Category Archives: Film

“TOM AND VIV”— A Thirty-Year First Marriage

tom and viv

“Tom & Viv”

A Thirty-Year First Marriage

Amos Lassen

Set in1915, T.S. (Tom) Eliot (Willem Dafoe) and Vivienne Haigh-Wood (Miranda Richardson) elope, but her longstanding gynecological and emotional problems disrupt their planned honeymoon. Her father is angry because Tom’s poetry doesn’t bring in enough to live on, but her mother is happy Viv has found a tender and discreet husband. “Tom and Viv” is an examination of T.S. Eliot’s tragic first marriage. It attempts to chronicle the thirty-plus year marriage and begins with their 1915 courtship, when both were in their twenties. Tom and Viv’s courtship was a whirlwind affair— the pair eloped before Tom learns his wife’s “dark secret.” She is the victim of a misdiagnosed hormonal imbalance which causes wild mood swings. The a supposed treatment — which includes massive doses of alcohol and morphine-based medications — serves only to further destabilize Vivienne. Nevertheless, despite his obvious distress, Tom sticks by his wife although few aspects of there are disastrous.

There are times when the film is over melodramatic and it drags a good bit of the way. Miranda Richardson brings a relish to her acting and this brought her an Oscar nomination. She is filled vigor, panache and nervous intelligence. She is perfect to play Viv.

 Tom & Viv are two mismatched people: one, disciplined and brilliant, who achieves great distinction as a writer; the other, mercurial and tortured, who struggles to define herself in her husband’s shadow. It didn’t take long for the lovers to see the flaws in each other. Tom is a virgin with no taste for sex. Vivienne is addicted to a number of wrongly prescribed medicines that throw her emotions out of whack.

At first, Vivienne’s father is appalled with her choice of Tom, a poet that has no prospects for suitable employment or income and has sold only 200 copies of his published poetry. His manners are so impeccable, however, that he charms Vivienne’s mother, who believes that “Tom” loves her daughter, demons and all.

Indeed, the real T.S. Eliot was so effective at impersonating a real Brit — at dressing and speaking in the British style that he fooled people into thinking he was British by birth. Brian Gilbert, directed the film with a certain chasteness and formality that is a hallmark of British biographical drama. Like Eliot, he is fastidious, refined, and a bit bloodless with a juicy story to tell and a tremendous cast to act it out. The film shows how Vivienne’s “madness” is exacerbated by medicine and defined not only by the times she lived in but by the tight, meticulous man to whom she was married.

Dafoe, who uses his mysterious, reptilian face to good advantage to give us an Eliot who comes across as shrewd and highly controlled, a man hungry for social status and career recognition, and pained by his wife’s troubles. But Eliot is ultimately willing to sacrifice her for the sake of his reputation. When Vivienne acts out in public and humiliates Tom, we see grave, inconvenienced look on his face. It’s a look that has less to do with his concern for Vivienne and more with the threat she poses to his professional standing.

The story of Eliot’s first marriage was unspoken about for years. Viv remained in the sanitarium for 11 years, even after she had recovered from her ailments, and Eliot never tried to have her released.

Eliot’s greatest work, “The Waste Land,” was largely inspired by their marriage. Vivienne remained faithful to Eliot and is always ready to defend her husband as the greatest poet in the English language. She once described him as do fine a person that “he should be living among kings, covered in raiment.” Richardson understands her character almost implicitly, and captures the complex, sad truth of Vivienne’s need to believe in her husband’s goodness so that she could survive.

 

“NERDGASM”— A Nerd on Stage

Nerdgasm

“NERDGASM”

A Nerd on Stage

Amos Lassen

Actor/comedian Tom Lenk says that he has been a nerd all his life— whether on stage, on screen, and in reality. He is best known for his comedic roles in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Cabin in the Woods,” “Transformers,” and “Much Ado About Nothing” . Lenk has dreamed about taking his story as a s live solo comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, the largest and most famous theater festival in the world. Now that show is a “dorkumentary,” as well as, in part, a concert film. We go behind the scenes of this unusual, exciting and sometimes lazy approach to creating a non-traditional “one man show”. We see practice shows in L.A.’s low-rent Theater Row as well as in some of the grand and historic British venues. Throughout the film, Lenk tries to satisfy his own personal Scotland-centric geeky cravings for Harry Potter, underground cities, Loch Ness Mythology and delicious sausage rolls. Lenk is a fun loving and neurotic persona and he is puts this the test on stage, “in the Scottish Highland wilderness and in the “Buffy” themed memorabilia room at the home of his biggest local Edinburgh fan.”

Lenk has some wonderful one-liners such as “Don’t you hate when you pay $150 for a Madonna ticket and she doesn’t sing ‘Like a Virgin’?” and then goes on to tell his audience stories from his days on cult television classic ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.

Lenk has now moved on to other things, but for those people who have come to see this performance, he will always remain the “dorky Andrew” from a television show role that ended in 2003. He is completely aware of this, and shows no signs of resentment.

Many find it both interesting and gratifying that Lenk himself does not seem vastly different from the small screen character he portrayed. He has, he tells us, spent his career playing nerds in theatre, film and reality. He then supports this statement by showing a selection of photos, artwork, etc from his own high school years. 

The film contains a lot of storytelling, quite a few laughs, some musical interludes and projections and there is rather innovative segment in which audience members contribute illustrations, created in secret, to a song Lenk performs. Not everything works but the audience does not care. What Lenk wants to achieve here is time at the theater with people having fun with a nerd like him. He succeeds wonderfully.

I could not find a trailer.

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“HE LOVES ME… HE LOVES ME NOT”— In Love with the Doctor

he loves me

“He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not” ( “À la folie… pas du tout”)

In Love with the Doctor

Amos Lassen

Angelique (Audrey Tautou) is a young female student who is in love with a married cardiologist (Samuel Le Bihan). He does not appear for meetings or for a booked journey to Florence. Up to this point we see the situation as Angelique perceives it but then the movie turns back on itself and we see things from the doctor’s point of view.

At first, we see Angelique as a woman scorned and abandoned by her lover until she attempts suicide. The second part of the film follows the doctor and we realize that all is not as earlier seen. This is not a new story or a new idea.

The only difference between “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” and other films is its storytelling, which employs the use of different perspectives to unfold the plot. But this too has been done before.

Ultimately, the storytelling is the film’s downfall. The film relies too heavily on its presumed cleverness to make up for its weak story and rather than unveiling an intriguing mystery, it creates blanks and, upon retelling the story from another perspective, fills them in. The result is a thin plot stretched beyond capacity. When it is all over we are left with considerably less than the sum of its parts.

Angelique’s monomaniacal stalking of her cardiologist could have been a rewarding experience but director, Laetitia Colombani’s just does not do the trick. There are some witty remarks and the ending is a surprise but the film just did not do it for me.

“POPULATION BOOM”— Seeing the Future

population boom

“Population Boom”

Seeing the Future

Amos Lassen

“Population Boom” is a by filmmaker Werner Boote in which he travels the globe and examines a stubborn view of the world that has existed for decades. But he sees a completely different question: Who or what is driving this catastrophic vision? The film deals with the questions of “How many people are too many? And who’s one too many? Is this even the right question to ask?” Just 25 years ago, there were five billion people living on earth. Today there are some seven billion. Resources are dwindling, toxic waste is growing, hunger and climate change are prevalent as a result of the growing number of people on earth or is it? Boote travels all over the world to look at the myths and facts about overpopulation.

Boote questions the conventional wisdom. From Kenya’s slums to Dhaka in Bangladesh to New York City, China, Japan and elsewhere, he speaks with everyone from demographic researchers to environmental activists, and arrives at a surprising conclusion. It is not overpopulation that threatens humanity’s existence… it is the developed world’s patterns of over-consumption and constant pursuit of immediate profit that looms over our future. So now we can only wonder if overpopulation is a myth with the sole purpose of covering up larger and far more important problems, and making the world’s population the scapegoat of a far more complex issue. “It is not about how many of us there are, but about how we treat each other,” Boote states. “Population Boom” starts with this as the basis for a debate, and becomes a cinematic journey with the masses between myth, facts and politics.

“THE DOVEKEEPERS” by Alice Hoffman is a New Miniseries— Women at Masada

the dovekeepers

“THE DOVEKEEPERS”

A New Miniseries on TV–Women at Masada

“The Dovekeepers”, based on Alice Hoffman’s 2011 novel about three women during the ancient siege and fall of Masada, will premiere over two nights on CBS. Its producers are the same people who brought you The Bible (including Touched By an Angel star Roma Downey). What could go wrong?
The trailer is out, and it’s action packed. There’s sex! White people (and a few Latinos) portraying Middle Eastern Jews! Asking “Yahweh” for rain! Women disguising themselves as men! More sex! Josephus Flavius as played by Sam Neill! Even more sex!

The first part premieres March 31. 

CLASSICS COMING FROM FILM MOVEMENT

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FILM MOVEMENT LAUNCHES CLASSICS LABEL WITH
ERIC ROHMER RE-RELEASE AT FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER

March 19, 2015 (New York, NY) – Film Movement (www.filmmovement.com), the New York-based film distribution company, announces today the launch of Film Movement Classics, a new label the company will use to restore and re-release out of print but highly sought-after films from the recent and distant past alike. The first two films to see theatrical re-releases in vibrant HD restorations are Eric Rohmer’s acclaimed FULL MOON IN PARIS, screening at Film Society of Lincoln Center, and THE MARQUISE OF O, which will see a theatrical release in select cities alongside Jessica Hausner’s AMOUR FOU.
The new label, launching with four titles scheduled for release in 2015, is the latest evolution for Film Movement since Michael E. Rosenberg joined the company in 2014. “There are so many wonderful, important films that are not available in the US,” Rosenberg said. “Launching our Classics label allows us to expand how we can serve our audience. Our core business will remain with highly-acclaimed new independent films, but now we can also bring back favorite titles from decades ago, newly restored.”
FULL MOON IN PARIS is the 1984 relationship drama about a young woman balancing several romantic interests; called “the very best of Eric Rohmer” by the New York Times on its original release, the film opens April 17 at Film Society of Lincoln Center, part of the complete Comedies and Proverbs series – six films Rohmer made between 1980 and 1987, each based on a proverb of Rohmer’s own creation. Pascale Ogier, who would die tragically young just months after the film’s U.S. release, won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival that year. Film Movement also premieres a brand new U.S. poster and trailer for the film Time Out London calls “elegant and incisive.” See both here.
With the March 18 theatrical release in New York (March 20 in Los Angeles) of Cannes Film Festival darling AMOUR FOU, Jessica Hausner’s meticulously executed observation of the love and death of writer Heinrich von Kleist, Film Movement also announces the release of Rohmer’s 1976 adaptation of von Kleist’s THE MARQUISE OF O, winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year. This classic period piece starring Bruno Ganz, called “witty, joyous and so beautiful to look at” by Vincent Canby of the New York Times, will screen in select arthouse theaters across the country alongside AMOUR FOU’s modern retelling of the end of von Kleist’s life. It will also stream on Fandor before releasing to wider On Demand platforms.
Other Film Movement Classics titles will include THE TALL BLOND MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE, Yves Robert’s 1972 blockbuster French comedy about a bumbling violinist mistaken for a secret agent, and Peter Greenaway’s THE PILLOW BOOK, the 1996 erotically-charged homage to calligraphy starring Vivian Wu and Ewan McGregor. Film Movement will release each restored title on DVD an Bluray, as well as include exclusive bonus content on each; THE PILLOW BOOK includes a newly-recorded director’s commentary from Greenaway. Home video release dates and additional special features for each titles will be announced as each release approaches.
“We are proud of the first several films we are able to restore and make available again, and we look forward to many more to come,” said Rosenberg.

About Film Movement:
Launched in 2002, Film Movement is a full-service North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films, based in New York City. Film Movement has released more than 250 feature films and shorts from 50 countries on six continents, including top prize winners from Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin, Tribeca and other prestigious festivals. Film Movement releases its films through numerous distribution channels, including thousands of art-house cinemas, universities and libraries; home video; television outlets; Cable Video on Demand (including its very own branded cable VOD platform—Film Festival on Demand—available in over 40 million US homes); In-flight Entertainment, and broadband outlets. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com.

“THE KING OF MASKS”— Like a Fable


the king of masks

“The King of Masks”

Like a Fable

Amos Lassen

 Wang Bianlian (Zhu Xu), an aging street performer is known as the King of Masks. This is his story. His wife left him with and infant son over 30 years ago. When his son died at just 10 years old. Wang was terribly depressed and hoped for a son who would learn art. When a famous master performer of the Sichuan Opera offered to bring him into his act, Wang jumped at the chance fame and a possible fortune, but he decided to stay a simple street performer. One night, he buys a young boy from a slave trader posing as the boy’s parent. He thus found joy in life as he makes plans to teach “Doggie” (an affectionate nickname often used for young children in China) his art. But then he discovered that Doggie (Zhou Ren-ying) is really a girl.

Wu Tianming directs this film about an old man who opens his heart to an orphan. As much as he tries, Wang can’t stop loving the kid, even with all the trouble she stirs up. The story is reminiscent of Charles Dickens in the treatment of the father and child. Despite the humiliations Doggie has to endure, she is resilient girl and stays on as Wang’s cook and apprentice acrobat.We see what Doggie is willing to go to demonstrate her love and loyalty to the man she cherishes. In one of the film’s most poignant moments, she picks up a goddess statue on his boat and points out that he worships her.

When Doggie is kidnapped by a band of street thugs, presumably intent on selling the child into slavery, Wang is inconsolable, though when she returns with a real male heir in tow, he finds his fortunes looking up. But things get bad again. Wang needs love and affection and this story is told to us with beautiful direction and excellent performances. This becomes a story of redemption that shows us the alleyways and snaking trails of turn-of-the-century China, where child slavery was commonplace as starving families. Families often regarded daughters not so much as family members but as family members but as meal tickets.

“The King of Masks” pulls us into its simplicity, beauty and surprising emotional power. It benefits by the survival of ancient ways into modern times. Today a street performer might be scorned, but in the 1930s, he was seen as a member of an elite fraternity. Wang has a certain fame in the cities where he appears and gains respect from his colleagues–even the female impersonator who is a great opera star, doted on by army generals.. The story is something of a fable (the changeling, ancient secrets), but gains weight because we know that to Wang it makes a great difference whether Doggie is a boy or a girl.

“ALICE’S RESTAURANT” (Blu Ray)— “You Can Get Anything You Want…”

alice's restaurant

“Alice’s Restaurant” (Blu Ray)

“You Can Get Anything You Want…”

Amos Lassen

It was 1969 when Arlo Guthrie introduced us to “Alice’s Restaurant” and just about then Arthur Penn (who had made quite an impression on Hollywood with “Bonnie and Clyde”) and Venable Herndon wrote a script about American hippies based on Guthrie’s song about Alice. He said there were no hippies but rather vagabond souls and dropouts from the rat race of American life who wanted to find alternatives to the way things were being done.

alice1

It is a film that relates the mood of the moment to an older, grander tradition of American resistance. Restraint and integrity are used to say what it has to tell the world. Arlo Guthrie plays himself and visits with his counterculture friends, Ray and Alice Brook in Stockbridge, Massachusetts sometime in 1966 or 1967. The draft for Vietnam was getting serious and union activist and Arlo’s father, Woody, was about to die.

The show travels with its leading player Arlo Guthrie (Arlo himself) as he visits with his counterculture friends Ray and Alice Brock (James Broderick & Pat Quinn) in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. If the timeline is meant to be literal, the years are 1966 and ’67, just as the Vietnam draft is kicking in and just before the death of Arlo’s famous father, folk singer and union activist Woody Guthrie. Arlo tries to go to college but gives up after being harassed about his long hair, and the music faculty’s insistence on teaching him what he should play.

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Arlo splits his time between playing in New York clubs and working with Ray and Alice who bought a deconsecrated church to establish a sort of roosting place for their various vagabond friends and artists. Alice does most of the work. She opens a lunch counter— “Alice’s Restaurant” while Ray competes in motorcycle races and plays the big-hearted greeter to one and all. Arlo writes a radio jingle for the restaurant, but had to leave often to be with his father who was dying of Huntington’s Disease. Woody can smoke and enjoy music, but he is unable to talk.

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Then there was that famous Thanksgiving episode and there were Arlo’s experiences with the draft board that we see here. Unfortunately Bob and Alice’s relationship was falling apart and everyone is worried because they cannot help Shelley (Michael McClanathan), a heroin addict. Ray tries tough love and Alice offers affection, but Shelley just can’t put himself back together. While we all expected an uplifting film about the restaurant, we got a downer of a film in which the only convincing character is Arlo. He really acts or looks like a hippie. He drives his sweet  red microbus, wears very long hair and Whole Earth muslin and linen shirts in attractive styles and colors. He is exactly the kind of guy jerks would get picked on because he looks like a girl. The movie does take pains to show that Arlo likes women. A humorous bit in a crash house shows him declining an offer to sleep with Reenie (Shelley Plimpton), a groupie collecting musical lays. She thinks Arlo ‘may be an album.’

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I expected a lot of humor but there are few jokes aside from the episodes about the draft board and about littering. Ray has enthusiasm and a sense of decency, but not the discipline to establish a real alternative living philosophy. He does get the excitement going but it is usually for drink. It is Alice who has to do the work that makes everything happen. The kind of people that we see here and a motley crew of 1960s artists, draft dodgers, panhandling musicians and suicidal junkies do not a family make. They’re the children of a previous generation of brave pioneers in the social wilderness that have been wiped out, marginalized or blacklisted out of existence.

Arlo seems like an awfully gentle guy to follow in the footsteps of his father, yet he’s a hero with talent who endures by living his beliefs. Unfortunately, “Alice’s Restaurant” is a party movie about a party that has grown old.

“LOST RIVERS”— Hidden Waterways

lost rivers

“Lost Rivers”

Hidden Waterways

Amos Lassen

History tells us that every major city was built at a site where there was a convergence of many rivers. As cities grew with the Industrial Revolution, these rivers became conduits for disease and pollution. The 19th century found a solution—- bury them underground and merge them with the sewer systems. They still run through today’s metropolises, but do so out of sight.

“Lost Rivers” looks at hidden waterways in cities around the world and introduces us to people dedicated to exploring and exposing them. This is an entertaining, surprising and optimistic film. The rivers once flowed freely and they provided the infrastructure upon which modern metropolises were built. However, they were covered to make way for progress and have long since been forgotten. Caroline Bâcle’s “Lost Rivers” uncovers some of the vast underground network of urban rivers showing us what is beneath where we stand. In London, rivers were first hidden in order to help in reducing waterborne disease caused by human pollution. Soon after, this very concept was adopted the world over. Today these rivers now merge with sewer networks and are used to transfer waste to treatment facilities while still using the original brickwork and tunnel systems that were designed more than a century ago.

Caroline Bâcle looks at the Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul, the Saw Mill River in Yonkers, the Bova-Celato River in Italy and the Garrison Creek in Toronto, and retraces the history of the lost urban rivers while giving the viewer a firsthand look at these hidden “museums” with a covert group of urban explorers.

The film tells us how activists, artists and urban planners are devising strategies to unearth the rivers to attempt “to utilize natural water flow to ease the strained watershed infrastructure and reduce overflow waste from being dumped into lakes while, at the same time, creating natural park spaces for urbanites to reconnect with nature. Such projects have already taken place in Yonkers, Seoul and London with great success, yet the film seems to linger on the fact that the City of Toronto has rejected the same strategies and are doomed to continue causing excess pollution in Lake Ontario.”

 The film is a fascinating examination of a hidden world previously unknown by most. We get a spectacular look at an underground world with astutely observed editing and vibrant visuals. We see that sewer enthusiasts find beauty and redemption in “Lost Rivers”.

We meet Andrew and Danielle, a couple of outlaw “drainers” in Montreal who are sneaking into that city’s sewer/buried-river system by way of a golf course’s daylighted stream. Like others who share a similar passion for belowground waterways in cities worldwide this pair is exploring, mapping, and experiencing the routes of tributaries that used to flow into the St. Lawrence before Montreal’s urban enormity pushed its rivers away and out of sight.

Canadian director Bacle documents efforts in other cities to bring old rivers that though roofed over are still in their original courses, more or less to bring them aboveground once again. The photography is beautiful and the interviews are fascinating. Some of the results we see are wonderful and remarkable at the same time.

Impressive–at times almost poetic–photography and interviews with some dedicated drainers, visionary urban planners, and long-time activists and volunteers give viewers a sense of why some of these sewer enthusiasts got started with their cause in the first place. The results with some of the reclaimed watercourses are remarkable, to say the least.

“CURLING”— Father and Daughter

curling poster

“Curling”

Father and Daughter

Amos Lassen

“Curling” is the story of a father and a daughter who live in a remote part of the French-Canadian countryside. These are two individuals who are, in the words of director Denis Cote, “one foot outside of society”. He is a Québécois solitary man and his preteen daughter is cloistered.

Emmanuel Bilodeau is the film’s retiring and secretive motel and bowling-alley handyman, Jean-François. His own 12-year-old daughter, a non-actor, is Julyvonne, Jean-François’s daughter. They both need to experience an encounter with death in order to go toward life”. The father is a loner among loners. The film follows the lives of the two. When not at work, Jean-Francois makes every attempt to shield Julyvonne from the outside world. We’re offered little explanation as to why Julyvonne doesn’t attend school or play with friends, only that her mother’s incarceration may have triggered this outcome.

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While her father works, Julyvonne explores the forest near their home. The film is puzzling and this is by intent. The film appeals to the emotions of the viewers and visually it is a feast. It is almost impossible to summarize so I will not even try—get a copy and see for yourself.