappearance is of no concern to the film aside from being a way for Kat to meet Scieziesciez who compared to her father is a “quintessential male who willfully enables Kat to fulfill her daddy complex”.

Araki will not be surprised by his irreverently deconstructed the novel that the film is based upon and sues the film to discuss teenage sexuality while ignoring what has been one of his major themes in the past—LGBTQ identity issues. Araki in presenting his feminist look at the world uses Eve as an exaggerated example of the horrific effects of domestic oppression. “Like a bird hindered from flying by the bars of a cage, Eve is rendered powerless and worthless in our beauty-obsessed society”.

“DIVAN”— “Everyone has a couch. Not everyone has a couch with a story like this”.

divan

“Divan”

“Everyone has a couch. Not everyone has a couch with a story like this”.

Amos Lassen

“Divan” is the quest for a turn of the century Hungarian couch upon which Hassidic rabbis slept.

It follows the Pearl Gluck’s effort to find a turn-of-the-century family heirloom – a couch. She journeys from her birthplace, Brooklyn’s Hasidic community, to its origins in Hungary and back. The couch is considered holy because certain Hasidic rabbis had slept on it and it survived World War II and is in the filmmaker’s great grandfather’s house in Rohod, a northeast Hungarian town. In the tradition of storytelling, this is a visual parable about the Hasidic community that she left as a teenager. She trails the couch through a quirky landscape populated by Hasidim in Brooklyn, Holocaust survivors and ex-communists in Hungary, and, finally, the next generation of formerly Hasidic Jews on the margins of their communities in New York and Israel.

divan1

“As this film begins, we hear the filmmaker: “Everyone has a couch story.” While it may not seem a likely source of drama and intrigue, the couch piece of furniture leads the filmmaker, her family, and her audience in unexpected and rewarding directions.

Pearl Gluck was born into the ultra-orthodox Hasidic sect of Judaism in Borough Park, Brooklyn in 1972. As a young woman, she began to stray and to satisfy her curiosity, she would find textbooks before her elders had censored them. She was finally able to experience the “outside” world on her own when her parents divorced and she and her mother moved to Manhattan. She did fine in the outside world earning a college degree and a Fulbright. But she also was upset about her relationship with her father and the past that she was forced to sacrifice to gain these opportunities. The only way she can think to appease her father without giving up her lifestyle is to hunt down an ancestral couch in Hungary, which is venerated by her father because of the learned men who slept on it decades ago.

On a superficial level this is the story about a piece of furniture but included are family politics and the mythology that surround this particular couch are fascinating. Pearl Gluck’s whole family knows that she is both a female and a Hasidic expatriate. Her unkempt curly hair and her bare arms make it painfully apparent the minute she steps into sight. While it may seem unimportant, it matters; because in Pearl’s world, no one wants to give a family heirloom to the black sheep of the family—much less a woman—even if this “heirloom” has been locked up inside of a barn since World War II.

divan2

She does find the couch but when she does she finds frustration as well as excitement. Because she is a woman, she is not sure she can ask the man who’s keeping it to give it up. He, too, seems to have an emotional attachment to it. Furthering her frustration is the fact that as she becomes increasingly obsessed with this divan, her father becomes disinterested, and returns to his old efforts to find her a “good husband.” Nothing really goes according to plan.

What we, as viewers, do not expect, is that a film about a couch becomes more about a spiritual and familial journey of reconciliation than the story about furniture. Pearl strives to find a peaceful existence that ignores neither her past nor her present, and at the same time, she  works to bring her father back into her life. Her father is torn, as well—he loves his daughter, but can feel the scorn from the Hasidic community for his even associating with such a woman.

In telling these three stories of furniture, faith, and family, we see that the film switches back and forth between three distinct storylines. In addition to Pearl’s search for the divan through her family contacts, the film shows us a number of ex-Hasidim being interviewed on Pearl’s antique divan, and the story of the divan’s journey to the United States and restoration. In each of these storylines we meet some of Pearl’s idiosyncratic friends, family, and acquaintances. We follow her progress until ultimately she gets what she may have been looking for all along: her father visits her apartment in Manhattan, outside of the insular world of Borough Park.

With the focus on the divan and also allowing these other stories to develop in the background, we get several surprises and the story becomes much more than a couch tale. We overlook the low production values of the film itself and the somewhat poor audio because we are so involved in what is going on.

divan3

Zeitgeist Films released the film on DVD and includes what they call “Odds and Ends”—a collection of extra footage, introduced by relevant questions and answers from film festivals, and brief glimpses at the previews and preparations for the release of the film. It’s a well-conceived collection, consisting of four pieces that total just about half an hour. The effort invested in tying the extra clips together thematically in each of the five to ten minute pieces, and in introducing them with question and answer footage from film festivals, pays off, making them more immediately interesting and less tedious to slog through. The most poignant of the clips is from a question-and-answer session at the film forum in New York City, where Gluck talks about the film’s reception by both her father and the Hasidic community.

Also included with the disc is a director’s statement. This four-paragraph statement contains some background information about the film and how its production began, but it also gives some hints about where the film ended up. As such, one should wait to read it until after seeing the film. It really doesn’t reveal much, but this is so much about taking a physical and emotional journey with Pearl Gluck that it is best to have no inclination about where it ends. The film comes to a moving, unexpected conclusion that takes all of Gluck’s questions about how to be a part-time believer and finds a somewhat radical solution. The ending elevates the film, because for one final moment of clarity, she allows herself to be seen in a light that’s natural, not just flattering.

“CASTING PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, VOLUME ONE”— Coming from Toby Ross

casting

“Casting Pearls Before Swine Volume 1”

Coming from Toby Ross

Amos Lassen

This is just a brief notice about an upcoming film coming from Toby Ross.

“Casting Pearls Before Swine is a collection of the most mind bending scenes from Toby Ross’ films, you get “Nothing to lose” from “Payton Collins” which has a lustful strangulation scene of a Janitor who stayed late one night in a school and did not live to regret it, A man on a Mission” from “Moon Over Hong Kong” about a CIA officer being tested for tasteless behavior before flying away on a dangerous mission, “In Deep” from “Like a Moth to a Flame” about s serial killer who offs people with his extra-large appendage, Girl s night out, from “Get a life” and “The Snob” about a young man who thinks he is better than anyone else and how he falls flat on his face at the end”.

“THE NEW NORMAL”— In Case You Missed It

the new normal

“The New Normal: The Complete Series”

In Case You Missed It

Amos Lassen

Emmy -winning Ryan Murphy promised to bring us a funny, heartfelt show about love, marriage, and hopefully, a baby carriage! California couple Bryan (Andrew Rannels) and David (Justin Bartha) have everything a fabulous gay couple could want – except a child. They think they’ve found the perfect surrogate, Goldie (Georgia King), a gorgeous single mom but here’s just one problem (or two or even a whole season’s worth). Goldie’s slacker ex is fighting for custody of their precocious daughter, and her grandmother (Ellen Barkin) is a wisecracking bigot. With a little work and lots of tolerance, this group just might become a family.

normal1

A conservative moms group targeted the show before anyone saw it and has since been rejected by a Utah NBC station by programmers who did see it. What a way to drum up interest. (I remember years ago when the Catholic Church banned the film of Tennessee Williams’s “Baby Doll”. It was impossible to find a ticket to see it and Catholics who had never been to a movie stood in line for hours trying to buy a ticket—nothing sells tickets like scandal).

“The New Normal” was co-created by Ryan Murphy  of “Glee” and “American Horror Story” fame and is about a male couple in a committed relationship that decide to have a child through a surrogate. It is no more offensive than Mitchell and Cameron’s relationship in ABC’s “Modern Family,” there is one extremely brief kiss between the two guys, and the only offensive language spews from the Barkin’s mouth: You’d have to be an idiot not to see that her bigotry is played for laughs, a tradition that goes way back. (Remember Archie?).

The New Normal - Season Pilot

Bryan and David are a traditional sitcom couple, except that they’re both men. Bryan is a flighty shopaholic, while David is a more grounded OB/GYN who likes hanging out on the couch watching sports. One day, on a shopping trip, Bryan realizes he wants to be a dad. David is skeptical and says that a kid isn’t something you can take back to Barneys and so he is cautious. Nevertheless, the guys sign up for a surrogate through an agency and interview several hilariously inappropriate choices, including Gwyneth Paltrow as a Gwyneth Paltrow look-alike. Finally, they find Goldie (Georgia King, “One Day”), who had to put her dreams to be a lawyer on hold when, as a teen, she became pregnant with her daughter, Shania (Bebe Wood) who is a very centered, very precocious 9-year-old who speaks her mind on a regular basis.

Goldie tried to make a relationship work with Shania’s father, but finding him in bed with another woman is just the wake-up call she needs to start following her own dreams again and make an even better life for Shania.

We also have Nana Jane, a real estate  broker with perfect hair who hates everything and everyone but she likes “the gays” because they do such a good job with her hair.

normal3

This is technically a comedy about the unlikely relationship that develops between a gay couple, the surrogate they hire to bear their child, and the surrogate’s gleefully racist grandmother. It features comedic actors, whimsical music, and many lines of dialogue that are, structurally, jokes. Some of the lines are even funny. It has its heart in the right place and contains an almost perfect array of sitcom elements— attractive and witty young leads, a cute wiser-than-her-years kid and a curmudgeonly older woman The show’s got a positive social message (love is love, no matter who you are, etc.) but there are two main obstacles, however, to the success of this show: pushiness and contempt. It is very comfortable operating as a kind of public-service announcement. I counted at least six bleary-eyed epiphanies followed by conspicuously brave speeches in the first episode alone. In this series, one must resolutely decide to be true to oneself as regularly as one decides to go to the bathroom. This has the effect of hammering the viewer over the head with a message as well as wasting a lot of dramatic energy that could otherwise be spent on character development. There are only so many times a television program can make you believe in the triumph of the human spirit within the space of a half hour. This show often feels more interested in speechifying about equality and love than actually performing and enacting those things. The series asks you to care deeply about the journey of its characters based solely on their social context—I identify with single mothers, I identify with gay couples, and so on—before you even know who those characters are. Politics lets Murphy sidestep the work of earning empathy.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t want to know too much about these characters. So the leading man is vain, shallow, effeminate, and addled. While Murphy tries to poke holes in that balloon by having Bryan’s partner, David (Jason Bartha), be a football fan, it’s hard to counteract stereotypes with other stereotypes. Viewers will likely be able to overlook this problematic arrangement, however, because it pales in comparison to Barkin’s explosion of slurs. Can a gay person exist on network television without a cranky old person there to make fun of him or her? This means that a majority of the jokes on the show are gay ones, presented without critique. At least Meathead yelled back at Archie.

When Barkin’s character calls Bryan a “salami smoker,” should we laugh? It’s the only joke in that space, and, tonally, it doesn’t seem like Murphy wants us to cringe. When she says a lesbian couple looks like “two ugly men,” is it meant as gritty realism? Is this show really so cynical that it either feels viewers (a) can only handle a gay couple glazed in orthodox bigotry or (b) will take laughs any way it can get them? What’s worse is not necessarily the jokes themselves, which are fairly banal homophobic slurs, but that the series presents them to us with such eagerness and pride.

“The New Normal” is insistent as it is about its moral agenda, and  sanctimonious about its politics but the series is not much of a political or moral statement. Indeed, it’s pretty suspect on both counts. It is less a series about non-traditional families than it is about the concept of non-traditional families. 

“THE AMAZING CATFISH”— Claudia and Martha

the amazing catfish

“The Amazing Catfish” (“Los insólitos peces gato”)

Claudia and Martha

Amos Lassen

Claudia is a lonely young woman who works in a supermarket. She ends up in the hospital one night with a severe case of appendicitis. There, she meets Martha who was in the bed next to hers. Martha lives alone with her four children, gains Claudia’s trust and the two women become immediate friends. When Martha gets out of the hospital, she offers Claudia to go home with them and getting to know Martha’s family makes Claudia feel at ease. For the first time in her life, she feels that she belongs somewhere. As Martha’s health weakens daily, the bond Claudia has with each member of the family grows stronger.

catfish1

This is the debut film of Claudia Sainte-Luce and it can divide opinions based on whether people find it either charming or strange. It is a lively tale of a solitary young woman integrated into an eccentric one-parent household whose matriarch is dying  and it is emotionally sweet for a tragedy.

It is easy to see  that there could be two separate films here— one that begins with Claudia (Ximena Ayala)  in the midst of a bad dream even  though she appears awake. We hear industrial sounds and a barely perceptible, repeated cry of “Help me” which makes it unsettling and gives the film a sense of unresolved mystery about Claudia whose is largely mute and isolated. Ten minutes in there is a conversation during which she is in pain and we learn that she has appendicitis.

catfish2

Martha (Lisa Owen), in the adjacent hospital bed, is far sicker, with an unnamed disease she got from her dead husband. Despite Martha’s unhappy prognosis, she has a glow about her, and her three daughters and son seem to have a warmth about them. the chaotic warmth exuded by her family of three daughters and one son which offers a sense of inclusion that Claudia has never felt. When they’re all discharged, Martha offers Claudia a ride and welcomes the young woman into her disordered house, a place whose messy emotional and physical aspects give Claudia a sense of belonging. Soon Claudia takes  the younger kids, Mariana (Andrea Baeza) and Armando (Alejandro Raimirez Munoz) (to school and helps the second-oldest child, Wendy (Wendy Guillen) with chores as well as helps the eldest and most responsible, Ale (Sonia Franco), to look after Martha. Even though Martha is weakening, she possesses a warm  spirit that shows that dysfunction can be a relative term.

What I found particularly interesting is the lack of men here. The women have been seemingly abandoned yet we do not know how or why. We watch as Claudia gains confidence and acceptance here but some find the incessant chatter to be painful. Nonetheless, we get caught up in the energy of the situation even though we really never get to know Claudia.

Director Claudia Sainte-Luce mixes joy and heart despite the sadness at the film’s core. This is the kind of film that will have you reflecting on the family you were born into and the families you inadvertently adopted along the way.

 Claudia’s overall feeling of emptiness at the beginning of the film is fascinating to watch. It serves as a nice juxtaposition to Martha’s family who is both full of love and great sadness. Sainte-Luce really taps into how Martha’s illness is impacting each of her four kids. She avoids bogging down the film with melodrama, but still manages to give the film a lingering emotional punch.

catfish3

Like the main character in the film, Sainte-Luce brings us into Martha’s family as if they were our own. Although the siblings pull together in regards to taking care of their mother and household, Sainte-Luce points out that they are still youngsters who need their mother.

This film is a beautiful celebration of life, love and family, and how the heart and familial bond prevails in the face of distress. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zCixN1LdX0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQWnRq_-GnQ 

“A SUMMER’S TALE”— Two Weeks By the Sea

a summer's tale

“A Summer’s Tale” (“Conte d’été”)

Two Weeks By the Sea

Amos Lassen

Eric Rohmer’s “A Summer’s Tale” is not a new film—in fact, it was made in 1996 and is part of the “4 Seasons Cycle” but what is new is its release on DVD.

Rohmer uses two weeks at a seaside resort town—the sort of environment in which the demands of the real world can be kept at arm’s length—to examine the ins and outs of young love as experienced by Gaspard, an introverted recent MA recipient (Melvil Poupaud) with designs on becoming a songwriter. Waiting for his girlfriend, Lena (Aurelia Nolin) to join him, he strikes up a friendship with a pretty waitress and ethnologist, Margot (Amanda Langlet) that grows increasingly difficult to define as Nolin’s arrival becomes less imminent. Further complicating matters is the arrival of a third woman, Solene (Gwenaëlle Simon) whose aggressiveness matches the others’ ambiguity. Rohmer’s characters do far more talking about their feelings than acting upon them, but what they don’t say, and what they don’t yet have the vocabulary to say, is important. We may see Gaspard as callow and timid, and his songs as unformed as his personality, but Rohmer seems to suggest that his youthful mistakes will make him a better man.

summer1

Eric Rohmer’s characters are often irritating and insufferable, yet they can likewise be charming and utterly irresistible. In this film, Gaspard acts like a grown up teenager who likes to play at love but is unwilling to make commitments, finding himself unable to honestly express his feelings to three women he meets at a seaside resort. Like so many Rohmer films, the story takes place at a time when the characters have nothing to do but meet and talk and idle the days away, and we are sure that there will be a great deal of talk going on.

Gaspard develops a relationship with Margot but it is all very platonic as Margot is waiting for her boyfriend to come back from the Peace Corps and Gaspard says that he is waiting for the arrival of his girl friend Lena who is vacationing with her cousins in Spain. Margot and Gaspard take long walks in the French countryside and engage in witty and intelligent conversation about relationships, jealousy, and sex and they seem well suited for each other but each avoids an emotional connection. Margot suggests that Gaspard meets another girl, Solene), at a disco where they share a love for music. However, Solene becomes demanding when Gaspard is reluctant to make a commitment to take her on a trip to a nearby island. 

His ego is strengthened by Solene’s attraction to him, but when Lena finally shows up, he must deal with her temperament, especially when she tells him that he is not worthy of her. Gaspard eventually finds himself in a place where he makes the same promise to all three women and is fearful of confronting them to explain.

Certain aspects of everyday holiday life are examined in minute detail, while other parts are more or less ignored. Most of the action involves characters talking about how they feel or what they want to do.

By throwing himself onto the forces of coincidence at play in the Brittany countryside, Gaspard projects a seeming lack of concern over his future. We learn that this is only a façade—while he likes to play the field, masking his intentions, and believes that he’s got it all under control, Margot reveals qualities that truths fluid and changeable.

Here is where the story-telling skill of Rohmer shines; he gives us his knowing eye over relationships and then indicates how all of the nervous energy spent over them was for nothing.

The cast is pleasing even when they do nothing and out of nothing, a light sexual tension arises between the characters, without Rohmer showing anything more explicit than a few brief kisses. However, the only role that develops is that of Gaspard, with everyone else left in an emotional stasis. 

“COLDWATER”— Struggle for Survival

coldwater

“Coldwater”

Struggle for Survival

Amos Lassen

Brad Lunders (P.J. Boudousqúe) is a troubled teen and is sent to a juvenile reform facility in the wilderness. As we learn about the tragic events that sent him there, his struggle becomes one for survival with the inmates, counselors, and the retired war colonel in charge. The facility is located 25 miles from the nearest town and Brad has been sent thee because his mother wants him to be straightened out “by a retired war colonel and his power-hungry band of counselors. These facilities really exist and have been at the center of controversy because they are not heavily regulated in any state. Such boot camps are also not used as a part of a court-imposed sentence resulting from a criminal case. No, parents send their children to them”. This is director Vincent Grashaw’s story of a young man. Grashaw shows us slowly Brad’s back-story. He has a hard time adjusting to the facility, the colonel in charge and the counselors. Colonel Frank Reichert (James C. Burns) is a sadistic leader enjoying uncontrolled power over a group of poorly adjusted and vulnerable boys. Even the toughest of them can’t stand up to him or to the counselors who make their daily lives miserable with long, dehydrating runs and verbal and physical attacks. Brad arrives at the facility with Jonas (Octavius J. Johnson), who ends up suffering greatly at the hands of Reichert and his counselors.

coldwater1

Somewhere near the middle of the film, Grashaw tells the audience that an entire year has passed with Brad in the facility. We then see a different Brad– he works as a trustee for the colonel and is told that he has what it takes to become a counselor. We see him fighting to survive and staying clean but then his old friend Gabriel (Chris Petrovski) shows up at the camp. Brad senses that his efforts to get Gabriel involved in drug dealing may have landed him here and we get the idea that he feels some compulsion to help Gabriel, but it’s not really clear how until much, much later in the film.

We see the horrors of the facility and they go unchecked and unsupervised, as we feel uncomfortable in the audience. With its surprising and staggering final scenes, we realize that we shouldn’t have been surprised at all about what type of people these brutal reform facilities produce.  Grashaw has done a good job of making the point he wants to make about these reform camps. Even when the film moves slowly, it keeps our attention and while we might feel uncomfortable, it is because we are seeing something that happens everyday in this country.

This is a horrifying story about a young man taken against his will to a paramilitary juvenile detention camp. It’s an engaging script, directed with confidence and panache by Grashaw, and the last half hour should have you right on the edge of your seat the entire time. Grashaw draws out fascinating, textured performances from his cast, notably James C. Burns as the retired marine in charge and Nicholas Bateman as a conflicted trustee. But the real revelation is the lead actor, newcomer P. J. Boudousqué, whose frustration simmers just beneath the surface, and whose eyes betray a mind always racing. Grashaw’s obviously got a bright future, and if this role is any indication, so does Boudousqué. The film will certainly leave you with chills.

The power struggle between the colonel, his counselors and the inmates explodes in a terrifying manor, leaving audiences wondering what exactly goes on behind the fences of the unknown. We learn quickly that although the colonel may control his army and dictate the fight, his personal battle exists inside himself. 

Brad’s experiences at Coldwater are not only dramatic, but question the moral values we place on our reform tactics. Throughout the film, we learn many harsh truths and the film not only makes us question the foundations of institutions like Coldwater, but that of ourselves. At the end of the film, viewers will feel anxiety and anger towards the torture and degradation that torments our correctional facilities.

 

 

 

“THE AMAZING CATFISH”—Opens June 13, NYC

View Trailer
Winner, International Critics’ Award (FIPRESCI), Toronto Film Festival
Winner, Junior Jury Award, Locarno International Film Festival
Winner, Best Film, Baja International Film Festival
Nominated, New Directors Prize, San Francisco International Film Festival
Winner, Special Jury Award, Gijon International Film Festival
Winner, Grand Coral – Second Prize, Havana Film Festival
THE AMAZING CATFISH is a heartwarming tale of two unique women who bond while recuperating in a hospital. Martha, a mother of four rambunctious and imaginative children, finds solace when she meets the younger woman, Claudia, and quickly the two build a strong relationship. When Martha invites Claudia to live with her family, Claudia unwittingly takes on the responsibility of becoming a surrogate mother to Martha’s children.
95 Minutes • Drama • Not Rated • In Spanish with English Subtitles
OPENS IN NEW YORK ON JUNE 13, 2014 AT THE VILLAGE EAST CINEMA