J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Sweet Virginia

Perhaps it is time to rethink your dream of becoming a motelier in small town Alaska. It turns out that life is not all caviar and champagne. This is especially true for a nerve-damaged former rodeo star when a triple homicide stuns his sleepy burg. The killer happens to be sleeping in Sam Rossi’s sheets, so it is almost inevitable he will strike again uncomfortably close to home in Jamie M. Dagg’s Sweet Virginia, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Ironically, the Virginia-born hitman calling himself Elwood recognizes fellow Virginian Rossi from his rodeo days. You could say he is in town on business. Elwood is responsible for killing three men playing their regular late night poker game at Tom Barrett’s restaurant. He had only been contracted by Lila McCabe to kill her abusive, good-for-nothing husband, but Elwood does not like to wait. Unfortunately, he will have to, if he wants to collect his money.

As it turns out, her loving hubby did not reveal their real financial situation to McCabe. It’s not pretty. Neither is the state of her conscience, knowing that two other men died because of her. Bernadette Barrett is also in a strange emotional place. She is truly sorry her husband died, but her growing feelings for Rossi, with whom she has been secretly carrying on an affair, remain undiminished. As the Widows Barrett and McCabe console each other, Elwood grows restive, which bodes ill for the town.

Sweet Virginia (a holdover title from earlier drafts set in rural VA, which really doesn’t make much sense anymore) is being billed as a “neo-western,” which is becoming a catch-all label for small town anxiety. Despite a few killings, it is worlds removed from Hell or High Water. The best part of Sweet VA is the relationship between Rossi and Barrett, two people wounded by life, who have found a bit of respite together. Unfortunately, most of the stuff around them plays out like warmed-over Fargo, except at a fraction of the pace.

Yet, to his credit, Dagg (who previously helmed the not-bad River) uncorks some tense scenes that make us sit up and suddenly start to care again. The opening murder scene is deceptively tense and a later home-invasion sequence is a real hum-dinger. In contrast, the unconvincing bromance that develops agonizingly slowly between Rossi and Elwood is mostly just a snooze.

John Bernthal and Rosemarie DeWitt are terrific as Rossi and Barrett. In contrast, Christopher Abbott seems to be trying to channel Shia LaBeouf as Elwood, which is a dubious strategy. Relying on little makeup, the glammed down Imogen Poots is still almost unrecognizable as McCabe, but she gets surprisingly little screen time, given her comparative prominence.

There is a lot of talent in this film, including Jessica Lee Gagné’s stylish cinematography. By process of elimination, we come to suspect the fundamental problem is the China Brothers’ inert screenplay. Frustratingly flawed, Sweet Virginia screens again tonight (4/23), Tuesday (4/25), and Thursday (4/27), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: Blues Planet (screening & concert)

If you grew up in the early 1970s, you might be more familiar with the blues legend Taj Mahal than you realized, thanks to his soundtrack for the hit film Sounder. Since then, the real deal bluesman and his music have graced many films and soundtracks, including The Hot Spot and Once When We Were Colored. As he approaches his 75th birthday, Taj Mahal racked up another screen credit in Wyland’s short documentary, Blue Planet: Triptych, which celebrated its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival with a special post-screening concert by the Phantom Blues Band, fronted by Mr. Taj Mahal himself.

Awkwardly, the film itself, written, produced, directed, and featuring uni-named environmental artist and activist Wyland, is pretty much a big nothing. We see Wyland mope around the mucky aftermath of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and listen to his platitudes, like “it will take all 7 billion of us to save this planet” (in which case, we’re done for, since the 2.5 billion people of China and India, or at least their governments, clearly aren’t on board). However, he tantalizes us with scenes of the Phantom Blues Band recording the forty-eight environmentally themed blues songs he wrote, in a New Orleans studio.

Technically, the film is rather unremarkable, to put it diplomatically, but it is well worth sitting through if you get to hear Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band play afterwards. It is a heck of a band, including NOLA’s Jon Cleary on keyboard, Willie K (“the Hawaiian Jimi Hendrix”) on guitar, and perennial jazz poll-topper Steve Turre (known for his long tenure in the Saturday Night Live band) on trombone and shells.

Despite some quickly resolved sound issues, “Dirty Oil” was an appropriate tune to kick off the set. It certainly highlighted Wyland’s eco message, but more importantly, it really brings out the Delta in Taj Mahal’s voice. “Going Back to the Ocean” sure sounds a lot like another well-known Blues standard, but there’s certainly a long “cut-and-paste” tradition in Blues, so who cares, especially when the Phantom Blues Band digs into it. “My Home is Your Home” nicely dialed it down for Nick-I Hernandez’s vocal turn and Cleary’s solo, both of which were quite eloquent. Throughout the set, Cleary laid down some tasty lines on a Roland trying to sound like a piano, while a chugging Hammond gave it a firm bottom, all of which is just such a kind combination of sounds.

Arguably, “Little Ocean Pearl” was the highlight of the set, featuring Taj Mahal on harmonica, Willie K on uke, and Turre on the shells. It is indeed fitting Turre’s shells had a feature spot, given the ocean theme. In this case, his solo was especially melodic and rich in sonic color. “Queen Honey Bee” also sounds like a hummable cross-over hit, with a lovely melody and “honeypot” lyrics that definitely suggest “blues” connotations. There was actually a surprising degree of textural and rhythmic variety in the set, with the pseudo-calypso “All Gone Now” aptly summing up Wyland’s message at the end.

At one point, an audience member shouted out “sound good,” to which Taj Mahal replied “after fifty-five years, you’d better sound like something.” He then added: “I’m just waiting for those rappers to get to 75.” Frankly, it looked like the blues legend could have played all day if they would have let him, and he sounded so good leading the Phantom Blues Band, it is a shame Tribeca didn’t just let him go. As a film, Blues Planet: Triptych is what it is, but getting to hear Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band play afterward is a treat you shouldn’t miss if you have the chance. Viewers will get a hint of what they missed when Wyland’s film also screens as part of the Shorts: S.O.S. program Tuesday (4/25), Wednesday (4/26), Saturday (4/29) and Sunday (4/30), as part of this year’s Tribeca.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Hounds of Love

If Vicki Maloney had paid more mind to her mother, she would not be in this spot. Unfortunately, she snuck out when she was grounded and got into a car with strange people. We can only hope she was wearing clean underwear, because there is a very good chance she could end up dead in Ben Young’s Hounds of Love (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Maloney and her mother Maggie would be arguing like cats and dogs anyway, because that is what mothers and teen daughters do. However, her parents’ separation only makes matters worse, especially since her more financially secure father Trevor is so good at playing the abandonment card. Tragically, Maloney brief lapse of judgement might be fatal. It is clear John and Evelyn White have abducted, terrorized, and murdered a number of girls before her. Yet, even amid the horrors she endures, Maloney picks up on tensions between her tormentors. She has darn good reason to believe the manipulative John has been playing his needy wife and she can tell the more passive captor is starting to suspect it too.

Meanwhile, the Perth coppers are so unhelpful, they might as well be considered accomplices. However, the alarmed Maggie is in her fiercest mothering mode and will not be intimidated into waiting at home for Vicki to call. Old Trevor largely agrees with her, but he lacks her forcefulness. Basically, they are on their own, with the clock ticking.

It seems like abduction-captivity thrillers just keep getting increasingly more sadistic and disturbing. To be frank, Hounds continues the trend, but it also has redemptive substance to go with the unsettling cruelty. It sounds like a shameless pull-quote, but the third act climax really is so tense you can hardly breathe.

As John White, Stephen Curry creates a chilling portrait of clammy, calculating evil. In the potential victim role, Ashleigh Cummings gives a bravely exposed and vulnerable performance, but the real heart and soul of the film comes from Susie Porter’s defiantly haunting turn as Mother Maggie. In contrast, the arrested emotional development of Emma Booth’s Evelyn White does not always ring true, but her pathological codependency is generally credible enough to cover for it.

The sunny Australian Christmas season is also rather feverishly disorienting, like the original Die Hard transferred to a suburban dungeon. The 1980s period details are also spot-on. It is quite a distinctive way for Young, a TV and short film director, to announce his feature arrival. Recommended for fans of dark, provocative thrillers, Hounds of Love screens again this Monday (4/24) and Tuesday (4/25), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: The Midnight Service (series)

What do the Florida Everglades and Hendricks County, IN have in common? You can find some nice homes in both locales, but the neighboring population is sparse. That makes them prime spots for nefarious goings-on. Brett Potter & Dean Colin Marcial “document” spooky incidents in both respective regions in the upcoming web series, The Midnight Service, which screened as part of N.O.W. [New Online Work] Showcase A at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

As Josh Meek explains in episode one, “Pizza Delivery,” he did not want to make a delivery at the end of long dark stretch of rural road, but he reluctantly did so at his boss’s insistence. When he arrives, he finds the house empty—or is it? What he sees could have been a scene out of Lost Highway, except tighter and more focused. At just four minutes, Pizza Delivery is in fact super-focused.

The second episode screened, “Home Invasion” is twice as long, but its basic premise could support an entire feature film. One night, comedian Kat Toledano was housesitting in the Glades when a small-time local felon tried to violently break-and-enter, but he suddenly just up and vanished. About the same time, a park ranger in Everglades National Park observed a strange phenomenon from his observation station. Could these events be related?

Toledano is pretty funny playing it straight as herself, but the real stars of the show are the creepy ambiance and Brian McOmber’s massively eerie music. You can think of Midnight Service as the old Unsolved Mysteries TV show reconceived for post-Scream generations. It has an ironic sensibility, creating situations that clearly imply the work of some sort of uncanny agency, while scrupulously maintaining its ambiguity.

The first two episodes are indeed short, but Potter and Marcial sustain the sinister vibe from beginning to end. It also inspires confidence knowing Midnight is a production of Borscht Corp, who previously shepherded a number of cool genre shorts, including Kaiju Bunraku and Boniato. Regardless, it is so vividly weird, it might just catch on when it launches online. Recommended for fans of urban legends and true crime re-enactments, The Midnight Service world premiered at this year’s Tribeca.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Gilbert

It’s like the turning of leaves or the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano. Periodically, somebody in the outrage business gets apoplectic over something Gilbert Gottfried said. Normally, the joke is on them, but when admittedly tasteless tsunami jokes cost the comedian his lucrative Aflac commercial gig, many assumed the speech police had finally claimed his scalp. Yet, the manically nebbish stand-up is still standing. Viewers get a peek behind his outrageous facade in Neil Berkeley’s documentary profile Gilbert, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Gottfried was always a comic’s comic in part because of his gleeful willingness to skewer sacred cows. His career kicked into high gear after his characteristically frenzied cameo in Beverly Hills Cop 2, but probably his biggest paydays were as the voice of the parrot in Aladdin and the Aflac duck. Berkeley duly covers Gottfried career high/low lights, such as his notorious appearance at the Hugh Hefner roast, which started with poorly received 9-11 jokes and ended with essentially the public debut of the filthy-as-the-day-is-long “Aristocrats” joke that has always been reserved for private one-upmanship among fellow comics.

The very same Gottfried also happens to be married to a woman who seems to be emotionally healthy and well-adjusted. Even Gottfried isn’t sure how that worked. Berkeley worms his way into their private lives pretty deeply, giving us some insight into their relationship. Clearly, Gottfried is a guarded person by nature, but he opens up—probably more than he expected. We also learn how close he was to his mother and his sisters. Granted, Gilbert is nowhere as revealing as Weiner—and thank goodness for that—but it humanizes the eccentric comedian to a shocking extent.

In many ways, Gilbert compares with Neil Barsky’s thoroughly entertaining Ed Koch documentary, aptly titled Koch. Both were very private individuals, yet they rather unrepentantly ignited public controversies with their outspokenness. However, Berkeley hardly explores the free speech implications of the Gilbert Gottfried experience, beyond some hat-tips to Lenny Bruce. For that kind of analysis, check out Ted Balaker’s funny and frightening Can We Take a Joke?, featuring the post-Aflac Gottfried.

The portrait of Gottfried that emerges through Berkeley’s lens is quite complex, but fans need not worry. He is still happy to meet their expectations for crudeness and crassness. Funny yet weirdly endearing, Gilbert is highly recommended for everyone except Puritanical Social Justice Warriors when it screens again tonight (4/21), Tuesday (4/25), and next Friday (4/28), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: Clive Davis the Soundtrack of Our Lives

He is the record executive who finally figured out how to get the Grateful Dead, the original jam band, on the singles chart. Clive Davis also signed a few of his own discoveries you might remember, like Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys. Frankly, just signing Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company to Columbia Records pretty much guaranteed him a place in the music industry history books. It is hard not to take a “gee whiz” approach to Davis’s career, so Chris Perkel doesn’t even try throughout the briskly nostalgic Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, the opening night film of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Originally recruited for Columbia/CBS’s legal department, Davis was elevated to head the music department almost (if not entirely) by accident. However, once he was there, he quickly learned to trust his ears and instincts. Liberating the label from influential A&R man (and sing-along bandleader) Mitch Miller’s anti-rock biases, Davis signed acts like Joplin, Santana, Chicago, Aerosmith, and Bruce Springsteen, many of whom panned out over time.

Despite making pots of money for Columbia, Davis was forced out after a manufactured payola scandal broke in the media (at least that is Team Clive’s side of the story and Perkel never questions it). Of course, he landed on his feet, founding Arista, a new record label subsidiary for Columbia Pictures (no relation to his former employer) nearly from scratch. His signings were eclectic (Barry Manilow, Aretha Franklin, Gil Scott-Heron, and The Dead), but almost uniformly successful. Perversely, history would repeat itself when Davis was forced out at the peak of Arista’s commercial performance, for apparent reasons of ageism. Yet, Davis would again have the last laugh at J Records.

Let’s be honest, if you want to make a documentary about someone with Davis’s level of industry power and secure the participation of artists such as Springsteen, Bob Weir, Patti Smith, Cissy Houston, Carlos Santana, Simon and Garfunkle (separately, not together) as well as collaborators like Gamble & Huff and Simon Cowell, by airing a lot of dirty laundry. However, from a viewer’s perspective, the perfunctory and defensive treatment of the Columbia/CBS scandal raises more suspicions than it dismisses.

Still, it is tough to beat Davis’s career retrospective for its nostalgia value. It is kind of mind-blowing Davis launched Whitney Houston’s career on the Merv Griffin Show, but Perkel has the video to prove it. Or how about digging “[Have You Heard from] Johannesburg,” perhaps the grooviest, swingingest protest song ever, from Scott-Heron, whom Davis rightly credits as the original rapper?  Remember when American Idol was a big deal? It was Davis’s J Records that immediately whisked the winners into the studio.

At least Perkel deals forthrightly with Whitney Houston’s very tragic and public meltdown. On the other hand, he spends a disproportionate about of time on Davis’s saccharine creation, Kenny G, which will tarnish his image with a lot of hipper viewers. Still, you have to give Davis credit for his willingness to back comeback vehicles for past chart-toppers, like Rod Stewart’s American Songbook releases and Santana’s Smooth.

Throughout it all, the smiling Davis reminisces about his career highlights, going back to when he signed Moses to read the stone tablets he found on Mount Sinai for a spoken word album. It is definitely a fannish film, but with war stories like this, Perkel largely gets away with it. Recommended as an insidery history of pop music from 1967 to pretty much right now, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives screens again tonight (4/21) and Sunday (4/23), during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: Super Dark Times

At least this violent high school tragedy cannot be cynically exploited by the personal rights-encroaching nanny-state lobby. Perhaps there is a movement to ban samurai swords, but it is hard to see it gaining much momentum, even with this example of the accidental killing of a classmate. The incident emotionally and psychologically devastates two life-long friends, leading to some very bad things in Kevin Phillips’ Super Dark Times, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Zach and Josh have always been inseparable, even though they both carry a torch for the same popular girl in their class. Sometimes they knock about with Charlie and they will reluctantly allow Daryl, the annoying tubby kid, to tag along. One day, Josh takes his enlisted brother’s samurai sword out into the woods to slice up milk cartons with the other three lads. Unfortunately, Daryl is being his usual grabby, pestering self, except maybe worse. One thing leads to another and Josh inadvertently slices Daryl. Thoroughly freaked out and panicky, the three survivors cover his body with brush and resolve to never talk about it again.

Of course, living with this kind of corrosive secret takes a toll on their souls. Zach manages to keep up appearances, but he is reeling inside. In contrast, Josh seems to go numb, retreating into himself and recording extended absences from class. When he returns, he seems cold and distant. Soon thereafter, a classmate he is known to dislike dies under mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. Subsequent events lead Zach to suspect his best bud may have developed a taste for killing.

In this case, how Super Dark is programmed has a direct bearing on whether we can recommend it. Phillips’ film is a selection of the “midnight” section, which implies a certain level of mayhem and attitude. Patrons come to midnight screenings expecting to “have fun” with a film, but Super Dark is tonally much more akin to a film like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. As a result, the regular midnight crew is likely to walk out of it feeling depressed and sucker-punched.

That really does Super Dark a disservice, because it is in fact a film of some merit. It is a tough, honest film that does not resort to cheap sentimentality or lazy takeaways. We cannot ascribe the violence in the film to the influence of drugs or explicit video games. Nor can we blame parental neglect. It is just a function of a sickness in the soul, for which Josh apparently has a greater susceptibility.

Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan are both unremittingly intense as Zach and Josh. However, it is some of the supporting turns that really breathe life into the film. Elizabeth Cappuccino finds surprising depth and subtly in Allison, the “It Girl,” while Amy Hargreaves adds further dimension and maturity to the proceedings, as Zach’s “cool” but loving single mom Karen. Frankly, the fact that she is so oblivious is rather disturbing, precisely because she seems to be doing everything right.

Phillips deliberately keeps the proceedings dark and dour, which certainly suits the film’s grim view of human nature. The genre elements, such as they are, decidedly reflect an austerely naturalistic aesthetic. That makes it a distinctive calling card for Phillips and his ensemble, but not much of a midnight movie. Look, just because you like a film doesn’t mean you should select it for your festival track. That’s why it’s called programming. Regardless, mature audiences should consider checking it out eventually. For now, it screens again tonight (4/21), tomorrow (4/22), and Sunday (4/23), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: King of Peking

Deng Xiaoping died in 1997, shortly after commercial DVDs were introduced to the marketplace. In many ways, these two events heralded the end of eras: a time of relative openness in China and the golden age of home video. Granted, DVDs have certain advantages in terms of space that make them more attractive to would-be pirates. In order to maintain custody of his son, a down-sized projectionist launches such a piracy scheme in Sam Voutas’s King of Peking, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Big Wong was once a professional projectionist, but in recent years he has eked out a living as an itinerant showman screening films in provincial villages. Unfortunately, when his projector flares out, he is forced to accept a lowly custodial job at a large but shabby neighborhood movie theater. This is not just an economic setback. It means his ex-wife will have grounds to reclaim custody of their son, Little Wong. As a railroad porter, her situation is not ideal either, but it is stable.

However, Big Wong finds opportunity in adversity. The janitor job comes with a basement apartment and access to the projection booth—and the cans of film stored within. Soon, Big Wong is doing a brisk trade in pirated films, right under his employer’s nose. However, the underground nature of his “King of Peking” bootleg distribution business involves complications that will jeopardize his standing with Little Wong.

King of Peking is the sort of film that makes audiences nostalgic for a time and place they never experienced for themselves. We can feel something is lost in the passing of the communal movie screenings, despite the convenience and comfort of home viewing options (legal or black market). There is a whiff of an Edward Yang vibe and a pinch of Hou Hsiao-hsien seasoning, but King is much more accessible and relatable, like a cross between De Sica’s Bicycle Thief and Ozu’s Floating Weeds, but with more classic Hollywood references.

Zhao Jun and Wang Naixun are simply a remarkable tandem as Big and Little Wong, respectively. One glance at their body language tells you all you need to know about their loving but often strained relationship. Zhao is especially poignant as the father finding himself hoisted on his own good intentions and ethical shortcuts. He really ought to be a leading contender for best actor in the international competition. Plus, Han Qing truly humanizes Wong’s ex, Lei Lin, rather than playing her as a stereotypical shrew.


Everything about King is wistful and acutely human. Charming but never cloying, it is a film with a big heart and street smarts. Anyone will appreciate its scruffy family drama, but cineastes will be particularly taken with its movie love. Very highly recommended, King of Peking screens again tonight (4/21), tomorrow (4/22), Saturday (4/29), and Sunday (4/30), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Nashville ’17: Bill Frisell, a Portrait

If you are a professional musician of some name, who hasn’t played with Bill Frisell, you’re probably pretty boring. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with category. Frisell is best known as a jazz artist, but he can play anything with anyone, including classical string music, experimental hardcore, free improv, folk, roots, blues, and country. He always fits in, yet he always sounds like himself. Emma Franz profiles the superhumanly busy guitarist in Bill Frisell: A Portrait (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Nashville Film Festival.

Fortunately, Franz talks to a small army of famous musicians who have played with Frisell, because he is not the type to sing his own praises. It is doubly fortuitous, considering two of his most important colleagues are no longer with us. The late, great Jim Hall, with whom he studied and later recorded with as a duo, argues he might have influenced Frisell initially, but in later years, Hall was influenced by Frisell. Similarly, the late and equally great Paul Motian reminisces about the formation of his classic trio with Frisell and Joe Lovano. It is hard to believe they are both gone, but their contributions to Franz’s film provide a nice way to remember them.

Of course, they are not the only musicians offering testimonials. We also hear from Lovano, Ron Carter, John Abercrombie, Jason Moran, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Jack DeJohnette, Bonnie Raitt, and Paul Simon. More importantly, we get to hear him perform in a variety of contexts, including the Motian-Lovano trio, a new trio with Jason Moran, and the avant-garde chamber ensemble, the 858 Quartet. Some of the music swings way harder than you might expect, while some is just arrestingly beautiful, but it is always interesting.

On the other hand, you might have to be a bit of guitar nut to appreciate the countless instruments Frisell show-and-tells for Franz, many of which were hand-painted by relatively well-known artists. Regardless, Frisell’s aw-shucks attitude wears well over time. In fact, he is extraordinarily modest for a man who is probably called a genius several times a day.


Arguably, Nashville is the perfect place to screen Frisell’s documentary. Sure, it is known as a country town, but he has done that too. However, the Nashville studio warriors should be able to relate. They can play anything, anywhere, at any time, as long as the pay is decent. They are also sure to be familiar with at least some of Frisell’s voluminous recorded output. For those coming in cold, Franz and company convincingly establish Frisell’s significance in music today, across genre boundaries, whereas everyone should enjoy the generous musical selections. Highly recommended, Bill Frisell: A Portrait screens Monday (4/24) and Tuesday (4/25) at this year’s Nashville Film Festival.

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Tribeca ’17: The Farthest

For many, the Voyager Program is best remembered as the inspiration for the rogue probe V’Ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That is rather sad, because but its true legacy is much more significant. There were only two Voyagers launched, but they radically reshaped our vision of our galaxy. The scientists who were and remain involved in the Voyager Program explain their challenges and breakthroughs in Emer Reynolds’ The Farthest (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

In 1977, the planets literally aligned, allowing the Voyager probes to fly in close proximity past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, as well as several of their respective moons. It was an opportunity that only occurs once every 176 years or so, but fortunately, Pres. Nixon had the foresight to authorize the program in 1972 (say what you will, but RMN generally “got” the space thing). Despite the subsequent administration changes, NASA managed to stay the course, launching first Voyager 2 and then Voyager 1, to the utter bafflement of the media.

Relying solely on interviews with surviving Voyage team-members and archival media and NASA footage, Reynolds chronicles the immense drama of each planetary pass. Frankly, it is remarkable just how much of the planetary images we now take for granted came from the Voyagers. Uranus and Neptune in particular were basically just white and blue dots in the sky. Viewing them through terrestrial telescopes was a lot like observing Iceland through binoculars from the coast of Maine.

Yet, the Voyagers keep going, carrying the “Golden Record” of music and greetings from the people of Earth to maybe nobody or perhaps beings we can only imagine. Arguably, the Voyager Program is more intrinsically big-picture-speculative and purely scientific than the Apollo Program (one small step, what’s not to get?), so it really ought to be addressed in more philosophic and frankly poetic terms. Fortunately, Reynolds and the Voyager veterans are more than equal to the task. Indeed, Farthest is an unusually eloquent documentary that puts the truly cosmic proportions of the Voyagers’ journey into perspective.

The Farthest is also extraordinarily cinematic, especially by doc standards, thanks to the captivating images provided by the Voyagers themselves, as well as the CGI renderings of the probes in flight. The Voyager scientists and technicians are also tremendously insightful, often offering up surprisingly poignant memories of the mission (particularly the planetary pass overshadowed by the Challenger tragedy).

Reynolds’ doc will also bring back fond memories of Dr. Carl Sagan (whom many primarily remember from the classic Cosmos series, but was a real deal astrophysicist) and the recently departed Chuck Berry (whose “Johnny B. Goode” was included on the Golden Record and played at the final-pass party). You could say Berry had more global and galactic perspective than the Beatles, who refused to license any of their songs for the Golden Record (in contrast, Pink Floyd were willing to license “Us and Them” for Earthly use in the documentary).

This is simply an exceptional documentary. It is often visually spectacular, but its mind-expanding scope is even more impressive. Sadly, it is impossible to imagine a project like Voyager getting green-lighted in today’s political and media environment, which is truly impoverishing. American filmmakers should also be a little embarrassed it was an Irish crew that documented this endeavor on the big screen, but Reynolds deserves credit for recognizing its inherent drama and fascinating implications. Very highly recommended, The Farthest screens again tonight (4/21), tomorrow (4/22), Sunday (4/23), and Monday (4/24), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

TIFF Kids ’17: Room 213

It turns out you are never too young for summer camp horror. At least Elvira and her sixth-grader friends will be spared the gore of the Sleepaway Camp and Friday the 13th franchises, but they will still get plenty scared in Emelie Lindblom’s family-appropriate tale of terror, Room 213 (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 TIFF Kids International Film Festival.

Initially, Elvira and her roommates Meja and Bea had different digs, but plumbing issues forced them to move to the long-unused #213. Of course, there is a darned good reason why their room is traditionally shuttered, but the current crop of counselors doesn’t know or is just hoping for the best. Soon each girl has an item of great personal significance stolen. They immediately suspect each other, but a series of spooky incidents leads them to look for more supernatural explanations—like a ghost.

Mebel would fit the bill perfectly. There is indeed a history of sightings of the red-haired camper who died under mysterious circumstances. However, there are also boys at the camp, so there will be other causes of jealousy and angst. They will only be at Camp Something-with-Several-Umlauts for one week, but what the three girls see will haunt them all their lives, or so the Mary Roberts Rinehart-esque opening narration tells us.

For a children’s film with absolutely, positively no violence, Room 213 is impressively eerie. It is worth noting the Swedish title is Rum 213, as in “red rum,” so there you have it. Although younger viewers will easily identify with the sensitive Elvira, grown-ups will find it compelling to watch the youngsters dealing with paranormal encounters in a very realistic way. Elvira’s stormy BFF relationships with Meja and Bea also rings true for girls their age.

Wilma Lungren shines as the somewhat shy middle class Elvira, showing tremendous presence in nearly every scene. She also develops completely believable rapport with Ella Fogelström as the mean-ish rich girl Meja and Elena Hovsepyan as more economically disadvantaged Bea.

While Martin Jern and Emil Larsson’s adaptation of Ingelin Angerborn’s YA novel is rather short on answers, it ends up in a pretty cool place. Without question, it is way more satisfying than some of the midnight movies on tap for next week. Recommended for viewers of all ages who enjoy a good ghost story, Room 213 screens up north (Toronto) this Saturday (4/22) and Sunday (4/23), as part of TIFF Kids.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dumont’s Slack Bay

Belle Époque France never looked so grotesque. The idle rich still come to the Opal Coast to be even less productive, but this time it is they who will become fodder for the rustic locals. Class distinctions and gender roles will take a bizarre thrashing in Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay (trailer here), an absurdist comedy with the emphasis on the absurd, which opens this Friday in New York.

The Van Peteghems have come to summer at Slack Bay, because that is what respectable people do. Unbeknownst to them, the clam-digging, muscle-harvesting Brufort family has been killing and eating obnoxious bourgeoisie tourists, both for reasons of class consciousness and to put food on the table. Stoop shouldered André Van Peteghem sets a whole new standard for condescension and his sister Aude might be even snobbier. Yet, somehow the Peteghems could be too ridiculous for the Bruforts to kill.

Of course, it does not hurt that oldest Brufort son Ma Loute has fallen head over heels for Aude’s daughter Billie. Technically, the local police chief Alfred Machin and his deputy Malfoy are still investigating the missing tourists, but they inspire less confidence than their obvious inspiration, Laurel and Hardy. When the rotund Machin tips over on his side, it requires quite a laborious effort to right him, so they should not pose much threat to the Bruforts. However, Ma Loute has yet to see Billie when she is in the mood to pull back her hair and don her Annie Hall wardrobe. Her family always accepted he gender playfulness rather casually, because they simply aren’t the sorts to get worked up over anything, but her new proletarian boyfriend is cut from a different cloth—in just about every possible sense.

It is almost impossible to convey the tone and viewing experience of Slack Bay. In many ways, it looks stylistically akin to Dumont’s sly and shocking endearing Li’l Quinquin, but it retains undercurrents of the old, grimly fatalistic Dumont who helmed laugh-a-minute films like Hors Satan and the unremittingly punishing Flanders. In Slack Bay, human nature is irredeemably tainted, but it’s a lovely day, so let’s go to the beach.

At times, the slapstick humor and wacky fantastical realism of Slack Bay makes Tom & Jerry look subtle, but you have to admire the dogged determination with which it is plied. To be honest, there are scenes of such lunacy it made your correspondent laugh out loud, but he was the only one laughing during the screening. Indeed, Dumont’s visuals can be overwhelming. Think of the film as day-to-day scenes from The Village in Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, as rendered by Bill Plympton collaborating with Honoré Daumier.

You have probably never seen Juliette Binoche act so Meryl Streepy over-the-top, but she just doubles and triples down as the stately Aude Van Peteghem. On the other hand, Fabrice Luchini is totally in his element as the Van Peteghem patriarch (sort of like Frasier Crane raised to the power of one hundred). Brandon Lavieville’s Ma Loute (the titular character in its original French release) is rather dully brutish, whereas the economically-named Raph has a bright but suitably ambiguous screen presence as Billie Van Peteghem. Yet, Didier Després and Cyril Rigaux steal the show over and over again. As Manchin and Malfoy, they are a spectacle unto themselves.

It is nearly impossible to believe the gleefully anarchical Slack Bay was crafted by the same filmmaker who helmed the dreary, didactic Hadewijch, but here it is. This is the sort of film that has to be seen to be believed. Every critic compares this magnum peculiarity to Buñel, but the grand set pieces of Terry Gilliam and Mel Brooks’ buckshot-scattergun approach to comedy are nearly as apt. Everyone really should see Slack Bay, just so they can disbelieve their own eyes, especially if they have restively sat through previous Dumont films. Recommended for those who appreciate eccentricity on an epic scale, Slack Bay opens this Friday (4/21) in New York, at the Quad Cinema downtown and the Film Society of Lincoln Center uptown.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Disney Nature’s Born in China

Let’s be honest, pandas are adorable. Their custodial guardians are a different matter. From an environmental perspective, the People’s Republic is one of the worst serial polluters in the world. However, any concern for Chinese environmental policy is conspicuously absent from Disney Nature’s new Chinese co-production. That may indeed be problematic, but those pandas are still just as cute in Lu Chuan’s Born in China (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Lu, an established Chinese auteur who often works with large canvasses (notably City of Life and Death, Last Supper, and Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe), crisscrossed China from the rocky edge of the Tibetan Steppe to the Eden-like Woolong Nature Reserve, filming symbolically Chinese animals in their natural habitats. We follow a mother snow leopard trying to provide for her young, watch a mischievous golden snub-nose monkey on the verge of growing up, and chill out with a contented panda lazing about with her cub. In between, we get some interludes of iconic Chinese cranes. Parents should be warned up front, Born in China does not end well for one of its focal characters (hint: it’s not the pandas).

Indeed, there is so much anthropomorphism going on, Lu refuses to call it a documentary, but a narrative film instead. His directness is refreshing, but Lu and his crew were still stuck with the endings nature provided. In one case, they try to spin some pretty dire consequences into an affirming manifestation of the Buddhist cycle of life. That kind of works for us, but you’ll have to judge for yourself whether that will work for your seven-year-old.

The usual environmental message of most Disney Nature films is also conspicuously missing. Frankly, Born in China does not even bother to ask us to pick up our litter. You would have no idea Mainland China has any environmental issues whatsoever from watching this film. Rather tellingly, the English-language release was narrated by John Krasinski, who wrote and co-starred in the anti-fracking drama Promised Land, partly-financed by a subsidiary of the government of OPEC member state, the United Arab Emirates. So, apparently, his environmental convictions are for sale to the highest bidder.

Frankly, we would probably all be happier if Disney had just subtitled the Chinese narration of Zhou Xun, because she’s a real movie star. In addition, Lu demonstrates his keen eye for spectacle and grandeur. He and his battery of cinematographers, including aerial specialist Irmin Kerck, capture some stunning shots. They also manage to zoom in so up-close-and-personal, it makes it rather easy to ascribe human emotions to their furry cast-members. They even include the nature documentary equivalent of the Jackie Chan blooper reel during the closing credits (“don’t worry, snow leopards never attack humans . . .”).

Born in China is an impressive production, but it is rather disturbing Disney Nature presumably allowed their Chinese partners to self-censor their ordinarily strong environmental messaging. Once again, that “panda diplomacy” pays dividends for the Mainland government. Nature lovers should definitely take in the wonders Lu records, but they should temper it with an unvarnished look at Beijing’s exploitative land use policies, such as Michael Buckley’s short doc Plundering Tibet (available on Vimeo here). For panda lovers desiring a fix, Born in China opens this Friday (4/21) in theaters throughout the City, including the AMC Empire.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

The Promise: Love Survives Genocide

A $100 million budget is almost unheard of for an independent film, but the late billionaire philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian wanted to make a statement. In the past, Turkish Islamist deniers of the Armenian Genocide have been remarkably successful censoring Hollywood and other prospective producers of films depicting the Ottoman-orchestrated mass murder of ethnic Armenia Christians, but they couldn’t silence Kerkorian, who entirely financed the production of Terry George’s The Promise (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The Promise releases in theaters a mere six weeks after Joseph Ruben’s irredeemably shameful The Ottoman Lieutenant, a Turkish-produced attempt to obscure and trivialize the Armenian Genocide, but it should generate considerably more interest due to it’s A-list cast (Christian Bale vs. Josh Hartnett) and infinitely superior intentions. As the film opens, ambitious young apothecary Mikael Pogosian has agreed to marry the earnest Maral after first using her dowry to attend medical school in Constantinople. It is not love, at least not on his part, but he recognizes her goodness and so assumes he will grow to love her over time.

Yet, as soon as he sets foot in the fashionable home of his father’s wealthy merchant cousin, Pogosian falls head over heels with the children’s music tutor Ana Khesarian. She too is already in a problematic but committed relationship with crusading American journalist Chris Myers, so both try to deny their burgeoning attraction. However, as anti-Armenian violence erupts throughout the Sick Man of Europe, Pogosian and Khesarian are thrown together in ways that breaks down their resolve.

Inevitably separated from Khesarian, Pogosian finds himself detailed to a work brigade that will consigned to a mass grave once they finish the road they are toiling on. The doctor-in-training will escape the fate assigned to him, but he will witness far more horrors as he makes his way through the formerly Armenian provinces, ultimately arriving at the fateful Musa Dagh.

The Promise is not anti-Muslim. Indeed, it takes great pains to introduce Emre Ogan, Pogosian’s Muslim colleague at medical school, who consistently tries to shield his friend from anti-Armenian discrimination and persecution. Of course, the fun-loving Ogan will not be any Islamist’s idea of a Muslim, but it makes him all the more sympathetic to rational viewers.

Frankly, we have yet to see the defining, hearts-and-minds changing film on the Armenian Genocide, but at least in the case of The Promise, it was not for a lack of trying. Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon develop decent Yuri-and-Lara chemistry as Pogosian and Khesarian. Bale is terrific as the heroic but deeply flawed Myers. However, the great Shohreh Aghdashloo and Angela Sarafyan (technically the only true Armenian cast-member) really pack an emotional wallop as Pogosian’s tough but loving mother Marta and his loyal intended Maral, respectively.

In fact, there are dozens small but accomplished supporting turns distributed throughout The Promise, including Rade Serbedzija as the steely mayor leading the resistance at Musa Dagh and Marwan Kenzari as the likable but ultimately tragic Ogan. Plus, James Cromwell memorably gives the Ottoman authorities a stinging moral rebuke as American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Sr.

The Promise is a big, sweeping film, but it suffers from its formulaic predictableness. George and co-screenwriter Robin Swicord were clearly looking towards David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago as a model, but there is no analog for Sir Alec Guinness’s wild card performance as Lt. Gen. Yevgraf Zhivago. No matter how many times we watch Zhivago, we still do not quite know what to make of him, whereas we can quickly pigeonhole every character in The Promise.

Still, there is quite a bit to recommend George’s film. The war scenes are impressively brutal and viewers can viscerally feel the resulting emotional devastation experienced by the Armenian community. It certainly does not deserve the one-star reviews tens of thousands of Genocide deniers have robotically posted on imdb, despite the film only having screened publicly a handful of times at the Toronto Film Festival. Recommended for general audiences, The Promise opens this Friday (4/21) in New York, at the AMC Empire and Loews Lincoln Square.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Marco Polo: The 2007 Version

Every time someone takes another shot at filming the travels of the famous Venetian merchant, it opens the door to charges of “whitewashing.” It is a problematic practice, but Polo’s Italianness has rarely been rendered with much authenticity either. Frankly, you have to give the underrated Netflix series credit for its casting. Lead actor Lorenzo Richelmy is indeed Italian, unlike Gary Cooper, Alfred Drake, Horst Buchholz, Alain Delon, Rory Calhoun, and the guy from Krull. Ian Somerhalder is not exactly Italian either and Brian Dennehy sure as heck isn’t Mongol, but at least most of the supporting cast looks relatively credible in Marco Polo: The Complete Miniseries (the shorter one from 2007 directed by Kevin Connor rather than the really long one from 1983), which is now available on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment.

So, there is this family from Venice that thinks there is money to be made on the Silk Road. That means dealing with the great Kublai Khan, Genghis’s grandson. Polo’s father and uncle hope to win him over with their Venetian charm, but young Marco does the job too well. At the Khan’s command, Polo will stay in Mongol-dominated China to give him the benefit of his truth-talking outsider’s perspective. For a young adventurer less than thrilled with the prospects of a merchant’s life, this really isn’t such a bad shake, especially when the great Khan sweetens the deal, giving him the lovely Temulun as his wife.

Up to this point, the first hour of Connor’s Polo tracks pretty closely with the initial Netflix episodes, but they diverge when the 2007 Polo meets Temulun and her younger sister Kensai. He falls hard for his wife, but even though she never fully reciprocates, they come to an affectionate understanding. Alas, she will inevitable rebel and be executed while Polo is off serving as a provincial governor for his Khan.

After a long subsequent mapping tour of the distant borderlands, Polo returns finding a much weaker Khan. He also discovers Kensai has grown up to become a dead ringer for her sister. Unfortunately, just when Polo believes he has another chance at happiness, courtly politics rudely interrupts once again.

If you can get past Dennehy as the fierce and noble Khan, then the 2007 Polo is a reasonably presentable, picturesque production, but that is a big if. Granted, Connor and the Hallmark team were probably wise to eschew the Fu Manchu makeup, but that also guaranteed Dennehy would look like a complete fish out of water. At least Somerhalder looks Italian and he buckles swash relatively well. As Polo’s best friend and loyal slave Pedro, BD Wong always looks like he wants to push his beloved master in front of an express commuter train, but in fairness, we would all probably look that way if we found ourselves in a similar situation.

Desiree Siahaan looks appropriately winsome as Temulun and Kensai, but she also has some nicely turned moments of high dramatic tragedy. Luo Yan and Kay Tong Lim classily round out the cast as Khan’s wise Empress Chabi and Lord Chenchu, Polo’s minder-protector, respectively.

If you enjoy watching people in richly appointed robes skulk and conspire around well-designed period sets, then this is your Polo. There are also two pretty solid fight scenes, but the double flashback opening is just confusingly redundant (“yes, I remember it all like when I told it to Rustichello of Pisa when we were both being held for ransom”). The way Polo goes native and remains enamored with superior Chinese knowledge and customs could earn it a new lease on life on the Mainland, but they still might not care for the part about Japan’s military superiority. Sort of entertaining for those who get nostalgic for the big “event” miniseries of the 1980s (like the other Marco Polo), the 2007 Marco Polo is now available on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Kushuthara: Pattern of Love

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a beautiful country. The Himalayan vistas are breathtaking and the karma is almost uniformly positive. In fact, you could almost say they invented karma there. However, fate will be a little tricky when past-life lovers meet the second time around in Karma Deki’s Kushuthara: Pattern of Love (trailer here), which is now available via digital VOD.

You do not just pop over to Bhutan. It takes a lot of logistical coordination. However, Charlie the British sounding Los Angelino has managed to make the trek for an assignment documenting the traditional weavers of Kurtoe-Menjey in the East and their colorful textiles. He will be delighted he made the journey when he meets Chokimo, a weaver renowned in the valley for her singing voice, who just happens to be married to his rustic host, Bumpala.

Their immediate mutual attraction is awkwardly obvious to everyone, including Bumpala and Charlie’s fixer, Penjor. They scrupulously maintain decorum, but when Chokimo tells him the local legend of Meto Lhazey and Phuntsho Namgyel, two lovers tragically separated by destiny, they both recognize its significant parallels with their own circumstances.

So yes, you could think of Kushuthara as ”Bridges of Himalayan County,” except for its achingly disciplined sense of self-sacrifice and denial. This is a world where Hollywood values do not apply—and if they gave into temptation, there would be karmic consequences. Instead, they can take comfort from briefly reuniting and we can hope they have better luck next time around.

Lest viewers get the wrong idea, Deki handles the reincarnation themes quite subtly. In no way does this film preach Buddhism (which makes it all the more appealing). Kushuthara is more directly concerned with the pain of being in love, but not being able to do a blessed thing about it.

Although the Kingdom lacks post-production facilities, they are not without a hardy filmmaking community. Most films are heavily influenced by Bollywood aesthetics, but Deki somewhat (but not entirely) tones it down for Kushuthara, which she conceived as a Westerner-friendly remake of her 2008 film of the same name. Frankly, it might just build a word-of-mouth following, partly because of its spiritual implications, but mostly due to the luminous work of Kezang Wangmo, Bhutan’s leading screen actress and a current member of parliament, as Chokimo. It is a wonderfully delicate but chastely sensual performance.

In contrast, the supposed Western ringer, Emrhys Cooper is quite loud and prone to mugging (and not in an in-character kind of way) as Charlie the dude. However, Karma Chedon and Kencho Wangdi create wonderfully poignant chemistry as Meto Lhazey and Phuntsho Namgyel, seen during periodic flashbacks.

There is something refreshing about a love story told with such austerity and purity of emotion. We can also possibly read into it echoes of Bhutan’s continuing hopes to modernize, but not at the expense of its traditional religious values. It has some rough edges as you might expect, considering Bhutanese cinema is still experiencing plenty of growing pains, but they cannot diminish the beauty of Kezang Wangmo’s performance or the exquisite sadness of the past-life love affair. As a film, it is just lovely to look at, in all respects. Highly recommended for romantics, Kushuthara: Pattern of Love is now available on digital VOD platforms, including iTunes.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

CUFF ’17: Alipato

They sure grow up fast in Metro Manilla. Kids are born already smoking and they join gangs by the age of four or five. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but it wouldn’t be satire if it did not have the ring of truth. Brace yourself for the ruckus, perverse, Daumier-esque vision of Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember (trailer here), a film “not directed by” Khavn [De La Cruz], which screens during this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival.

Even when their ages were mostly in the single digits, the Kostka Gang was one of the most feared in the Manila shantytowns. Unfortunately, when an ambitious bank heist goes south, the boss, conveniently known as “Boss,” gets sent up the river for twenty-eight years. When he is finally paroled, the surviving members of the Kostka gang are eager to re-acquire the missing loot presumably stolen by corrupt coppers working the case. However, they have more pressing problems when somebody starts knocking them off, one by one. Just wait till you get a load of the prime suspect.

If you haven’t seen a Khavn movie before, you had better steel yourself for his aesthetic onslaught. Think of his style as the combination of the most disturbing aspects of Brillante Ma Mendoza, Sion Sono, and Tod Browning. In fact, the first forty-five minutes are more closely akin to a carnival freak show than a proper movie. Yet, Khavn sort of knuckles down and stages a strangely intriguing gangster drama in the second half.

There is no question Alipato is Khavn’s joint and most of the cast can only hang on for dear life. However, Dido De La Paz is suitably flinty and world-weary as the post-prison Boss. Granted he looks dramatically older than his old running mates, but like they say, prison changes a man. More fundamentally, anyone inclined towards pedantry should give Alipato a wide berth, or risk their head exploding in the face of such defiant lunacy.

Yet, Alipato is arguably healthier than most films produced today, because it truly has something to offend just about everyone. Violence, sex, scatology, tots smoking cigarette and toting loaded guns—it’s all in here and then some. Recommended for fans of post-punk mondo-extremity, Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember screens this coming Tuesday (4/18), as part of the 2017 CUFF.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Heal the Living: Follow the Beating Heart

Simon Limbres is a brain-dead teenager. Tragically, this is literally true in his case. As the term implies, his heart is indeed still beating. Perhaps it will keep pumping for someone on the transplant list, if the Le Havre hospital’s organ donation team can convince Limbres’ parents and then harvest and transplant in time. It is difficult to rush grieving parents like the Limbreses, but we also meet the prospective recipient and her two highly concerned sons in Katell Quillévéré’s Heal the Living (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

After sleeping with his girlfriend, Limbres snuck out for some early morning surfing with his mates. He would be the one who wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. By the time Dr. Pierre Révol, the chief of surgery starts the morning shift, Limbres is already gone. Frankly, he never had a chance. At this point, Thomas Rémige, the transplant specialist, is the only doctor on staff who can still do some good on Limbres’ case. However, the Limbres parents are really not ready to have the discussion.

Meanwhile in Paris, Claire’s twentysomething sons have moved her into a flat directly across the street from her hospital. Maxime and Sam bicker like cats and dogs, but they both realize their mother is fading fast. She needs a heart, fast.

In a way, Heal is a throwback to the sort of earnest, humanistically engaged contemporary dramas Paddy Chayefsky and Reginald Rose used to write during the Golden Age of television. However, Quillévéré’s visual approach is surprisingly stylish, which is a nice bonus.

Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen (playing against his bad boy type) are pretty darned devastating as the semi-estranged Limbres parents. Yet, the poignant way they turn towards each other rather than away really elevates the film. Bouli Lanners is realistically no-nonsense as Dr. Révol, whereas Tahar Rahim is suitably awkward but sensitive as Rémige. However, it is Dominique Blanc who really inspires confidence while also projecting a rather elegant, sophisticated, and altogether French bedside manner as Claire’s doctor, Lucie Moret.

Heal certainly wears its transplanted heart on its sleeve, but it is not cheaply sentimental. Most of the cliched scenes you would expect (like the Limbreses bitterly hurling recriminations at each other) simply are not there, because Quillévéré & Gilles Taurand’s adaptation of Maylis de Kerangal’s source novel goes in an entirely different direction. Recommended for fans of medical dramas, Heal the Living opens tomorrow (4/14) in New York, at the freshly reopened Quad Cinema.

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