Week Three of the 58th New York Film Festival

I Carry You With Me, Heidi Ewing’s newest movie, a standout this film festival, opens January 8, 2021. [Image from Sundance]

And so, another film festival comes to a close. I have to say that the decision to broadcast all movies virtually has been quite the success — it allowed me to view more pictures than I would have normally been able to have they been screened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. When you have to commute from a distant town to see a double feature and then commute back home, only the desire to witness great art and new releases — the inherent love of cinema proper — is what keeps a person like me going.

I’m not sure why, but I’m starting to notice a pattern with the New York Film Festival. More often than not the most impressive films will screen first (often right after Opening Night and during the first half, leading up to Centerpiece), leaving the second half to roll out its own list of films that while good, never quite leaves the indelible impression that the first ones did. This is not to say these are lesser films — perish the thought that I would even entertain that! — but I feel that some of them are solid debuts from new directors who haven’t yet found their footing in cinema, re-discoveries that truly merit a second view, and among them, the usual culprits who like clockwork send their newest works to movie-hungry folks waiting like hyenas for the kill.

Red White, and Blue

The only way to create change in a system that clings onto an arcane series of rules is to infiltrate it from the inside and by sheer presence alone, be the change. [As an openly gay man working in a decidedly non-traditional profession I will perfectly agree.] Steve McQueen’s fifth and final episode from his https://naturalpath.net/natural-news/mens-health-cialisis/100/ write a quadratic equation in the variable x having the given numbers as solutions http://v-nep.org/classroom/essay-planning-techniques/04/ click philosophy essay on love pfizer stock and viagra infertility here https://chanelmovingforward.com/stories/bibliography-card-format/51/ drexel essay apa style citation unpublished paper chi squared hypothesis https://haloworldwide.org/research/case-study-research-what-why-and-how-peter-swanborn/8/ follow link sav on viagra online pharmacy genuine medications argumentative essay for sale https://fotofest.org/solving/cinderella-character-traits/5/ here https://www.medimobile.com/erectile/centro-polispecialistico-via-nomentana/92/ university essay editing sites au calicut university phd thesis https://bigsurlandtrust.org/care/aurochem-reviews/20/ go site case study sample for criminology apa sociology paper format research proposal economicsВ here http://v-nep.org/classroom/essay-content/04/ https://reprosource.com/hospital/cialis-australia-mastercard/72/ https://home.freshwater.uwm.edu/termpaper/essay-on-i-am-ready-for-my-future/7/ http://mechajournal.com/alumni/buy-thesis-proposal/12/ viagra brand vs generic Small Axe series, Red, White, and Blue focuses on the topic of being the lone outsider in a sea of complacency. John Boyega plays Leroy Logan, a forensic scientist who comes to the realization that the only manner in which to bridge the gap between the police force and the Black community in London is to join them.

McQueen’s episode suggests that this is a decision that’s been a long time coming — the catalyst being an incident in Leroy’s childhood when he was stopped and searched as a young teen by police officers who zoomed in on him for the sole reason that he was Black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. The incident, which ended with Leroy’s father Kenneth (Steve Toussaint) warning Leroy never to be a hoodlum or bring a cop to his house, couldn’t be more pregnant with irony, because years later there will be cops arriving at Kenneth’s house, but to recruit Leroy.

Clearly, the scene and story are set to spark conflict not only with Leroy and Kenneth — who gets attacked by cops over a false charge (again laced with racial overtones), but Leroy and his colleagues. The tension, from the moment he arrives at the precinct, is palpable. The only other ethnic officer is an Indian officer who is not even allowed to speak his native language when responding to an incident involving Gujarati speakers. Other than that, this is a milk-white police force, and not many are welcoming — quite the contrary. Red. White and Blue is a sharp episode that ends a bit too abruptly to leave the audience satisfied, but perhaps this is because Leroy’s major accomplishments occur much later than the episode’s timeline. While all that is excellent for the real-life Leroy, we as an audience are left closer to the gaping would of overt racism than anything else, leaving the story at an exclamation point rather than an east resolution. [B]

Small Axe premieres on Amazon Prime on November 20.

The Woman Who Ran

No women run, or even jog, in Hong Sang-soo’s latest movie, a wispy tale of a woman (Min-hee Kim) who travels to the Korean countryside to visit two female friends and has an unplanned encounter with another one.

Parallels between Sang-soo and Woody Allen are again visible. As usual, the woman is a central character, and in his muse and frequent collaborator Min-hee Kim he assigns a task of a frail but determined young woman who still has a ghost of a former lover hanging over her shoulder. This is a well-observed little comedy of manners in which women talk naturally, and within those conversations, you get glimpses of their lives away from their men or at least, the patriarchy.

As a matter of fact, men barely make an appearance in The Woman Who Ran. When they do, it’s under the guise of petty behavior and they get filmed unflatteringly — from the back of their heads, or from a distance. The first one, we only meet from the rear as a neighbor who complains Kim’s friend is feeding a stray cat. Inconsequential, like many of Sang-soo’s events, but later we see another man disrupting Kim’s second friend. This one brings a hint of petty menace as a jilted one-night stand who won’t accept that “she’s just not that into him.” However, it is the final one whom we get to see in full, and it’s the one that Kim herself will have to confront on her own.

The Woman Who Ran is really for Sang-soo enthusiasts and might not be of much consequence because it’s such a slight little drama. Personally, I enjoyed it as I often do with his films, but I will admit that it never quite resonates at an emotional level, barely lingering like a soap bubble seconds floating in the air. [B]

Beginning

Dea Kulumbegashvili’s debut film Beginning is quite an accomplishment, even when it will manage to outrage anyone across the pond who has not lived through a repressive society. Her film tells the story of Yana (Ia Yukitashvili in a stand-out performance), a devout Jehovah’s Witness who finds her life upended after a Molotov bomb explodes inside the church where she and her husband impart the Holy word. The intrusion of a detective (Kakha Kinturashvili) with increasingly nefarious intents against Yana and her family presents itself as a metaphorical serpent in the garden, here to upend her life in the name of “order and the norm”, sent perhaps by the very same people who Yana and her very mortified husband David (Rati Orneli) have gone for help. Beginning, oddly titled, is an uncomfortable experience because it throws a woman’s faith — the one thing she holds on to with conviction — and places her against forces she cannot understand nor defend herself from. Kulumbegashvili’s camera is merciless in depicting an act of debasement that almost borders on torture, but she is trying to make a point. In this world, the oppressed will be humiliated at all costs and must endure until they can find a way out, and any attempt to curb the process might end rather badly. If only Kulumbegashvili had not taken her already tense story into the extreme, I would be able to understand, but sometimes, extreme situations call for extreme actions, and Yana’s final sacrifice seems to be pregnant with meaning that transcends the narrative and eventually finds its way, albeit symbolically, to the corrupt detective (and perhaps the entire organization, since the scene is depicted as a symbol more than an actual occurrence,). Definitely not an easy watch but still ultimately gratifying, I’m going to give Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning a B.

Simone Barbes or Virtue

Of all the French entries that screened at the 58th New York Film Festival (if I remember, a paltry few), this one was the sole movie that held my interest. [Philippe Garrel’s The Salt of Tears held no sway over me as I sensed it would be just another bland entry into a world of casual love and who wants to see that?] Featured in the Retrospectives category, Marie-Claude Treilhou’s debut 1980 film Simone Barbes or Virtue is an uneven gem of a comedy that deserves better recognition among cinephiles and art-house film lovers alike. Hopefully, this film will get shown in the US (Film Forum, pay attention), because this is a movie that seems to be rather ahead of its time while being strictly French.

Simone (Louise Bourgoin) is an usherette working at a porn theater alongside friend Martine (Martine Simonet). Already I find the premise interesting being that you wouldn’t see women in porn theaters (unless I am wrong), but I digress. The women seem to be as jaded as they come — they could be madams in a brothel — tiredly exchanging stories and comments that occasionally lapse into the witty while the men come and go, screening after screening. Meanwhile, the movies’ vocalizations float out into the lobby, sometimes punctuating what’s being discussed right in front of us.

Soon later Simone leaves the movie theater for the night and heads out into a lesbian bar for a night by herself as she both admires the younger girls who also come in for a bit of fun and exchanges small talk with the older butch lesbians who work there. One scene features a trans woman enjoying a night out in a way that would seem common today but was groundbreaking 40 years ago since at the time transgendered people were never seen as anything but in exploitation dramas or horror movies.

The third act is by far the weakest. Once Simone leaves the bar she gets accosted by an older man on the street. Not being standoffish, she decides to take the man’s offer to drive her home, and their banter is rather monotonous and uneventful and somehow diminishes the potency of a character study that could have ended on a higher note. However, even with its final 20 minutes of tedium, Simone Barbes or Virtue is a film unique in its portrayal of lesbians on film as simply existing, with occasional forays into the fantastical, and moments of sharp observational humor. [B-]

Undine

If it weren’t for the outstanding chemistry between Undine‘s Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, I probably would not have cared much for its heavy-handed treatment of a fairy tale which titles Christian Petzold’s movie. Undine tells the story of Undine Wibeau (Beer), a historian who specializes in Berlin’s urban development throughout the years. Her current boyfriend, Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) leaves her for another woman, a thing that at first glides by as an afterthought as Undine literally dives into her work. It isn’t long before she literally runs into another man, Christoph (Rogowski), and soon they initiate a rather breathtaking and sensuous romance that reaches dizzying heights. Of course, no romance would be perfect with a monkey-wrench thrown into the middle of the movie like a spider, and Undine here becomes a bit muddled as it threatens to force its heroine to reenact the tragic actions her myth is known for. If it weren’t for Petzold’s images, which are indeed elegant and restrained even in its moments of passion and in one chilling sequence, I would say that this movie would basically be the equivalent of a director having to meet a quota of a movie every two years whether it makes sense or not. Undine manages to haunt, but not too convincingly, which is a shame when his previous movie Transit basically demanded more than one viewing and was rife with tragedy and suspense that lingered well past the end credits. [C+]

I Carry You With Me (Te llevo conmigo)

It never fails. Every year, new LGBT movies come out in droves and I can only watch as many as I can catch without this turning into a futile upstream swim. Heidi Ewing’s I Carry You With Me (Te llevo conmigo) so far is the standout 2020 has to offer and here’s why. It is a compelling, beautifully shot romance fused with a documentary that chronicles the lives of Ivan and Gerardo, two young men living in Mexico who meed in a time when both had to suppress their own orientation from everyone and live double lives. Ivan (Armando Espitia) makes the decision to forge himself a future and cross the river to the USA, a thing that will ultimately separate him not only from his already estranged wife Paola (Michelle Gonzalez) but also from Gerardo (Christian Vasquez). Matters get a bit complicated with Ivan’s sister Sandra (Michelle Rodriguez) tags along, but from then on, the movie focuses on not just Ivan’s assimilation into American culture, but his long-distance relationship with his son who is growing right in front of his own eyes, and then the arrival of Gerardo who has left everything behind just to be with Ivan.

Heidi Ewing’s I Carry you With Me doesn’t over-romanticize Ivan and Gerardo’s love story; instead, it adopts a position of simply observing the two men meet cute, then meet again, then realize each one carries the burden of living a lie, and finally, realize that they are meant to be together. There are no real mysteries to be had in their story — simply the silent accrual of two men who are destined to be together and create a life out of a labor of love and sacrifices. Later in the movie Ewing departs from the fictional Ivan and Gerardo and settles into the actual Ivan and Gerardo, whom she personally knows, and lets them finish off the final segment of her movie. Mind you, if you don’t walk out not just crying in sheer emotion at seeing a true love story flourish, then you just don’t get what the power of true love is. Ewing’s movie reflects just that and is a standout for LGBT movies. [A–]

I Carry You With Me (Te Llevo Conmigo) will arrive to virtual theaters January 8, 2021.

Closing Night: French Exit

There seems to be a new trope emerging for older actresses to have a field day with due to the opportunities that playing such a role requires and it is the aging socialite. Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert have been playing this type of character for ages now to a point where they can basically phone it in with minimal effort and still come out with flying colors. Over here in the US, the type is still in its infancy (although Jessica Harper and Megan Mullally have nailed it on the small screen in their respective roles as Lucille Bluth and Karen Walker). [I’m sure I am missing others but for now, let’s pretend I didn’t.]

Michelle Pfeiffer essayed a somewhat similar precursor to her most current role in Murder on the Orient Express, but in Azazel Jacobs’ adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s French Exit she pulls out all the stops as Frances Price, a woman of privilege who’s been left practically destitute following the death of her husband (Tracy Letts, voice only). A rash decision following the offer of a friend (Susan Coyne) sees Frances departing to Paris with her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) and pet cat in tow, where they encounter a series of oddball characters that subtly manage to bring some change into their already messy lives.

There’s an aura of sadness just lurking underneath the apparent flippant facade present in French Exit. We get that Frances is a woman who in her youth was probably not a pleasant person and got by through the sheer power of her looks. Now an aging 60-year-old something with fried red hair and lines starting to mar her face, she’s a bit of a spectacle, an oddity that mostly exists to make cutting remarks that will make you laugh as you also cringe. This is a woman who really has come to the end of her own existence and in the MacGuffin of a psychic subplot to communicate with her dead husband she is attempting to find a way to make amends, with mixed results. It’s no accident that the entire movie feels like a motif to taking a final decision and exiting gracefully.

The cast, comprising of the aforementioned Hedges (second banana to Pfeiffer here), Valerie Mahaffey (who comes across just as batty as a lonely older woman without much grounding and one too many cats might), Danielle MacDonald. Isaac de Bankolé, and Imogen Poots, is uniformly solid, which all together bring a feel of the screwball comedy that went down with The Philadelphia Story 80 years ago. [B]

French Exit is set to premiere February, 2021 in limited release.

German Cinema: Fassbinder and Herzog

Kurt Raab in Why Does Heer R. Run Amok? (Image by MUBI)

Courtesy of MUBI and Criterion Channel, here are two German movies you can stream from the comfort of your own home:

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?

It’s safe to say that Fassbinder will never be a walk in the park when sitting down to watch his work. It’s been a while since I saw any of his work and almost 15 years since I last saw Water Drops on Burning Rocks, which was directed by François Ozon, based on a play written by Fassbinder. I can’t say that the viewing was comfortable, but again, I don’t always go to the movies to see an easy film and in that respect, Fassbinder is the master of difficult cinema. His 1970 movie Why Does Herr FR. Run Amok? could be interpreted today as the Angry White Man’s Rage. During its slim run — the movie proper is only 84 minutes long from start to finish, we become privy to the unremarkable (and ultimately tragic) life of a man only known as Herr R. (Kurt Raab). Raab works as a draughtsman for a design firm. Nothing in Raab’s life points at anything wrong per se — he is married to a lovely wife (Lilith Ungerer) and has a young son. He seems to live in an up and coming neighborhood. His wife, however, pushes Raab to ask for a promotion. Adding to that, Raab’s parents stop by for a visit and his mother proceeds to, later on, criticize Raab’s wife when their boy plays hide and seek and freaks the parents out. Friends, ex-classmates, and Raab’s demanding boss add to a pressure cooker of frustration that seems to be boiling inside the otherwise calm and unassuming Raab until he is pushed to the very limit. When the floodgates open, they do so in a matter of fact style that is chilling. Fassbinder films it dead on, unflinching, no music nothing. It brings to mind when men of all ages have gone on killing sprees — it often has signaled a cumulus of frustrations and petty disappointments that build up throughout a lifetime and I won’t even get into toxic masculinity and its poisonous fruit. The resulting fury bursts forwards from an inability to fulfill all the requirements that is an ideal husband/employee signifies. Fassbinder’s film, then, represents an inversion of the family nucleus and had it been an American movie, a perversion to the extreme of the American Family.

Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (image from Criterion Channel)

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Greed has been the great corruptor of mankind. For every legend of a treasure, there has always been a sucker born every minute. And who doesn’t want to arrive at a mythical place, conquer it, and reap its rewards? A hard life is only for those who don’t have ambition, tenacity, and a certain mad streak capable of taking them and everyone else within their party down the dangerous path of deception. Werner Herzog tackles the theme of greed and megalomania in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, a historical adventure based on the exploits of Lope de Aguirre (1510 – 1561), a Spanish conquistador most notable for his pursuit of the elusive city of El Dorado.

From the film’s opening shot of a caravan, as it seems to head down into a hellish jungle, we are in for a surreal ride as the expedition to El Dorado starts with a rather portentous foot but promptly loses its way not just to Aguirre’s megalomaniac ambitions but to hubris and disorder within the group. Aguirre must have been a raging, malignant narcissist who cared for no one but himself (and the resulting glory), because right from the get-go he offs his superior, declares himself the king of all things (hence the title “the Wrath of God”), and drives his party right into the ground, taking everyone with him until no one but himself stands alone, blabbering in tongues to an unforgiving sky in the middle of nowhere while monkeys overtake his cargo and feast at the spoils.

Herzog’s film is a fever dream, never completely grounded in reality but drowning in denial and indulgence that the white man could tame the jungle and reap its rewards. In a way, it seems that through Klaus Kinski’s committed, near-insane performance, he is pointing the finger at many a power-hungry explorer/businessman attempting to rape an existing culture of its riches without understanding its essence. Meanwhile, at every turn, it seems as though the jungle itself was laughing at the poor men who are simply obeying orders from a man who has no logic. Herzog’s is a merciless film that spares no one — not the taciturn former African slave who was once a prince — can’t react at the attack of the indigenous people and die almost in bliss, or the two women in the caravan, Ines de Atienza (Mexican actress Helena Rojo) and Flores de Aguirre (Cecilia de Rivera in her only acting role), who surrender themselves to the unforgiving country.

The sad part of this is that despite the manner that Aguirre’s expedition ended, he has not been the last one seeking a mythical pot of gold. Greed and madness was the center of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Lost City of Z, Embrace of the Serpent, and influenced even Apocalypse Now. In the end, the craving for the high life showered by a bevy of honors and a harem have been the sirens’ song for many an adventurer seeking thrills without measuring the consequences. Herzog simply melts into the background and lets the movie speak for itself and mankind’s folly.

LUZ: Film Review

LUZ. Country, Germany. Director: Tilman Singer. Screenwriter: Tilman Singer. Cast: Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Riedler, Nadja Stubiger, Johannes Benecke, Lili Lorenz. Language: German, Spanish. Runtime: 70 minutes. Venue: IFC Center, NYC, NY. Rating: B

The ironically titled Luz opens with a wide shot of a police precinct. A woman practically drags herself in, serves herself a soda, and is about to leave when she blurts out an incomprehensible question to the clerk in the lobby. When he doesn’t reply, she repeats the question in an ear-splitting shriek. And that sets the tone for Tilman Singer’s college project-turned movie Luz, which hit its (very) limited release last week in NYC, LA, and other cities around the country for its one to two week engagement.

The woman in question is Luz, a cab driver, but we’ll get back to her in a bit. The movie cuts to a scene in a bar where a blond woman named Nora (Julia Riedler) is eyeballing a man (Jan Bluthardt) nursing a drink. She aggressively hits on him, but her intentions are a bit murky at best. She proceeds to tell the man, who we learn is Dr. Rossini, a story of a woman she knew back in Chile named Luz. Both she and Luz performed some Satanic ritual to summon up a demon, and now it wants Luz. Dr. Rossini seems completely hypnotized by Nora’s gaze (hypnosis will figure prominently from here on), and allows her to lead him to the bathroom, where some weird exchange takes place. [It sure seems like she’s masturbating him, but we don’t get to see that — only his shaking body after she kisses him and sends in a bright light into his horrified, gaping mouth.

Weird enough? Don’t worry; it gets better. Back at the precinct, Dr. Rossini is about to commence a regression therapy to extract a confession from Luz. Luz, who has been up to now incoherently babbling some reverse prayer in Spanish, begins to recount how it is that she got to this place. And then. Singer lets whatever was hinted in the background take center stage, and we’re in the middle of a hazy nightmare shot in thick shades of grey fog that continue to suggest something evil is in the midst, more felt than seen, seconds from announcing itself.

Singer never lets Luz go off the rails like most other possession horror movies do because of a need to raise the body count and produce shock after shock for shock purposes alone. There is a thick pulse running through the film, and it reaches an early peak before plateauing somewhere in the middle, then building again until the movie reaches its nightmarish conclusion. I don’t think that it could have been scarier than it was, though. This is exactly the type of fucked up shit our minds and subconscious throws at us while we dive deep into sleep, and when we wake up, we can’t quite place the pieces together. In that sense, Luz “makes sense” and illuminates a dark event reaching its natural conclusion. It will produce shivers and a sense of unreality. And frankly, this is all I need for a movie like Luz to take effect. It’s sparse set, minimal players, and brief running time give it the right amount of dread needed to make Singer’s film be a memorable entry into both the cinematic world and the horror genre.

13 MINUTES (ELSER)

13 MINUTES (ELSER)
Germany
Director:  Oliver Hirschbiegel
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: German

Mostlyindies Grading: C-

I want to call out to the filmmakers of Germany, young and old, rising and established, good and bad, male and female and in between, because it has to be said, and I can remain silent no longer: please. Please! Tone down the Holocaust movies just a tad. I know there are stories out there, gritty, modern, subversive, romantic, horrific, even transgressive and extreme. I want to see them. I want to experience them, the good and the bad, the tame and the unbridled.

In short, I want to see German Cinema flourish again.

Please understand, I’m not against Holocaust pictures — many are classics, all are disturbing, haunting, horrifying, and moving in regards to the triumph of the human spirit over the mire that is our human nature, yes — but it’s time to start telling stories that are compelling, visually stimulating, mesmerizing. It’s time to move on from the ghosts from the past, and move forward into the experimental while retaining the intrinsically humane. Yes, there are still stories out there begging to be told. I understand. I do. But when every other movie that hits the US shores is another variation of the Holocaust, with either the main character a little-known victim of the Nazi atrocities, or a thinly veiled story based on events that took place during the rise and reign of the Third Reich, it makes me wonder where the creative minds behind great movies are.

It’s not that I don’t feel for the victims. But there comes a moment when you wonder, “It’s another German movie being released here and it’s about Nazis,” and then you find yourself, like David Byrne, asking yourself, what’s the purpose of another rehash? Wasn’t the Hungarian Son of Saul enough? Or the French Night and Fog? Or Shoah? Even this movie’s director had another standout hit a decade earlier with Downfall. Now, he seems to have gone through the motions and agreed to tell a story that is devoid of all subtlety and told in exclamation points from opening credits (excellent) to final scene (tragic). The little known story of Georges Elser, a German national who saw the danger in Hitler from the word go and attempted an assassination in 1939 that failed because the bomb he used to detonate took a crucial 13 minutes to do so and by then the Fuhrer had been gone from his target spot. The fact that this event happens at the start of the movie is compelling enough, but we’re then left with scenes of interrogations, flashbacks to explain how Elser arrived to the conclusion that Hitler needed to be eliminated, and a film surprisingly devoid of Jewish suffering (which in this case could be perhaps because of the singularity of Elser’s own surroundings). It is as handsome a production as it is empty. By the time you reach the end, you’ve been worn out, beaten to a pulp, and not because of Nazi brutality — the film itself is brutal, and not in a good way. I kept expecting Daniel Bruhl to appear at any moment, in full SS garb, wielding a club.

13 Minutes makes me long for more Toni Erdmann‘s, or a return to German Expressionism. Something different. Anything visually stimulating. Just not this bore. And the movie that eventually became Germany’s representation for the Foreign Oscars? Labyrinth of Lies? Not much better.






THE EXCEPTION

THE EXCEPTION
UK
Director: David Leveaux
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Dear God, is Jai Courtney gorgeous. The Exception opens with a scene that wouldn’t be amiss in soft-core gay porn, in which Courtney is shown shirtless, pecs to the wind, lying in the dark as if in wait. And my, does the camera love him! In these days in which men can now flaunt everything while doing a full frontal, Courtney reveals so much jaw-dropping masculine beauty I had to stop the movie for a moment and take a breath to recover. Yes, he’s that distracting. No, don’t look at me like that and then roll your eyes; the man is a gentler version of Tom Hardy. And wouldn’t I want to see the both of them–

Okay, getting ahead of myself, and this is a simple review of The Exception, a movie by a director unknown to me, David Leveaux, who adapted the story from an Adam Ladd novel The Kaiser’s Last Kiss –itself a title that screams ‘historical romance!’. So, we have Courtney, all clothed in military garb being whisked off to protect the Kaiser of Germany (Christopher Plummer, having the time of his life, and has an actor been associated more with films on or around Nazi Germany than he? It’s as if though producers, while throwing out potential actors for their movies, saw this one, a war movie set in Nazi Germany and immediately thought, “Ha! Well, well. there’s that actor, Plummer. He’s been doing this since Sound of Music. He can basically phone it in by now. Send him in. No need for an audition. But give him the good one, and leave the asshole role to Eddie Marsan. He already looks like he could kill your children without as much as batting an eye.”).

It seems the Kaiser might be surrounded by spies, and why wouldn’t he? This was war in Europe, and Europe was crawling with spies trolling for intel. But wouldn’t you know, as it happens in a historical romance, Courtney’s SS Captain Brandt crosses paths with an exotic little beauty Mieke (Lily James, fresh off of Downton Abbey) who’s a maid in service of the Kaiser’s household. The flirtation between these two is not something we can call subtle — you’d have to be dead or delusional to not see it happening between your own eyes — but yes, it happens, and why does the plot give so much time to a simple chambermaid if it doesn’t have something up its sleeve? Because it does, and if you see the picture you’ll catch it as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, but it works perfectly well because, historical romance = potboiler. Meaning, don’t be looking for any historical accuracy here even when there actually was a Kaiser, and his wife (Janet McTeer, who’s good but doesn’t have much to do but act perpetually worried/harried), and Marsan’s Himmler. [However, look closely at Marsan’s chilling portrayal of Himmler during a dinner scene when he talks about experiments made to children. Even in fluff like this, it’s still completely nerve-wracking, that such things were actually done to innocents.]

So with that in mind, I will say that The Exception is a very, very old fashioned war movie. I could easily see actors from the actual time period who could have performed this piece of nonsense without batting an eye. Crawford did it a couple of times at the end of her MGM tenure, Bergman did it as well. Now, Courtney is no Bogart or MacMurray — there is a scene in which he looks so completely vulnerable and naked — did I mention he shows a lot of skin here? — in a way I haven’t seen movies treat their male leads, usually all self-composure and alpha-male tendencies. Courtney’s role is much different: he’s stoic when he needs to, but is incredible sensitive and disarming. No wonder Lily James takes control of what becomes their relationship and basically becomes its pilot, leaving him with the role of protector. So, there you have it, a total crowd-pleaser, the type of movie the characters of Their Finest would have created, and it all ends well. Because in romance, you can’t ever deliver a good story and not have the two romantic leads not end in each other’s arms, can you?






MORRIS FROM AMERICA

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

 

It’s not easy to be an expat living in a foreign land, having to adapt to its customs, laws, language – particularly when you’re of a minority in your own land. French dramas Dheepan and Fatima clearly show what it is to be at the tail end of society and having to turn tricks to ensure base survival.

Morris From America, Chad Hartigan’s follow up from his 2012 This is Martin Bonner, continues the theme of isolation, but while that film had a bleaker outlook, his current is a warmer affair, more upbeat event about the frailty of being on the outside in more ways than one. Morris (Markees Christmas) is a 13-year old living in Heidelberg, Germany with his father Curtis (Craig Robinson), who moved here for a coaching position and is trying to connect with Morris. Morris feels completely at odds with this largely alien culture who in turn doesn’t accept him. He knows that the jocks at school taunt him not just on his lack of knowledge of German, but his own blackness. [There is an implicit undercurrent of racism throughout the entire film as a matter of fact.] German kids can’t understand his shyness and lack of sports skills. Morris, sadly, senses their rejection, and mopes around the town, glancing into windows, or imagining that people around him are head-banging into the hip-hop that he listens to.

The only one who seems to be drawn to him is Katrin (Lina Keller), a somewhat older girl who introduces Morris into a world of partying, ecstasy, and invites him to a party she’s throwing. Once he arrives he can barely get through before some girls grill him on how did he even find the place. Once he mentions he was invited by Katrin, one of the girls leads him to a room where an odd exchange of water squirting from to guns takes place. It’s a game for her, but humiliating for him – he’s been squirted water in his crotch area. It doesn’t do much for his own sense of self.

It’s only later when Katrin and Morris meet again when she discovers his music (and an embarrassing moment takes place when Morris hears his own father rapping into a tape). Katrin encourages Morris to perform rap in front of an audience, and he takes it to himself to write down some lyrics. Inka, his German tutor Inka (Carla Juri, seen in 2014 in the movie Wetlands), discovers the lyrics and is shocked at their violence. It all leads to a confrontation with Curtis who wants Morris to be himself – to rap from his own experience.

I was very surprised by how sweet and touching this movie was and how despite some wandering and a couple of side characters thrown in for levity, Morris from America wore its heart well. Some darker aspects pepper the entire movie, but they are left in the sidelines. In a way it’s good because the core of the film is the relationship between Curtis and Morris, which for the most of the film remains at a friendly stage – not too close, but close enough – but escalates to a quiet moment of lovely revelation towards its key scene.