Category Archives: Film

“BEST OF ENEMIES”— Vidal and Buckeley

best of enemies

“Best of Enemies”

Vidal and Buckley

Amos Lassen

In 1968, two intellectuals participated in a televised series of debates on issues of the day. On one side was the liberal Gore Vidal, renowned author and iconoclast and on the other was the conservative trailblazer William F. Buckley Jr. These “vitriolic and explosive encounters came to define the modern era of public discourse in the media, marking the big bang moment of our contemporary media landscape when spectacle trumped content and argument replaced substance”. “Best of Enemies” looks at the biographies of these two great thinkers as well as at the debates and the question arises, “What has television done to the way we discuss politics in our democracy today?”

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Back then, ABC ranked third among the major networks and decided to try something different for their upcoming coverage of the 1968 presidential conventions and that was to hire ideological enemies William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal to summarize the issues in a nightly debate. For ten debates, the two men insulted each other and attempted character assassinations instead of dealing with the political issues of the day and America tuned in. The end came with Vidal calling Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” and Buckley threatening to punch Vidal in the face on live TV. Documentarians Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville brings together footage from the debates and gives us the complete context around the media event. This is where the victory of volume and rage over civilized discourse began.

As the two determined men set to do battle, some of their writings are read off-camera by John Lithgow as Vidal and Kelsey Grammer as Buckley. We see archival footage of Vidal’s Italian villa, with him giving a tour of his bathroom and this immediately creates an interesting touch right from the start. Vidal proudly points to photographs hanging over the bathtub that show him with Buckley at the Democratic Convention debate in Chicago in 1968. ABC network was seriously ailing and so the network powers invited Buckley and Vidal to debate live on television to boost their ratings during both national political conventions, starting with the Republicans in Miami Beach.

Aside from the footage of the debates, there are fascinating on-camera interviews with Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomsky and Dick Cavett. The ninth debate was the one in which Vidal calls Buckley a “pro-or crypto-Nazi” and Buckley looses his cool, uttering the response that was to define him for the rest of his life and beyond: “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face, and you’ll stay plastered. Then Vidal smiles the smile of a winner. It was this moment that brings a series of questions “about television culture, about the craft of insult to trigger a reaction, about the nature of enmity, about the character of time”.

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The late Christopher Hitchens calls the aftermath of the debates, in both lawsuits and magazine articles by both of the men, an “enormous opportunity for the practice of malice.” Reid Buckley, says about his brother Bill that “most of all, he is a revolutionary.” The debates, were and still are in a way about “lifestyle” and “who is the better person.” We learn about how Buckley was at sea, relaxing on a yacht, and ready to wing the debates and Vidal hired a researcher to prepare him before the first debate.

“TANGERINES”— The Horrors of War

tangerines

“TANGERINES”

The Horrors of War

Amos Lassen

Zaza Urushadze’s “Tangerines” was nominated for the Best Foreign Film in 2015 for both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe. It is set in the Apkhazeti region of Georgia in 1992 and it carries a powerful anti-war message. Local Apkhazians are fighting to break free from Georgia. The Estonian village between the mountains has become empty– almost everyone has returned to their homeland, and only two men have stayed: Ivo and Margus. But Margus will leave as soon as he has harvested his crops of tangerines. In a bloody conflict in their miniature village wounded men are left behind, and Ivo is forced to take them in.

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The wounded men are from opposite sides of the war and they portray the message of the horrors of war. Here we see Estonians who find themselves in the middle of someone else’s war. How do they handle it? How do the enemies act under third-party roof?

The horrors of war are quietly and powerfully examined in the film that is simplistic in execution and that comes from an obscure enough location so that the message of the horrors of war is disguised.

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Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Estonian populace was driven out and forced to return to return to their native region. Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) stayed behind alone, helping his neighbor Margus (Elmo Nuganen) valiantly struggle to harvest his crop of tangerines. Two Chechen soldiers pay a surprise visit to Ivo and are almost immediately shot down during a gun battle with Russians outside Margus’ estate.

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Ahmed (Giorgio Nakashidze) is seriously wounded, and Ivo takes him into his home while burying his comrade and doing his best to cover up their vehicle. As the men shove the truck over a cliff, Margus is surprised it doesn’t explode like in the movies—Ivo responds that “Cinema is a big fraud.” Soon after, more explosions kill several Georgians, and Ivo takes in the very badly wounded Nika (Mikhail Meskhi). Ahmed vows to kills Nika as soon as they’re both recovered, leading Ivo to make Ahmed promise that there will be no violence under his roof. As the men recover, their sworn hatred is tempered by the realization that they’re both humans deserving of the right to live. Think about that—humans deserve the right to live.

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Here we see that the film is about brotherhood during wartime after a shootout leaves two men alive. Ivo takes them in; one is Ahmed, a Chechen mercenary, whose intent is to kill the other, Nika, a surviving Georgian. Ivo serves as the pacifist go-between, eventually getting each of the men to agree that neither will seek violence against the other while under Ivo’s roof. Each character eventually understands that their pursuits of violence along national boundaries is but an arbitrary form of hatred that is founded in a dogmatic adherence to militaristic procedure. Religion also comes into the story. Ahmed assures Ivo that his vengeance is “a holy thing,” but the film only postures toward this suggestion by giving us glimpses of characters praying and contemplating their plights without further pursuits of each man’s core beliefs.

Then there is a scene in Ivo and Margus push a jeep from a cliff in order to hide that a recent firefight took place. When the vehicle fails to explode, Margus remarks how, in the movies, cars always explode, leading Ivo to say that “the cinema is one big cheat.” The relationships we have here were forged through isolation and hardship. Previously opposing soldiers see their constituent humanity amid the threats of Chechen outsiders.

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Ivo’s home becomes the catalyst for unity between the men who eventually realize that identity is more about character than rather than nationality and ethnicity. A shootout, however defends honor over creed.

“Tangerines” balances humor and seriousness in deft fashion and the film has emotional force and intelligence to show us the terrible things that happen during wartime and this is a film with a strong message. The cinematography is lush and beautiful, the performances are all around excellent. The beautiful landscapes that we see were filmed in the western Georgia region of Guria.

“FIFTY SHADES OF GREY”— OY VEY!!!!

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“Fifty Shades Of Grey”

OY VEY!!! Did I Miss Something?

Amos Lassen

Some o you have asked about my opinion of the film of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I am not sure that I actually have one because I am not sure that I saw much to review in the film. It really makes no difference what critics or anyone had to say about it, it is going to make money just because of its name. Now I know that I sat down to watch it but I am just not sure of what I saw. Perhaps I was blinded by the hype. What I do know is that it is about a young, naïve virgin named Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who is sent to interview the handsome billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after her , a journalist, becomes ill. Christian is drawn to Anastasia from the first moment he saw her and goes after her in the only way that he knows how. Christian does not do girlfriends and neither does he have romance or human emotions and he insists that we understand that about him. where he is very adamant that he doesn’t do the girlfriend thing, or romance, or indeed typical human emotions.

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Anastasia finds him intriguing probably because he is fabulously wealthy but when she discovers that he is dominant and wants Anastasia to sign her name on a contract that gives him to write to use her in any he wants and as his S&M sexual plaything as well as control nearly every aspect of her life for his own pleasure she is no sure she wants to submit in this way. It was at this point that I began to laugh and could not stop although I must admit that because I did not have to pay to see this film, I came out ahead no matter what. When the film moved from absurdity to serious business (I suppose that is what that is), I found it to be a very disturbing movie.

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. Exactly what did Christian do for Anastasia that would make her give up her own freedom for him and ultimately be unhappy to the point of misery? It would be interesting to see how the modern feminist movement reacts to a woman giving up her all for a man who only is concerned about his own sexual pleasure. The idea of using women is all the way through, that women like to be objects just as long as their partner wants to possess but not hurt them. but not hurt them. For a film that claims to be about female sexuality, this is a movie about a man who is concerned only with his own pleasure but if she enjoys it, who is he to begrudge her that? I rest my case.

“I AM FEMEN”— A Revealing Look at Female Activists

i am femen

“I AM FEMEN”

A Revealing Look at Female Activists

Amos Lassen

Director Alain Margot gives us a look at the “topless female activists who fight corrupt and patriarchal political systems in Kiev and all across Europe as well. These women have used their bodies and their breasts as weapons and protests on the streets of Kiev where the group first began and now they are protesting all over Europe.

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Oxana Shachko, the leader and backbone of the group has always been fascinated by religious artwork and as a teenager, she considered entering a convent and devoting herself to iconography. However, her mother convinced her to change her mind and she now has been using herself, her body and her talents on Femen and has been leading a life of activism. This is her story but she shares it with other brave women who tell their stories as well. These women have put their bodies on the front line in the fight for justice and equality. As one critic put it, “More than just exposing breasts, these women are exposing ideas.”

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The film follows Oxana, as she prepares for protests, speaks about her life before the group, and deals with the repercussions that come from their demonstrating. She is amazingly intelligent, a very talented artist, and exudes passion for her cause. This is not easy since in every group there will be dissension and arguments about the way she handles protests especially going topless to get attention but this does get their message across. Oxana has incredible strength and nothing can hold her back even the fear of arrest or possibly murdered. The protests that she stages are difficult places and to protest there requires courage and strength. Oxana has pure intentions and she says what she thinks as she fights for rights. She is not just fighting for herself but for all people.

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Oxana is twenty-eight-years-old and from a provincial town called Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine. She is the narrator of the film. The film is subtle and has some important things to say about the rights of women. The protests that we see here took place in the Ukraine and in France and we learn that Femen was the result of three woman—Oxana, Anna Hutsol and Alexandra Shevchenko. The organization was founded in 2008 and is now an international women’s movement. The film is, as I said, subtle and fascinating in every aspect.

“SOAKED IN BLEACH”— The Death of Kurt Cobain

soaked in bleach

“Soaked in Bleach”

The Death of Kurt Cobain

Amos Lassen

Director Benjamin Statler says of this new movie, “Soaked in Beach” that “Half of the film is made up of cinematic recreations of private investigator Tom Grant’s investigation in 94′ incorporating actual audio recordings, while the other half of the film is interviews with Tom Grant and some of the world’s top experts in the respective areas of the case. The recreations served the purpose of helping people to see how the investigation actually unfolded and to better appreciate the context of certain situations.  The interviews provide the objective scientific facts involved in the case of Kurt Cobain’s death and back up what Tom Grant has been saying for 20 plus years.”

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Grant was hired by Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love in 1994 to find in 1994 and this was just a few days before his dead body was found at Cobain’s and Love’s home in Seattle. Cobain’s death was ruled a suicide by the police (a reported self-inflicted gunshot wound), but there have been about this for twenty years now and especially so by Grant who conducted his own investigation, Grant was able to determine that there was enough empirical and circumstantial evidence to conclude that foul play could very well have occurred. The film develops as a narrative mystery with cinematic re-creations, interviews with key experts and witnesses and the examination of official artifacts from the 1994 case.

Grant remains convinced that Kurt Cobain was murdered and he admits that he has always been suspicious of Courtney Love and her role in her husband’s death. Because of this gut feeling, Grant made sure to record his conversations with Love.

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Those tapes are part of this film. The movie supplements the tapes with talking head interviews and reenactments and like Grant, director Statler goes after Love and attempts to pin a motive on her for possibly being involved in Cobain’s death.

This is a documentary that will most likely re-enliven the debates that have surrounded Cobain’s death and give Love’s enemies reason to despise her. Love and her fans will see this film as heretical, however. The film’s goal is to blow the lid off the lingering conspiracy theory.

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First we’re presented with Grant’s back-story as a member of the LA County Sherriff’s Department, a job he left to start his own private investigator firm. We learn that Grant left the department in good standing and had an impeccable record.

A good deal of the evidence the film presents are recorded phone calls between Grant and Love, as well as Love’s entertainment lawyer Rosemary Carroll. However, nobody that is even tangentially related to the case gives any corroboration to whether or not these calls are authentic. any of these recordings’ authenticity. People such as Carroll and Dylan Carlson, a friend of Cobain’s who was also the registered owner of the shotgun that killed Cobain, do not participate in the movie in any manner, even though they’re supposed to be the keys to what really happened. The reenactments give the film with a bit of unintentional humor and make the whole thing look supercilious.

Statler tries to take on the typical counter-arguments to their lies and they speak to Cobain’s friends but there is no evidence that the people we see and hear were ever tied to him. These interviews are used to illustrate that Kurt Cobain was more upbeat than believed. Combined with a couple of interviews from ’93 and ’94, they attempt to prove that Kurt Cobain was not depressed. It makes perfect sense if you believe that somebody who was depressed would never just say they’re fine. There had also been a suicide attempt in Rome months before his death but here we see that is just regarded as an accidental overdose.

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So what is the importance of this film? It seems to me that this is simply based on too many false leads but nonetheless it is a fascinating look at the case. Just because the film was made does not mean that all of it is necessarily true.

 

“SEVENTEEN”— Too Controversial for PBS

seventeen

“SEVENTEEN”

Too Controversial for PBS

Amos Lassen


”From being banned from broadcast on PBS to success on the festival circuit and a theatrical release, even today, it is easy to see why the film was controversial.” “Seventeen” was made as the final film in the “Middletown” series but once finished, it was to be seen until later even after it went on to win the first Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival. 

Directed by Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines and produced by Academy Award winner Peter Davis, “Seventeen” is the unvarnished story of a group of seniors in their last year at Muncie’s Southside High School. They are moving toward maturity with a combination of joy, despair, and sense of urgency. They also learn a great deal about life, both in and out of school, and not what school officials think they are teaching, along the way.

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Originally expected to air on PBS, it was not aired because there were concerns by some about some of the film’s content that included interracial romance and vulgar language. When the film was subsequently released theatrically, it was hailed by critics as: “one of the most essential films ever made about American youth” and “An earthy mix of disrespect for authority, foul language, drunkenness, pot-smoking, interracial sex, and just hanging out.” 

IN the 1960’s and 1970’s, American filmmakers, equipped with a new and refined, easily portable camera and sound equipment, a new kind of documentary came into being. It could speak for itself without voice-over narration like older films.

This is considered to be “one of the best and most scarifying reports on American life to be seen on a theater screen since the Maysles brothers’ ”Salesman” and ”Gimme Shelter.”” There was no plan for theatrical distribution; the film was conceived to be broadcast under the collective title of ”Middletown.” Each of the six was made by a different team of filmmakers who set out to explore some aspect of life in Muncie, Indiana which was the place where seminal sociological studies by Robert and Helen Lynd were done.

Five of the Muncie films were presented by the Public Broadcasting Service in March and April 1982. The sixth, ”Seventeen,” was never shown, apparently because PBS and the underwriting sponsor objected to a lot of the content. This would include, I assume, the rough language and also one of the film’s ”narrative” lines about the rather hysterical romance of a 17-year-old white girl named Lynn and a young black man named Robert. ”Seventeen” simply does not observe the niceties of sit-com land where everything comes out happily at the end.

”Seventeen” raw material, that it has been expertly edited by Miss DeMott and Mr. Kreines, who also co- produced, directed, photographed and recorded the footage. What is raw about it is that is does not remain coherent because the filmmakers did not attempted to place some arbitrary order on the events they witnessed.

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We meet a small group of white and black teen-agers, the children of working-class parents, and we observe them in their lives in school, at home, boozing, smoking pot, getting fatally smashed up in auto accidents and, at one point, preparing for a neighborhood race war. Lynn, the pretty, tough-talking high school student is at the center of the film and her pleasure principle is measured by the men in her life (and Robert, her black boyfriend).

Lynn’s mother doesn’t disapprove, but she does say that everything Lynn is doing is designed to upset both blacks and whites in their neighborhood. As it turns out, Robert isn’t all that serious anyway, as his black friends, who seem to be about the most decent people in the film, keep telling her.

Things get really nasty when a cross is burned in Lynn’s yard and when Lynn begins getting threatening phone calls, apparently from Robert’s other girlfriends. Lynn’s reaction is that her mother carries a gun that she is not afraid to use and neither is she. The continuity in the film comes from Lynn and her problems but the movie really gets going when we see moments of casual cruelty and emotional confusion – in the uproarious classroom scenes and in a beer party watched over by Lynn’s life-of-the-party mom, who gently strokes the forehead of one drunk young man who is on the verge of vomiting. Some of it is funny, a lot of it is sad, and all of it dramatizes a pervasive aimlessness and ignorance in the culture of the time.

Even though the soundtrack often is unintelligible, and the lack of any special lighting sources sometimes results in very dark images. The total effect, though, is both disturbing and provocative. ”Seventeen” provides no answers or makes, it just records what was seen. judgments.

I am not sure if this is “direct cinema” or “cinema vérité” but I am sure that is powerful and it contains more truth than any fact-filled historical documentary and more human drama than any Hollywood film that we have ever seen.

“Seventeen” was effectively censored by its corporate sponsor, Xerox and this is something that does not happen on “public” television. Finally we can see thanks to Icarus films.

What makes it worth seeing is the incredible, delicate access that the filmmakers negotiated with the people they were filming. Joel Demott and Jeff Kreines, each armed with a one-man-band 16mm camera and tape-recorder rig, would split up; she filmed with the girls, he with the boys. They lived in Muncie for over a year and filmed exclusively hand-held, wide and close, and rarely ever got an establishing shot; they just hung close with the working-class kids of Muncie’s Southside High School.

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There are no graphics, no dramatic score, no catchy montages; there’s hardly even a credit roll. The only score is what the kids listen to in their cars request on their local radio station. The film starts unassumingly, at an excruciatingly slow pace, in Ms. Hartley’s loathsome Home-Economics class, much like the start of any day in high school. The story unfolds slowly and grows with powerful momentum into conflict and chaos and never sensationalizes.

The painful scenes of race and class tension and sexual exploits are all too familiar. “Reality” TV does not have even a hint of the authenticity of the film that is a haunting view into the all-too-real world of working-class teenagers, numbing themselves from the ugly adult culture around them—as the filmmakers say in their own press notes, “fighting and fucking” their way through high school.

“THE TRIBE”— Words Not Required

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“The Tribe” (“Plemya”)

Words Not Required

Amos Lassen

Writer/director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky takes the idea of the silent movie in a fascinating direction, as he displays that words are not required for an audience to connect with a film. We do not need anything, in fact, to inform us of the emotion that is occurring on the screen. “The Tribe” is a very bold piece of experimental filmmaking that manages to succeed in numerous unexpected ways. The movie is entirely in sign language without the use of any subtitles.

Deaf-mute student Sergey (Grigory Fesenko), is a young adult is going to a boarding school. He quickly gets involved with a violent clique, which is headed by a hustler who prostitutes two of his female peers (Yana Novikova and Rosa Babiy). When a terrible accident changes his plans, Sergey takes control and he continues to fight for dominance within the circle. He also to fall in love with one of the girls that he must prostitute out, named Anna.

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When Sergey meets the gang for the first time, he is sure that he is not like any of them but we sense something about him that it is hard to define. Because the film is done in sign language, most of us have no idea yet what is going on and it takes a while until we understand what is happening. I do not mean that negatively but we must pay careful attention here to really understand it all.

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What begins as a subtle entrance into a boarding school soon turns into a tense look within the gang, as Sergey continues to fall deeper into the group’s antics. He starts by prostituting the two young women to older truck drivers is only the start, while the gang violently mugs unsuspecting individuals. As Sergey’s confidence continues to grow so does our concern for him and where he seems to be headed. , as does our concern for where he’s headed. The overall tone begins to shift, as the tension continues to build to a point of no return.

Crime is integral to the film but there is also a love story here and there are some very graphic sex scenes and we differing concepts of what sex is from one person to the next. Just as Sergey tries to kiss Anna, she stops him and assumes that he desires the certain aspects of the act that other men have enjoyed, not realizing that Sergey has developed real feelings for her. We see clearly that words aren’t what make a successful love story— it is the chemistry and the power between the two individuals that makes for love. We also see the truth to the adage that action speaks louder than words and that action deafens us.

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Even with all of the errors in their ways, we still want to see Sergey and Anna them end up together in the end. As their relationship continues to get a little bit more rocky, we get some disturbing sequences . This is most certainly not an upbeat movie and we are aware of the feeling of heartbreak within us.

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It seems that the film gets stronger and stronger as the viewers become more and more uneasy. By the time that we reach the end, director Slaboshpitsky maintains a steady hand with impressive restraint. The film unnerves us but does not go over the top. Tension continues to until it simply cannot be any more tense. The narrative power that is difficult to put into words but at some point this stops being just a movie and becomes an experience. We can guess where the plot is going but we are afraid of that. The graphic sex and violence are necessary because they pull us into the world of the gang. The tenseness never stops and builds up to an ending that is shocking to say the least. When the credits start to roll, we find ourselves in total disbelief and we have no idea as to how to react. It is absolutely brilliant.

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What is really impressive in the film is the visual design. The camera has a sense of movement that involves the audience, making us feel like one of the members of the gang. Almost every shot is an establishing one, allowing the actors to incorporate genuine energy into their body language when expressing themselves through sign language. Many of the scenes have just a small amount of movement and the long shots and lack of many cuts in the editing room let us to get lost within the world that this film places us in the middle of. There isn’t a music score per se aside from small ambient sounds to drive the power of a sequence.

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Miroslav Slaboshpitsky has dared and yet managed to accomplish an intense motion picture that gets under our skin and emotionally affects us. It proves that showing has a much more powerful impact than telling us and this should serve as a model for any film that isn’t willing to trust audiences to have an intelligence. Even though we don’t understand any of the dialogue, Slaboshpitsky utilizes his visual design and the talent of his actors in order to drive many of the plot elements. If the finale doesn’t make your blood run cold, then something is the matter. This is an unnerving, innovative, and wonderfully complex film that perhaps will inspire a new style of filmmaking.

“THE TALL BLOND MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE”— Finally on DVD and Blu Ray

the tall blond man

“The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe” (“Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire”)

Finally on DVD and Blu Ray

Amos Lassen

For the first time this film is being released on home video even though it was released in 1972 and was a madcap French comedy that won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1973. Two factions of the French Secret Service become involved with Francois Perrin (Pierre Richard), a hapless orchestra member. One side uses him as a decoy and soon agents are everywhere. One of the agents is to seduce him but he is already have an affair with his best friend’s wife.

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Two factions of the French Secret Service involve a seemingly normal orchestra player, Francois Perrin, into their battle as one side uses him as a decoy. Soon, agents are all over the place, and one of them, Christine, is sent to seduce Francois. Meanwhile, Francois has his own problems, tangled up in an affair with his best friend’s wife.

A French secret agent is seriously compromised in New York City. In Paris, the Head of the French Intelligence, Louis Toulouse (Jean Rochefort), and his trusted assistant, Perrache (Paul Le Person), learn that Bernard Milan (Bernard Blier), an ambitious bureaucrat is responsible for the fiasco. They also learn that Milan wants Toulouse’s job.

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Toulouse and Perrache have a plan to compromise Milan and expose the other agents that have assisted him with the American job. Toulouse’s office, which has been bugged by Milan’s men and they discuss the arrival of a top-secret agent who has to be protected because he is bringing enough information to discredit Milan. Toulouse tells Perrache to go to Orly and pick “a face in the crowd”, an ordinary man that would become the top-secret agent and drive Milan’s men crazy.

Once at Orly, Perrache chooses François Perrin, a perpetually distracted violinist with an extensive collection of period musical instruments. Perrache greets the clueless Perrin and Milan’s men immediately begin following him. Shortly after, they bug his place. At this point we see just how far Toulouse is willing to go and we watch Perrin’s live drastically changing. He gets a visit from a gorgeous woman (Mireille Darc) and the two begin a torrid affair causing his best friend (Jean Carmet) to lose his mind. Milan and his men continue to follow Perrin since they think that he an agent with a double life not realizing that he is just a patsy.

The film has a wonderfully script, great performances and a beautiful soundtrack. Pierre Richard gives a brilliant performance. He has an endless arsenal of facial expressions and his body movement is amazing. In just ordinary sequences his sense of timing gives the movie a special kick. The rest of the cast is excellent all around especially Carmet as Richard’s best friend.

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The film never slows down. Once Perrin emerges at Orly (with two different shoes) the film starts to really movie and it maintains a steady tempo literally until the final credits roll.

Perrin experiences a day-and-half of alarming events. He is seduced by a lovely spy, several men are killed and then concealed in his apartment, his affair with his best friend’s wife is broadcast from a laundry truck, and he is very nearly raped by a bagpipe. All of this is because he has one black shoe and one brown shoe: Their mates were nailed to the floor as a practical joke in Munich, and this is why he had to fly back to Paris unmatched.  

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The comedy works out of the various situations one can get into when the entire national spy system has chosen someone as its unwitting battlefield. The spies in the movie are fairly clever; they don’t have to go to the CIA for wigs and false mustaches, anyway, but they’re confounded by their absolute belief that the tall blond man must be important while we, the viewers, know he is not.  The spies, however don’t know that, and they admire his total professionalism, his detachment, his skill in seeming to lead such an ordinary life, his cunning in going to lunch instead of to the dentist. 

Francis Veber’s dialogue is witty and has a good ear for the spy genre and director, Yves Robert, sets a frantic pace and sticks to it.

 

 

“THE OVERNIGHT”— Surprises and Schwartzman Has a Big One

the overnight

“The Overnight”

Surprises and Schwartzman Has a Big One

Amos Lassen

Alex (Adam Scott), Emily (Taylor Schilling), and their son, RJ (RJ Hermes), are new to Los Angeles. A chance meeting at the park introduces them to the mysterious Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), Charlotte (Judith Godreche), and Max (Max Moritt). A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. About midway through the film (I should get this out of the way at the start, Kurt, a wealthy Los Angelino, disrobes poolside to reveal his tremendously large penis, much to the chagrin of Alex (Adam Scott), a Seattle native who has growing increasingly concerned as to whether his host is truly unhinged or if “this is what parties are like in California.” This scene is the one everyone is talking about and it is writer-director Patrick Brice’s film moment, not least because the penis is clearly a prosthetic, accompanied by an excessive mound of pubic hair. “The visual gag is the sell, complemented by Alex’s insecurities since, as he puts it, he has ‘middle school dick’ compared to Kurt’s ‘horse cock’.” It is then that we see the film’s comedic allegiances, since Brice is “more driven to land cheap, body-dysmorphia cracks than fully pursue the class-based divide that gives purpose to the film’s first act”.

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Alex and Emily are squares and in the opening scene, we learn neither can reach orgasm during sex, so they mutually masturbate. Once they are interrupted by their young son who is concerned because the room “smells funny.” Alex is a stay-at-home dad who is insecure about the small size of his genitals. and we suspect that Emily is some kind of professional and she is stressed with balancing work and spending time with the family. Neither one of them is willing to address these issues.  When they go the playground one afternoon, they meet Kurt, who chides them for allowing their son eat gummy worms, since they are so unhealthy and filled with sugar. He also asks whether they’ve been scouting pre-school locations. Kurt claims he’s kidding and invites them to a dinner party and to meet his wife, Charlotte. . This is where everything changes. They are certainly not used to a couple that is so open and self-confident. The audience knows about the new couple just the same as Emily and Alex are, but it doesn’t take too long to predict what their intentions are.

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This is a very funny movie. The dialogue is filled with laughs and the way situations are used also provide great fun. As the night continues to get stranger as the two couples begin drinking alcohol and eventually smoking weed, we become totally interested in them. Alex and Emily figure that this is simply Los Angeles culture, so they go along with it, but ultimately find themselves in a situation that makes them tremendously uncomfortable. However, each of them reacts differently to situations and this causes them to see their marriage from a different perspective. Even once the secret is out of the bag, Brice doesn’t stop there. Tensions build and we are soon howling hysterically. But we are also totally captivated by this very strange film.

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However, humor isn’t Brice’s only intention. We really begin to care about the characters and we watch them change. The cast is ideal and Adam Scott is quite funny as Alex. Once the big secret is revealed, his comedic timing is perfect. Taylor Schilling’s facial expressions say everything and her reactions to the goings-on are wonderful. Jason Schwartzman actually delivers the most memorable performance out of the bunch as Kurt. The role is so incredibly eccentric, and Schwartzman is what makes him so uproariously funny. Judith Godrèche as Charlotte has some particularly well-crafted moments with Schilling in what can best be described as creepy, yet over-the-top and ridiculous.

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The first half of the film has scenarios that place the more conventional Alex and Emily at odds with Curt and Charlotte’s bohemian, sex-positive lifestyle. In one early scene, Curt presents some of his abstract paintings of human anuses – many of them are self-portraits – to his dinner guests, and Alex and Emily attempt, with great difficulty, to provide thoughtful compliments. I mean, what can one say about a painting of an anus (and especially when the anus belongs to the host)? Eventually they are able to join with their hosts and lose their inhibitions and this is where we see the serious message of the film—

a thoughtful examination on martial relationships. The dinner party becomes an environment where personal dissatisfactions and desires are openly aired. Alex reveals his self-perceived masculine inadequacies, and Emily divulges her frustration with her current sex life. Even Curt and Charlotte, who Emily considers to have superb sexual chemistry, are placed under the microscope, with their marriage revealed as being just as filled with difficulties as Alex and Emily’s.

“HUMAN CAPITAL” —Two Families

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“HUMAN CAPITAL”

Two Families

Amos Lassen

Two families are irrevocably tied together after a cyclist is hit off the road by a jeep in the night before Christmas Eve.

Director Paolo Virzì’s new film is a modern day morality tale of class, greed and desire. Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni) seems to have everything– a lavish home and beautiful wife and a good job as a hedge-fund manager. Meanwhile, real estate agent Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) struggles to maintain his family’s middle-class existence and faces even worse financial straits when his wife announces that she is pregnant with twins. Dino’s daughter is also n a relationship with Giovanni’s son and he uses that to deceive the bank and get into the Bernaschi hedge fund. As the destinies of both families become further entwined, a fateful hit and run accident sets in motion a chain of events, triggering dangerous consequences that will change their lives forever.

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Virzì tells his story in three chapters through different sets of eyes, and each re-telling of the same events has its own particular focus. Dino’s story begins  6 months earlier when Dino is dropping off his teenage daughter Serana at her boyfriend’s family fancy villa. Massimiliano and Serena go to the same school together even though they come from totally opposite ends of the social scale.

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On that particular day Giovanni is short of a tennis partner and so the anxious-to-please Dino wangles his way on the court and into the Fund.  He mortgages his business and house to find the necessary minimum $500,000 investment without telling his new second wife who is expecting a child. We sense that it not going to end up well for him even then.

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Chapter two is about Carla, Giovanni’s insecure socialite wife who is bored to tears as she is always left to her own devices by her workaholic husband. An ex-amateur actress, Carla persuades Giovanni to save the local dilapidated theater for the sake of the town’s culture, but he does it to make a quick buck on the property.  She at least gets to have a one-night stand with the theater director as a way of compensation.

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Chapter three is about ‘Serana’ who has been keeping dumb to the Police on who actually drove Massimilani’s car the night it hit the driver. This is where all the loose ends of the story get tied together and as the Fund fails both Dino and Giovanni’s wives act like they are both completely in shock at discovering their husband’s greed. Dino had believed the myth that easy money was just that, and it would bring him happiness too, whilst Giovanni used it as a tool simply to buy anything and anybody he wanted, including his son’s freedom.

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While this comes across as a very Italian tale, it was surprisingly adapted from an American best-selling novel in which the action had been set in Connecticut. We see that avarice needs no special location. Another interesting aspect of the film is that while the emphasis is on the men, it is the three women’s performances that were the attention grabbers: newbie Serena Ossola in her first screen role as Serena, Valeria Golino in the small but vital part of Roberta, Dino’s wife, and the stunning Valeria Bruni Tedeschi who picked up the Best Actress Award at Tribeca Film Festival for her excellent portrayal of the neurotic Carla. We have a tale of loose morals as well as a look capitalism in crisis. It is not a pretty story but it is told beautifully. We see how people caught up in their private dramas can overlook or misinterpret the people around them—especially those who have less power, whether because of their gender, their class, their age, or some combination of the three. I am aware that I have not given a full plot summary and when you see the film you will understand why.