Review: Trust Us, This is All Made Up

Director: Alex Karpovsky
Producers: Alex Karpovsky, David Modigliani, Adam Roffman, Asaf Ronen, Jessica Wolfson
Starring: David Pasquesi, T.J. Jagodowski
MPAA Rating:Not Yet Rated
Running time: 83 min.

Here’s an interesting movie that could actually stand to come in a DVD series of about 10 (or more) volumes. Because in reality this isn’t a movie at all. It’s not even really a documentary. It’s essentially just a camera going to a performance and capturing what happens on stage. But this isn’t a play or a musical. It’s an hour long improv session that I want to see happen again. And again. And again.

Two performers (David Pasquesi and T.J. Jagodowski) stand on a nearly empty stage in front of a live audience. They look deeply into one another’s eyes for a few moments; presumably to “get into the vibe.” Then one of them begins speaking. Then the other responds and back and forth and so on. The interesting thing is that the dialogue is completely spontaneous. There is no planning and no script. What emerges is a one act play of comedy or drama or horror (depending on which night you happen to see this one of a kind act). And it is completely fascinating and engaging.

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MSPIFF Review: The Merry Gentleman

The Merry Gentleman one sheet

Director: Michael Keaton
Writer: Ron Lazzeretti
Producer: Steven A. Jones
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Michael Keaton, Tom Bastounes, Debbi Burns, Bobby Cannavale
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 110 min.

Full disclosure: big Michael Keaton fan here; huge. From Mr. Mom to My Life to The Company to Jackie Brown, if having me in stitches is the goal, it is success constantly and consistently. If you just need a confident, cool (and believable) cop for your police procedural film you can look no further than Keaton. He can be the creepy guy as in Pacific Heights or take on the role of relentless villain in Desperate Measures. And to this day he’s stars in the one film that can still get me to lose some water weight through the eyes with a wonderful performance in My Life. I personally believe he should’ve been nominated for an Oscar at least twice and he’s been a staple of my film watching career since I was old enough to hold a remote control and flip to HBO. And now, to my great pleasure, he’s slipped behind the camera for his latest outing, The Merry Gentleman. So yeah, big time bias here.

The Merry Gentleman stars Kelly Macdonald as Kate; a woman escaping an abusive husband to a new city and hopefully a new life. As a rather attractive young woman she has no shortage of advances from men and understandably no shortage of paranoia and distrust either. Until through circumstances that unbeknownst to her are of her own doing, she is approached seemingly coincidentally by an older gentleman who seems to be rather good natured, but also very quiet and private. Little does Kate know that her new gentleman friend, though very gentle and quiet around her is actually a cold-blooded, professional hit man. After Kate makes a 911 call to police due to seeing something odd in her workplace, she is romantically pursued by the lead investigator, who of course gets very interested in her past and who her new, quiet friend is.
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MSPIFF Review: Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree poster

Director: Eran Riklis (Borders, Syrian Bride)
Writers: Suha Arraf, Eran Riklis
Producer: Eran Riklis
Starring: Hiam Abbass, Doron Tavory, Ali Suliman, Rona Lipaz-Michael
MPAA Rating: PG
Country of origin: Israel
Running time: 106 min

Right at the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is an Arab woman just trying to make a living from her precious lemon tree grove. When the new Israeli Prime Minister moves into a mansion next door, the grove is considered a threat and possible cover for terrorist attacks; hence, must be demolished. The woman manages to find a lawyer to take her case as she attempts to fight the state of Israel in court on a mere peasant wage.

The film makes no bones about whom it sympathizes with in this case and it does manage to successfully manipulate emotions with overt melodrama. This isn’t to say that’s a bad thing here as it’s pretty obvious that any rational person with any piece of heart would understand that by cutting down this grove of trees, you’re simultaneously cutting down a woman’s livelihood.
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MSPIFF Review: Surveillance

Surveillance poster

Director: Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena)
Writers: Kent Harper, Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Producers: Kent Harper, Marco Mehlitz, David Michaels
Starring: Julia Ormond, Bill Pullman, Pell James, Ryan Simpkins French Stewart, Ken Harper
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 97

Not your daddy’s cinema. Sure there’s definitely a trace of fatherly influence here, but this is far more of a Rob Zombie tribute than David Lynch. This is hard exploitation at its finest. Unlike Zombie however (specifically The Devil’s Rejects), this movie doesn’t seem to be here just for the sake of violence and victimization; there are some technical mechanics at work here that really delivered… at least for me. Not to say there aren’t some glaring weaknesses, but for the most part it’s fair to say I was on board with this movie from the get-go.

The first two minutes: a quite brutal murder sequence involving two masked figures (one sort of resemblind Michael Myers) bludgeoning and running down a seemingly innocent couple. Lynch left very little to the imagination here as blood splatters across the opening credits. We then cut to Pullman and Ormond; two FBI agents pulling into a rural police station to set up questioning of three witnesses to a crime. Each witness has a different perspective of what happened and each witness has something to hide. Lynch shows us what really happened in flashbacks mode while simultaneously we hear the witnesses tell their own version of what happened in a series of half-truths and distortions.
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TIFF 08 Review: Jerichow

Jerichow Movie Still

Coming into Christian Petzold’s rural neo-noir, it might be helpful to have an understanding of the films that he is aiming to re-create. Like his previous film, Yella, which played with the conventions of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge in the context of modern Germany, Jerichow (presumably named after the town where the film is set) teases audience expectations with their own knowledge of the rich history of noir cinema. Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice even The Last Seduction are bound to guide and confound where the plot is (or should) be going. That Petzold lingers, drops red herrings and shifts audience loyalty between the three characters is one of the joys of the piece. While in the end it comes across a bit more like precise clock work than a living, breathing simulacrum is a bit frustrating however.

Thomas, recently discharged (dishonorably) from the German army is relieved of his discharge funds from his alienated friends, to whom he owes a large sum of money. Broke, with the financial means of renovating the decrepit family home completely evaporated (along with his friends), he is only barely getting by with unemployment office posted jobs. Things take a decided turn when he encounters Ali, a well off owner of a series of falafel huts, with a penchant for drinking and driving. After finding Ali and his Range Rover in the Elbe River, he lies to the police about who was driving. This leads to Thomas getting gainful employment as a driver for Ali as he collects from all his shops. Ali, a wealthy self made Turkish immigrant, doesn’t trust anyone, and Thomas physical presence comes in handy for keeping his shifty franchisees in line. Thomas quickly becomes close to both Ali and his gorgeous German wife, played exquisitely by the über talented Nina Hoss (one of the best (and beautiful) actresses currently working in German cinema). See where the film is going? Perhaps you do. Maybe not.

The trio of performances are pitch perfect insofar as they are both skin deep and subtly vague. Thomas (played by the flexible Benno Fürmann) is a blank slate, smart enough, and watching, he still has some elements of the classic patsy, his posture hints at cockiness although it may just be aloofness or stoicism. Hoss is cool, sexy, desperate and perhaps not as bright as she lets on. Ali (Himli Sözer) is a fireball of suspicion, arrogance, calculation and yet somehow, his immigrant/outsider status offers an interesting form of sympathy. The film as the tiniest morsel to say about how easily money (or lust) compromises trust an where exactly the line between temptation and entrapment lies. But mainly the film lets the actors bump and grind along, against the varied backgrounds of the town shops, verdant countryside and empty beaches. The pacing and construction create comforting notion (perhaps a smugness) of where the film is headed before yielding a twist that is not a twist. In the end, it is a fun and interesting ride, but less revolutionary or re-inventing than it is simply a flippant riff on the genre.