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The Quitter

An overlooked gem
I saw The Quitter last night on PBS. Matthew & Julianna Bonifacio wore almost all the hats in realizing this 2014 indie (including playing the lead characters, Jonathan and Georgie). Jonathan was a major league baseball player who walked away from his career and from Georgie and their baby girl. When Jonathan and Georgie meet again back in New York 7 years later they try to stitch together some kind of relationship mainly for the sake and the love of their now 8-year old Luka. Like many an actor with Mediterranean in his marrow (Pacino is an obvious example) Matthew acts with his fried-egg eyes and nails you every time with those big, unblinking gapers.

I wish that Matthew, who also wrote the movie, had helped us better understand Jonathan's costly self-doubt. We know it has a lot to with an unforgivably insensitive,angry father but...we need to see more. Nevertheless, Matthew's essential insight about Jonathan and Georgie is bang on: for them what matters is that the modus vivendi they've put together holds: painfully,imperfectly but holding.

The Devil's Double

Only 108 minutes (including credits) but it seems too long
Inspite of Dominic Cooper's tour de force, I found myself about an hour in feeling I'd been watching this movie for three hours. This is a static movie. Yes, there is that golden look, the sumptuous locales and the noisy hedonism, but the characters themselves don't evolve. Until almost the end, Latif is as stymied and troubled by his unwanted "good fortune" as he was five minutes in. Uday remains the same exuberant psychotic who can change from bountiful to brutal with the breeze. It is as if we are watching the same action, somewhat varied, over and over again. Nevertheless this film, based on real life, is worth seeing for Dominic Cooper's superlative performance as Latif/Uday.

The Extra Man

Well, it's original and interesting
Bring Clifton Webb forward 60 years, add wackiness, and you have Kevin Kline as the eccentric bachelor in a rent-stabilized dump on the Upper East Side (yes, there are such flats still). His new roomie played by Paul Dano has a poignance, a sad yearning that I haven't seen conveyed so well since Timothy Bottoms in "Last Picture Show." Dano has the sort of face you only see nowadays looking at you across time in family pictures from a century ago or more. The face is ingenuous, pure. The kind of face that America just doesn't make anymore.

Both characters have built protective walls around themselves, perhaps necessarily. Though they fascinate each other, and unintentionally entertain each other, they can't decide whether or not to be real allies.

The older man depends on super-annuated ladies of wealth for his dining out and his winters in Florida. The younger man, though straight, enjoys wearing ladies lingerie while having sex. It can be all a bit depressing.But there's a soft landing, a nice ending to this opus all around.

Anton Chekhov's The Duel

Loved it
The "strong" man may be merely rigid, the "weak" man may be merely too self-aware, given to pressing his sore spots and picking at his scabs. In a moment of great crisis which man will be broken and which will stand, trembling perhaps, but stand up to his mortality.

As with all of Chekhov's works, time moves slowly here, the better to catch the subtle turns of tone and shading of character in his people.

Andrew Scott is unforgettable as Laevsky, but don't get me started. The entire ensemble works so well, so enjoyably. And when that happens it means the invisible, unheard hero of the piece is the director. His name is Dover Kashashvili. Jim Smith


At one point in this wonderful work, the camera is high in the Montana Beartooths above the cowboys with their 3000 sheep coming up the mountain for some good-weather grazing. The woolies are getting to be all over the place and you see a lone cowboy in the saddle with the help of a few sheepdogs corraling the herd purely by the way he moves his horse around and by the calls he makes. Gracefully and neatly he tightens up the herd and turns it in the direction he wants the little bleaters to go. He creates a fence invisible 'round his woolies.

It's that kind of skill, no, art that is so evident in these guys: keeping order in the herd, whittling rough branches for the spines of their tents, sleeping with one ear open for sounds of bear and wolverine, sharpshooting in the night aided only by lamp. These guys do it all and well. They can also midwife a ewe in the crisis of giving birth, find an udder for an orphaned lamb and cleanly, expertly fleece these critters when the wool is heavy.

These cowboys never get rich inspite of a bagful of skills and talents that leave the viewer in respectful admiration. Watching the travail of these guys makes you realize you have never in your life known the true meaning of "hard work."

This is a documentary without any taped-on background music and without any warm-toned narrator telling you what you're seeing. Not even Morgan Freeman. The footage tells the story without extraneous aids. The absence of other noise is welcome. This piece is awesome but it's also funny, not just in the humanity of the cowboys. There's some real comic talent among those woolies, too. Jim Smith

Off Jackson Avenue

Raw, real, an indie gem
Several strangers are connected unawares and those points of contact will bring them into collision. This kind of construction is exciting when executed well, as in "Amores Perros", and again here in "Off Jackson Avenue." A violent Albanian pimp (Stivi Paskoski), a victimized Mexican immigrant (Jessica Pimental), a carjacker (John-Luke Montias) and a Japanese schoolteacher who moonlights as a hit-man (Jun Suenaga)will profoundly impact each other's lives, literally and figuratively. Warning: The brutalization of a young girl is hard-to-watch and enraging. But there is justice, satisfying justice, in the working out of things.

Aside from Mr. Paskoski, none of the actors have a long resume, yet all the characters come across vivid and true. You wouldn't know they were acting. When everyone in a movie is good, praise the director. And he is John-Luke Montias who directs here as well as acts. He also wrote the taut, efficient script. The language is raw, real, and in the case of a Chinese entrepreneur who hires the hit-man, a pungent delight. Jun Suenaga's moonlighting English teacher is fun and funny. I'd hang with him and a bottle of Scotch any old time.

"Off Jackson Avenue" is a gem. Hopefully, it will get a wide distribution. But most indies do not. While it is still available to see in a real movie house, it is well worth the price of a ticket. At just under 80 minutes, not a frame of film or a line of dialogue is wasted. Jim Smith

Ischeznuvshaya imperiya

Engrossing, entertaining
We see few Russian films here in the U.S. and our familiarity with modern day Russian life is limited. Here we get a view of life in the Brezhnev 1970s. "Vanished Empire" reassures us that the Russians are just like everybody else, save for social conditioning and a scarcity of consumer goods. It's convincing characters are warm, animated and full of very familiar foibles. But it is charming how readily family and friends "do" for each other there,enthusiastically.

Yet this is a society so parched for Western-style consumer goods that a used Japanese radio can get a buddy out of police custody, a nice jacket plus gas money can induce a cab driver to take someone to the hinterlands and back.

Sergey, the focal character, is well and charmingly rendered by young Aleksandr Lyapin. Like a lot of 18 year old college boys he is impulsive and easily suggestible. His romance with girlfriend Lyuda is in full bloom but a call from his comrades can make him forget his commitments to the lady. More than once Sergey shows that loyalty to his buddies trumps faithfulness to his lover.

Sergey's inattention to those who love him and his hijinks in school are forgiven, up to a point, because of his youth and charm. But the carefree life and luck of a teenager cannot last. Life becomes serious and the due bill for self-centered presumptions is, inevitably, presented.

The women characters in this film are long suffering. Though not ill-treated physically, they are never valued above male comradeship. Their needs are not thought of, or not taken seriously. Lyuda's treatment by Sergey reminded me of the comment of an American exchange student who had boyfriends in the Soviet 1970s. Asked if she ever considered marrying any of them, she said "No." She said that, in Russia, "a woman might be loved but she will never be respected." Jim Smith

Goodbye Solo

A magical ride
Souleyman Savane is a natural. His taxi driver character is the focus of the film and in spite of Savane's complete lack of acting experience he carries the movie with his beautiful, expressive face and the warmth, goodness and simple joie de vivre of his character's nature and, one suspects, Mr. Savane's.

The scenes of unexceptional small city life match up right for this story and the scenes toward the end in the Great Smokies are almost as transcendent as they are in person.

At 90 minutes it is the perfect length for a movie whose central predicament is made plain from the start and it's resolution never really in doubt. An understandable determination to die by one man inspires renewal in another.

Wristcutters: A Love Story

Low budget gem
This is a funny and original assay at life in the afterlife (as experienced by suicides). Instead of oblivion or a better world, the mostly young "offeds" awake to a place worse than the unsatisfactory life they tossed. Starless skies, smileless faces, clunky cars, a seedy messiah and Nature Most Vulgar make these hapless souls rue losing the charms of a world now beyond reach.

Yet good times are to be had in these environs, there is magic available to all for self-diversion, friendship and sex, too. And for a couple of the darned ("damned" is too noble a word for this bunch), there even is hope for another chance.

This opus could become a cult classic that you'll see years from now at some film retrospective. But why wait: if it's playing near you, go see it now. The first run at the local indie houses (11/07) is not likely to be long. Jim Smith

Le clan

Interesting. Well worth a look
A Gael Morel film whose theme will be familiar to viewers who have seen "Wild Reeds" or "Come Undone" : young, handsome, sexy, disturbed young Frenchies trapped in the limited prospects offered by the mediocre towns and cities far from Paris. Here we have the three sons of an indifferent French father and a Maghreb mother, recently deceased. Where they live horny young men lack even a town whore for relief and, resignedly, must rely on the local grouchy, bored transvestite.

Morel favorite Stephane Rideau is a 20-something, "scared straight" ex con who will trade his youthful wildness for the dull comfort and security of middle class respectability while his two younger brothers grapple, respectively, with intolerable powerlessness and gay love.

All the guys are eye candy and Morel and his actors have never suffered from fear of frontal. All of which would mean little were it not for the interesting characters and Morel's unique cinematic style. Rent it. You'll enjoy it. And if it turns out you disagree, hell, it's only 88 minutes including the credits crawl. Jim Smith

13 Tzameti

Babluani is powerful
Briefly, this is a melodrama about a young handyman who, stiffed for his pay by a "dead"beat client, naively takes his customer's place in a big stakes game that he suspects can make him more than good for the money due him. But the joust turns out to be, essentially, an elaborate game of Russian roulette.

Though the film and the language is French, the auteur, Gela Babluani, is from Georgia (that's the Georgia that used to be part of the USSR). His choice for the final turn of plot reflects, I think, the mores of Tbilisi rather than the sane moral relativism of today's West. But the look, the precision, the atmosphere, the tension Babluani produces are awestriking. The lead character, Sebastien, is played by George Babluani, a relative of the director I would guess. This young actor is handsome,lithe, intense, with a gift of expression that is magical.

Comparing Director Babluani , now in his 20's, with, say, Scorsese at the same age, Scorsese was doing imaginative, promising but still academic pieces. Babluani is sure, electric, the technique never shows. Jim Smith

Another Gay Movie

Fresh, funny
This is one of a new genre of gay movies, long overdue and welcome as rain in a desert: unself-conscious, celebratory, with characters whose gayness is a given. No hint here of the once-necessary but now too familiar tale of coming out in an unfriendly world. These new high school grads are having a ball ineptly attempting to lose their gay virginity before heading off to college in the Fall. This flick is fun and funny. And the tender moral of it all: you can try all you want but when you find the right guy it all gets so easy. And sometimes that guy is nearer than you think.

Note: Bravo's "Boy-Meets-Boy" leading man James Getzlaff has a featured role as an experienced 20-something. He's still dropdead handsome and has a great tush. But aside from the wasting asset of his bod, Getzlaff is only modestly talented. He hasn't got much time to hit his stride in show business. At 36 it probably was rash of him to quit is day job. Jim Smith


Chereau a masterful director
This up close study of a marriage in crisis is Chereau at his subtle, rich best. The infant terrible of '82 Bayreuth has matured into a maestro of cinema.

Gabrielle wants more but is unwilling to spend the effort or pay the price to get it. Her husband wants less and will settle for nothing less than less. The machinery of their marriage was running so flawlessly that it required no work by either and only modest attention. Their relations were on automatic pilot and they both seemed massively content to keep it that way. Then the machinery, briefly but ruinously, goes crazy.

Huppert and Greggory are riveting. And, not counting the credits, run time is less than 90 minutes. Good artistic judgment there by Chereau. Any longer and this film could be painful for the viewer. Jim Smith


Joao Rodrigues' latest appears to have a bigger budget than "O Fantasma." The photography is better, the color is more eye-catching. And he certainly does know how to pick mouthwateringly sexy guys for his casts.

But just as he was mesmerized by garbage in "O Fantasma", he's morosely taken up in "Odete" by a wake and the necrophiliac attentions to a young man's embalmed corpse by the poor fellow's "crazy lady" neighbor and by his boyfriend, both of whom later become nauseatingly attached to the young man's gravesite.

The finale is reminiscent of the climax of "The Grifters" but that scene made sense. The last minutes of "Odete" are grotesque and poor in credibility.

Certainly, this movie is original and Rodrigues is a very talented auteur. But to succeed as art, a painful piece like "Odete" needs to be more than intensely depressing. Jim Smith

Brokeback Mountain

Ang Lee's Best
Above all the hallmark of Lee's movies is originality: strongly realized characters hit up against each other and what comes out seems to surprise even them as it delights, affects the watcher. It helps that the point of reference here is a story by Ms. Proulx and that Larry McMurtry wrote the screenplay. But it is, first and last, an Ang Lee film and it reveals the maestro at the summit of his craft.

In brief, two guys find in each other the love of all time but can't make a life together from it. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal turn in the best performances of their young careers. They are remarkable. So is the Wyoming landscape. Too bad that all those jokes about "a gay cowboy movie" on late night TV will make a lot of people shy away. This movie can't be pigeonholed. The well of humanity it touches takes it beyond any facilely-applied label. It's a masterpiece.Jim Smith

The Aristocrats

The filthiest joke ever is performed by scads of well-known, family-hour comedians: the Dad in a family act hungry for bookings describes in detail his brood's drecky act for a low-rent agent who, amazed, asks: "What do you call your act?" And the Dad announces with a flourish: "The Aristocrats!" Embroidered and relished by each comedian, the joke is wild, outrageous, uproarious. You'll vomit laughter. Or maybe simply vomit. Oddly my laughter was non-cathartic. I guess incest and scatology just ain't fuzzy,feel-good material. Have you ever visited any of the more exotic sites on the 'net and enjoyed it and wondered later: What am I? A pervert or something? Then you'll have your normalness reassured watching utterly mainstream comedians do virtuoso turns with a joke dirtier and more depraved than anything you'd find anywhere on the 'net. Jim Smith


A belly buster
Don't pass up this movie because you think it's a bubblegum flick for the under-20 set. Well, it is that. But I got out of Eastern District High decades ago and I didn't need a gown and mortarboard to be tickled by "Waiting": this movie is funny! The subject (life out of sight of the diners)is fresh and the script and ensemble cast mesh and execute beautifully. If you've ever wondered what really goes on out of eyeshot at your favorite greasy spoon, this opus will confirm your worst fears. Ever know someone who used to work in a restaurant? The kitchen horror stories he told you? In this movie it's all true only grosser. And wilder. You get a lot of yoks delivered by enjoyable (even likable)characters. It was worth the $10.50. Jim Smith

Napola - Elite für den Führer

Top notch production
The subject matter is not unfamiliar - a decent German (in this case a talented young boxer) fights to retain his humanity in the face of Nazi pressure to lose it as a bad habit. At heavy cost to himself he refuses. And thinking back to the beginning of the movie we should not be surprised: to accept the invitation to attend an elite academy he must defy his father. To maintain his self-respect later on he must defy the surrogate fathers he has acquired at the academy.

This a superbly produced, directed film. The young actors' performances are believable and affecting. And for people who care about such things, Max Riemelt as Friedrich, the young, virile, gorgeous protagonist is a very easy guy to look at. Jim Smith

Like It Is

A waste of good talent
Appealing boxer Steve Bell, Ian Rose and Roger Daltry are spilled in this formulaic soap opera. Emotionally-needy gay boxer and a super-cool, jaded, ambitious young record promoter fall for each other. Predictably spanners are tossed athwart young love by wily, self-centered London music biz types jealously guarding their own interests above all else. The choice by Ian Rose's character to throw away career for love is not credible (not that that couldn't actually happen but in this pic it is not believable when and how it happens). Likewise Bell's character's near suicidal and melodramatic plot against himself toward the end doesn't ring true. These actors plus a good script could've made something first rate. But the script wasn't there for this effort. Jim Smith

Garçon stupide

Baier has a genius
Director Lionel Baier has created a work of freshness and imagination and truth. The few melodramatic clichés he employs stand out only for their rarity. In choosing Pierre Chatagny to focus his camera upon, Baier has chosen brilliantly. (Baier who plays an older friend, Lionel, to Chatagny's Loic, is glimpsed just once. In truth the director is a young man of 28 with much great work ahead of him on the evidence of this production).

Though the character and, I would say, Mr. Chatagny at 20, is self-absorbed and vain as 20 year-old boys tend to be, his natural beauty reveals itself in every movement of his eyes and his isolation in the stark awkwardness of his stance. He is not hard to watch or gawk at for 90 minutes.

Loic,a horny Swiss youngster who has notched a lot of casual nocturnal sex, envies his sisterly girlfriend's enjoyable personal relations with her boyfriend, distrusts Lionel's apparent disinterest in immediate sexual gratification and feels hopeless in the presence of an adored soccer player's fatherly love for his three year-old son. Luoc is by turns angry and despairing and anxious.He has begun to suspect it doesn't always boil down to just sex but he doesn't know if he has anything more than sex to give or take and if there is a place in him where there is more he has no idea how to reach it. But after much pain and damage the first unexpected crack of sunlight in the wall of Luoc's frustration comes through beautiful and true. Jim Smith

Feeding Boys, Ayaya

Refreshing look at gay China today
This opus is guerrilla cinema shot on Peking streets without permits, the director and actors risking arrest. I figure the budget at about $9.

But it's well worth seeing. In spite of the reticence and denial of the traditional Chinese, gays are as much a presence and the services of young men for "rent" are as much in demand in big Chinese cities as in New York or London or Moscow. Though disease must be a factor in these guys lives, this is not a story of death from AIDS (prophylactics are as much the stars of this movie as the young men). It is about gay and bi young men making a practical choice: washing dishes for a handful of renminbi or the freedom, money and variety of partners offered by hustling. The downside is the boredom of a slow day and irregular sleep because customers may call at any time.

These guys are nice young people, matter-of-fact, sane. They give us a different and refreshingly non-Western view on practical hustling. These guys know that suffering and death may be the wages of sin but they are also the wages of everyday life, too. At about 76 minutes the film's lack of production values remains tolerable.

Note: The antagonist in this film is the Chinese version of a Christian right proselytizer. Such a waste. He's the cutest character in the film. And he's the one who dies young, not any of the hustlers. Jim Smith

Così ridevano

A Brother's Debt
Set in late '50's, early '60's. Brave emigrants from impoverished Sicily make their way in industrial Turin. This movie gives you time with a good-hearted Catanese, Giovanni (Enrico Lo Verso), a man who loves desperately, adoringly. The object: his teenaged brother Pietro (Francesco Giuffrida) who is urbane while Giovanni is elemental.

Giovanni's love and personal honor require that he believe no ill about Pietro. The older brother works like an ox to shield his Pietro-on-a-pedestal from the harsh world of manual labor, to give him better lodgings than he himself enjoys and to keep him in school (where Pietro actually is an inveterate hookey-player and a bored, listless daydreamer).

Though Pietro is detached he nevertheless feels guilt for his deceptions and he loves Giovanni for his sacrifice and natural goodness. ("Giovanni is far too good," he says to the whore-waif his older brother has taken under his protection. "He loves everybody").

But while the facile and literate Pietro drifts, the illiterate but intelligent Giovanni makes useful friends, exploits opportunities and rises in life.

Always Pietro remains at the center of Giovanni's heart. And one night Pietro is given the opportunity, finally, to repay Giovanni's selfless devotion.

If there is a "revelation" in this film, it is near the end when we see that the adoring Giovanni has an unexamined, unquestioned faith that his Pietro has the same devotion to him. As a given, he believes that brotherly sacrifice is a two-way street. The immense decision that his younger brother has made against himself and for Giovanni is merely the kind of thing brothers do for eachother. In a horrifying moment Giovanni opens to us: his great love is unselfconsciously, blanketingly possessive, devouring.

Palermo-born Lo Verso is a great actor. That his beautiful, movingly expressive face is not world-famous is a misfortune. But he is only forty now (early thirties in "Cosi Ridivano"). There is time. Jim Smith-----------------------


Riveting brutality
The film's distilled brutality is hard to take and yet, like pornography, stirs one at some level. In another review here a commentator notes that his copy of the DVD deletes the violence in the S&M club. Too bad. One of the ironies of the story is contained in that scene: Vincent Cassel's character, mad for revenge, is quickly brought down and the vengeance taker becomes instead the victim's former lover who has been desparately trying to keep rein on his companion's rage and has followed Cassel's character to the pit to keep him from adding disaster to tragedy. The film follows the "backwards" chronology a la "Memento." Philospophical pretensions aside, this method of storytelling has it's limits and will become tiresome one day soon. But with the top-notch talent we have here one's interest is naturally engaged: Why, how, what caused what we just saw and we follow the string of the plot, back and back. But the subtleties of character and plot development are not possible as in traditional cinematic storytelling. The method keeps the story, however powerful, at the level of melodrama. Note: The opening scene with two old men on a bed must be racked up, I guess, to the French capacity for mystifying bits of business whose whose relevance to story is impenetrably obscure. Jim Smith---

The Matrix Reloaded

More of the same
As unique and wonderful as was the first "Matrix", it's appeal was it's uniqueness and the viewers engagement in figuring out what was really going on there. But at some point in the first movie we do "understand" and once that question is solved ...it's solved. Any sequel will lack that puzzlement. Unfortunately, also, uniqueness by definition cannot survive itself. The visual tricks from the first movie are no longer new. The sequel is more of the same. Too bad that nothing has a shorter life than sensation. And a rehash is a rehash is a rehash, as Gertrude Stein said (didn't she???).Jim Smith--------------------

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