Film Review: BARBARA RUDIN AND THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND (USA 2018) ***1/2

Barbara Rubin and the Exploding NY Underground Poster
Trailer

Barbara Rubin’s twenty-nine-minute experimental film ‘Christmas on Earth’ caused a sensation when it first screened in New York City in 1963. Its orgy scenes, double projections and …See full summary »

Director:

Chuck Smith

This new doc educates on underground filmmaker Barbara Rubin who rose to fame from her 1964 art-porn so-called masterpiece “Christmas on Earth”, made when she was only 18 years old.  The film, showing segments (that are both shocking yet innovative) in the doc, shattered creative and sexist boundaries and shocked NYC’s experimental film scene.
Barbara worked for a large part other ‘career’ with Jonas Mekas at the Filmmaker’s Coop.  Barbara was instrumental in creating NYC’s thriving underground film community and a rare female voice in a world of powerful men.  A rebellious Zelig of the Sixties, she introduced Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan to the Kabbalah.
But beyond shaping the spirit of the Sixties, Barbara was seeking the deeper meaning of life.  After retiring to a farm with Allen Ginsberg, she shocked everyone by becoming a Hasidic Jew.
For years, 94-year-old filmmaker Jonas Mekas has saved all of Barbara’s letters and cherished her memory.  Working with Mekas’ footage and rare clips from the Andy Warhol archives, the film reveals inside the world and mind of Barbara Rubin; a woman who truly believed that film could change the world and then vanished into obscurity.

Like most biopics, the doc begin with the background and influences on the subject,  traces the rise to fame, then some grave downfall and then hopefully, their redemption to a sort of normalcy in life.  How interesting a biopic is usually is affected by how interesting the subject is.  Biopics are often accompanied by interviews with the subject, if still living, their friends and family with archive footage. This doc allows an identical path.

The Barbara Rudin doc can be divided int two parts.  The first charts her and her underground films and the second her lifestyle.  The two blend into each other, but the underground filmmaking slowly disappears as Barbara gets weirder and weirder.

The film gets as weird as its character.  Barbara’s most famous film was the art-porn CHRISTMAS ON EARTH.  One fo the film’s segments has her open letter to Disney asking them to finance her movie, she claiming that she was affected by SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.  The film also details the pure implausibility of what Barbara wants to have in the film  which is a galactic cast of famous stars and artists including The Beatles, Marlon Brando, Herman’s Hermits and a host of others.  Of course the film never got made.

The film’s most intriguing portion is the last this when Barbara begins to behave very erratically.  This is when the audience sees how crazy this woman can be.   At one point, she wanted to have children with Allen Ginsberg, who never wanted any.  When rejected, she became more isolated, depressed and crazy.  She finally showed up at an Orthodox Jewish orphanage and decided that that was her calling.  She denounced everything that she accomplished, friends included to learn the ways of the Orthodox Jew.

By the end of the film, one can end up either admiring Barbara as a gifted, independent go-getter who influenced the underground art world greatly or some tiresome opinionated commandeering bitch.  Whatever ones opinion on Barbara Rudin, one cannot deny that this woman was a force to be reckoned with.

The film has a limited release at the Royal Cinema.  Originally slated for showings on Aug 4 and 5th, the latter screening has been cancelled (but will be re-scheduled) due to the long weekend holidays.  

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/147803638

Advertisements

Film Review: MUSEO (MUSEUM) (Mexico 2019) ***** Top 10

Museo Poster
Trailer

In 1985, a group of criminals mock the security of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City to extract 140 pre-Hispanic pieces from their showcases.

Directors:

Alonso Ruizpalacios (as Alonso Ruiz Palacios), Alonso Ruizpalacios

Writers:

Manuel AlcaláAlonso Ruizpalacios (as Alonso Ruiz Palacios)

It seems that Mexico has surprised international cinema with two unforgettable films this past year – ROMA and now MUSEO.  

What happens when two slackers who know nada about artifacts decide to steal and sell them?  MUSEO tells the amazing entertaining and credible possibility of a ‘true’ story.  The titles say at the film’s start: “This is a replica of an original (story).”

Two students and best friends plan on robbing the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and steal precious Mayan, Mixtec and Zapotec artefacts.  There is hesitance at the start as one of them Ben (Leonardo Ortizgris) is looking after his frail grandfather and he does not wish to abandon him as it might be their last Christmas together.  On the other hand, the more insistant  and confident one, Juan (Gael Bernal Garcia) uses the Christmas gathering he is at as an excuse to to do the robbery as he has the perfect alibi of being at the Christmas dinner thus sneaking off  soon after.  The funniest thing about all this is that Juan has to borrow his dad’s car as the getaway vehicle.

While everyone celebrates Christmas, the two thieves manage to break inside the museum and steal hundred of pieces. They return home to see on the news how their deed is described as an attack on the entire nation and realize that there is no turning back.

There are many pleasures to be derived from director Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film.  First and foremost besides his excellent camerawork, visuals and cinematography Damian Garcia, Ruizpalacios is able to surprise his audience with a host of other things.  One of the film’s most ecstatic moments is when Juan and Ben have just gotten away with the stolen artifacts, driving off in the car.  There is the look of elation on Juan’s face, as he cries “We did it.”  Ben’s response is “I need to pee,” when he suddenly stops the car and takes the pee.  The look of relief as he pees is just as gratifying as Juan’s previous look of elation.

The cinematography of the theft at night in the museum and the escape through the dark tunnels are magnificently shot.  Ruizpalacios and his d.p. Garcia has a series of still photos flash on the screen really quickly one after the other, that evokes an effect like stop-motion animation.  One part involves the light coming on and the pair leaving a hammer on the ground when the guards  are making their rounds.  This is suspense worthy of Hitchcock.  There are also images that astound during the museum theft.  For an image, it is usually the background that is still and the foreground (the subject or subjects) that moves.  Director Ruizpalacios reverses the effect.  As the thieves remain stationary the foreground, the background comprising of dust particle and little moths form the movement in the image.

The film covers several genres including family (dysfunctional) drama and suspense thriller.  One common complaint is that films that cover more than one genre never settles on one.  This is true for MUSEO as well but Ruizpalacios proves that his film can still work with multiple genres working side-by-side.

The story also plays like a buddy film as the thieves are two childhood friends.  Yet the odd thing is that their personalities are as different as night and day.

MUSEU is a total delight for cineastes especially with its constant cinematic surprises around every corner.  The best foreign film I have seen this this year.  Opens at the Bell Lightbox.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsf4wQqLrQk

Film Review: DAVID CROSBY REMEMBER MY NAME (USA 2019) ***

David Crosby: Remember My Name Poster
Trailer

Meet David Crosby in this portrait of a man with everything but an easy retirement on his mind.

Director:

A.J. Eaton

Framed by core interviews conducted by Cameron Crowe (director of ALMOST FAMOUS who won an Oscar for the script of the film, and who did his first interview with him way back when he was a young teen of 16), this doc follows the life, aspirations, hopes and regrets of singer/songwriter/musician David Crosby.   Crosby now in his 70’s has performed solo as well as in super bands, The Byrds; Crosby, Stills & Nash; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
The doc is directed by Eaton, not Crowe, who steers his story of Crosby in chronological order unfolding it as if be a fiction film.  Crowe is never seen on screen though his voice heard.  Crowe does not appear to steer the film in any direction.  Instead he asks silly questions such as if he (Crosby) were to give up music or his family (wife and sons) what would his choice be.  The question is not only nonsensical as Crosby politely states as he would never come to a state where he would have to make this decision and if so, any musician would ultimate cost music as the answer.

Crosby, now in the 70’s has survived several heart attacks and drug overdoses and currently suffers from several ailments including diabetes He reminisces his life..

The film revisits David Crosby’s life, from the heady days in ’60s LA to the present time when he’s enjoying a rebirth of creativity, despite his past excesses and his estrangement
from ex-band members, including Graham Nash and Neil Young.  
This doc follows the typical path of a musician/rock star’s biopic.  As in ROCKETMAN (Elton John), BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (Queen), the Asia Kapadia 2015 Oscar Winner AMY (on Amy Winehouse) all the biopics chart the protagonists rise to fame, their downfall, and if fortunate redemption back to fame.  Drug addiction and drink the number one factor for Crosby’s downfall is shared among his famed contemporaries.

Crosby does a lot of talking in Eaton’s film.  There should be more performances on film.  The result is a rather boring first two-thirds before it picks up and garbs the audience’s attention like a sock in the jaw.  This is when Crosby talks about his drunkenness and drug addiction.   Crosby states that members of his old bands refuse to talk to him as a result of his previous bad behaviour.  When Crower asks him the reason he does not initiate the reconciliation, Crosby dodges the question.

But every famous person accomplishes some good in life.  For Crosby, it is the use of his songs to do good, such as justice in the American system.  This film like the recent documentary WATERGATE enforces the evil that Presidents (in this case past President Richard Nixon) do.

The film’s most engrossing segment is the one showing Crosby’s lowest point in his life.  This is when his drug addiction got him arrested and jailed in the penitentiary with no money and nothing to his name.  But Crosby finally perseveres, comes out clean and does good in his life.

More that an examination of an artists’s talent, the doc is more interesting as a testament of the fallen star and how Crosby redeemed himself.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln9dtQ8tuKk

Film Review: MASTER Z- THE IP MAN LEGACY (Hong Kong 2018) ***

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy Poster
Trailer

Director:

Woo-Ping Yuen

Writers:

Edmond Wong (screenplay by), Tai-lee Chan (screenplay by) (as Chan Tai Lee)

The fourth and spin-off of the 2015 IP MAN 3, MASTER Z- THE IP MAN LEGACY still has plenty of bite in the franchise.  The IP MAN films have been a hit, one after the other, because the filmmakers kept to the successful formula while keeping the action and its execution fresh.  Though the stories have been told before, they still come across as fresh and convincing.

MASTER Z can stand alone without anything known about the three IP films.  When the film opens, the protagonist, Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang) has lost a bout with IP MAN, not shown, just mentioned.  He retreats with his shy son to Hong Kong where he opens a grocery store, hoping to retire without notice and lead a normal non-fighting life.  A little romance is provided by Julia (Liu Yan) who Tin Chi rescues from a local thug, Kit (Kevin Cheng).  This is the typical story where a hit man wants to come clean or a boxer who wishes to stop fighting, but is then pushed past his limit so that he is forced to complete one final job.  The same in this film.  The local thugs will not leave him alone – burning down his grocery store and house while nearly killing his son.

The film has quite a few innovative action set pieces.  The fights on the scaffoldings and on the signs that cover the top the builds are impressive.

The film has a good cameo from Thai fighter Tony Jaa (those who love martial-arts movies will immediately recognize him) as the hired assassin.  Michelle Yeoh (CRAZY RICH ASIANS, former Bond girl and Martial-arts film regular in Martial-arts films like THE HEROIC TRIO) has a supporting but important role as the local gangster sister and boss who wishes to make all her activities legal despite objections.

The film pokes fun at the white man and the colonized Hong Kong by the British.  The police commissioner is a white man who take bribes from the local gangsters.  The scenes are played funny the way he accepts the bribes and how the Chinese under him are forced to obey his every command.  A scene in the bar that the protagonist works at also shows the way the Chinese kow-tows to white people – something they do outwardly but grudgingly.  Dave Bautista (AVENGERS, STUBER) has a role of Davidson, a bad drug dealer.  The film takes the issue one step further, though done in a cheesy way, with the Chinese subduing their corrupt white authorities.

The segment where the drugs are dealt in public is unrealistic.  Only reason this is likely done is so that Tin Chi can witness the drug deal.

For a Martial-arts film MASTER Z is above average – which is a good compliment considering the number of shitty Martial-Art films Hong Kong used to churn out in the past and also the present.  The fight sequences are expertly executed (director Yuen is martial-arts choreographer who has worked in the MATRIX films) and alone worth the price of the ticket.

The film is available on digital and on DVD/Blu-Ray Tuesday, July 23rd.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqpmvER7a_E

Film Review: ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD (USA 2019) ****

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood Poster
A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.

One of the year’s most anticipated films, Quentin Tarantino’s 9th and latest film, ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD follows the misadventures of has-been star Rick Danton and his stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth set in 1969 Hollywood.  The action takes place in three separate days on February the 8th and 9th and August the 8th, the night of the Charles Manson murders.

To reveal more of the plot would spoil ones entertainment of the film.

Tarantino is so much loved by cineastes that he can get away with murder.    ONCE UPON A TIME also contains minor racist humour, regarding Mexicans, Germans and Indians.  “Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans”  “Fresh sauerkraut” “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” are three such lines uttered in the film.

There are just so many impressive plusses in the film.  Foremost are the performances from the two leads, Leonardo DiCaprio as the has-been Hollywood star Rick Danton and Brad Pitt as his stunt double Cliff Booth.  DiCaprio exhibits the paranoia and childishness of a spoilt star while in perfect contrast Pitt plays the super-cool macho stuntman that supports Dalton but at  the same time needs him for employment – a excellent irony of a relationship.  Apparently Tarantino noticed the relationship between an actor and his stunt double and their support for each other and based his script from that keen observation.  To make matters more interesting, their relationship unfolds in the background of the infamous Charles Manson murders which included the death of Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate.  Or so it seems.  Tarantino has played with History as in his best film INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and he does the same (not to be detailed in this review as to reveal a spoiler) in this film.

The film contains lots of references to the late 60’s films (as the film is set in 1969) that those growing up during those times will find particularly nostalgic.  Seen in posters in the film or heard announced on the radio are films like Jack Smight’s 1969 THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, Gordon Douglas’ Tony Rome 1968 LADY IN CEMENT, Richard Wilson’s 1968 3 IN THE ATTIC, Mike Sarne’s 1968 JOANNA, Phil Karlson’s Matt Helm flick the 1968 THE WRECKING CREW and Alexander Mackendrick’s 1967 DON’T MAKE WAVES the latter two films also starring Sharon Tate. These are not classics but the typical type of films common that help mold many a cineaste, me included.  It is puzzling why Tarantino did not include the Roman Polanski’s 1967 film THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS in the list.  Fans are also in for a treat with a scene in THE WRECKING CREW where Sharon Tate takes down Nancy Kwan.  If these films are not enough, Tarantino also creates fake films starring Rick Dalton and other stars at the time like Telly Savalas and Ann-Margaret.

Cliff Booth gets fired from a job on a Hollywood set.  Tarantino shows the incident that led to the firing in the film’s best and funniest scene where Cliff Booth kicks Bice Lee’s (an excellent Mike Moh) ass in a fight on the set of THE GREEN HORNET.

This film, Tarantino’s 9th and reportedly his lasting clearly displays the director’s indulgence in his passion for film within a certain period. There is nothing wrong with this.  Though a little overlong, there are details that can be observed (especially in the background) and tons of references.  No Tarantino film has failed to surprise and this film is no exception.  And with so much detail, ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD which premiered in Cannes to a 15-minute standing ovation deserves to be see a second time.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Film Review: KILLING PATIENT ZERO (Canada 2019) ***1/2

Killing Patient Zero Poster
Trailer

Gaetan Dugas was openly gay. In early 1980s he contracted what was termed “gay cancer”. He provided blood samples and 72 names of his former sex partners. Dugas was demonized for his promiscuity and wrongfully identified as patient zero.

Director:

Laurie Lynd

Writer:

Laurie Lynd

If you are a straight person reading this review, it would be unlikely that you would know who or what Patient Zero means.  The opposite can be said for any gay person, who is totally aware of the significance of Patient Zero.  Patient Zero is thought to be the man (an Air Canada flight steward) who brought  A.I.Ds to North America.

While Laurie Lynd’s entertaining and informative documentary educates both sexual orientations on Patent Zero, the film serves more as an account of the History of A.I.D.s.

This is the documentary about the origins of the A.I.DS epidemic and the story of Gaetan Dugas, the man who was incorrectly accused of starting it all.

Gaetan when sick was recorded in California as Patient 57, a patient Out of California.  Patient ‘O’ not ‘0’, but mistaken for a zero.  This he was then mistaken to be Patient Zero the first one to have propagated the A.I.Ds virus.  He actually did (but not the first one) as he was a handsome man who had promiscuous unprotected sex with strangers.  In Gaetan’s defence, no one knew at that time that the virus was passed on though unprotected sex.  And he cooperated with the authorities in re-tracing his 72 sex partners.  The most unforgettable words of one of the interviewees was: “after all this time, gay men can finally open up and enjoy sex and boom, the gay cancer occurs.  Everyone was scared as people were dying and no one knew how or what was happening.”  One interviewee includes gay Canadian filmmaker John Greyson who made the movie ZERO PATIENCE with an all-male cast.

The film has a definite impact on this reviewer.  This reviewer was a gay young man at the time in his early 30’s.  When I first came on the scene, A.I.D.s had just reared its ugly head.  When I first enjoyed the beauty of my youth, as I did sleep around with strangers, maybe twice a week, (not as promiscuous as Gaetan, but promiscuous nonetheless), news was already out that one has to use condoms to prevent  contacting the disease.  But having sex so often is difficult to be always safe and every year, I would have to be tested as I would have unprotected sex once or twice a year and then regretted it.  Anyway, yours truly has survived or you would not be reading this review.  It was hell of a good time then, being able to go to the clubs, get ‘high’ , dance, then take someone beautiful home.  Those were indeed the days.  The film captures those days. 

Most important of all is the fact that the film educates on the truth of Patient Zero.  The film attributes him a a scapegoat propagated in part by Randy Shilt’s book “And the Band Played on”.  But the film shows him a hero who cooperated with researchers.  It took 8000 gay men to die before Americans realize the A.I.D.s epidemic and for gays to be able to live, and alive to this day.

Though a doc, the film contains quite the few erotic scenes, like scantily clothed men rolling around on the floor and one scene set in the bath house (or sauna) that gay men go for casual sex.

Females are noticeably left out (except at the end) in this doc, but they are fortunate enough not to have suffered the effects of AIDs as much as their male counterparts.

KILLING PATIENT ZERO is a thorough History lesson on AIDs of the early 80’s that captures both the nostalgia and horror the times. Writer and director Laurie Lynd will be present for a Q&A  after the Friday, July 26, 6 PM screening at the Ted Rogers Cinema.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9896252/videoplayer/vi176995353?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Film Review: ASTRONAUT (USA 2019)

Astronaut Poster
Trailer

A lonely widower battles his family, ill health and time to win a competition for a golden ticket to space.

Director:

Shelagh McLeod

ASTRONAUT belongs to the genre of old-fart films where the protagonist is a senior and has to come to terms with age and usually makes good, be it in romance or achieving ones final goal in life.  Thankfully, it is the latter.

The protagonist is 75-year old widower Angus (Richard Dreyfuss) who lives with his daughter’s family.  His son-in-law, Jim (Lyriq Bent) convinces the daughter, Molly (Krista Bridges) to move Angus into a retirement home.   His life seems over; he feels worthless and alone.  But Angus’s long extinguished dream is reignited when an exciting national competition is announced.  The prize is one golden ticket for a trip to space!   Way past the age limit at 65, he doesn’t have a chance.  But spurred on by his grandson, Barney (Richie Lawrence) Angus fudges his birthdate, and enters the competition.  Against all odds, he must battle against prejudice, ill health, and win the contest.  Angus discovers too that the rocket is not safe, being a civil engineer.  A subplot requires him to tell the organizers of the problem but no one would believe an old man.

The film’s best parts is surprisingly nothing to do with his space trip.  It is his realization that he has to move and adapt into a retirement home.  From the looks of the home, it is quite attractive, spacious and grand and I doubt that anyone including myself (when I am old, of course) would mind staying there.  One feels for Angus.

The film features a mixed raced family, husband (African American) and wife (white), something much more common in films these days.

The film’s subplot concerns Angus Stewart’s family. The son-in-law has loses his job for standing up for his principles.

ASTRONAUT is in part another Richard Dreyfuss vehicle.  For those who remember, Dreyfuss won an Academy Award for his role in THE GOODBYE GIRL primarily for the scene where he made audiences cry when he played an actor realizing in his dressing room how bad his performance was as a crippled Hamlet.   Dreyfuss plays a senior inches in ASTRONAUT and it was not that long ago when audiences saw him as a teen in AMERICAN GRAFFITI and in the other space film, Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.  

The other performance worthy of mention belongs to Native Canadian (born on the Six Nation Reserve in Ontario, Canada) Graham Greene (best remembered in THUNDERHEART) who plays  a fellow resident  of the retirement home.  He is to given much to say but still makes a screen presence.

ASTRONAUT is McLeod’s first feature and it shows.  The film meanders from being a family conflict drama and a space adventure while not satisfying either.  The one thing going for the film is Dreyfuss’ performance.  Dreyfuss had at one time turned into the most annoying actor on the planet, but his controlled acting here shows the actor this best when he was in films like JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE GOODBYE GIRL and THE BIG FIX.

The film has a odd tacked on sort-of happy ending that could have been better though of.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bE1Nw5pEqL8